Swim Bladder disease or swim bladder disorder is a fairly common ailment in aquarium fish, and betta fish are no exception. If you’ve noticed your betta swimming upside down, sideways, or getting stuck at the top or bottom of your tank, he might well have a swim bladder problem.
While it can be distressing for both you and your fish, in most cases, swim bladder disease is curable and your fish can make a full recovery.
There are many potential causes for swim bladder disease, so let’s take a closer look at some of them, and explore how to treat them.
Firstly, What Is a Swim Bladder?
The swim bladder is an essential organ in bony fish that allows them to control their buoyancy. This thin-walled sac located inside the body of fish is usually filled with gas.
By expanding and contracting their swim bladder, fish can easily change their buoyancy and move from the bottom of the aquarium to the surface, and back down again with ease.
That is, so long as their swim bladder is working properly!
What Are The Symptoms of Swim Bladder Disease?
Swim bladder disease is actually an umbrella term used for a variety of conditions that adversely affect the swim bladder.
The most obvious symptoms of swim bladder disease are when your fish are struggling to maintain control of their position in the water. They may swim upside down, on their side, or swim in vertical loops, head over tail.
Depending on the causes, they may also get stuck at the water’s surface in the aquarium, or spend a lot of time resting on plant leaves or gravel, struggling to ascend.
Sometimes these symptoms may be accompanied by a loss of appetite or constipation too.
The Main Causes of Swim Bladder Disease
Swim Bladder Disease can be caused by a variety of factors, let’s look at the main ones here.
Overeating or Incorrect Feeding
The most common cause of swim bladder conditions in bettas is probably overfeeding. A betta fish’s stomach is only about as big as its eye, so it’s crucial that they get the right kind of food, and not too much of it.
Betta fish that over-eat can become bloated or constipated, which can quickly lead to swim bladder problems.
Preventing and Treating Digestive Disorders
As a rule of thumb, only feed your betta fish twice a day and only as much as they can eat in 1-2 minutes. If your fish is becoming bloated, pay special attention to the feeding regime.
Generic community fish foods are often full of vegetable-based fillers and are not designed for betta fish.
Instead, feed your bettas a diverse, carnivorous diet of specially formulated betta pellets, supplemented with frozen or live foods like bloodworms, daphnia, and brine shrimp.
If your betta is bloated or constipated with swim bladder problems, try fasting him for 3 days. If he shares a tank with other fish that need to continue eating, then you could put him in a quarantine tank during this treatment time.
Some aquarists also like to raise the temperature of the tank by 2-3 degrees to speed up the digestive process, but always make sure that water temperatures fall within the safe 78-81 Fahrenheit range for betta fish.
If this preliminary treatment doesn’t work, you could try giving your betta some natural laxatives which we discuss in the FAQ section at the bottom of the page.
Other Diseases And Infections
Swim bladder disease can often be a secondary symptom of a bacterial or parasitic infection in your betta fish. Damaged fins are a classic sign of bacterial infection in bettas, which can then spread to the rest of the body.
Common parasitic infections in bettas include ich, velvet, and flukes.
All of these infections can weaken the normal functioning of your fish’s physiology and potentially lead to problems in important organs like their swim bladder failing to work properly.
Before you can treat your fish for a certain disease, you’ll need to identify which one they’re suffering from. Look closely at your fish for discoloration or anything unusual growing on their skin.
Check your fish for injuries on their fins or scales that may have become a host for a bacterial infection.
Move your betta to a quarantine tank and give them the correct medication according to their condition. When your betta has recovered from his infection, his swim bladder problems should hopefully clear up too.
Poor Water Conditions
Swim Bladder disorder can also be caused or exacerbated by poor water conditions, where the temperature or water quality doesn’t meet the needs of your betta fish.
Bettas need water temperature to be between 78 – 81 Fahrenheit for them to be at their best, and if the temperature falls below this point their digestive systems can slow down which could lead to constipation and bloating.
As well as looking after your water temperature, you need to make sure that you’re keeping your water and substrate clean and in good order.
Despite some common myths, every betta tank needs a good filter to maintain safe, stable water conditions. You also need to perform partial water changes and vacuum your gravel regularly to ensure a plentiful oxygen supply in the tank while ensuring that harmful substances such as nitrates don’t reach dangerous levels.
Some bettas may be born with genetic abnormalities that can affect their swim bladders. If you’ve noticed swim bladder disease symptoms in your fish from an early age, it may simply be affected by a genetic disposition for a swim bladder disorder.
In some cases, your fish can grow out of the condition, but in others, the effects can be permanent, and your betta will have to learn to live with a less-than-perfect swim bladder function.
Assisting a Betta with a Genetic Swim Bladder Disorder
Unlike digestive upsets and infections, there’s not so much you can do for a betta suffering from a genetic disorder. To know whether the problem is permanent or temporary, you’ll just have to wait and see if your betta gets better.
In the meantime, try to make life easier for your fish. Broad Leaved aquatic plants or ‘betta hammocks’ are an excellent way to give your betta fish a surface to relax upon.
This way your betta can have a chance to relax and won’t have to constantly struggle to maintain its position in the water.
In longer-term or permanent cases of congenital swim bladder disorder, it may be kinder to give your betta a specialized tank that’s only filled to half of its normal depth. This way your betta will still be able to explore plenty of water without needing to change the depth at which they’re swimming so often.
Just be sure that by filling your tank to half its ordinary depth that there is still at least 5-10 gallons of water in the tank, which is the bare minimum for any betta fish.
If you’re still not sure what’s causing the swim bladder issues in your betta, there are a few rarer causes for swim bladder disease such as kidney cysts and egg binding in female bettas which you could research further.
If your betta seems otherwise healthy and has suddenly developed symptoms, ask yourself if they’ve recently suffered from a stressful or shocking event.
Sudden changes in water temperature, the introduction of an aggressive tankmate, or even a large partial water change can be enough to cause your betta significant stress that can lead to a host of health issues, including swim bladder problems.
Always try to maintain a calm, stable and healthy environment for your betta to lessen the chances of problems in their essential organs such as their hearts, kidneys, and swim bladders.
Swim Bladder Disorder FAQs
Can I Give Cooked Peas to a Constipated Betta?
While you should never offer human medications to your betta fish, some natural laxatives have been known to work for betta fish.
Cooked peas that are split up into bite-sized morsels for your betta are a frequently used remedy for constipation in bettas.
If your betta isn’t eating, then an Epsom salt bath might be the best cure.
Can I Give Epsom Salts to a Constipated Betta?
Epsom salt or magnesium sulfate is an effective treatment for a variety of ailments in aquarium fish and can be used as a laxative in serious cases of constipation to evacuate the fish’s gut.
To make an Epsom salt bath for your betta, add 4 oz per gallon of water for up to 30 minutes as a daily bath, until symptoms improve.
Great care must be taken when treating your fish with any kind of medication, including salts, and we’d recommend consulting a qualified veterinarian before attempting such treatments.
Should I Euthanize My Betta That’s Suffering From Swim Bladder Disorder?
In the worst-case scenario, if your fish is not responding to any of the treatments we’ve listed above, there might be nothing more you can do to improve his condition.
If your betta appears to be suffering from swim bladder problems without hope of recovery, then a painless form of euthanasia might be considered a kinder option than allowing them to continue to live in distress.
We would, however, always suggest that you consult a qualified vet before this last resort, to see if anything else can be done to save your fish’s life.
Can Indian Almond Leaves Cure Swim Bladder Disorder?
There’s mixed opinion in the aquarium community about how effective Indian Almond Leaves are in treating fish diseases, but there’s plenty of anecdotal evidence to suggest that they can be a useful remedy to try.
Indian almond leaves can work especially well for betta fish because they contain tannins that make the water acidic, thus replicating the conditions that betta fish enjoy in their natural habitat.
Although Indian almond leaves are unlikely to budge serious parasitic infections, they can help to create an antiseptic environment where infections are less likely to take hold, and therefore may make a good preventative measure against some of the infections that can lead to swim bladder disease.
Swim Bladder disease is a rather common ailment for pet betta fish, but luckily it’s usually possible to cure.
While there are many possible causes, using the information above should enable you to determine what’s causing your betta’s swim bladder troubles, and offer you an effective solution.
If you can’t identify the source of the problem or your fish is not responding to treatment, we’d advise you to consult your veterinarian on how to proceed further.