Swim Bladder Disease
By Rachel Hunt (Mushi)
Disorder Information and Symptoms
Swim Bladder Disorder is an
extremely common betta ailment, and it typically looks worse than it
actually is. I know, you're probably sitting there watching your poor
betta flop around, struggling valiantly to make it to the top for air, and
basically looking nothing like his usual graceful self, and thinking to
yourself, "This is it, I'm going to lose him." Let me make you feel a
little better before I get into all the details - Swim bladder problems
are not contagious, they don't seem to be painful, they are generally easy
to treat, and they are usually not even close to fatal. Feel better? Good,
let's get on to the fun stuff.
Symptoms can include:
floats uncontrollably to the top of the tank, or sinks to the
Seems to struggle greatly while swimming, and often will swim
at an unusual angle.
May or may not have a "kinked" spine, often in the
shape of an "S" when viewed from above.
May lie around, barely moving
except when a mad dash is made to the surface for air.
May or may not
have a swollen belly, often caused by constipation
Bladder Disorder Treatment
Swim Bladder Disorder can be caused
by several things, and it's best to try to figure out the cause of the
problem because the cause will determine what treatment you will want to
use. As always, I recommend isolating the ill betta for treatment if you
have him/her in a community tank. While Swim Bladder Disorder isn't
contagious, isolating the betta will make monitoring and treating the
condition much easier on you (and will give the sick betta much needed
"quiet time" to recover). If your betta is having a hard time getting to
the surface for air, it is often a good idea to lower the water level to
make things easier on him. Just remember if you do this that you have much
less water volume than before and water changes must be increased to keep
him in good health. Below is a list of things that can cause Swim Bladder
Disorder, in order from most common to rarest.
- Constipation is the number one cause of Swim Bladder Disorder in
otherwise healthy bettas. If your betta is showing symptoms of Swim
Bladder Disorder, I always suggest treating the betta as if he has constipation
first, because they usually do (click on the underlined "constipation" for
Overfeeding - If your betta is
displaying symptoms of Swim Bladder Disorder immediately after feedings,
and the symptoms tend to go away after a few hours, you are probably
overfeeding. It is helpful to remember that bettas only have stomachs
approximately the size of one eye, so try to feed smaller meals several
times a day instead of one giant meal once a day. That is the treatment
for Swim Bladder Disorder caused by overfeeding in a nutshell, not too
Injury - Sometimes bettas who have recently been
through a traumatic experience (being dropped on the floor, being in a
physical fight with another betta, etc) may display Swim Bladder Disorder
symptoms. In these cases, many times there is permanent damage to the swim
bladder. Unfortunately this means that there is no real cure for the
disorder if it is caused by injury, but you can manage the illness. Often
bettas permanent swim bladder problems can live normal, healthy lives if
accomodations are made - such as keeping the water level lower than normal
to allow for easier access to air, or providing large-leaved plants near
the water surface to make a "lounging" spot where launching off for air is
more doable for the betta. Swim bladder problems are not painful and are
generally not fatal in the case of injury, so these guys have a wonderful
prognosis in general.
Birth Defects - This is one of those
rare and yet common causes. If you are a betta breeder, it is extremely
common to get some fry with congenital swim bladder problems. If you are
someone that "collects" bettas from petstores, it would be extremely rare
to find a betta whose swim bladder problems are caused by birth defects as
usually wholesalers that supply the bettas will destroy fish with birth
defects before they ever make it to the store. As in the case of injury,
birth defects are really not curable but they can be managed so that the
bettas can live normal, happy lives...if less graceful lives than
Bacterial Infections - While I have
never personally seen a case of Swim Bladder Disorder caused by a
bacterial infection, some fishkeepers that I respect very much have, and
so I will list this as a possible cause of swim bladder problems if
nothing else seems to fit. I have always heard that swim bladder problems
caused by bacterial infections are incredibly difficult to treat, which
makes me wonder if they are not caused by something else altogether...just
my random musings. If you are convinced your betta's swim bladder problems
are caused by bacterial infection (or are sure that none of the other
things i've listed above could be causing it), you may want to start
treatment with a good broad-spectrum antibiotic such as Kanacyn (Kanamycin
sulfate), Spectrogram (Kanamycin sulfate and Nitrofurazone), Tetracycline,
or Furan 2 (Nitrofurazone). Again, I have not ever witnessed a bacterial
swim bladder infection, so these medications may or may not work and I
would exhaust all other possibilities before treating with these
Swim Bladder Disorder Prevention
anyone who keeps bettas will have to deal with a swim bladder problem or
two in their betta-keeping career. It is one of the top three betta
ailments along with finrot and constipation.
That being said, there are a few things you can do to reduce your betta's
chances of contracting Swim Bladder Disorder in the future.
Bladder Disorder is almost always caused by overfeeding or constipation.
Remember that a betta's stomach is only about as big as his eye, and feed
small meals several times a day instead of one large meal. Remember to
feed bettas with nutritionally sound foods and don't go overboard on fatty
foods such as bloodworms to avoid constipation.
Water quality is
extremely important to keeping healthy bettas, tank maintenance is
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