Betta Swim Bladder Disease: Treat It With One Weird Vegetable

Swim bladder disease in bettas is treatable; use these 6 steps to help your fish feel betta (pun intended).

Published April 20, 2023
Betta Fish

If your betta fish is swimming funny, going sideways, upside down, or in circles, you're probably wondering what's wrong. There's a high possibility they have swim bladder disease. Before you panic, understand that swim bladder disease is almost always treatable and is often the result of overeating. Follow these steps to treat your betta's swim bladder disease and have them feeling better in no time.

What Is Swim Bladder Disease?

Don't let the name fool you. Swim bladder disease, which a lot of hobbyists just call SBD, isn't actually a disease. Instead, it's a name people use when a betta's swim bladder isn't functioning quite right.

The swim bladder is an organ that controls your betta's buoyancy, so they can move up and down in their tank on demand. When something is wrong with the swim bladder, it affects their ability to sink and float and, ultimately, their quality of life.

Symptoms of Swim Bladder Disease

Sometimes, it's obvious that your betta has swim bladder disease. Other times, it's a little harder to discern. Based on what's causing their SBD, you might notice one or several of these signs:

  • Swimming sideways or upside down
  • Swimming in circles
  • Sinking or floating
  • Curved spine
  • Bloated belly
  • Low energy
  • Low appetite
  • Not producing feces
  • Clamped fins
Quick Tip

Be aware that bettas sometimes rest on surfaces in their environment, so if your betta appears to be sleeping on their tank bottom, they might just need a nap.

Betta laying on bottom and side of aquarium.

Causes of SBD

So what causes swim bladder disease? Unfortunately, it isn't always easy to tell. There are a lot of different things that can trigger this condition. Some directly relate to the fish, whereas others involve their environment.

1. Overfeeding

The No. 1 cause of swim bladder disease in bettas is overfeeding. If they eat too much (which is common because they'll just keep eating if there's food available) or too quickly, their stomach will bloat and press on their swim bladder.

2. Parasites

Fish can get parasites, too, such as worms, lice, or even flukes. They're often introduced through fresh food sources or sick tank mates and can do a number on your healthy fish. Bacterial infections can also affect the swim bladder.

3. Injury

Physical injury to the swim bladder can also occur and lead to SBD symptoms. If your betta was attacked by another fish, scraped themselves on sharp accessories in the tank, or jumped out of the water, they can damage their swim bladder.

Quick Tip

Bettas jump out of their tanks more than you'd think, which is why it's important to have a top on your aquarium.

4. Poor Water Quality

Poor water can stress out your betta. Make sure their water conditions are within ideal parameters to keep them healthy. That means making sure it's warm enough for their liking, their tank is cleaned regularly, and it's not overcrowded.

How to Treat It

The best treatment for swim bladder disease really depends on the underlying cause. If you're not quite sure what that is, don't panic. Follow these guidelines to cover all bases and help your fish get well.

  1. Quarantine your fish. Even if you keep your betta alone, it may help not to skip this step. Move the sick fish to a "hospital tank" where you'll carry out their treatment. This will prevent anything from spreading to the other fish and keep you from unnecessarily treating the tank mates, and allows you to treat the main tank effectively while the betta is out.
  2. Skip meals for three days. Because overfeeding is high on the list of potential causes, allowing your betta's stomach to empty out can help. Don't feed them for three days.
  3. Keep them warm. The ideal water temperature for bettas is between 75 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit, but a lot of hobbyists recommend increasing the temperature slightly to help with swim bladder disease. Warmer water can boost the betta's metabolism and help empty their stomach. Just don't exceed 82 degrees, or you'll stress your betta out further.
  4. Offer them a pea. It might sound odd, but cooked green peas can help with digestive issues in bettas, especially if they're experiencing constipation. If you think the swim bladder disease is a result of your betta overeating, fast them for three days, then offer them a skinned, boiled green pea on the fourth day.
  5. Consider antibiotics. If you think a parasite or bacterial infection could be the culprit, treat the hospital tank with antibiotics or parasiticides. These can be found over the counter at pet or aquatic shops, or your vet can prescribe a wider range of medications.
  6. Do daily water changes. Keep the hospital tank clean and free of debris with daily 25 percent water changes. This is especially important if you treat the tank with medications.

When to Worry About Your Betta

If your betta doesn't seem to improve after a few days of treating their swim bladder disease, it's best to enlist a professional for further guidance. Find a veterinarian who sees fish, or consult with aquarium specialists at your local pet or aquatic store. They can give you more personalized advice and determine what's best for your betta.

Is Swim Bladder Disease Fatal to Bettas?

Fortunately, swim bladder disease is not usually fatal. If you're able to catch it early, your betta can make a quick and full recovery. But if you do nothing and don't address the underlying cause, like a bacterial infection or overfeeding, it's possible your betta fish could die.

Feed Mindfully to Prevent Swim Bladder Disease

Since overeating is the most common cause of swim bladder disease, it's important to be mindful of how much you feed your betta. They don't stop eating when they get full. They'll continue eating until all the food is gone. Make sure everyone in the household knows who will feed the fish each day and understands exactly how much they can get to prevent overfeeding. And if your betta does show signs of swim bladder disease, start treatment right away to help them heal.

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Betta Swim Bladder Disease: Treat It With One Weird Vegetable