All About Swim Bladder Disease in Betta Fish


If you’re noticing weird behavior in your betta, like abnormal swimming, floating vertically, on its side, or upside down, there’s a good chance it may have swim bladder disease. I’ve seen this condition with my bettas at least once and will walk you through navigating and treating it.

Firstly, there’s no need to panic as this is a fairly common disease in bettas, and it’s unlikely to become fatal. 

In this article, I’ll share my experience of taking care of my betta whenever they’ve had swim bladder disease as well as causes, symptoms, and proven treatments to  help you cure your betta of the condition. But first, we need to understand what swim bladder disease is.

What is Swim Bladder Disease?

Contrary to what you may think, the swim bladder disease isn’t a particular ailment. Swim bladder disease is a general term used to refer to any disorder, damage, or illness that makes your betta’s swim bladder stop working as it should. This means that when you’re treating swim bladder disease, you’re trying to treat the symptoms of another condition most of the time.

How Important Is a Betta’s Swim Bladder?

All bettas have an organ called the swim bladder, which gives them the ability to control their buoyancy in the tank. Bettas don’t have to swim constantly to stay in place as the swim bladder already does all the work to save bettas energy and make swimming convenient. 

You’ll find the swim bladder behind all of the other organs of your betta fish, so any form of swelling can affect your betta severely. Anytime something is wrong with the swim bladder, your bettas will have challenges staying buoyant in the water, which could put them under a lot of stress.

What Causes Swim Bladder Disease in Bettas?

Since swim bladder disease is a secondary symptom of other betta fish diseases, several causes could exist. Diagnosing the right cause is the first step you have to take if you notice your betta acting strangely. Check below for the various causes.

Low Water Temperature

Bettas have a high sensitivity to water temperature. If the temperature in your tank is lower than optimal, their digestive processes will slow down. A slower digestive process may make food block the gastrointestinal tract and invariably pressure their swim bladder. Check the water temperature in your tank regularly and if you need to, adjust the thermostat on your heater manually to an acceptable range of 78-82 degrees Fahrenheit.

Overfeeding/Constipation

The most common cause of swim bladder disease is overfeeding and associated digestive problems. Bettas are a gutty fish and sometimes won’t stop eating when they’re full, especially when there’s food available. When your betta eats their food too quickly, their stomach may get swollen and put pressure against the swim bladder.

Apart from getting them constipated, overfeeding may also cause a build-up of fatty deposits in their bladder. All of this is associated with bettas gulping down too much air, which is pretty standard because they eat from the water’s surface. Some situations with the food they eat can also cause problems. If bettas eat pellets, freeze-dried bloodworms, or flakes, the food can expand after making contact with water. When bettas eat the food, it may block their intestinal tract or cause their stomach to become bigger, pressing down on the swim bladder and causing them difficulty.

Shock

Your betta can get choked when they experience sudden fluctuations in the tank’s water conditions, light, or temperature. Even though this is a less common cause of swim bladder disease, it’s essential you know it’s possible when your fish gets stressed from quick changes. In extreme cases, these rapid changes can lead to fin clamping and swim bladder issues.

You can prevent shock by keeping your tank clean with methods like weekly partial water changes, vacuuming the gravel, and regularly monitoring the tank’s conditions like the pH, water hardness, and temperature.

Physical Trauma

As you may know, bettas are sometimes aggressive fish and may get into fights with tank mates or get stuck in filtration or decor units. One time, I had to gently remove my betta after it got stuck in the artificial plants in my tank. Bettas can also get injured when they jump out of the tank when you’re doing routine maintenance. That’s why I always recommend that you’re gentle when doing anything in the tank so you do not startle your betta.

Parasitic or Bacterial Infection

Another cause of swim bladder disease is infections—either from parasites or bacteria. Parasitic worms can get into your bettas’ intestines and stomach, making it very difficult for them to swim. Even though parasitic worms aren’t particularly fatal, they can lead to swim bladder disease in some extreme cases.

Bacterial infections are usually due to poor water quality in the tank. This infection can affect your betta’s swim bladder, making it inflamed. When this happens, you may notice stringy and pale-colored feces in the tank instead of the regular firm, dark brown feces from bettas

Birth Defects

Sometimes, there’s no traceable cause of swim bladder disease, and your betta may have a congenital disability that affects their swim bladder. You’ll typically detect cases like this early on, and it’s usually a fatal condition. You’ll also find it more common in double-tail bettas.

Other Causes

In some rare cases, the cause of your betta’s swim bladder disorder won’t be any of the above. In this case, you should check for other conditions like cotton fin fungus, cysts in kidneys, and egg binding in female bettas, as these are also factors. You should know, however, that if this is the case, there’s no way to treat your betta and all you can do is wait to observe the situation and consult a vet if it gets worse.

How Do You Know If Your Betta Has Swim Bladder Disease

You can check for many symptoms to know if your betta is suffering from swim bladder disease. But you should know that not all of these symptoms will show simultaneously.

Some of the symptoms of constipation/overfeeding include :

  • Abnormal swimming methods or general problems with buoyancy
  • Curved back or a distended belly which is an indicator of constipation
  • Lethargy, especially if your betta usually is very active
  • Abnormal appetite as your betta may refuse to eat

Some of the symptoms of infection include :

  • Clamped fins as a result of stress
  • Constantly shaking their bodies

How To Treat Swim Bladder Disease in Bettas

Your treatment strategy is dependent on the cause of the swim bladder disease. It would be best to try to identify what’s causing swim bladder disease before proceeding with a treatment plan. Check below for the various types of treatment for different causes of swim bladder disease

Treatment For Swim Bladder Disease Caused by Overfeeding

If your betta fish has an engorged stomach due to overfeeding or gastrointestinal problems, follow the steps below.

  1. If it is a shared tank with other fishes, move the affected betta to a quarantine tank.
  2. Don’t feed your betta for three days. This won’t harm your fish as they can go without food for a few days.
  3. During those three days, raise the tank’s temperature slowly up to 80oF while your fish recovers. Increased temperature increases their digestion rate.
  4. After three days, check for any improvements. Sometimes, leaving them for three days is enough time to get them going.
  5. If you still notice symptoms of swim bladder disease, you should start feeding them daphnia (we recommend live daphnia) or a balanced skinned pea because of its fiber-rich content.
  6. If your betta has difficulties chasing the live daphnia, try holding out some freeze-dried daphnia in the tank for your fish. Ensure to let it soak and absorb water before feeding it to your betta.
  7. If you don’t see any improvements after a week, your betta may be experiencing a more severe condition.

You can also try the betta fish popeye treatment for swim bladder disease as it’s effective for constipation.

Treatment For Swim Bladder Disease Caused by Bacterial or Parasitic Infection

If your betta has a bacterial or parasitic infection, follow the below steps to treat your fish.

  1. Quarantine your betta in a different tank where you can medicate the water.
  2. Start dosing your aquarium with appropriate medication. 
  3. Apply melafix to the water if it’s a bacterial infection and use Betamax for parasitic infections. If you’re not sure of the type of infection, use melafix first, as the chances of a parasitic infection are rare.

Treatment For Swim Bladder Disease Caused by Shock

If your betta has swim bladder disease due to shock or injury, there’s not much you can do except remove them from the situation. If your betta is stuck somewhere, remove it. Your tank’s water conditions have changed drastically, gradually stabilize them back to normal

Make sure the tank is in the appropriate condition for your betta and turn off the lights to reduce activity. Your betta will rest during this period and gradually recover from the disease.

Tips to Prevent Swim Bladder Disease

You can follow the below tips to prevent swim bladder disease in your betta.

  • Always buy and feed your betta only high-quality food. Only focus on reputable brands such as Cargill, Land O’ Lakes, and ADM Animal Nutrition.
  • Soak your betta’s food before feeding it to them so itsinks in the tank and they don’t have to come to the water surface to eat.
  • Don’t overfeed your bettas, as many will keep eating as long as the food is available. Stick to 2-3 pellets daily.
  • Follow all the best practices in maintaining a tank and keeping the water quality sound. Regular water changes, removing algae, and cleaning tanks ornaments are some examples of proper tank maintenance.
  • Keep a steady temperature in your tank and make sure there are no abrupt changes.
  • Remove ornaments that can harm your fish and separate your bettas if they get into fights

How do you cure swim bladder disease in betta fish?

The best cure for swim bladder disease is based on the cause of the disease. Follow the treatment steps outlined above according to the cause, and your betta will be fine in no time.

Can swim bladder disease go away on its own?

Yes, swim bladder disease can go away if it’s caused by shock. There isn’t much you can do in that scenario than give your betta optimal living conditions and time to heal.

Save Your Betta Fish from Swim Bladder Disease

I hope you’ve learned more about ways to treat swim bladder disease in bettas. Knowing how to treat bettas with this condition is very important for betta-owners as it’s a fairly common issue with bettas. For more betta care tips, view our ultimate betta fish care guide.

Let me know what you think about this article in the comment section below and share your experience with swim bladder disease.

Logan Price

I created this website to help fellow fishkeepers get accurate and helpful information at the click of a few buttons. I love sharing my tips and tricks to help make you a better fishkeeper, so stay updated by following us on Social Media!

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