The Many Faces of Dropsy


Walter, originally uploaded by Mean and Pinchy.

Q: Anon wrote,

Hello. I enjoy this site and am wondering about a strange condition. I have a male betta that has bloating on only one side. He has not pine-coned and has been this way for weeks, so I don’t believe it is dropsy. I have him in a bare 2.5 gallon tank at 82F. Over the past almost two months I have done courses of maracyn/ maracyn2, then maracyn plus, then clout, and now Furan-2 at the dose recommended for 10 gallons (with complete water changes between). I increased the dose amounts slowly when he showed no improvement but also no negative reactions. I also have added increasing amounts of Epsom salts to combat the fluid retention. His side is translucent and has some new red streaking from the stretching. He did “pop” once when he crashed into the heater during a water change but seemed unfazed and then “filled up” again on just that side over the next two days. I have been told this could be bacterial, internal parasites, or Malawi bloat. But none of these meds seems to fix it. He hasn’t gotten worse, but he hasn’t been ‘cured’ either. He is still hungry and otherwise normal acting, but will spit out the mediated food pellets and bloodworms I have soaked in ampicillin gel and eat only unmedicated food! Just wondering if you have heard of this or ever treated same?

A:Hi there. I’m sorry to hear that your Betta isn’t well. What you describe actually does sound a lot like Dropsy. If it were a solid mass I would have leaned toward a tumor but the build of fluid you describe is exactly what Dropsy is. When it happens to humans, we call it Edema. One thing to note is that while pineconing is a sure sign of Dropsy; Dropsy doesn’t necessarily show itself exclusively through pine coning. Actually a slow building mass of fluid is very common and I suspect based on the emails I receive that it is just as common as the tell-tale pine coning effect. Malawi Bloat, I believe, is just another term for Dropsy only it is used to describe the same symptom in Cichlids. Dropsy itself is not a disease and the cause can be bacterial, viral or parasitic. Usually by the time the organs begin to fail and the body fills with fluids, medication no longer benefits. In some cases, medication can worsen the symptoms as the already failing liver and kidneys work to metabolize it. It’s possible that your fish is no longer able to respond to the medications you have used or that the original disease was a virus or internal parasites. (Maracyn & Maracyn-Two and Furan treat bacterial infections, Clout treats external parasites.

Surviving the puncture caused by the heater likely prolonged his life. He’s lucky a secondary infection didn’t take over. Perhaps the antibiotics you were treating him with helped him here. When Dropsy effects larger and often expensive fish, veterinarians may drain the excess fluid but this really isn’t done with Bettas. Unfortunately, there isn’t a treatment for Dropsy in small tropical fish and it’s generally just a matter of time before they succumb. Fortunately, your Betta is still acting normally and eating well. He may continue to live for weeks or even months before the symptoms take over.

Here’s a link to a recent Dropsy article on Nippyfish: A Betta Blog that shows photos similar to what you have described. Betta with Severely Swollen Abdomen

Unfortunately there isn’t much advice I can give except to keep him comfortable and to keep his water clean. If you think the Epsom baths are helping, continue to perform them. Their effectiveness varies so you’ll have to use your judgment.

Best of luck to you and thanks for writing in.

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:

2 Comments for this entry

  1. Anonymous says:

    Is there any way to tell how far along in its cycle dropsy is in a betta fish? My fish has dropsy– the pine-coning scales and a swollen belly– but this is rather sudden. We're treating him with aquarium salt in a 10 gallon tank with 2 gallons of water in it (so he can breathe more easily) and he seems more happy here than in his previous bowl, but he is not eating. I want to try the method posted on curing dropsy, but I'm afraid that it will stress him out and cause him to worsen, and I'd really rather that he spend his last days in a nice, warm tank than crammed into his hospital bowl (which we can't heat because it's too small for the heater). But if there's a chance that the dropsy isn't that far along, I will try it…

  2. Sarah says:

    10 days ago my betta suddenly went pale as a ghost and his stomach went huge and he got very lathargic and just sat at the bottom of the tank. So I put epson salts in his water and turned the temperature to 80 degrees. I didnt feed him for 24 hours and than only feed him 1/4 of a frozen pee with the shell peeled off for that whole day. And the bloating went away almost completly and than i treated him with melafix for seven days and changed 50 percent of his water. But today those same symptoms from a week and a half ago slowly started to appear again… and now its night time and his stomach looks like it has some sort of growth more so on one side of it, he is very pale, and is not active at all. I dont know what to do i turned the temperature up again and I put some epson salts in as well. PLEASE HELP!!!!!!!!!!!!

Leave a comment