Betta Fish Dropsy

Betta Fish Dropsy- What it is and How to Treat it

Betta fish are tough little creatures. Lone wolves of the aquarium fish world. They can survive small spaces, constant competition for resources, and short bursts of flight by hopping from puddle to puddle. However, as fierce and as beautiful as Betta fish can be, they are just as vulnerable to things like infection, and disease.  Especially if these bettas are in a domestic environment.  It is most likely why they are threatened or vulnerable on the conservation scale. So, what sort of diseases are betta fish considered the most vulnerable to? A big one is Dropsy. 

Betta fish with Dropsy have an almost guaranteed mortality rate. Especially since this illness is attributed to things like organ failure. However, even if the chances of treatment and recovery is slim, there are a few ways that a betta owner can prevent or even possibly treat the illness before it gets too far out of hand. 

 The only way to combat any sort of medical condition is to understand how it works. So, I am going to highlight: what dropsy is, what signs to look for in a betta with dropsy, and what sort of precautionary and treatment measures can be taken to keep your betta safe, happy, and healthy. 

What is Dropsy? 

The term “dropsy”, itself, is an antiquated medical word meaning fluid buildup beneath the skin and cavities in the human body, due to organ failure. These days, medical doctors use the term edema for human patients, while aquarium owners utilize the word dropsy

Dropsy in betta fish is a condition in which excess fluid builds around internal organs and is trapped inside the body of the animal. 

The condition itself is a common condition among all kinds of aquarium fish.  This is mostly because dropsy itself is not a disease, but rather a symptom of something much bigger. Just like excess fluids building up in humans are often a sign of a more serious underlying issue like organ failure, dropsy is a symptom of something an even bigger problem with a fish. 

When a fish suffers from dropsy, the fluid buildup can is possibly blamable for a number of different reasons. A few of them are kidney failure, a poor diet, the wrong kind of mineral content in the water, egg binding, a bacterial infection, or a parasitic infestation. Regardless, whatever causes it, the medical condition is something that causes aquarium owners a great deal of worry. This is because Dropsy is often a death sentence for a fish if it lingers for too long. 

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Dropsy? 

Most aquarium owners miss the early signs of dropsy easily. It’s because they are less visual and are more behavioral. When a fish is suffering from the early signs of dropsy, they seem to be more lethargic than normal and are less likely to have an appetite. It may also generally stop associating with other fish in the aquarium a day or two before there is even a loss of appetite. 

Betta owners are far more likely to miss these early symptoms, compared to goldfish owners, most likely because betta fish are not the most sociable of creatures. 

 However, it is very important for betta owners to be observant enough to catch the early signs of appetite loss.  Because this is the only stage of dropsy that can be considered treatable. 

When the symptoms start to progress, and the fluid starts to build up in the fish, the signs become less behavioral and more visible to the naked eye.  The more severe symptoms of dropsy start to happen when the fish starts to bloat. 

This sort of bloating visually differs between the kind of bloating one would expect from a fish that has overeaten and is easy to spot once it happens. This is because of how the scales visually appear. The scales of the fish start to distend from the rest of its body, creating an almost pinecone-like appearance. 

If the body is too bloated, the fish will suffer from buoyancy issues, mostly due to the significant changes in the fish’s volume and density.  Either the fish will constantly be floating towards the surface, or it will start to sink and stay towards the bottom. 

This is the stage where the dropsy is beyond treatable. This is because, at this point, the fish is suffering from organ failure.  

Typically when a fish reaches this stage of dropsy, it will die within a few months. The timing depends on the severity of the bloating. 

Quarantine Your Fish Immediately 

Dropsy in and of itself is not contagious. As I mentioned earlier, it is not a disease. 

Still, it is important to remove the fish from the group tank into a quarantined area. Even if the fish is beyond treatment. This is for two reasons. First, the last thing a loving owner would want for their beloved pet is to spend its last moments feeling vulnerable and in pain with other tank 

mates that may attack it out of confusion or a sudden need to dominate the area. Second, if the dropsy is being caused by a bacterial or parasitic infection, you want to limit the spread of the infection or the parasite as quickly as possible. The last thing that an aquarium owner wants is for a bacterial or parasitic infection to spread to the other fish. 

How Can You Treat the Early Stages of Dropsy? 

If you are a betta owner that is lucky enough to catch the behavioral signs of dropsy, there is still a chance for you to save your fish. 

  • The first thing that you should do is get the fish quarantined as soon as possible in a hospital/medical tank. 
  • Make sure that the quarantine tank has the proper amount of oxygen. Leave a little air in the tank so your betta can surface from time to time. They are labyrinthine fish, so they can take air from the surface from time to time. 
  • Make sure the hospital tank is at the proper temperature for your betta. It is still a tropical fish, after all. 78 degrees Fahrenheit is an optimal temperature. 
  • Freshly prepare the tank water with the addition of Epsom or aquarium salt into the water. The salt is a natural diuretic and can help relieve some of the bloating in the fish. 
  • The typical amount of salt that most aquarium owners suggest is 1 teaspoon for every gallon. If you want to be certain about how much you should add, you should talk to your vet. 
  • Feed your fish a proper diet. Good nutrition means a healthy immune system for your fish. The better you feed it, the more likely it will be able to fight off current and future infections. 
  • Vitamin enriched fish pellets (pre-soaked), peas (shelled and cut to help with constipation), and assorted pond critters like bloodworms, daphnia, and mosquito larvae, are ideal. 
  • Do a 100% water change every one to two days. Make sure that you keep the water clean. Especially when your fish is trying to expel any parasites or bacteria from its body. 

If your betta seems to be doing better in a week, you might be lucky. Still, even if you think it is doing better, you need to be certain of just how clean and safe the bettas environment will be. Because many fish owners have attested that dropsy can come back with a vengeance. Especially if a tank owner is ignorant to the cause of the infection, to begin with. 

 If you are unfortunate enough to have come across your betta on the first day of bloating, you will need to rely on a more aggressive form of treatment.   

How Can You Treat the Later Stages of Dropsy? 

In most cases of dropsy, if you were to come across it while there are outward physical signs, there is little chance of saving the fish.  This is mostly because any physical signs of the disease mean that the infection has already started to affect the internal organs of the fish. 

However, there is the rare occasion where the fish can be saved. If you spot any bloating or rising scales within a day of noticing any odd behavioral signs and you don’t hesitate to get them any form of treatment. Your early intervention might be able to keep the infection from spreading farther. 

A medication that has been known to work is Kanaplex by Seachem. 

The medication itself has a chemical compound known as Kanamycin. It is an antibiotic that treats a variety of bacterial and fungal infections. 

It is also inexpensive and is found in just about any pet store or online. 

 Fun Fact, Kanamycin is also used to treat humans, for bacterial infections, even later stages of tuberculosis. So, if it is good enough for fighting a disease that has plagued humanity for centuries, it is certainly good enough for your fish.  

If you have spent a few days treating the fish in a salt bath and there are still signs of bloating, you will need a plan b. Luckily, there are a few steps that can be taken to make sure that your fish is in an optimal environment for recovery. 

  • Perform the treatment in a tank with clean water with no salt in the tank. 
  • Applying two different treatments to a fish suffering from dropsy is literally overkill. Your betta’s organs can only take so much before they start working in overdrive, and kanamycin is a very strong antibiotic. 
  • Keep feeding your fish high nutrient foods. 
  • Your fish will need all the help it can get in fighting off its infection. Proper nutrients will give your betta’s immune system a stronger chance of adapting to the added stress of medication. 
  • Change the water tank daily. 
  • The strength of the antibiotic depletes oxygen levels in the water and will disrupt nitrogen cycles. This will make it hard for the fish to naturally adjust to the lack of natural resources in the water. This sort of environmental stress is why bettas often die. Even if they are undergoing treatment for dropsy. Resources from the new water will give your pet a stronger chance of fighting their infection. 
  • Treatment should last up to 7 days. 
  • The medication for dropsy is strong. That is why it is imperative that the treatment should only last for a few days at most. It is the most a betta’s organs can handle. 
  • Afterward, keep them quarantined for two weeks. 
  • Even if the treatment kills all the bacteria, your pet still needs adequate time to recover from the high-intensity treatment. After all, recovering from infection is a very stressful event. Keep it in the hospital tank with sanitary water and watch its behavior. If it seems to be perking up over time, then there is a good chance that you removed the infection. 

How Can You Prevent Dropsy? 

Sadly, as I have mentioned before, dropsy tends to be fatal for most betta fish. 

The good news is that dropsy and the death of your fish are completely avoidable if you know what steps to prevent aquarium bacterial infections in the first place. 

  • The number one way of preventing dropsy is to just keep your aquarium tank clean, period. If tank water and filtration systems are regularly and consistently cleaned out, there is less of a chance for bacteria to breed. 
  • Make sure that your betta is in at least a 5-gallon tank with a heater at the optimal environmental temperature. Bettas need a water temperature of (78-82 degrees Fahrenheit). 
  • If the temperature of the water is too cold, then your fish will not be able to digest food properly 
  • Make sure all the mineral levels and the acidity of the water are optimal for bettas. This is done by putting in a few drops of water conditioner in the tank.  
  • Get quality food for your fish. If you don’t know where the food is from, there is a reason to suspect that the food is carrying an infestation. Pellets, bred larvae, and the occasional pea is perfect. 
  • Don’t let food linger in the tank. If you have a bottom feeder that will eat up remaining food, that’s great. If not, remove it as soon as you can, or bacterial will start to grow on the old food.