The 5 W's of Swim Bladder Disease in Fish

Posted by Samantha Bubar
Betta fish goes for a swim through clean freshwater.

Is your fish swimming unnaturally or acting odd? He may be experiencing swim bladder disease. This disease can affect pet fish and be the result of many different causes. If your fish starts floating or swimming in circles, chances are that this problem could be the cause.

Swim bladder disease is less of a disease and more of a disorder. If you think your fish may have a swim bladder problem, learning the who, what, where, and why of swim bladder disease will help you figure out what to do next and how to best care for your fish.

What Fish Can Get Swim Bladder Disease?

Swim Bladder

Swim bladder issues are most common in goldfish and betta fish, but can occur in any aquarium fish.

What Is It?

Swim Bladder

This disorder happens when the swim bladder of the fish is too full and changes your fancy goldfish's buoyancy.

Your fish may float to the top of the tank or sink to the bottom of the tank. They may swim sideways or float upside down belly-up. In addition, the spine may look curved and the belly area will look full or bloated.

When Does It Happen?

Swim Bladder

Most commonly, swim bladder occurs when your fish is overeating or gulps too much air. Swim bladder can also happen in cooler water temperatures when the metabolism of the fish slows down.

Bacterial infections or parasites stemming from water changes or poor water quality sometimes cause complications with the digestive system. It can also be a rare birth defect with symptoms showing up very early in the lifespan of the fish.

Where Is It?

Swim Bladder

The swim bladder is located behind the rest of the internal organs. The diagram above of a betta fish shows the swim bladder in blue.

Why Does This Happen?

Betta Fish

The main cause of swim bladder is overfeeding, which leads to constipation. Another cause is gulping air when they grab food from the surface of the water. Enlarged organs and infections can also cause swim bladder disease.

Water temperature can also prove problematic for your fish's swim bladder. Cooler water temperatures lowers the metabolism, which makes it harder for food to pass through their system.

What Now?

Swim Bladder

If you suspect your fish may have swim bladder disease, don't feed them for three to four days. This will allow whatever may be in his system to pass.

Clean the tank water and raise the temperature to 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Sometimes also lowering the water level can help make it easier for the fish to reach the surface and for filtration systems to handle any buildup.

Feed your fish a skinned pea after the three-to-four-day fast. Frozen peas work best, and all you have to do is microwave or boil a pea, to soften it enough to remove the skin. Once you have removed the skin, you can feed a piece of the cooked pea to your fish. The pea will help to clear out your fish's system.

How Do I Prevent It?

Swim Bladder

Make sure to keep freshwater clean at all times and maintain a temperature between 75-80 degrees Fahrenheit. You can soak dried foods before feeding or thaw frozen foods. Also make sure to only feed the appropriate amount. A fish stomach is about the same size as its eye!

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Following these steps can help you prevent and treat any issues that may rise to the surface with your beloved fish friends.

So let's recap! There are a few main causes of swim bladder disease: The most common cause is when flaky fish food floats at the top of the water, so when fish take a bite they also gulp down some air. This can cause their organs to become enlarged, leading to swim bladder disorder.

Have you encountered swim bladder disease? Share any helpful tips for fish care at our Wide Open Pets Facebook!

This article was originally published in September 2016.

READ MORE: Sheepshead Fish Have "Human Teeth," And It's Freaking Everyone Out

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The 5 W's of Swim Bladder Disease in Fish