Symptoms of Dropsy in Betta Fish

Symptoms of Dropsy in Betta Fish
Dropsy is not a disease itself, but rather a symptom of another problem. Dropsy is the term we use to describe the severe bloating or pinecone appearance our betta fish take on as a result of organ failure. It is generally believed by fish keepers that Dropsy can be caused by a variety of things including bacterial diseases, viruses or even parasites. You will sometimes hear stories of Dropsy being terribly contagious and killing off many fish at a time. Technically, this isn’t true. The initial infection may be contagious and may infect several fish leading to multiple cases of Dropsy, but the Dropsy itself is not contagious. More often than not, Dropsy pops up in our fish tanks as an isolated incident. This is especially true with betta keepers as they typically keep their fish in isolated containers.

While any fish can get Dropsy, it seems to affect Betta Fish and Goldfish the most. I’m not sure exactly why that is but I have some speculations. First, I suspect there is something about their physiology that predisposes them to organ failure. What that is, I couldn’t say. Perhaps it is that both bettas and goldfish have been so intensely bred for their physical traits that they have become more susceptible to stressors. Secondly, these fish may be exposed to poor water conditions more often than most other aquarium fish. Bettas and goldfish are both commonly kept by beginner aquarists and may then be open to more mistakes made by new hobbyists. The other major stressor both have in common is that they are frequently kept in tanks too small for them. Fish stores often sell bettas in small bowls without educating the buyers to the dangers of ammonia and nitrite poisoning. Goldfish too are often poisoned by their own waste. Goldfish are very messy and excrete a large amount of waste for their size. Each medium sized goldfish should have at least 10 gallons of water but they are often kept in tanks much smaller. Aquarium conditions may just be the reason we see Dropsy so often in bettas and goldfish.

The symptoms of Dropsy are many; bloating, extended scales, color loss, loss of appetite, lethargy, clamped fins, swim bladder disorder, etc. I want to focus on the two tell-tale signs – bloating and pineconing. I regularly receive emails from readers indicating that their betta has one symptom but not the other. It is important to understand that these symptoms are not mutually exclusive. Your betta may have one or both or maybe even neither of these symptoms but could still have Dropsy.

SEVERE BLOATING


Image provided by JohnstonDJ through Creative Commons

It could also be that your betta is severely bloated but does not have Dropsy at all. Bloating can be the result of overfeeding, or in females, can be that they are bound with eggs. In rare cases the bloating could be a tumor. Very severe bloating of the abdomen is usually the result of organ failure and caused when fluid builds internally. In my experience, I have not seen bettas with both pineconed scales and severe abdominal bloating. Do not discount Dropsy just because you do not see protruding scales.

PROTRUDING SCALES – PINECONE

Protruding scales, commonly referred to as pineconing because of the appearance, is the most common symptom associated with Dropsy. This symptom is prevalent in both bettas and goldfish. Pineconing indicates a serious problem. In bettas, it often indicates severe organ failure and death to follow. In some cases bettas will appear to recover from this state. Once the internal organs have been damaged, symptoms of Dropsy usually return within a few months. To my knowledge, pineconing is not associated with any other betta fish illness. I see it is a positive sign that the fish has Dropsy.

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:

40 Comments for this entry

  1. Anonymous says:

    that is so sad

  2. Anonymous says:

    I must point out a piece of incorrect information about goldfish here.

    Goldfish actually need FAR more than 10 gallons per fish. If you keep a goldfish in 10 gals you will without question, stunt it's growth horrifically.

    Goldfish require 40 gals for the first fish, and a further 20 gals for each additional fish afterwards in fancy types ( moors, orandas ect ) So for a pair of orandas for example, you need a tank of 55+ gallons with seriously excellent filtration and a very very dilligent water change system to keep these messy fish from being stunted or becoming diseased.

    Ordinary goldfish with the usual single tail and long body shape, require around 70-100 gallons per pair when kept in tanks, but these types of goldfish actually should be kept in a large pond, as they are pond fish ( as are all goldfish in fact being a colour morph of the aisian carp, but fancies cannot be kept outside in more temperate climates as they do not thrive in very low temperatures )

    As for keeping bettas healthy, 5 gallons bare minimum is needed for swimming space, and the tank must be thickly planted to provide cover , since these fish come from heavily vegetated waters in Thailand ( rice paddies, slow streams ect ) . They absolutely require a filter just like any other fish, as being able o breathe air has nothing to do with being resistant to their own watse products. They will become diseased like any other fish without a filter.

  3. lovandhater says:

    My Betta fish has dropsey too, my mom and i where trying to find out what was wrong with him. His Symtoms are… He lays on his belly, his scales are like pine cones, HIs belly is REALLY fat, and last he can barly come up to the top of the tank to get air. Dropsey is either Kidney or Liver failure. It is very sad. My Betta fish is multicolored and is so pretty but her has dropsey:( because we just relized that he has dropsey we cleaned his tank out and emptyed it out and we put him in a little jar or cup and put a little bit of water in it but enough that he can kind of swin but he still can come up to get air easly but he has to work very hard to go up sometimes my mom or I will have to go up to the jar and shake it so he will know that he needs to get air. He doesnt come up for it on his own though so we have to do that so he wont die of not getting air.

    • serena says:

      my betta had dropsey and he was also multicolored. but he died last night:(:(:(:(:( his name was speed fighter “s.f” because he was fast and a good fighter.

  4. Jessica says:

    I have a crowntail. His tummy has been bloated for a couple weeks at least! his name is teeto! He seems fine as he is swimming, eating, flaring at the other betta when i put them close, and even building a bubblenest! his tummy is not THAT bloated but still looks uncomfy! underneath it seems to be rough and white.. only a small patch! Helpp please!

  5. Anonymous says:

    I have a crowntail too. He gets normal tank changes at least once a week. I cleaned his tank on wed, he was unusually happy on wed and thurs. He was making bubbles and very active. Then all of a sudden on friday he looked sort of swollen and he wasnt eating as much. Saturday he wouldnt eat at all. Sunday (right now) he is totallly lifeless and randomly darts around, he floats at the top and refuses to eat. his scales are pineconed out and he is very swollen. He definitely has drospy. Right now he laying on his side at the botttom of the tank. I feel so bad but I really dont know what went wrong…his temperature has been normal. He went from great to horrible in a matter of 2 days :( I think he is about to die.

  6. Anonymous says:

    My fish fred had dropsy. I had him for a year and a half and today he passed away. Poor little guy. He looked horrible. He is in a better place now. He just looked like he was suffering alot. Sad to loose him but happy hes not in pain.

  7. Fishy lover says:

    I want I betta fish a few and i know males cant be together but girls can so how many girls should I get and how big of a tank .What should I feed them ,what do I need. Where do I get the stuff to test the water. I have researched a little bit about bettas and a lot of people say different things so I’m not sure what to do help please.

    • Abbey says:

      If you don’t know what to get or how many fish to put in a size tank. I think that you should consider reading a bit more. Personally don’t buy 2 female Betta fish when they are in separate jars. They will not be used to each other. You can buy them but you have to do this…… Place the two fish in there jars side by side. Then place a fue cards in-between the jars for a minute then remove tue cards and see what they do. If they just look at each other and mind there own business, balance them in the water till the water tempatures are the same. Let one out then see her reacting swimming around and looking at the other fish. Of it is all clear the let the other fish out. If they get along well that’s good. If not consider a devider or one fish. I have a 10 gall. With my one crowntail male. He is very healthy. If you want your fish to service for a long time then I say having one fish is good enuf. You could also get some snails. That’s what I did. Also you can spoile that one fish and make sure he/she are happy and healthy.

      Also I recommend the Betta book! Good luck.

    • serena says:

      go to petco or petsmart thay have evry thing you need even bettas! +thay are chep

  8. Jenn says:

    Hi fishy lover, Glad to hear you’d like to keep some bettas! They are beautiful fish and can be great pets to keep. I’ve been keeping bettas for the past 11 years so i can tell you a bit about what you need to know.
    To answer your question, you should keep at least 5 female bettas together. Any less and they will fight as they need to build a hierarchy in order to coexist. You should have about 5gallons of water per fish, and try to keep some plants and ornaments in your tank as bettas love to have spaces to hide in.
    You should get a filter, and a heater if you live in a country where temperatures go below 20 degrees Celsius. Bettas are tropical fish and they need warm water to thrive.
    As for food, you can feed them pellets (if you get larger pellets, you should crush them smaller), or flakes. In my experience, bettas tend to prefer flake food. You should also get food that is produced specially for bettas as these can improve their colour and growth. You can also get bloodworms (freeze dried or live) or brine shrimp to feed them. Keep in mind live food is very messy and you will need to clean out the tank more often if you feed them live food often, to prevent eutrophication.
    You should be able to get test kits from your local pet store. If you do everything right, they should live up to 3-4 years.
    Hope this helped! :)

    • Christie F. says:

      Solid advice Jenn. Thumbs up!

    • Cassandra says:

      Dear Jenn, I just lost all 6 of my bettas to dropsy. I am willing to try again, I think I have learned a few things. My specific quesiton is – I bought a new male, I have a 10gallon tank and will put only him in it, with a heater. I DID have a small submersible filter for the other bettas to help keep the water clean, and even though I had it on the lowest setting, it creates movement in the water, and I think it stressed them out ! I don’t understand – if Bettas need filters but aren’t strong swimmers, isn’t a filter a bad thing ?

      • Cassandra says:

        Dear Jen and Christie,
        Another thing I don’t understand is how to treat with the medicine for dropsy. (i.e. Maracyn antibiotics) I heard that a filter eats up all the medicine so the fish doesn’t get it…..but also that if you put the medicine directly into the water, the fish doesn’t absorb it either !
        I am starting over with a new male….I want to get it right this time, and if he gets dropsy, to treat him immediately the proper way. heelllllp !

  9. New Betta Fish Owner says:

    I got a Betta fish two days ago, I fed him a small amount of BettaMin Tropical medley flakes in the morning, when I was doing my summer work I looked at him and noticed that his belly was swollen. I haven’t kept a Betta since I was nine and that ended with a fatal accident when the water wasn’t treated correctly. I’ve never tried very hard to keep fish, and since I’m older now I’m reading up on how to keep him since I would like very much to have him as a companion when I leave for college in a year.
    If there is any pineconing on his scales it is very slight… He is very active and still responds to my movements out side his bowl and also ate when I fed him. And the swelling seems to have decreased over night.
    The store that sold him provided a two-week warranty for him, so I need to find out if it is dropsy or not, as if it is I can’t take care of him properly but if it’s overfeeding I would like to try. I’m getting a filter for his little tank today and I’m going to try to get a larger tank for him as soon as I can.

    • Christie F. says:

      Pineconing is only a symptom of Dropsy and will not develop due to constipation. If you are seeing pineconing you can be pretty sure that it is Dropsy. The best way to view the scales to see if they are protruding (pineconing) is to view your betta from the top. On the other hand, if there is no pineconing and you noticed slight swelling that followed a feeding (like you described) and the swelling reduced over time, then he probably just had some minor bloating from his food. (Nothing to really worry about.) If you are unsure if your betta is pineconing you can email me a clear photo (viewing down at him from the top). I can try and take look for you. My email is betta@nippyfish.net

  10. W.F.B. says:

    Hi, my beta of 2 years appears to be suffering of Dropsy. I thought his lethargic behavior with lack of appetite was something relating to him just getting older until last week when the scales looked puffed out, the “pinecone” effect mentioned here was noticed. I’ve been giving him treatments of Tetracycline and putting a little bit of salt in his water for the past four days hoping it might help him. I’m afraid I waited too long without knowing he was truly sick, any recommendations for any other methods I should try that could help him? Should I continue more doses of the Tetracycline for awhile? Thank you for your help!

  11. Amanda Gatlin says:

    So my son’s fish Buzz has Dropsy. He so beyond bloated and is now pineconing. My son Christian got Buzz on his fifth birthday last year and has been very involved with his care. It will be hard to tell him in the morning that he is sick and most likely wont get better. This is sad. Very sad. I put Buzz in a smaller container with only enough water for him to swim a little since he has a hard time getting to the top to breath. All he does now is sit at the bottom and never moves. I know it wont be long before he dies. All I can hope is that is that he will no longer be in pain.

  12. Sara B. says:

    Hello there. I found your site when looking for explanations on betta bloating. I think my boy, Kogane, may have bloat or Dropsy. The swollen belly came on pretty fast, in the course of 2 or so days. He’s still swimming around and being social, but he goes down to the bottom and lays on his belly frequently. I don’t really know what he has, so I don’t want to put him down…
    His water was really scummy and I changed it today. There was a lot of algae growth on his plastic+cloth plant because I’ve been leaving his light on more to try and keep his water a bit warmer. I hope I’ve just been feeding him a little too much and his bloat will go away in a few days…

  13. lesly G. says:

    Hi there. I’m really worried because my betta has bloating around his belly area and its transparent. I checked to see if he had pine cone- looking scales but he doesn’t. He still swims and is social like before, and still eats. I just realized he had that bloating last night and i haven’t fed him all day because im scared he’ll die. Maybe he’s constipated because it seems like he hasn’t “gone to the bathroom” in a while. What should I do?

  14. anonymous says:

    I had a veil tail Betta, and kept it for a little over 3 years. Then one day i noticed his color loss, he’d float on his plants close to the surface of the tank so that he wouldn’t struggle to get air, “pine-coning”. It all happened very quickly, one morning i saw the changes and the following night he passed away. I don’t know how i could have avoided any infection.

  15. Amber H. says:

    Hi, ive had a veil tail betta for about 8 months now and i noticed 4 days ago he’s had a bloated appearance. He’s not “pineconing” but has absolutely no energy and won’t eat. He hasn’t eaten within the past 4 days as well.. After reading this all, I am now aware he must have dropsy. I know its not constipation because he hasn’t eaten in days.. I don’t really know what to do.. If he won’t eat, it concerns me that he’ll die of starvation. :( please help

  16. Dropsy is so dangerous to your fish you should quarantine any fish that has it right away or else you will risk all of your other fish.

  17. Hannah says:

    My poor Betta is finding it hard. he is swollen pale patches and spikey :-( he’s in the corner of the tank hiding and has been there 12 hours not really moving. Iv gave him so medision but it’s 50/50 he’s my sons fish and is destressing. A horrible thing to even say but would his death be quick how long can it take for him to be at rest. Can bubbles in the tank cause any of these problems. :-( (

  18. Windfrost says:

    my fish Ulysses has dropsy…his scales are really raised and belly is bloated. he swims on his side and barely makes it to the top for air. he’s gotten progressively worse over the course of the day, and I don’t expect him to make it much longer. I hate that there’s nothing I can do in this stage of the disease.

  19. sierrah says:

    It is very sad to see my beta fish like this. it is a multi colored beta and looks pineconed and has gotten quite large. his gills are multi colored and black mostly, he has lost his appetite and losing his color. his scales are extended and multi colored but i can see his body from the inside. i am very scared and sad to see him this way, it may sound wierd but i’ve been crying and praying for the fish for the past 5 days!

  20. Rebbeca says:

    My poor fish has this and his scales are REALLY REALLY staicking out its hard to see him this way he’s probably gonna be dead by tomorrow. :( :( I’m soo sad

  21. hashemrd says:

    thanks I just found that my fish is not pregnant but sick. I was having a lot of confusion because it’s too agressive to be a female but it’s big belly was telling me that it is ready to lay eggs which was not true. again thanks for your post.

  22. sarah says:

    We just noticed today with our betray that his belly is swollen, but he is not pineconing at all. I know last month we had gotten some new fish in our tank but had to get rid of them because they were harassing our poor betray to the point he wouldn’t come out. We have only had him for less than 3 months. What can I do, we are just so worried about him.

  23. Anonymous says:

    I think my betta has dropsy. I’m sure though. He has the pineconing thing going I guess though it’s not as bad as the one in the picture. He won’t eat and he has stoped swimming around as much he used to. I cleaned his tank today but i don’t know what to do really. I would appreciate any advice because I want to keep him alive for as long as possible.

  24. Thanks for the valuable info, I’m going to keep a close eye on my Betta’s.

  25. Tay says:

    Help my betta fish is bloated and kinda pinecone idk because I can’t really tell. I love him to death, I will feel awful if I loose him. Help me plz!!!

  26. Leigh says:

    My crown-tail Betta has had severe abdominal swelling twice in the last year and has appeared to have dropsy both times. Luckily, he still had his appetite and was strong enough to overcome the bloating both times. I do not know what other condition it could have been, I was ready to put him out of his misery both times because it looked like his stomach was going to explode, but he retained his appetite and swimming ability so I let him be. I didn’t give him any medication or special treatment. I’m not sure what else could have caused the extreme swelling. Don’t lose hope!

  27. Rosacea says:

    I know these posts are old but u should never place any fish in a jar! How would you like to live in a small box for any period of time let alone your whole life? People who keep male bettas in tiny containers are sickening- including fish shops. Just because its an accepted practice does not make it right. Do the research for yourself and youll see they need much larger homes. Treat your fish as you would want someone to treat you if you were in their situation.

  28. fancygirl says:

    I have 2 male betta fish in separate bowls, the larger of the two has a bloated stomach I first thought it was just constipation, then thought it was swim bladder but now I’m not sure. The second one seemed depressed but later I noticed that it had a slightly bloated stomach too. He also seems to be swimming funny almost on his side, but the bloating isn’t that bad. Please help. I’m really confused and worried.

  29. I'msocrying says:

    My betta fish, Beethoven started acting really strange the past two days… First he began to just sit at the bottom of the tank, neglecting his food… He never got a bloated stomach… but his scales sort of pineconed.. I’m very sad because today he died.. I really loved him he was so happy until he caught it… Did he die from the water? I can’t buy anything for him now my mom wont let me but still… What did I do wrong????

  30. jessica .p says:

    my daughters female betta is bloated i think she stays at the top of the 10 gallon tank and she is swimming only on her side she trys to swim down but cant its like she full of air we thought she might have eggs so we bought a male betta and she doesnt even care hes in the same tank and she should be attacking him but shes not so what can i do to help her cause my daughter will be very up set if she dies ?

    • day t. says:

      i have a male betta..he has the SEVERE bloated problem..everyday i expect to find him dead..but, amazingly he has survived this problem for nearly 4 months now..i change his water every 2-3 days, and while im cleaning his bowl, i let him soak in some water with a pinch of epson salt..he has lived way longer than i was told they do with this problem..even with his severe bloating, my betta still will jump up out of water at least once a day.. :)

Leave a comment