Swim Bladder Disorder & Bettas


Betta fish
Originally uploaded by EcoSnake.

Above is a healthy betta whose swim bladder you can see bumping out his side toward the back tail fin.

Q: H wrote,

My betta can’t swim upright anymore. He has no other signs of illness. No fungus, color loss or lethargy. He is a little swollen around his abdomen though. Is this dropsy? I don’t see any pineconing.

A: In a fish’s world, being unable to right ones self may be a sign of a swim bladder problem commonly referred to as “Swim Bladder Disorder”, “Swim Bladder Disease” or “SBD” for short.

In simple terms, the swim bladder is a gas filled sac located in the betta’s body, posteriorly (toward the tail end). You can usually see it bump out slightly on most Bettas. The swim bladder works very similarly to a SCUBA diver’s BCD (buoyancy control device). When a diver wants to be more buoyant, he fills his vest with air and releases air when he wants to descend. In fish, it’s a little more complicated but you get the basic idea.

SBD is probably caused by overfeeding most often in Bettas. Feeding too much food or foods with a very low moisture content (Betta pellets) may cause pressure in the abdomen cutting off a Betta’s ability to regulate the gasses in the swim bladder. This becomes apparent when the fish can no longer swim upright in the water. The excess food in the stomach may also show itself in the form of bloating around the abdomen like you described. Usually, the easiest fix for this is to fast your Betta for a couple of days until the food passes and the fish is able to regulate the swim bladder again. Once he is back to normal, closely monitor his feedings, making sure only to feed a few pellets a couple times a day. It’s also recommended when feeding dry foods that you soak them in a cup full of tank water for about 10 minutes prior to feeding to allow them to swell to their true size before entering the Betta’s digestive track. Some Bettas are prone to bloating and constipation and may benefit from a diet of mostly live or frozen foods of which a variety are available commercially.

A bacterial infection of the swim bladder may also cause the symptoms you described. If you don’t find that your Betta is back to normal after a day or two of fasting it may be necessary to treat your fish for the infection using a wide spectrum antibiotic available at most local fish stores. Because antibiotics can cause additional stress to fish, it is recommended to only use them if you strongly suspect an infection. Other signs of infection include lethargy, color loss, loss of appetite, redness under the scales (septicemia) and other secondary infections.

On some occasions Bettas won’t fully heal from their swim bladder disorder and may continue to experience problems righting itself. As long as your fish is able to draw air from the surface and can still eat there is no reason that it can’t continue to live out a full life. Euthanization is rarely needed. You can make your Betta more comfortable by keeping him in a tank away from fin-nipping fish or fast swimming fish that may agitate him. Adding some floating plants or other decor may help him rest near the surface when he wishes.

Written by

Christie F is a Betta splendens hobbyist that enjoys spending time caring for her fish and helping new betta keepers learn the ropes. More posts by:

24 Comments for this entry

  1. Anonymous says:

    is that picture a betta that has swimbladder, i just bought one from a pet store because he was on his side in the little cup i thought he was actually dead til i picked it up, and have had many bettas in the past including sick ones so i decided to nurse him back to health or try to, she seems to have some swimbladder, as it looks like she has problems swimming, and is on her side at times, i didnt feed her the other day, but am also not sure about fasting her and then feeding her a frozen pea or something as i dont know what the cause of her swimbladder is,i know it could be dirty enviroment, bacterial,ect.. any advice would be greatly apprciated!
    thanks
    olivia

  2. Anonymous says:

    My betta is staying to the side of the bowl, completely sraight up and seems to be having trouble turning herself back to swim horrizontally. Does that sound like swimbladder disorder to you? I’m really worried, I’ve had her for three years now, and I don’t want her to die! Can you tell me if this is swimbladder and will she be okay?

  3. Christie says:

    It sounds like it could be. Bettas are sensitive to swim bladder issues. It could be something as simple as overfeeding or more severe like an internal infection.

  4. Anonymous says:

    My Beta sudden couldn’t swim right, and he had the exact symptoms of swim bladder disorder so I didn’t feed him for a day, and a week after he started swimming funny he died =[ i really don’t know what happened and i’m really sad

  5. Anonymous says:

    I think my Betta has Swim Bladder disease from what I've been reading. I've lowered the water level, fed less often, since he doesn't eat much anyway, and tried Revive from the Pet Store. He's been sick for over a month. Should I do anything else? I haven't tried the pea thing yet….

  6. Anonymous says:

    Reading these symptoms I feel my fish may have SBD, I thought she wasn't swimming right because her fins became shrivelled together seemingly weighing her down. Will her fins rejuvinate or are they dead? What can I do?

  7. Anonymous says:

    My five year old son has a Betta that can't seem to "tread water". He can swim for food and air. I will try the fasting suggestion.

  8. Skitz says:

    Skitz is my male betta. He has issues with SBD. Most of the time he is fine. Sometimes he sinks to the bottom and is unable to float. He fights his way to the surface and repeatedly gulps air. Sometimes this rights his swim bladder. It seems to be getting worse as it doesnt work as well. It happens now everytime he eats, even if only a little amount . Any ideas?

    • Christie F. says:

      SBD typically manifests in the opposite way, leaving the fish unable to sink. (Not to say that your betta doesn’t have Swim Bladder Disorder, he might.) Can you elaborate on what you said about him “fighting” his way to the surface. Bettas aren’t the best swimmers, especially long-finned bettas. When you see this behavior, is it dramatically different from when he swims at other times?

      Also, bettas are surface breathers. They have a special lung-like organ called a “labyrinth organ” that allows them to gulp air directly from the surface. Do you think this might be what you are seeing? If so,it is completely normal and nothing to worry about.

  9. skittles says:

    skittles is my male betta fish and i got him today. when he came home from the petstore he was completely fine. But after a few hours he started floating to the top without moving his fins. and also under his chin in front of his front fins i don’t know what it is but it is really big and has white strings coming from it. he floats on his side and sometimes stays like that without moving, then he suddenly breaths air and swims to the bottom, just to float up again. I didn’t own skittles for long, but this is breaking my heart. please help :( ( I also put in a few drops of: Aqueon’s betta bowl plus and that’s all i did. Maybe he’s stressed? I’m really worried. D:

    • Andrea says:

      The white strings sound like fungus. Try “Betta Revive” drops for that. It’s the blue stuff – I usually find it in the betta section, but it might also be with the other medications. The dosage is 8 drops per gallon. This usually perks them right up in a few days.

  10. Sunfox says:

    Hi Christie,

    My betta Balmung has had recurring SBD for a couple weeks now. It started when I fed him a freeze dried daphnia fly and he got bloated and couldn’t get off the surface of the water. He wasn’t like that when I got him and I’d had him for about a month.

    So naturally, figured he was constipated. I fed him a couple chunks of a cooked pea and he went back to normal the next day, but then it immediately came back the day after, no food given at all. I reduced his feeding to one pellet a day after that to see if that would help.

    So far it’s been random, some days he’s bloated (whether I feed him or not), some days he’s fine. I’ve had to put him in a breeder tank inside his own tank so the bristlenose pleco he lives with wouldn’t bother him while I’ve been trying to get him better and to protect him from the filter current while he’s stranded on the surface (The basic setup is a 20g with him and the pleco, who is currently about 1.5 inches long, still kind of young, heater at 77F and filter, lots of decor and rocks with a log of bogwood for the pleco, last water parameters were 0amm 0nitrite <5ppm nitrate 6.5pH).

    Also for the record, pleco's completely healthy, feed her a quarter of an algae chip twice a week. I thought maybe he was picking at the chip, but he's still getting bloated being in the breeder tank where he can't get to the chips. I have another 10g with a lone betta with a filter, same temp and decor, he's happy and healthy.

    Any help I can get with this would be amazing. It sounds like it might be bacterial, but if that's the case he isn't exhibiting any other ill symptoms; fins and gills are fine, no redness or whiteness, no other swelling, no pineconing, appetite is still voracious, especially since I reduced his food, poor guy :<

    Thanks in advance!

    • Kate says:

      My betta fish, Patriot also seems to have recurring SBD. When I first noticed him floating and swimming awkwardly, I researched online and found that it could be constipation. I’ve had him for a little over 2 months and I’ve always fed him the same food (pellets) and then one day after I cleaned his tank I noticed the symptoms. I took him out into a smaller bowl and gave him a salt water treatment and fed him a chunk of pea and then he seemed fine. Yesterday he was floating again and I didn’t feed him and eventually it looked like he pooped. (I guess it was poop. It was coming from where his poop comes from, except his poop was white) I thought that was strange but I just figured that maybe it was just white because of his constipation. After he pooped, he seemed fine and could swim perfectly. Now today he is floating once again! I’m not sure what to do. Does he still have poopies inside of him or is there something else wrong? He also seems fine and for some reason he didn’t appear to be bloated or anything. Not until he pooped and now he looks normal but he’s still floating. He’s not floating on his side or anything and he has no fungus, no pineconing, breathing fine, and he looks perfectly healthy. He lives in a 5 gallon heated tank with no other fish and I normally feed him 2 bloodworm pellets every 2 days. Any help is greatly appreciated

  11. kdhrocks says:

    My Beta Louie spends all his time at the bottom of the tank. When he feeds or gulps a breath of air he has to fight his way to the surface in a very nose high attitude of 50~75 degrees and must swim vigorously to stay on the surface then settles immediately back to the bottom. He likes to lay up in the tops of the decorative plants just under the surface where he can just reach up an get a breath and go back to sleep.He is fine and healthy and been doing this all of the six months that I have had him. It’s like he doesn’t have a swim bladder at all or doesn’t know how to inflate it. Maybe a birth defect.

  12. Luisa says:

    My betta fish princess has always been a pretty active betta. Recently I started noticing she has been laying on her side and the bottom and will swim rapidly to the surface for air and then sink back down. She lays down kind of lopsided. I didn’t feed her at all yesterday and today I fed her one pellet. I took her water to test the pH levels and they were fine. I don’t know what to do! Her water is clean and I unplugged the air pump. She won’t even go on her leaf hammock.

  13. bones says:

    My betta, Bones, has had boat under his belly for a week now.
    He can no longer swim normally, and usually lays on his side at the bottom of his tank or on top of his decorative plants. I read somewhere that peas (outside of their casing) and aquarium salt can help. I’ve put him in isolation and have mixed a tiny bit of aquarium salt in the water, and also added a pea. However, he won’t eat the pea bits. Any suggestions? I hate to think he’s suffering :(

  14. Niska. says:

    My betta’s name is Reggie, it’s my first time having a fish. He’s been having trouble swimming, also he’s been slanted.
    And he’s always at the side of the bowl. He doesn’t move until the food comes in the bowl or until I move him into his cleaning bowl. My routine for the past year hasn’t changed. Id want to see him suffering and just stand by the side.

  15. Goldie says:

    My betta fish Its sick i think she has a disease she Is always at the bottom of the tank and sometimes she struggles swimming and sometimes she swims up rapidly and comes back down and lays on her right side i feed her normal food and theres alot of space and the water Is clean please help i am really worried i had her for 6 months

  16. Aqua says:

    My betta mustve had SBD he was stuck at the bottom, he swam in circles and sometimes on his side.. he died yesterday. I was trying to find out what was wrong but I guess I was too late. Im afraid my other male, Kaji might have it too.. I dont know why my bettas keep getting this im a good owner! I was wondering do canned peas work, and do you cook them? If so how long do you cook them?

    ~Jannessamay

  17. mel says:

    i have a betta in a 55 gallon tank with other fish he used to swim around with all the others but all of a sudden he is hiding he will come out go up to top take a gulp and float down to bottom where he will then just lay for few minutes and then go back to his hiding spot,i am just wondering why he would b doing this and if i should remove him from this tank and put him by himself as there are other fish that will start fin nipping him when he is out,i am so afraid he will die and want to save him plz help thanks so much

  18. Wendy Parsons says:

    My Betta for about a week and a half wont eat nor does he want to swim correctly. Seems too have issues swimming upright? Is this swim bladder and if so should I put him in a sperate bowl, or add salt, or ??? so many answeres online.

  19. Bre says:

    My betta has a serious case of SBD.. to the point were I had to help him get air. After that I put him in a breeding cage in his tank and raised it to where he doesn’t have far to swim. I tried feeding him a pea but he wouldn’t eat it so I put one on a tooth pick and taped it to the side of the tank. Sometimes I do believe his age is a factor with this. If you have any ideas how to help Neon ( my betta ) please let me know.

  20. Kristy says:

    I have Orion, a 3 year old Crown Tail Betta. I am reading up on SBD and it kind of sounds like what he has. But he is on the top of his tank. He stays upright and then begins to slowly go sideways. He swims around and is eating fine I feed him every other day or 2. Is this SBD or do you think he is dying? I recently just moved into my new house a month ago, and I clean his tank once a week. He hasn’t had any bubbles lately.

  21. Rocky says:

    my betta Snoopy is not moving much and losing his appetite.is he dying or I can do sometin ?plz plz ive had him for 1 year i dont want him to die !!! :(

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