Fish Anatomy

Swim Bladder Disease Information for Tropical Fish Owners

The swim bladder is a unique part of the fish that contributes to buoyancy control. Its primary function is to make sure that the fish can maintain its current depth in the water without having to expel energy in swimming.

The swim bladder disease is therefore a complication that interrupts the ability of the tropical fish to maintain such buoyancy. It also goes by the name Floating Disorder because of the obvious behavioral signs of the condition.

Swim Bladder
Swim Bladder problem

The problem is prevalent among aquarium fishes, specifically the Goldfish and Betta. Note though that all breeds of fish can have this type of condition, provided that they have a swim bladder. Many aquarium owners not familiar with the disease often assume that their fish is dead because it is ‘floating’ although this is obviously not the case. Fortunately, being aware of the condition gives you the chance to address it appropriately and give your tropical fish another lease at life. The good news is that the Floating Disorder can be treated with proper care and knowledge of the possible causes of the problem.


There are several possible causes of Swim Bladder Disease which the owner must determine in order to address the problem. Following are some of the known triggers of this condition:

Compression from Other Organs

This is perhaps the most common cause of the problem. The compression of the organs essentially interferes with the function of the bladder, resulting to buoyancy problems. The compression however doesn’t necessarily have to affect the bladder but rather, other organs surrounding it. This can include the following:

  • An enlarged stomach, usually due to too much food.
  • The stomach may also be enlarged because the fish has inhaled too much air
  • An enlarged liver, resulting from fatty deposits in the body
  • The kidneys may also be enlarged for a variety of reasons, the most common one usually attributed to cysts
  • In female fish, the compression might be due to impacted eggs
  • Compressed intestines usually results from constipation


Another possible cause is an infection, either due from bacteria or from parasites. This is an environmental factor which usually means that something must be done for the maintenance of the aquarium, creating a setup that would be more favourable for the fish.

Physical Injury

Hard impact can also cause problems for the swim bladder. This can occur if your fish falls to the floor during a routine cleaning. The fact is that there are numerous reasons why this could happen, some of which may be traced back to the activities of the fish.

Defect at Birth

Some fish are just born with this defect, thereby making treatment hard.

Physical Signs and Symptoms

The physical signs can be tough to spot if you’re not familiar with the typical look and behaviour of tropical fish. Checking out videos for comparison is often the best idea when checking these physical symptoms. Typically though, there are only two obvious signs to look for:

  • A distended belly.
  • The position of the fish when swimming.

A fish with Swim Bladder Disease would often swim horizontally with its tail higher than its head. Note though that some fish types assume this position naturally so make sure to check the breed of your pet. If they’re supposed to assume a straight position when swimming, then there’s a good chance that Swim Bladder Disease has set in.

Behavioural Signs

The most prevalent signs of Swim Bladder Disease are the behaviour of the fish.
Fish suffering from Swim Bladder how can you fix it?Specifically, those who suffer from the condition typically ‘float’ upside down. This might make it seem like they’re dead – but don’t throw the fish away just yet! It’s easy to see if the fish is still alive despite assuming the ‘dead man’s float’ position.

On the opposite side of the spectrum, the fish may also have a hard time rising in the aquarium. If your pet fish seems to sink to the bottom and has a hard time rising to the surface, this is also another possible sign of the disease.


Treatment depends largely on the cause of the problem although obviously, you can’t ask your pet fish exactly why they’re suffering from the condition. If the problem stems from physical injury or a birth defect, there’s very little chance that the Swim Bladder Disease may be addressed appropriately. Still, you are welcome to try any of the following treatments in the order given:


The first culprit is the diet of your fish, specifically if the fish eats too much, therefore causing the compression. Ideally, you should not feed the fish for two to three days or feed sparingly 2 or 3 times a day. The rule of thumb is that if the food is left uneaten after a few minutes, taking them out of the tank is the next option to avoid overfeeding or even littering the aquarium. If the symptoms still persist after three days of fasting, try out other treatment options.

Water Temperature

Water temperature should be around 80 degrees Fahrenheit during treatment. A low water temperature actually causes indigestion in fish which thereby results to bloated bellies and problems with buoyancy. Keep the temperature with these levels and observe what happens to the fish.

Water Quality

Another possibility is infection which can be found in the water. To solve this problem, check your filter and make sure that all the proper steps are being taken to keep the quality in healthy levels. You might need to transfer the fish into a healthier environment and do some cleaning to make sure that all the infection and bacteria are removed from the water.

Frozen Peas

Some enthusiasts promote the feeding of pea skins to tropical fish – they are of the perfect consistency for digestion. Thaw them out and feed sparingly.

A good rule of thumb is this: if two or more of your tropical fish suffer from Swim Bladder Disease on a regular basis, chances are the problem is in the water or your feeding routine. If just one or two has the condition however, it could be a physical issue, a defect, or other non-environmental factors. Unfortunately, there are cases when nothing can be done to solve the problem, hence forcing you to resort to euthanasia.

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