How Does a Fish Get Swim Bladder Disease—Is The Disorder Fatal

By Jecinta Mwihaki @aquariawise

How Does a Fish Get Swim Bladder Disease—Is The Disorder Fatal

Swim bladder disease, also called flip over disorder is a common ailment in aquarium fish that affects the swim bladder, a gas-filled organ that contributes to the fish ability to control its buoyancy.

A fish with swim bladder disorder will mostly float nose-down-tail- up or may float to the top or sink to the bottom of the fish tank.

Majorly, swim bladder disorder is caused by constipation which is induced by a high nitrate level from overfeeding or by internal parasites and infections.

The disease is most common in fancy goldfish breeds and betta but can strike virtually any species of freshwater aquarium fish.

Fortunately, swim bladder disease can be treated quite easily hence does not have to be fatal.

Read on to find out more about swim bladder disease and how to remedy it.

Please note I’m not a veterinarian, and I’m just passing on my experience and things I’ve learned over time mostly from the internet and keeping fish.

What is Swim Bladder Disease

Fish have an organ in their bodies called a swim bladder which helps them to stay stable in the water and control the way they float.

Normally, a fish will take air into their swim bladder when it wants to swim upwards, which makes the fish buoyant, like an inflatable in a swimming pool ball, and the fish rises towards the surface.

Hence, swim bladder diseases occur when a fish loses its ability to regulate the air getting in and out of the swim bladder which may be a result of several causes.

However, its good to note that swim bladder is not an actual disease but any of a couple of issues that may affect an individual fish bladder or cause compression of the organ to an extent it stops operating as it should.

For this reason, swim bladder disease is not exactly contagious, so it’s not a must to quarantine the affected fish.

Causes of Swim Bladder Disorder

Now that you know what swim bladder disease is, Imsure you are wondering why and how fish get the disorder.

Well, there are a couple of reasons the disorder develop in fish, but majorly, its caused by overfeeding which leads to constipation or when fish gulp too much air as they grab floating food from the surface of the water.

Other common causes include enlarged organs caused by infections and poor digestions due to low water temperature in the fish tank.

Moreover, fish are occasionally born with defects that affect the swim bladder, though in such cases, symptoms are almost always present from an early age.

Let’s look at each of these causes briefly.


Overfeeding is by far the most common cause of flip over disorder in aquarium fish.

Constipation resulting from overfeeding enlarges the fish stomach and intestines which in turn compress the swim bladder to the extent of affecting the fish buoyancy.

Overfeeding is particularly common to fancy goldfish which have rounder bodies. Hence, owners tend to accidentally give the fish more food to fill out the bodies.

Parasitites,Bacterial Infections or Injury

Infections can inflame the swim bladder or affect other organs which that compress the bladder.

Also, a hard blow from the fish striking an object in the aquarium or from a fight can damage the fish swim bladder.

These instances are particularly risky because they can quite easily cause permanent damage to a fish system (unlike overfeeding which goes away after a while) and consequently lower the lifespan.

Birth Defects

Although rare, birth disorders that affect the swim bladder or any other organ close to it can cause flip over problems for the fish. However, as I had mentioned, such cases manifest in a fish from an early age as opposed to later in life.

Low Water Temperature

Low water temperature settings can slow the digestive process which in turn can result in enlarged intestines that put pressure on the fish swim bladder.

This is instance also occur mostly in fancy goldfish, which unlike narrow-body-breeds, like fairly warm aquarium water. Unfortunately, most hobbyists place them in cooler aquariums without heaters.

Hence, to keep the temperature in your fish tank from causing flip over disorders in fancy goldfish, keep them in a tank with the temperature above 65°F and is better if you can make maintain it at 70°F.

Symptomps of Swim Bladder Disorder

Generally, when a fish has a swim bladder problem, the fish will lose its ability to control its buoyancy and balance in the water.

You may, therefore, notice your fish swimming on its side instead of with its body weight or have it just floating or up-side-down at the surface of the water and sluggish to swim downwards.

In some instances, the fish will sink to the bottom of the aquarium and struggle to swim upwards or generally be tilted with the tail is higher than the head.

Even so, these are just physical clues, over and above which, your fish will also get stressed, and the condition will affect its immune system exposing the fish to other infections.

It may also get lethargic or too exhausted to move around even for food and its common for some fish to starve especially when the owner has no prior experience with swim bladder disorder.

One last and quite common physical clue is a distended or a curved back fish belly.

How Do You Treat Swim Bladder Disease in Fish

Since the eating habits of a fish are the most common cause of swim bladder disease, you may want to consider feeding your fish a little less and also think of fish foods that are unlikely to cause constipation.

You can even stop feeding the affected fish for three days restart the feeding schedule with a small amount of peas with the shell removed.

Feed the fish either cooked or skinned peas, with the frozen type quite ideal because they can be microwaved or boiled a few seconds to thaw to get a proper consistency.

Another popular and effective solution for swim bladder disease is placing your fish in water that has added salts to de-stress the fish.

What you’ll need in this case is Epsom salt, which is not exactly a pure salt but a naturally occurring pure mineral compound of magnesium and sulfur.

The product is mostly used to relax stressed muscles and has the same effect on aquarium fish.

Use about a teaspoon of the Epsom salt per gallon of water.

You, however, don’t want to use regular aquarium-salt because that might not help as much with the swim bladder disorder.

Ideally, place the fish in a separate container with the salt solution to treat it instead of adding it into your fish tank. Dip the fish in the container for 10 to 15 minutes then add it back to the aquarium.

Also, don’t just throw your fish in the bucket where you add the salt, first add a primer to remove elements in the water that are not good for the fish like chlorine.

Even so, you can try the swim bladder treatment approach if you are confident you’ve been feeding your fish the right types and amounts of food so the infection can only be a result of another cause.

Good medication includes a broad spectrum of anti-bacterial and anti-parasites.

Moreover, if your fish swim bladder problem is due to a birth disorder, there is nothing much you can do, unless you are Ok with having the fish X-rayed and have the problem surgically fixed.

Note that surgery is quite costly and there is no guarantee that it will fix the problem.

That’s all for this post.

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