How To Cure Betta Fish With Dropsy Symptoms?


Why does Lady Luna look like a pineapple today?  Is something wrong with her?

Betta fish can acquire a number of diseases and infections that range from mild to life-threatening.  One such problem that alters the appearance of your fish is dropsy. 

What Is Dropsy In Betta Fish?

Dropsy is a serious condition that almost always causes fatality if not treated early.  Betta fish aren’t the only ones infected with dropsy, other freshwater fish like goldfish and African cichlids get them, too.

Dropsy is actually a SYMPTOM of one or more underlying diseases of a Betta fish’s internal organs such as failure or deterioration of the kidney, liver, or bladder.  It is the fluid buildup in the fish’s organs as a result of the primary disease, making your Betta look constipated or bloated.

The medical term for dropsy is edema.  The simpler term would be swelling. 

Most cases of Betta Fish dropsy happen to females, but males also do get it.  The reason for this is unknown.  Even Lady Luna is wondering why she got sick.

Dropsy is a very serious condition as most Betta fish that gets it, die (fish keepers put it at 75-80%) after 2 to 3 weeks of contracting it.  In fact, a lot of pet owners resort to euthanizing their fish once they confirm the presence of dropsy.  Most would argue that they don’t want their pet to suffer because of the pain in the compromised internal organ. 

Before you consider putting down your pet, though, you may want to know that there are Betta fish that get treated for dropsy and live a full life afterwards.

What If My Betta Fish Has Constipation?

Constipation is a different condition, and does not have the pine-coning description that dropsy has.

Constipation is a more common Betta fish condition caused by overfeeding.  It can also be caused by fish not eating the right food including those that are too dry (watch out for those cheap fish food pet stores sell) or have too much protein in it. 

How Is Betta Fish Dropsy Identified?

Normal-sized Betta fish stomachs are only as big as their eyes—anything bigger than that could be a sign of abnormality.  Swollen abdomens can be caused by a number of conditions, including egg compacting, tumors, abdominal abscess, or constipation.

Dropsy in Betta fish is characterized by too much water retention, causing “pine coning” all over the fish, or the raising of the scales throughout its body.  If you want to be sure that there is pine coning, look on top of your fish as it is more evident in that angle.  Other keepers describe it as the fish looking like a pineapple.

How To Cure Betta Fish With Dropsy Symptoms?
How To Cure Betta Fish With Dropsy Symptoms?

The other signs of dropsy in Betta fish (aside from stomach swelling) are bulging eyes.  As your fish gets more and more bloated you would notice that swimming is starting to be a struggle.  It may also show signs of lethargy, always wanting to stay at the bottom of the tank.  Some Betta fish with dropsy may be active but would often dart to the surface of the aquarium, gasping for air.  Gills are pale.  Sick Bettas may regurgitate food or refuse to eat altogether.

So, the Lady of the tank is not shy, she’s sick.  What do we do?

A Betta fish with confirmed dropsy needs urgent treatment.  The earlier you spot the problem, the higher the chances of its survival.  Because even if your pet still looks very active despite the bulging stomach, it may eventually weaken and die of multiple organ failure without urgent care.

What Causes Dropsy In Betta Fish?

One of the top reasons why Betta fish get any kind of sickness is the lack of information.  If you’re looking to buy a Betta, do your research and learn how to properly care for it beforehand.  Being prepared for what your pet would need, such as the right water temperature, tannins, and compatible tankmates, would lessen the stress it goes through as well as the chances of it contracting diseases.  Preparedness prevents diseases and saves lots of Betta fish lives like Luna’s.

The cause for dropsy is difficult to pinpoint because it’s hard to identify which disease the fish has contracted.  However, all known causes for any Betta fish sickness include stress, a low immune system, dirty water, diseases from ingested live food (parasitic), or too much gram-negative bacteria.

When dropsy is caused by too much bacteria in the environment, it means two things: first, that your Betta fish’s immunity has been compromised (most probably from stress or food-related problems), and second, that your fish’s environment is dirty.  As such, it is important to wash hands first before handling fish, fish nets, tank water, aquarium decorations, or just about anything that may come into contact with your fish.

Some attribute the low immune system in Betta fish to breeding.  As the demand for more vividly colorful Bettas rise, pairing of fish are not natural and may result in genetic deficiencies.  That explains why some fish get sick easily.

No wonder, as Lady Luna’s parents were chosen from royalty.  They were both Betta fish show champs.

As she’s of noble blood, Lady Luna is allowed a lot of pampering.  But overfeeding shouldn’t be a part of it.

Overfeeding does not necessarily lead to dropsy but it can lead to your fish pooping more, causing the ammonia levels in your tank to rise faster.  Remember, dirty water is one of the causes of the various diseases that lead to dropsy.

One of those diseases is obesity.  Yes, Betta fish can also get overweight.

Betta fish dropsy
Betta fish with dropsy

Avoid buying the cheap kind of food that a lot of pet stores sell as they contain fillers such as grains.  These substances aren’t what Betta fish are supposed to eat.  When induced, they become fat in the fish’s body as it is not digested properly.

Note: get rid of Luna’s junk food stash immediately.

Is Betta Fish Dropsy Contagious?

Since we’ve already established that dropsy is not a disease, but a symptom, Luna’s tankmates can now breathe a little easier.  However, she still needs to be moved.

Dropsy as a condition is not contagious, but its causes may be.  Bacterial, fungal, or parasitic problems may affect other fish, so moving sick Betta fish into a hospital tank is a must. 

So, prep your ambulance ASAP and take little Luna to the hospital tank urgently.

How Can I Treat Dropsy In My Betta Fish?

The Lady is in pain, save her.

Dropsy in Betta fish can be cured if caught early.  Treatment methods depend on the severity of the condition.  If you caught the dropsy early on, use the salt bath and antiseptic bath treatment.  For urgent cases, a more delicate “aspiration” surgery method can be done by you or your veterinarian.

The first treatment method listed here is the most common that keepers use and is non-invasive. 

Treatment For Moderate Or Early Onset Dropsy In Betta Fish:

It is best to try the Epsom salt bath and Methylene blue bath treatment first. 

Epsom salt is more effective for Betta fish dropsy than aquarium salt because it has magnesium that remove the slime coat on the fish’s scales.  This slime is where that harmful bacteria or fungi stick to.  As it is removed by the salt, the fish’s body will naturally produce more, replacing what was lost. 

Epsom salt also regulates the fish’s osmotic balance, helping it to get rid of the excess fluid in its organs.  It also helps treat lesions. 

  1. In this method, you need to prepare 2 clean containers with about a gallon of tank water each.  The first container will become your bath, and the second is the recovery tank. 

The ratio to use is 2 tablespoons of Epsom salt to a gallon of water.  Tank water is used to avoid temperature or acidity shocks to your Betta fish. 

Make sure to dissolve the salt completely.  When it’s ready, put the fish in it, and then leave to soak for about 5 minutes.

  • If it looks like your fish is struggling with balance even before the 5 minutes is over, it means it can’t stand the salinity in the bath anymore.  You can now put it in the recovery tank (the second container).

Give your Betta fish 5-7 minutes of recovery time in this second container.  While waiting, discard the Epsom salt bath and clean the container.  Then replace the water with a fresh gallon of clean tank water.  We are now ready to make the Methylene blue bath.

  • Put a few drops of Methylene blue (about half a teaspoon) in the bath container and stir.  You will notice the change in water color.  Transfer the fish into the bath and leave in there for around 2 to 3 minutes.  You can now discard the water from the recovery tank.

Methylene blue, with the chemical name methylthioninium chloride, is all-natural, effective, and has a wider range of use than other antiseptics marketed for Betta fish.  It’s used for a lot of aquarium fish problems including fungal, bacterial, and parasitic infections.  Plus, it’s cheaper than other antiseptics, too, and won’t overdose your Betta fish even if you accidentally spilled a drop or two directly on it. 

Be careful with your shirt (and all else), though!  It stains everything it touches: your finger, your tank, your decors.  You wouldn’t want to be the fourth member of The Blue Man Group now, do you?

  • Make sure your recovery tank is now filled with new water.  You can transfer your Betta fish from the blue bath to this new container to acclimate for about 3 minutes before going back to the hospital tank.

The salt and antiseptic bath treatment can be used daily for about a week or until the Betta fish heals completely.  You will notice the scales are back to normal and the bloating has subsided.

Supplement this treatment with 50% water changes everyday in your hospital tank to flush out any contaminants your water might have.  Safe and clean water is favorable for the recovering Betta fish.

During treatment, feed your Betta fish half the amount you usually give it to easily spot bloating.  Monitor its progress daily, and take pictures to compare and clearly see improvements.

Aspiration On Betta Fish For EMERGENCY Cases Of Dropsy:

If it looks like your Betta is knocking on death’s door, with its severely swollen abdomen and difficulty breathing, aspiration might just save its life.  This involves “pricking” your fish and letting the accumulated water in its organs out.  This is a quick and urgent treatment and will still involve monitoring, medication, and care during its recovery from surgery.

Warning: if you’re not confident about doing this procedure yourself, it’s best to consult a veterinarian or a Betta fish breeder.

Dropsy in betta
Betta fish with dropsy
  1. Pre-treat your hospital tank with broad-spectrum antibiotics such as SeaChem’s KanaPlex or API’s Melafix.  It will keep the water sanitized, facilitate faster healing for the wound, and help the Betta avoid secondary infections after treatment.
  • You will need a “surgery table”, which can be a clean wet sponge or detergent-free towel.  Also, make sure that your hands are clean.
  • Put in 2-3 few drops of pure clove oil into a shallow container that would fit your fish.  Clove oil is a potent anesthesia for fish.  Stir well.  Put your fish in until it ceases activity and looks asleep.  This will be evident as it tilts to its side and displays no more jerky movements.  Sedation takes a few minutes.
  • Again, make sure that your surgery table is wet so that the Betta fish can preserve some of the slime on its coat.  Transfer the “sleeping” fish to the surgery table carefully. 
  • Carefully remove fluid from the fish’s enlarged stomach by using a small, sterilized, sharp needle to aspirate the kidney.  Fluid will come out.  Or, you can use a 4mm insulin syringe (or the smallest needle you can find available).  Aim at an entry point between scales targeting the area at the bottom of the belly so as not to damage any internal organs.  Try and maintain a steady hand while pulling the plunger.
  • Once the abdomen is near back to its normal size, transfer the Betta fish to a recovery container filled with conditioned water.  Keep your fish there until it starts to wake up and swim normally.
  • Though your Betta fish might show signs of stress, this is normal after waking up from sedation.  You can transfer it back to its hospital tank once it calms down a little.  To decrease Betta fish stress, place an Indian Almond leaf inside the tank and blacken the area around the aquarium.
  • Monitor progress, and finish the antibiotic doses as recommended in the medicine label.

Post-surgical Care Of A Betta Fish:

Aspiration is not a guarantee that your Betta will survive its condition.  It is a quick treatment aimed at relieving the bloating.  You will still need to treat your Betta fish with antibiotics and antiseptics after surgery to eliminate the cause that’s infecting its internal organs.

Each fish has a different resistance to dropsy.  Young Betta fish are easier to treat as they heal faster than older fish. 

Good thing Lady Luna is only several months old.  She looks back to normal 48 hours after surgery.  Prognosis is good.

Do not force feed your fish if it doesn’t want to eat.  Start with tiny bits of food and remove them from tank if your fish does not have its appetite back yet.

Test the water daily to make sure all levels are within normal.

If you are interested in learning more about your fish behavior, check out the links below:

How To Prevent Dropsy In Your Betta Fish Next Time

Now that your Betta fish is out of the woods, you’ll never want it to have dropsy again.  Here are some tips you can follow to avoid the reoccurrence of dropsy:

Betta dropsy
Betta fish
  • Don’t put Betta fish in a tank with other creatures that can be potential hazards, such as cory catfish.  Cory catfish have poisoned spikes as its defense against predators.  The spikes aren’t harmful to humans but are toxic to Betta fish. 

Betta fish are also very territorial.  Female Betta fish need proper prepping to establish a sorority.  Bettas would normally nip and fight for hierarchy, and the fights can sometimes cause wounds and infections.

Lady Luna happily prefers to be the only Betta in her estate.

  • Your Betta fish wouldn’t want to live in dirty water.  They would jump out of it.  No really, Bettas are known for jumping, and one of the reasons is that it doesn’t like its tank water.  Keep your water clean and put a partial cover to make sure your fish won’t suffocate.  Bettas need lots of air to survive.

Clean tanks should be inspected for detergent residue.  You can also leave it under the sun for a while for natural UV ray disinfection.

Remove poop from the tank everyday, as this can be a source of infection.  Fish poop laying at the bottom of the tank can causes for not just organ infection but fin damage as well.  That’s because when fish rest at the bottom of the tank, their fins come into contact with the poop. 

Owners recommend using a gravel vacuum during water changes as its faster and more efficient.  You can start at the bottom of the tank so you get both the dirt out and you’re doing a water change at the same time.  This is especially helpful when doing 30-50% water changes.  It’s less stressful for your Betta fish, too.

Uneaten food in the tank will rot and make your water dirty.  So be sure to remove them about half an hour after feeding time.

  • Keep a bottle of Methylene blue handy in your aquarium kit.  It solves a broad range of Betta fish problems and not just dropsy.  In fact, it can be used for a whole lot of applications other than pet keeping.  If you can’t find it at your nearest pet store, it’s available online.

Please remember that doing any of these recommended treatments is not a guarantee that your Betta fish will recover, but it’s better than giving up hope right away.

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