swim bladder disease

Swim Bladder Disease Understanding the Ailments Better

The swim bladder disease is basically a common health problems happening to aquarium fish. If you see your fish somewhat swimming sideways or swimming with the head down, most likely that it suffers from the swim bladder issues.

swim bladder disease

Also known as a flipover or swim bladder disorder, this problem causes the fish to float with its tail up but nose down. It is also possible that your fish may sink right to the bottom side or it floats on the top side of the aquarium. It’s not dead, but you can see that it doesn’t move normally. You can tell that there is something wrong with it.

Understanding the Issue

Swim bladder is an internal organ with gas-filled mechanism that is responsible for the fish’s ability to control the buoyancy – and bony fish as the ones having this particular organ. It means that they can stay within the (current) water depth without having to waste energy for swimming. Also known as air bladder or glass bladder, this organ is what keeps the fish from floating and swimming ‘properly’. A fish that is healthy without the swim bladder disease should be able to deflate or inflate the organ on its own – in order to keep the ‘right’ level of buoyancy. Such as thing won’t happen to cartilaginous fish, such as sting rays or sharks – because they don’t have the swim bladder.

So, swim bladder issue refers to an injured or sick fish that can’t maintain its own position inside the water column – or it can’t hold itself upright. The most prominent and obvious signs of the swim bladder disease is the abnormal swimming way. They aren’t able to control their swimming pattern. Sometimes, they may bob (back and forth) in the water. They may seem like darting down, but it always coming back to bob back up. Swimming should be easy for fish. It’s their habitat and nature, after all! But if your fish seem to struggle hard just to stay right in place, that’s the most obvious sign.

The Causes Swim Bladder Disease

It’s hard to tell the real causes for this swim bladder disease, because there are so many affecting factors that may contribute to the condition of the saltwater (aquarium) fish. However, these are some of the theories about the causes:

  • Parasitic infection
  • Poor water quality
  • Stress or the continuously changing water condition and parameter
  • Bacterial infection
  • Injury or trauma

Dealing with the Issue

In order to treat the swim bladder disease, you need to quarantine the sick fish. Remove it from your water tank and put it in an isolation or ‘hospital’ tank. This is especially crucial if your fish has to share its environment with other creatures – other fish and corals. In the isolation tank, you can observe the condition within a controlled and smaller environment.

If trauma is the major cause, then a little get-away time would be just perfect. It’s just what your fish needs. If it is bacterial infection, use antibiotic to deal with the issue. If it is parasite, use copper or special medication that can kill parasites. If the problem is the changing water condition, check what causes it. It would be a good idea to heat up the water before changing the water. You can also replace the equipment or faulty heaters.

If the cause is poor water quality, then water change would be your only option. You can use aquarium pharmaceuticals to treat parasitic and bacterial infections. Use anti-parasitic stuff for parasitic infection and antibiotics for bacterial infestation.

Further Treatments and Care Swim Bladder Disease

Don’t underestimate swim bladder disease. If you think, “Oh, that’s it? Well, that’s easy!” then you are mistaken the issue. As a matter of fact, this disease is pretty complicated and complex. If you want to search and research further, you actually need to examine the environment of your fish from the day you bring it home. You need to collect the history and facts in detailed manner. When was it bred or purchases? Did you buy it or someone gave it to you? Was it tank raised or wild caught? What have you done to deal with the easy? Has it shown normal behavior? What about its eating pattern? Have you added certain drugs or chemicals? If yes, what kinds?

you need to check everything thoroughly, such as the nitrates, pH, nitrites, ammonia, and temperature. Check the filtration system as well as the tank’s volume (or the fish number inside the aquarium). Don’t forget to check carbonate hardness, phosphates, and others. See? It’s not as easy as you think, right? Evaluate the nutrition too because different types of fish species will require different dietary pattern.

Contacting the Vet

Not many people know that a vet will treat a fish. Yes, it’s true! Vets aren’t only taking care of dogs, cats, or exotic animals like snakes, but they care for fish too. If you take the fish to a vet, they will sedate your fish in order to do a (physical) examination. NEVER try to use the sedative on your own because there is a certain dosage for the application. If you mess it up, wrong dosage can kill the fish. In most cases, the vet would take some samples, such as gill biopsies, fin clips, and skin scrapes.

The vet would use a cover slip (typically for the microscope slide) to scrape the fish skin gently. They need to check the (protective) mucosal barrier under the microscope. They need to identify whether the fish suffers from parasite attack. For the fin clip, the vet would take a tiny portion of one fin – or even more to cut. It is also used in microscopic examination and to find out whether it is caused by parasites.

Gill biopsies are almost the same as the fin clips method

The doctor would remove the gills and take small parts of it. This type of biopsies would provide even deeper, wider, and more information. The doctor should be able to understand the fish overall health. Not only valid information about parasitic infestation can be found out, but more can be revealed. It’s possible that the fish has experienced incidents and trauma. It’s also possible that it has excessive mucous production – leading to poor oxygen exchange.

When the fish is being examined for swim bladder disease, it’s possible that such examination may reveal other numbers of abnormalities or issues, such as one-side swelling possibility (which can be a tumor or the gas bladder itself), abnormal position and posture, exophtalmos or pop eye (it can be related to bacterial infection, cancer, or trauma), and skin lesions (from substrate rubbing or air exposure).

Besides the physical examination, further diagnosis may need to be implemented. After all, doctors need to understand the accurate and exact cause of the issue – and what it is all about. It’s possible that the doctor may suggest X-rays or radiographs. Besides post-mortem necropsy or surgical exploration, the method of using X-rays is the most useful one because it can help to visualize what happens to the swim bladder – and how the organ actually distributes gas. X-rays don’t take long time to complete. It can be done in a matter of seconds while the fish is still sedated.

This swim bladder disease is often happening to koi or goldfish

most likely because of their anatomy. However, you need to remember that there are different species of the goldfish – which leads to different anatomical patterns and ‘operational functions’. A comet goldfish, for instance, has posterior (toward tail) and anterior (toward head) swim bladder chamber, while Ryukin or Ranchu goldfish has a dramatically reduced posterior chamber. In some cases, the chamber may be absent or can’t be found.

For radiographs, the doctor may use contract agents that can be used to differentiate intestinal tract and other organs. This method is super useful if the doctor suspects that there are tumors involved. Through radiographs, the vet can learn whether the issue happens because of a fluid inside the swim bladder or a rupture to the swim bladder. They can also learn whether the fish suffers from severe gastrointestinal issues or the swim bladder displacement secondary to mass effect or a tumor.

Words of Advice

It’s not advisable to use any medication (parasitic medicine or antibiotics) WITHOUT consulting the vet first. You should always consult the vet because they are the one who can determine the issue and suggest the solutions. In further examination and research, it’s possible that your doctor finds out whether the fish suffers from negative or positive buoyancy disorder. From there, they can provide suggestion what kind of treatment would be suitable for the fish – or whether medication is needed or not.

That’s why it is always a good idea to contact professional and reliable vet before administering any medication. Never use any unnecessary or inappropriate antibiotics without consulting your vet. In the event that you have observed and monitored your fish (after you have isolated it to another isolation tank), and yet you are still clueless of what happens to your fish, go to the vet right away. They can decide whether your fish suffers from swim bladder disease or not.


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