Like all aquatic pets, Betta fish are subject to some common ailments. Swim bladder disease is one of them (technically, it is not a disease but rather a disorder caused by a secondary condition).
However, even though it is common, it does not make it any less concerning as the caretaker of this fabulous fish.
Let’s explore Betta swim bladder disease, what it is exactly, its symptoms, causes, prevention, and treatment.
What is the Swim Bladder?
Most bony species of fish have a swim bladder. This organ is located in the betta’s abdominal cavity. It is formed from a bulge in the digestive tract and acts as a balancing organ with the use of oxygen gas.
Fish rely on the swim bladder for buoyancy, navigating directional swimming, and diving.
When the swim bladder has an issue, it will greatly impact Betta’s entire system.
Symptoms of Swim Bladder Disease
How do you know if your Betta is suffering from swim bladder disorder? Here is a quick list of symptoms;
- Struggling to stay buoyant (floating upside down or sideways)
- S-shaped spine
- Difficulty swimming (swimming in circles, swimming upside down or sideways)
- Lack of appetite (some fish may continue to eat normally)
- Lying on the bottom of the tank
Betta Swim Bladder Disease Causes & Treatments
There are several reasons why your Betta may be having swim bladder issues which will result in compression of the organ and the above symptoms.
1. Digestive Issues/Constipation
The most common cause of swim bladder disorders is digestive issues or constipation.
When your Betta eats too fast or too much food, it can cause his stomach to swell up and press against the swim bladder. The same is true for dry or freeze-dried foods – when these edibles come in contact with water (either in the tank or fluids found inside the fish’s stomach) they will expand.
Overfed Betta’s are also prone to constipation which can cause swim bladder disorder.
To prevent digestive issues and constipation in your Betta fish, be sure to only feed your fish a couple of pellets, twice a day. Freeze-dried food can also be rehydrated by adding aquarium water to them before feeding.
If your Betta becomes constipated, fast him for a couple of days, then resume feeding him with portion control.
2. Tank Conditions
Bettas are tropical fish and therefore need warm water in their habitat. Ideally, this should be between 75 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit.
If your aquarium does not have a heater, then the water temperature may be too low, which will slow down your Betta’s metabolism. When this happens, your fish may become constipated, causing the food to block the gastrointestinal system.
Issues with the tank’s water conditions such as sudden temperature drops or fluctuations in the pH, ammonia, or nitrates can lead to an ailment known as “shock.” If this happens, you may notice your Betta has clamped fins and swim bladder issues.
We recommend housing your Betta in a suitably sized aquarium that can sustain a heater and a small foam filter (at least five gallons). Be sure to do weekly water changes to help avoid the buildup of ammonia, nitrate, and pH levels.
3. Bacterial or Parasitic Infections
Both bacteria and parasites can affect your Betta’s swim bladder, Although these conditions are rare, they can happen, especially with a stressed fish or with the addition of tank mates.
Be sure to look for long, stringy, pale-colored feces (rather than dark pebbly poop) as another sign of a parasitic or bacterial infection.
If you think your Betta may be infected with parasites or bacterial infection, look for additional symptoms, then treat your fish with the appropriate over-the-counter products.
4. Abdominal Issues
Sometimes your Betta’s internal organs can become enlarged and push into the swim bladder. For example, cysts and growths on the kidneys and liver can greatly affect your Betta’s swim bladder and your fish’s general health and well-being.
Birth defects caused by over-breeding may also be an issue with some Betta.
Unfortunately, internal tumors are difficult to see and there is no treatment available. The best you can do is make your Betta comfortable, keep the tank conditions optimal, and minimize any stressors.
Was your Betta in a fight with another tank mate, or did he get caught in a decoration or a high-flow filter? These could result in a physical injury that may have affected the swim bladder.
Betta’s have also been known to leap out of aquariums without the proper coverage.
If your Betta has sustained an injury, it’s best to put him in a “hospital” tank (if in a community tank). If he is the lone occupant, then keep a close eye on him, be sure the tank conditions are optimal and feed him small amounts of food to ensure he is eating and does not further complicate the injury by constipation or overeating.
Betta Swim Bladder Disease Prevention
It’s easier to prevent a problem than treat it after the fact. For Betta swim bladder disease we recommend keeping your Betta fish in the proper environment. Cold, tiny tanks with no filtration or source of heat are only asking for your fish to become ill with swim bladder disorder (and other preventable ailments).
Since a poor diet is one of the main causes of swim bladder disease, we recommend feeding your Betta a balanced diet of freeze-dried, live, and pellet foods. A blanched skinned pea mashed up is also a great way to add fiber to your Betta’s diet. This can be done once a week to help keep your fish regular. You may also want to try Daphnia every couple of weeks for another fiber boost.
Do not overfeed a Betta. Constipation is one of the main results of giving your fish too much food. Remember, his stomach is only about the size of his eyeball, so keep the food limited and feed only twice a day.
Tank maintenance is also another great preventative measure against swim bladder disorder. You will need to do weekly water changes and have a working filter in your tank to help clear impurities.
We never recommend using cups, vases, or other small decorative containers to house a Betta.
These may look “cool” but despite what some pet retailers claim (Betta don’t like to swim, only need a cup of water to survive, they are low maintenance) these fish are living, breathing creatures that deserve the best care possible for long healthy life (3 to 5 years).
If you have decided the Betta is the right fish for you, then get the proper setup so you can avoid having to treat a sick fish down the road.
Betta Swim Bladder Disease Conclusion
If you think your Betta has developed swim bladder disease then start by looking for the simplest explanation.
If you have been overfeeding him, let him fast for a couple of days, then resume with smaller portions and a better quality of diet.
Add a heater if you do not have one, and/or upgrade your Betta to a larger tank where a heater and filtration system can be implemented.
Do regular weekly tank maintenance and watch your pH levels.
Being a good Betta keeper requires all these preventative measures. If, unfortunately, it turns out your Betta’s swim bladder disorder is caused by a tumor or birth defect, then keep him comfortable as best you can.