Dropsy, bloat, edema, hydropsy, and ascites are all fairly synonymous terms referring to a very unpleasant condition of swelling up in pet frogs.
Unfortunately, the condition can be very unpleasant or even fatal for frogs such as Pacman frogs, African Dwarf frogs, and African Clawed frogs, and can only be safely treated by a trained veterinarian.
Here we’ll take a look at what you should do if you have a frog with dropsy, and how you can help to prevent it from happening in your aquarium or herpetarium.
Causes of Bloat in Aquatic Frogs
Given all of the advances in veterinary medicine, it may be surprising to learn that the cause of dropsy in aquatic frogs is still unknown.
Although some theories have suggested that the condition could be caused by an electrolyte imbalance in the water, there is no scientific evidence to confirm one particular cause of the disease.
What we do know is that dropsy results in lymph fluid not draining properly from the lymph nodes and building up in other parts of the body.
The abdomen, especially, becomes swollen and causes edema or ascites, i.e. the buildup of excess fluid trapped in bodily tissue.
Diagnosing Bloat in Frogs
Dropsy is a fairly serious illness that can affect male and female frogs of all ages and needs to be diagnosed by a qualified veterinarian – preferably an exotic pet specialist.
The reason that you can’t reliably diagnose dropsy at home is that there are a few other health conditions that it could be confused with.
Frogs are unpredictable pets and can sometimes eat things that they shouldn’t. Gravel and small pebbles, if swallowed, can get lodged or ‘impacted’ inside the creature’s internal organs, and can’t be pushed out.
Although impaction may result in a similarly swollen-looking frog, it is a very different condition, requiring different treatments than true bloat or dropsy.
Effects of Bloat on Frogs
The effects of dropsy are not pleasant to dwell on. The buildup of fluid in the body results in increasing pressure placed upon the frog’s tissues and organs which can result in severe discomfort and pain.
A pet that’s in pain will often show discomfort by refusing food, and, obviously, not eating for prolonged periods only adds to the severity of the issue.
Treatment of Bloat in Frogs
Since we don’t know the exact cause of dropsy, it’s not a simple matter to cure it at a causal level. What we can do, however, is relieve the symptoms, so that your frog can live in relative peace and comfort again.
Treatment requires a qualified vet to drain the abdomen of fluid with a needle, which provides fast, effective relief from bloat symptoms.
Although you may be tempted to try this procedure yourself, it’s a risky business since you could easily puncture one of your frog’s vital organs – an irreversible error that could prove much more serious than the original bout of dropsy.
Why Not To Use Salt Against Dropsy in Frogs
Although using salt is a popular remedy for treating dropsy in aquarium fish, it is not suitable for frogs.
While salt does have the ability to draw some of the liquid out from an aquatic pet suffering from dropsy, aquatic frogs come from freshwater habitats and have a very low tolerance to saline water.
If you tried giving your frog a salt water bath or even a generic dose in the fish tank, it would likely do considerable harm to your frog, and may even kill them.
Euthanasia in Frogs With Dropsy
Sadly, there are no known reliable and safe home remedies for dropsy, and even an exotics vet may not be able to rectify a really severe bloating that’s gone too far.
Since the pressure caused by bloat can cause your frog severe discomfort and pain, it may be kinder, in some instances, to euthanize your frog instead of prolonging a protracted and more painful demise.
How To Prevent Dropsy in Aquatic Frogs
Although we can’t know for sure what the causes of bloat or dropsy are, there are some fairly universal principles for reducing the likelihood of illness in aquarium amphibians.
Keep Your Frog in Clean, Dechlorinated Water
Like fish, amphibians can be very sensitive to water quality. A buildup of ammonia, nitrates, algae, and harmful bacteria can all be harmful to pet frogs, so filtration and/or daily water changes are essential.
Chlorine can also be fatal to frogs, so it’s vital that you dechlorinate your tap water with an aquarium water conditioner before adding it from the tap.
Feed Your Pet Frogs a Healthy, Balanced Diet
Although some owners try to feed their aquatic frogs exclusively on floating ‘amphibian sticks,’ in the long run, it may not be the best for their health.
Nutritious supplementary foods such as wax worms, bloodworms, brine shrimp, earthworms, small fish, and freshwater snails are all a great way to get some extra diversity into your frog’s diet and help them remain in optimum health.
Reduce Stressful Factors for Your Frog
As with keeping any pet, reducing stress levels is essential for your frog’s overall health and well-being.
Pet frogs are sensitive to noises and vibrations and can become chronically stressed by the sounds of noisy filters and aquarium equipment and also tend not to like water currents.
This has led some experts to suggest frogs be kept only in aquariums without a filter, where the water is changed daily, or to use only the gentlest of filters (e.g. a sponge filter) to reduce stress in aquatic frogs.
Choose Tankmates Carefully
To increase your frog’s sense of safety and well-being, it’s important to keep them with the right tank mates.
Although small, delicate fish species like guppies can become prey for pet frog species. Faster-moving shoaling fish such as danios and rasboras can make good companions.
Just avoid large, aggressive fish like cichlids, which could bully your frog, making them stressed and more prone to diseases such as dropsy.
Keep a Close Eye on Your Frogs
Even if you follow all of the advice for setting up your tank right and keeping your frogs healthy, you still need to watch them closely every day.
Spending time with your frogs builds up your connection with your pets and allows you to notice when there’s anything out of the ordinary.
If your frog begins to become bloated, it’s better if you can act on it as soon as possible, since mild swelling can sometimes turn into severe cases of dropsy within 24 hours.
Remember, Aquatic Frogs Are for Life!
Aquatic frogs such as African Dwarf frogs and African Clawed frogs can live from 5-15 years, so you’d better be prepared to look after them for the long haul!
Conditions such as bloat can be very unpleasant for pet frogs, so if you want to keep one, it’s vital that you’re prepared to respond to the needs of your frog for the duration of its life.
Bloat or dropsy is a potentially severe ailment in aquatic frogs that can only be safely diagnosed and treated by a trained veterinarian.
Although we still don’t know the exact cause of dropsy, it’s safe to say that healthy frogs living in a well-maintained aquarium or herpetarium are less likely to suffer from the illness.
Good amphibian husbandry and tank maintenance, as well as spending time observing your frogs daily, are the best preventative measures to guard against this unfortunate and unpleasant disease.