Does your betta’s belly look overly round and swollen? Are they having a hard time swimming to the bottom of their tank, almost like they’re stuck to the surface? Unfortunately, your betta might have swim bladder disease.
Fortunately, swim bladder disease is treatable if you act quickly. With some care, you can have your betta back to themselves in no time.
What Is Swim Bladder Disease?
Despite what its name suggests, swim bladder disease is not actually a disease. Most people refer to it as a “disorder” because of this.
This disorder comes about as a symptom of other diseases or problems that your betta is facing.
What Is A Betta Swim Bladder & What Does It Do?
Swim bladders, or air bladders, are present in almost all species of bony fish. The swim bladder is a buoyancy organ that fish use to swim up and down. The organ is located within the digestive tube of your fish’s abdominal cavity.
The organ fills with oxygen and allows the fish to retain their buoyancy. In short, it prevents the fish from floating upwards when it wants to stay at depth and vice versa.
Swim bladder disease is the result of many different conditions. Regardless of what causes it, it results in a compression of the swim bladder. When the swim bladder compresses, your betta is unable to inflate or deflate the organ to swim up and down.
What Are The Causes Of Swim Bladder Disease?
As if swim bladder disease weren’t bad enough, it is not a solo problem. Bettas develop swim bladder disease because of an underlying condition.
The main cause of swim bladder disease is issues with digestion. Bettas love to eat, but their digestive systems can be finicky. Overfeeding can be a problem.
Bettas will always overeat when given the chance. It’s imperative that you remember their stomach is very small — only about the size of their eye.
You should only give a small pinch of food once or twice a day and do your best to avoid overfeeding. Also, dried food expands when it touches the water. So, you may be giving them a larger amount than you realize. The food expands inside the stomach, pushing against the swim bladder.
If a betta overeats, its bulging stomach presses against the swim bladder. Too much pressure against the swim bladder causes compression. This prevents your fish from swimming correctly.
Constipation or the inhalation of too much air will also cause this pressure.
Low Water Temperature
Bettas are tropical fish, so they need warmer temperatures. If the water temperature drops too low, their digestion slows down along with their immune system.
A slow digestive system can cause food to block the gastrointestinal tract. As you know, this can put undue pressure on the swim bladder.
Shock is a result of rapid changes in their environment. This can be due to an ammonia or nitrite spike, or because of a quick temperature change.
Cysts Or Tumors
Abnormal growths like cysts and tumors are also quite common in bettas. These tumors are usually benign, but they can put excessive pressure on the swim bladder.
Parasitic Or Bacterial Infection Of The Swim Bladder
On rare occasions, your fish may develop a parasitic or bacterial infection. If these infections make it to your betta’s swim bladder, it will cause inflammation.
Although less common, bettas can develop swim bladder issues after sustaining an injury. Injuries may occur if your betta has been fighting with a tankmate. They can also occur if the fish gets sucked against the filter, or if they get stuck behind a decoration.
What Are The Symptoms Of Swim Bladder Disease In Betta Fish?
Swim bladder disorder is very easy to diagnose because your fish will be acting oddly.
Struggling To Swim
You’re likely to notice your fish swimming upside down. They may also float vertically, or on their sides.
Other times — as is more common with betta fish — they will seem stuck to the surface of the water, or at the bottom of the tank.
Their swim bladder doesn’t allow them to swim properly, so they are unable to swim upwards or downwards. When a fish has this problem, you will see them struggling to swim.
A fish stuck at the surface of the tank will exert a large amount of effort to swim to the bottom. Usually, they may only make it a few inches before floating back to the top.
A fish stuck at the bottom of its tank will act similarly. They will try very hard to swim upwards, only to sink again.
For betta fish, it is more dangerous to be stuck at the bottom of the tank than the top. Bettas breathe air, so they can suffocate if they can’t reach the surface for too long.
Bloated bellies are also a common problem in betta fish. Because of this, fish keepers may put off treatment until it’s too late. Yet, bloated bellies can lead to pressure against the swim bladder.
A Deformed Spine
This symptom isn’t as common as the others, but it may be present in your betta. Betta fish with swim bladder disorder may develop a deformed spine that takes the shape of an “S”.
Loss Of Appetite
This isn’t a sure sign of swim bladder disease because the loss of appetite is a common symptom of many problems. Also, some bettas with swim bladder disease will continue to eat normally.
Still, as the disorder progresses, your betta will likely lose their appetite. Others will try to eat but will be unable to.
Can Betta Fish Die From Swim Bladder Disease? Is It Fatal?
While it’s possible that your betta may die from swim bladder disorder, it is not always fatal. In fact, it is a fairly easy condition to treat if you catch it soon enough and take steps to correct it. It would be a good idea to take a look at this article to find out about betta fish behavior before death
How Do You Treat Swim Bladder Disease In Bettas?
The good news is that swim bladder disorder is treatable. If you catch it soon enough, your betta will almost always make a comeback.
Still, if you want your betta to make a recovery, you need to know what caused the disorder. Treatment is going to differ depending on what your betta is suffering from.
What You Should Always Do For Your Betta
Regardless of what your betta is suffering from, there are a few things you can do to help it heal better.
Keep The Water Clean
This is the best thing you can do for your fish regardless of what they’re suffering from. Keep your filter running, and keep the ammonia, nitrites, and nitrates down. Complete water changes as needed to keep the water parameters down.
Add Aquarium Salt
You can add a small amount of aquarium salt to the tank. You should dissolve the salt in a container of fresh water before adding it to your tank.
Aquarium salt boosts your fish’s immune system and can reduce inflammation.
Reduce The Water Level & Flow
Whether this is necessary depends on how badly your betta is suffering.
Bettas that are struggling to swim or reach the surface should be in a shallow body of water. This allows them to save their energy and easily reach much-needed air.
Also, keep the water flow to a minimum. Bettas don’t like much water flow to begin with, and this is especially true when they’re sick.
Feeding your betta by hand may be necessary while it’s recovering from its illness. If your betta is so sick that it’s struggling to eat on its own, it may starve to death without hand feeding.
This is the most common cause of fish swim bladder issues. Treating for a gastrointestinal issue is a good place to start if you don’t know what’s wrong.
If your betta’s stomach is big and swollen, it’s likely a gastrointestinal issue.
Raise The Water Temperature
You should begin by raising the temperature of your tank. We always recommend keeping a heater that is adjustable for this purpose.
Using the heater, raise the temperature of the water to 78-82°F (25.5-27.7°C). A higher temperature will boost your betta’s metabolism. This helps to move the food through the digestive tract.
Then, you’re going to fast your betta. It’s important to get all the old food out of your betta’s system to relieve pressure.
Fasting your betta for three days will give your fish time to digest any remaining food.
Fasting can be a bit more difficult if you house your betta with tankmates. You’ll need to net your betta into an isolated cup during the time you feeding the tankmates. Then, you can place your betta back inside the tank.
There is no need to isolate your betta for the entire duration of the treatment.
Feed Your Betta Daphnia
After fasting your betta for three days, you should feed it a small amount of fresh or frozen daphnia. Daphnia works wonders for clearing out your betta’s digestive tract.
DO NOT feed your betta any peas. This is a very common treatment that circulates around the fish community. But, it does not work for bettas.
Bettas are strictly carnivores and cannot digest plant matter. Giving your betta a pea will make their situation worse.
At this point, you should notice the swelling of your betta’s abdomen go down and eventually disappear.
For at least 3 days after fasting, you should avoid giving your betta any flake or pellet food. Continue to feed daphnia during that time to prevent re-blockage.
Epsom Salt Bath
If this doesn’t work, you can also try an Epsom Salt bath to try and clear constipation. Make sure to do this temporary bath in a separate container.
First, you’re going to mix 1 tablespoon of Epsom salt with 1 gallon of water. Mix up the salt until it has completely dissolved, then add half a gallon of your aquarium water.
Then, add your betta to the bath for no more than 10-15 minutes. The bath should clear constipation, and you can then put the betta back in its tank.
During this bath, if you notice your fish stop moving, place it back into the aquarium immediately.
If you know what is infecting your betta, you can choose a medication that is made for that infection.
For example, fin rot is the result of a parasite, so it needs a parasitic antibiotic. Bacterial infections will have their own medications as well.
Sometimes, it can be difficult to determine which kind of infection your betta is facing. If you’re not sure, go for a broad-spectrum antibiotic. These will treat both bacterial and parasitic infections.
Treating your betta for an infection can get a bit tricky. If your betta is alone, treatment will be easier than if it’s housed with a tankmate.
If your betta is the only one with the infection, it may be beneficial to move it to a quarantine tank. This prevents any tankmates from becoming stressed by the exposure to the medication.
Whether you keep your betta in its home tank or a quarantine tank, you’ll need to remove the filter media. The filter media will remove any medication from the water, so your fish won’t be receiving any treatment.
DO NOT remove the filter itself. The filter provides oxygen and helps the medication circulate throughout the tank.
You should add a bubbler to the tank as antibiotics can reduce the amount of oxygen in the tank. You should also perform 25% water changes every day unless the medication specifies otherwise.
How Long Does Swim Bladder Treatment Take To Work For Your Betta?
This depends on what’s causing the issue and how quickly you caught the problem. For gastrointestinal issues, bettas should recover in a few days to a week at most. Infections may take a couple of weeks to clear up.
How To Prevent Swim Bladder Issues In Fish
Nobody wants their betta to develop a swim bladder issue. Fortunately, it’s preventable.
The best thing you can do for your fish is to keep its tank clean. A dirty tank stresses out your fish, lowers its immune function, and leaves it susceptible to illness and disease.
You can also keep your tank set at a constant 78°F to keep your betta’s immune system at the top of its game. If your betta’s healthy, avoid raising the temperature any higher than this.
Be sure to only feed your betta the highest-quality foods. Low-quality foods are notorious for causing betta swim bladder issues. Avoid low-quality flakes and pellets.
A good option to feed your betta is BugBites. You should also feed them a regular diet of frozen or fresh daphnia.
Besides feeding them the correct foods, make sure to feed them the correct amount! Remember that a betta’s stomach is only the size of its eye.
Give it very small portions with every meal. You should also fast your betta one day a week to allow their digestive system to clear out.
To learn more about swim bladder disease and how to treat it, check out this comprehensive video.
Swim bladder disease is a very common disorder that affects bettas. It can be distressing to see your fish struggling to swim, but it is treatable.
Swim bladder disorder is a result of an underlying problem. Usually, these problems are gastrointestinal related. If you recognize these problems and take steps to correct them, your betta should be feeling better in no time.