Glisten, originally uploaded by liyah73.

Q: MM wrote,

Hi…I bought a betta about 2 months ago. He was swimming on his side so I bought him on purpose so they wouldn’t just “flush” him before he had the chance to be treated…I treated him with Maracyn-2 and in a matter of a day or 2, he was 100% better…I DID notice that one of his gills never fully opened…not as much as the other side did, but he was still fine…he lived a happy life for 2 months…now he seems to be VERY sick again…he’s swimming on his side really fast…he struggles to swim the right way, but he’s always on his right side…he just keeps swimming around his tank, never the right way, but on that same right side side and sometimes I see him kind of “gasping for air”…(the way it looks when they’re eating something)…the problem is that he can’t eat ANYTHING…he can’t steady himself to even see the food…but I DID notice that he hasn’t gone to the bathroom in about 3-4 days…and that’s how long he’s been on his side, too…are you thinking constipation? The Maracyn-2 is doing NOTHING to help this time…he’s on his 4th day of antibiotics and I hate to keep giving them if he doesn’t even need them…if he’s just constipated, I’ll wait it out, but I’m worried about him not eating at all…and he always LOVED to eat…could you please tell me what to do? I can’t feed him the inside of a pea because it seems like he just “swims past” all food anyway…he can’t even see it because he’s so much on his right side…yet he’s very actively swimming…it doesn’t seem like he “wants to die”…I know how they look when they’re dying…I’ve had bettas for over 10 yrs. now…so any help would be greatly appreciated, I feel so sorry for him and I just don’t know how to help him at this point.

A: First, I commend you for deciding to treat a sick fish and give him a fighting chance at life. Many Bettas struggle in poor conditions at the fish store and most of the very sick ones don’t make it at all. It’s always nice to hear about people, like yourself, who rise to the occasion of treating and caring for sick Bettas.

When Bettas swim on their sides and dart around the tank it often means they are experiencing some problem with their swim bladder. This is the gas filled sack you can see slightly bulging out of their bodies near their tail. This sack works very similarly to a SCUBA diver’s BCD (Buoyancy Control Device). The fish automatically adjusts the gasses to neutralize their buoyancy. The swim bladder can sometimes become damaged either from physical injury or infection. It can also get out of whack when a betta is bloated or constipated and the food in the gut adds added pressure internally. This is why we sometimes see fish swimming awkwardly when constipated and once they pass the food they are able to swim normally again. Constipation is usually caused by overfeeding or by feeding an abundance of dry foods that swell in the gut when they absorb water. This is more likely if you are feeding a lot of pellet or freeze dried foods. It can also happen if you feed exclusively foods with little or no fiber, like days and days of just worms.

It’s possible your Betta’s problems are a result of Swim Bladder Disorder and it’s also possible the SBD was caused by constipation but since your fish was very ill it could very well have been caused by an infection or injury. Maracyn-Two is an antibiotic that treats gram-negative bacterial infections. If he isn’t showing any sign of progress this time, then the infection could be gram-positive (treated with Maracyn) or it could be viral in nature. There currently aren’t any over the counter fish medications available to treat viral infections.

Usually constipated fish are back to normal after a day or two of fasting. Fish that don’t pass waste after a day or two may benefit from a small portion (about the size of a Betta eyeball) of blanched pea or a little Daphnia, which acts as a mild laxative and can be found at most LFSs (Local Fish Stores). Since your fish is struggling to swim, you may want to try and feed him carefully by hand, off the tip of a toothpick or with a pair of aquarium forceps by locating the food directly in front of his mouth. It may take a little time, but usually they will suck it up.

I also recommend installing an air stone if you haven’t already and possibly lowering the water level so he can reach the surface for air. Because he was in very poor condition at the pet store, he may have suffered the effects of ammonia burn on his gills. This coupled with the fact that antibiotics drain dissolved oxygen from the water are likely reasons for his gasping. If left to gasp in a poorly oxygenated environment, his condition could worsen or he could even suffocate.

I can’t really tell you what to do. I can only suggest some options and you will have to go with your instincts as to how to proceed. If you think constipation is the likely cause, then move forward with the pea or daphnia. Otherwise, you may want to give Maracyn a try to see if he reacts positively to a different antibiotic. However you proceed, I strongly recommend keeping his water clean and well oxygenated.

I hope he feels better soon and again, thanks for putting the time and effort into caring for a fish that most people would have left behind at the store.

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Reader Interactions


  1. kendra says:

    my betta is almost 1 year old. he used to be really active, swimming around the bowl and stuff, but lately he sinks to the bottom of the bowl and struggles to come up for air and eat. he looks a little bloated, and i’m worried. what should I do?

  2. Christie says:

    When bettas show signs of illness it is typically because something in their environment is causing them stress. There are many things that can stress fish. The most common are poor water conditions (do to infrequent or improper cleaning), exposure to toxins like chlorine, water that is too cool or too warm, inadequate feeding (too little or too much) or exposure to disease from other fish. I recommend reading through some of the basics on the main site to see if there is anything major you may not be providing for your betta that could lead to a weakened immune system.

  3. Tiffany says:

    I am as I type trying to save my betta fish Weezy’s life! Hes floating on his side and i cant get him to eat a piece of pea. I’m an emotional wreck, but thank you for the information!

  4. Anonymous says:


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