Is your betta buddy struggling to swim on an even keel?
Well, the problem could be caused by a condition called Swim Bladder Disease or Swim Bladder Disorder. Swim Bladder Disorder can affect almost all species of fish, and it is surprisingly common in bettas.
Read this guide to learn more about Swim Bladder Disorder, the condition’s causes, and how to treat and prevent it.
What Is Swim Bladder Disease?
Swim Bladder Disease isn’t a disease in the literal sense. The term is used to describe a physiological condition or disorder that causes your betta’s swim bladder to stop working correctly.
So, when diagnosing and treating Swim Bladder Disorder, you need to play detective to work out what’s causing the problem and then treat it correctly to cure your pet.
What Is Your Betta’s Swim Bladder?
The swim bladder is a specially evolved, gas-filled internal organ that enables your betta to control its buoyancy.
When the swim bladder is healthy and working correctly, the fish can swim on an even keel. However, when problems arise, the fish often swims on one side or even upside down.
In severe cases, when the fish’s abdominal organs are displaced by swelling, the betta struggles to swim down away from the water surface or might become trapped on the substrate. Since bettas need to periodically breathe atmospheric air at the water surface via their complex labyrinth organ, becoming trapped on the bottom of the aquarium is extremely stressful and dangerous for your pet.
What Causes Swim Bladder Disease In Betta Fish?
Swim Bladder Disorder has many causes. Therefore, before you can start to treat the condition, you need to work out what’s causing it. If you give your betta the wrong treatment, you could end up making the whole problem worse, so it’s essential to make the correct diagnosis.
Bettas can be very greedy and are prone to overeating. A betta fish’s stomach is roughly the size of his eye, so you can see how easy it is to overfeed your fish. When the fish is constipated, food accumulates in the digestive tract, creating a blockage and sometimes displacing the internal organs. That puts pressure on the swim bladder and can prevent it from working effectively.
Bettas need to breathe through their labyrinth organ from time to time. That’s perfectly normal; however, if your betta continually gulps air, that can affect his swim bladder or air bladder.
Bettas are omnivores, although most of their wild diet consists of meaty foods with only a very small quantity of plant matter and algae.
In captivity, you must feed your betta fish a diet that includes primarily meaty proteins, such as frozen bloodworms, brine shrimp, Mysis shrimp, and the like. Try to avoid feeding your fish too much dry fish food, as that can lead to constipation.
Also, always buy the best quality food you can afford. Cheap fish food is often deficient in nutrients and contains a lot of padding, which can cause digestive issues in bettas.
Occasionally, your betta might be affected by parasites. Several species of parasitic worms can infect your pet’s intestines and stomach. Although these parasites are not generally fatal to bettas, extreme infestations can cause Swim Bladder Disorder.
Another common cause of Swim Bladder Disorder is a bacterial infection. Bacteria tend to proliferate in tanks with poor water conditions and affect fish that are stressed or already suffering from a disease.
In these cases, the swim bladder problem will likely be one of many symptoms, and in very severe cases, euthanasia might be the only course of action you can take.
If your fish has trouble swimming upright, develops pinecone-like scales, and has severe bloating, he is probably suffering from a condition called Dropsy. Dropsy is extremely difficult to cure, and the prognosis is sadly bleak.
Incorrect Water Temperature
Betta fish are very sensitive to fluctuations in water temperature. If the temperature in your fish tank falls below 78°F, that could cause swim bladder problems.
A low temperature causes the fish’s digestive system to slow down, potentially causing constipation and other problems. When the temperature in the tank is too high, your betta becomes stressed, which leads to a compromised immune system and leaves the fish open to attack by parasites and bacteria.
Sometimes, female bettas can become egg-bound, potentially leading to swim bladder problems.
Tumors and cysts affecting the betta’s internal organs can cause Swim Bladder Disorder.
Swim Bladder Disease Symptoms In Betta Fish
Bettas with Swim Bladder Disease can present with a variety of symptoms. However, the signs that you’ll notice will depend on the cause of the Swim Bladder Disorder.
If your betta’s swim bladder problems are caused by overfeeding, gulping air, or constipation, he will probably present with the following symptoms:
- Buoyancy problems and trouble swimming: The betta might be unable to swim up from the substrate or could be stuck, floating at the surface of the water.
- Lopsided swimming: As well as floating up to the surface or sinking to the substrate, the inability to maintain equilibrium in the water is also a common symptom of Swim Bladder Disorder. The betta swims on his side or at an angle.
- Struggling to swim in a normal position: The inability to maintain a normal position is a classic sign of swim bladder problems. No matter how hard it tries, the betta simply cannot swim on an even keel.
- Poor appetite: Many bettas with swim bladder problems completely lose their appetite and refuse to eat. Also, the betta might have problems eating if it is stuck on the substrate or at the top of the tank.
- Lethargy: A betta with swim bladder issues will probably be very lethargic, although that can be a sign of infection.
- Clamped fins: If the betta’s swim bladder problems are caused by bacterial or parasite infection, he will sometimes clamp his fins. A stressed fish will keep its fins very close to its body.
- Shaking or shivering: If your betta is shivering or shaking, that can be a symptom of a parasitic infection rather than overfeeding.
How To Treat Betta Swim Bladder Disease
The type of treatment you use to combat your fish’s swim bladder problem depends on the condition’s cause.
We recommend that you move your betta to a quarantine tank. Hospital tanks are ideal for treating fish without unnecessarily medicating your display tank. Of course, if any other fish in the community are showing signs of swim bladder problems, it’s advisable to move them to the quarantine tank, too.
Now, let’s address how to treat each possible cause of Swim Bladder Disease.
If your betta’s Swim Bladder Disorder is due to overfeeding, that’s good news, as the condition is relatively easy to treat.
First of all, move your betta to a quarantine tank. Once your pet has been relocated, don’t feed it for three days. That’s not cruel since wild bettas can often go for several days without eating.
While fasting your betta buddy, gradually raise the water temperature to 80°F. That elevated temperature will increase the betta’s digestion rate, helping to push the food through his system.
After three days, check to see if your betta’s condition is improving. Once the constipation is relieved, the betta should begin swimming normally again. If the problem persists, offer the fish live, fiber-rich food such as daphnia or bloodworms. Alternatively, thawed frozen foods can work well.
Once your fishy friend has recovered, try including more meaty foods in his diet, and feed him less dried foods.
Bacterial and Parasitic Infections
If it looks as though your fish is suffering from some sort of parasitic or bacterial infection, you should move your betta fish to a quarantine tank away from your other livestock.
Begin treating the water with a broad spectrum antibacterial drug, such as Melafix. Follow the manufacturer’s guidelines carefully and keep a close eye on your betta’s daily progress.
If the water parameters in the tank are incorrect or the temperature is too high or too low, your betta will be shocked.
Shock can cause swim bladder problems in betta fish. So, the first thing to do is make sure that the water is at the ideal temperature for your fish and turn off the lights. Once the tank conditions are correct, your fish is more inclined to chill out and rest, which will help to promote recovery.
Epsom salt can be used to treat swim bladder problems in fish if the problem is caused by constipation.
To give your fish an Epsom salt bath, follow these instructions:
- Mix one tablespoon of Epsom salt with 1/2 gallon of conditioned tap water in a small, clean container.
- Allow the Epsom salt to dissolve, and then add 1/2 gallon of aquarium water to the container.
- Top up your aquarium with conditioned tap water, ensuring that the fresh water is the same temperature as your fish tank.
- Leave the betta fish in the Epsom salt bath for 10 to 15 minutes. If the constipation hasn’t cleared in that time, move the betta back to its tank.
- Monitor your betta during the day to see if it poops, or swimming has improved.
Preventing Swim Bladder Disease In Bettas
It’s actually pretty easy to prevent swim bladder problems in betta fish. However, that might require you to make a few minor changes in how you currently care for your betta buddy.
Follow our top tips to keep your betta fish safe from swim bladder problems:
Feed High-Quality Food
For your betta’s digestion system to remain healthy, you must give your pet a high-quality, varied diet.
Choose only reputable brands of dried foods formulated specifically for betta fish. Cheap, low-quality foods are packed with fillers and often contain a lot of air, potentially causing bloating and constipation in your betta.
Soak Dry Betta Food
When your betta eats dry food, the food swells when it gets wet, which can cause constipation. So, try soaking your betta’s pellet and flake foods in a little tank water before feeding.
Also, since dry food floats on the water surface, you betta can often swallow air as it’s eating, adding the problem of bloating.
Your fish has a tiny stomach, but betta fish lack control over their appetite. So, even though your greedy pet might appear to be absolutely ravenous, he doesn’t need as much food as you think he does!
So, always feed only the recommended amount of dried betta food, and offer your pet only what he will eat in a couple of minutes. Feed your fish twice a day, and incorporate one fasting day every week to improve your pet’s digestive process.
Maintain Good Water Quality
Poor water quality is a major cause of infections that can lead to swim bladder problems, so ensure that the water quality in your betta’s tank is always good.
To keep the water clean in the betta tank, you’ll need to carry out weekly partial water changes, clean algae from the viewing panes and decorations in the tank, and vacuum the substrate to get rid of decaying organic matter.
Ammonia and nitrite levels should be zero, while nitrates must be below 20 ppm.
As previously mentioned, temperature fluctuations in the tank can cause a buoyancy issue for your betta. It’s essential to keep an eye on the water temperature in the tank every day using an aquarium thermometer. That can help to flag problems with your heater so that you can take action before the situation becomes critical.
Injuries can also trigger infections that can lead to swim bladder problems. So, make sure that your betta is not fighting with its tank mates, and remove problem fish if necessary.
Check your tank decorations to ensure that none of them have sharp edges that could injure your betta. Swop plastic plants for silk or real ones, too.
Is Swim Bladder Disease Fatal To Bettas?
The prognosis for a betta fish with Swim Bladder Disorder depends on the cause of the problem.
If your betta’s condition is caused by bloat or constipation, then it should recover pretty quickly if you change its diet and starve it for a few days. However, if the problem is due to a serious infection or attack by parasites, then the outcome might not be so good.
Sometimes, a betta trapped at the water’s surface can suffer from skin ulcers and sores, which might become infected since the fish’s protective slime coat will dry out. Also, if the fish is stuck on the substrate, abrasion caused by sand or gravel can scrape away the stress coat.
Is Swim Bladder Disorder Contagious?
Again, whether the Swim Bladder Disease is contagious depends entirely on the condition’s cause.
If the issue is due to constipation or overfeeding, the condition isn’t contagious, and your other fish should be fine. However, if you overfeed all your fish, there is a chance that other species might develop swim bladder problems, too.
In cases of Swim Bladder Disease caused by bacterial infection or parasite activity, the infection will likely spread through the water, affecting any other fish in your tank with a weakened immune system. Of course, if your other livestock are strong, healthy, and not stressed, the chances are good that they won’t be affected by Swim Bladder Disease.
Swim Bladder Disease in bettas is a common condition with many causes, commonly incorrect feeding, parasites, or bacterial infection.
To keep your betta safe from swim bladder disorder symptoms, maintain good water conditions, feed your fish a high-quality, balanced diet, and quarantine any new fish before adding them to your tank.