Betta fish are a hardy species commonly kept in captivity; however, they’re susceptible to various diseases if not given optimal care. One of those diseases is dropsy. Betta fish dropsy is an aquarist’s nightmare, as it’s as difficult to spot as it is to treat.
Most aquarists will encounter this disease at some point in their hobby. When keeping bettas, your vigilance will make the difference between a healthy fish and one inflicted by this condition.
What Is Betta Fish Dropsy?
Betta fish dropsy is not a disease. Rather, it’s a condition or symptom of an underlying health issue. Because of this, healthy fish rarely get dropsy. Dropsy in betta fish is comparable to edema or ascites in humans, which is an accumulation of fluids causing tissue swelling.
In betta fish, dropsy is often associated with a bacterial infection, though it can also be a symptom of a viral or parasitic infection. Betta fish with this condition will have swollen bellies that eventually drop down, which is how this condition got its name. Betta fish dropsy is caused by substandard care.
How Do I Know if My Betta Has Dropsy?
Unfortunately, dropsy can be difficult to diagnose. This is because its symptoms, especially in the early stages, can be attributed to many diseases. Because of this, treatment may be delayed, normally resulting in the betta’s death. The following are the symptoms that may indicate that your betta has dropsy:
Early Stages of Dropsy
- Your betta may stop feeding.
- Your betta isolates and avoids interacting with other fish.
- Your betta has chosen one location in the tank and spends most of its time there.
If your betta fish shows all three of these signs, the swollen belly will appear within the next two or three days. When dropsy reaches this stage, it is more difficult to treat.
As stated earlier, many other factors cause these symptoms (besides the swollen belly). One such factor is stress. If you treat your betta for dropsy when the actual cause is stress, the treatment could make things worse for your fish.
Advanced Stages of Dropsy:
Pinecone scales are a good indicator that your betta fish has dropsy. Your betta’s scales will stick out, resembling a pinecone. Unfortunately, when the condition reaches this stage, bettas rarely survive.
- A distended stomach or bloated betta can also be a strong indicator of dropsy.
- Curved spine. The curvature of the spine is caused by swelling of the organs. In dropsy, the spine curvature will be sideways rather than vertically, which can occur in cases of tuberculosis.
- Loss of color. The gills of the betta lose their color and become pale. This loss of color can extend to the fish’s scales and even their excrement.
- Problems with buoyancy. The betta fish spends its time at the surface or sinks to the bottom of the tank. Also, your fish may dart to the surface to get air or lay on its side.
- Clamped fins. The fins become clamped due to swelling. When this occurs, the fish will have trouble moving them.
- Swelling. Besides the stomach swelling, the betta’s eyes and anal opening may also well from fluid retention.
Betta fish who have dropsy may not have all these symptoms; however, the longer this condition is left untreated, the more likely they will appear.
What Is the Treatment for Dropsy in Betta Fish?
The key to betta fish dropsy treatment is identifying it early. Treatment involves quarantine, maintaining optimal water quality, antibiotics, and a high-quality diet.
If your betta fish is the only fish in the display tank, you won’t need to provide a separate quarantine tank. If you have live plants in the tank, you must remove them due to the effects of the medication. Also, provide a hiding place for your betta to give it a sense of security. You can use things like rocks, ceramic aquarium decorations, and the like for this purpose. You’ll have to set up a quarantine tank if your betta is in a community tank. The quarantine tank must be properly set up before introducing your betta fish. To properly set up the quarantine tank, do the following:
Maintaining Optimal Water Quality
Poor water quality is a major cause of dropsy, so it is important that you provide the correct water parameters in the quarantine tank. When speaking of water parameters, I’m referring to ammonia and nitrite levels. Use a water conditioner to optimize the water quality and reduce stress on your fish. Optimal water quality also includes the following:
Temperature and Oxygenation
Add an aquarium heater to the quarantine tank to keep the water temperature at 78 degrees Fahrenheit. Also, keep the water level lower than you usually do so that your betta can reach the surface to get oxygen more easily. Add an air stone to the aquarium so the water will become more oxygenated.
When treating dropsy, another important factor of water quality is its salinity. Increase the salinity of the quarantine tank by adding ½ a teaspoon of aquarium salt per gallon of water. The increased salinity will help reduce the build-up of fluids in your fish’s body, thus reducing swelling.
Important Note: A betta with dropsy is already experiencing stress. Placing it in the quarantine tank will add to that stress unless you first allow your fish to get acclimated to it. When transferring the betta to the quarantine tank, do the following:
- Do not use a net to transfer your betta to the quarantine tank. Being in water supports the betta’s already swollen organs. Using a net will mean your fish’s full body weight will be pressing down on it. Instead, use a container to scoop up your betta.
- When you have scooped up your betta, do not put it right away in the quarantine tank. Your betta needs to first acclimate to its waters. To do this, place your betta in a plastic bag that contains the original water. Let the bag float in the quarantine tank for 20 minutes before releasing it.
Note: If your betta fish was part of a community tank, do a 25% water change in the community tank after you have transferred your betta fish to the quarantine tank. It’s important that you do this because the water in the community tank may not be meeting the correct water parameters of the other fish.
After you release your betta in the quarantine tank, it’s time to add medication. Commonly used medications to cure dropsy include:
- Kanamycin Sulfate
- Maracyn II
When using antibiotics, following the package’s directions is important. Your betta fish will absorb the antibiotics from the water, but there are also some antibiotics that you can soak fish food in.
If your betta is still eating, offering medication this way would provide faster efficacy. Special attention needs to be given when treating with antibiotics. For one thing, antibiotics reduce the oxygen level in the water, which is why adding an air stone is important. Also, you’ll need to do a 25% water change daily to avoid a toxic build-up of antibiotics.
The normal treatment period for dropsy is ten days. Even if your fish appears to improve, do not cut this treatment period short. Follow the directions as given by the manufacturer. Cutting the treatment period short can result in bacteria returning. Further, they may be more resistant to the medication.
Purchase high-quality fish food for your betta. It’s important to provide nutritious food, given that your betta’s immune system is compromised. At the same time, don’t overfeed it, as uneaten food will increase the nitrate and ammonia levels in the tank, creating greater stress on your fish.
How to Treat Dropsy in Bettas?
The ability to cure betta dropsy depends on how early treatment is started. Left untreated, dropsy can kill your fish within 15-20 days.
The Big Three
Previously, I mentioned three main symptoms that are strong indicators of dropsy:
- Pinecone scales
- Distended stomach
- Curved spine
If your betta is exhibiting any of these three symptoms, treatment should not be given as it’s too late. It would be more humane to euthanize your fish. At this stage, there’s seldom any hope of recovery.
With dropsy, there’s often simultaneous organ failure, which begins with the kidneys and then spreads to other organs.
How Long Does It Take for a Betta to Recover from Dropsy?
The normal treatment period for dropsy is ten days. When using medication, follow the directions as given by the manufacturer. Cutting the treatment period short can result in bacteria returning.
How to Prevent Dropsy in Betta Fish
The old saying that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure applies to betta dropsy. Preventing dropsy involves providing your betta with proper care, which involves minimizing stress for your betta:
Don’t be fooled by how many pet stores keep bettas in small bowls. You should keep your betta in a 5-gallon tank with good filtration and a water temperature of 78 degrees Fahrenheit.
It’s important to keep up with your aquarium maintenance. Aquarium maintenance includes:
- Weekly water changes where you replace 25% of the water.
- Cleaning the gravel with a gravel vacuum to remove organic waste.
- Cleaning the filter by scrubbing it and replacing the filter medium as needed.
- Keeping track of ammonia and nitrite levels by regularly testing the aquarium water with an aquarium water test kit.
Don’t Overstock Your Tank
The more fish you keep in a tank, the more the biological load will be. The term biological load refers to the organic waste created by the fish and can include their excrement and uneaten food. The increase in biological load increases the chance of bacterial or fungal infections. Further, overcrowding can lead to increased stress levels in your betta.
Feed a Nutritious Diet and Don’t Overfeed
Maintain your betta’s health by offering it a diverse diet. Bettas are omnivorous, so feed them plant- and animal-based foods. Feed your betta high-quality flakes and pellets supplemented with frozen daphnia and bloodworms.
Avoid overfeeding by feeding your betta only twice a day. Their stomach size is only as large as the size of their eyes, so only small amounts of food need to be given. Feeding them this way will help keep down the biological load.
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Is Dropsy Contagious to Other Fish?
Dropsy is not contagious to other fish. Dropsy is not a disease but rather a symptom of a problem with how your betta is being maintained. For this reason, other fish can get dropsy if exposed to the same deficiencies in care.
For more information about caring for your betta, check out the following:
Don’t Skimp on Your Betta
We hope that you enjoyed this article. Don’t be fooled by what you see in many pet shops. Small bowls and a lack of filtration are not ways to keep bettas. By providing the proper care for your betta, your betta will stay healthy and you won’t have to deal with dropsy in its lifetime. We invite you to post your questions and comments below.