Why Your Fish is Bloated with Scales Sticking Out

Why Your Fish is Bloated with Scales Sticking Out

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There are several reasons why aquarium fish bloat, but different conditions manifest differently.

One such situation is when a fish’s abdomen swells and its scales pop from the body, giving the appearance of a pinecone.

This condition is called dropsy, and unfortunately, it’s one of a few ailments fatal to ornamental fish.

Dropsy is not an actual disease but a physical manifestation of kidney failure that forces the accumulation of excess water in a fish’s body. The fluid makes the abdomen balloon outwards, causing its scales to stick out.

If your fish is only oval-shaped and slightly rounded around the abdomen, the condition is perhaps not too dire, but once the scales start to protrude, there likely is some organ failure.

What Does A Fish with Dropsy Look Like

Essentially, a fish with dropsy will look pretty much what I’ve mentioned above. It will be oval-shaped and slightly rounded around the abdomen.

The scales will start to protrude as the disease progress. Your fish may also develop skin lesions or fin rot, and internal organs, such as the kidney and liver, may be damaged.

Dropsy may cause eyes to distend, a condition called popeye, and swimming trouble, occasioned by fluid build-up in the body.

Since dropsy is a symptom rather than a disease on its own, your fish may also present signs of the underlying condition, including bacterial infections, parasites, and liver dysfunction.

Here is a comprehensive list of signs you will ordinarily see in a fish with dropsy.

  • Bulging abdomen
  • Pinecone scales (sticking out)
  • Oval shaped and slightly rounded body
  • Popeye eyes
  • Troubled swimming
  • Skin lesions or fin rot
  • Symptoms of bacterial infections or parasites

Is Dropsy Contagious to Other Fish

No, dropsy is not contagious to other fish because it is not a disease but a symptom of an underlying condition. However, aquarists usually quarantine affected fish to keep them from spreading the underlying ailment to the rest of their flock.

Moving the affected finny into a hospital tank also helps him (or her) have a comfortable, stress-free environment, away from the competition between tankmates.

In quarantine, your finny can access food readily regardless of how slow he (she) is swimming, plus you will be able to implement a treatment regimen specific to the affected fish.

How Do You Treat Dropsy in Fish

Sadly, dropsy is quite often the last symptom of irreversible damage to your fish, and there is nothing much you can do to save them. Most remedies are only meant to make the finny’s last days bearable.

As such, to help your fish, you don’t do much treatment with medicines per se. Instead, apply remedies that will help your finny remain stress-free, including your tank water conditions (pH, gH, kH) and temperature.

Of course, you can use antibiotics to treat your fish when you’re sure an underlying infection is causing dropsy.

The first thing I like to do is move my fish into a quarantine tank with pristine water, free of nitrates, and set to my finny’s preferred ph and temperature.

Once the ph and temperature are set at the suitable range, I try as much as possible to ensure there are no drastic fluctuations because they will most likely kill your finny prematurely.

If the fish in question love a slightly saline environment as some tropical species do, I’ll add a little salt in the tank to help with osmoregulation and relieve any secondary inflammation.

Low salt levels in the water aid in the osmotic balance of the fish by making the water salinity closer to the fish blood salinity. That helps the fish get rid of excess water accumulating in the body, causing dropsy:The Spruce

Having said that, if your fish does not improve with treatment, better water conditions, and is clearly suffering, you may want to consider euthanizing him (her).

Can Your Fish Recover from Dropsy

Rarely do fish recover from dropsy since by the time you notice the signs, a lot of damage will have already occurred in your fish organs.

Usually, by the time your finny’s abdomen bulges and the scales take up the pinecone texture, the kidneys and liver are already affected, and no amount of intervention can fully reverse the damage.

However, you may be successful if you catch and treat the ailment before dropsy has time to fully develop, which is more likely if you’ve spent time with your fish enough to notice even the slightest in behavior and physical features.

A visit to your finnies' vet every once in a while will also ensure you catch ailments that would cause dropsy early enough.

What Causes Your Fish to Swell Up

Now, away from dropsy, other conditions may cause your tropical fish to swell up, some serious but others not so much. Bloating and pregnancy (gravid) are perhaps the most common and least fatal causes.

Bloating and constipation results from overfeeding or giving your fish a less than appropriate diet. An Epsom salt birth and a fibrous diet (such as peas) should help relieve the condition.

In the case of a pregnant (gravid) fish, you only need to provide her with the appropriate environment to lay her eggs and raise her young ones.

Swim bladder disease is the other reason why your fish may be bloated. It is not an actual disease but a symptom of an underlying ailment, which sadly appears when the fish is affected extensively.

Poor water quality may also cause swim bladder disease if not resolved promptly. The stress will gradually get cause you fish affect your fish to a point where the condition develops.

Because of their physiology, including a rounded body and a curved spine, goldfish are more prone to swim bladder disease, which may result even from a diet allowing excess air to enter your finnies gastrointestinal tract.

Fortunately, switching to a sinking food or neutrally buoyant diet may help correct mild disorders in goldfish.

Malawi bloat is another condition that causes swelling in tropical fish, but it’s most times limited to a few species, mostly Malawi cichlids.

The disease is caused by a parasite or bacteria and treatable with antibiotics (Metronidazole), but it’s still pretty fatal and responsible for many African cichlid’s deaths.

One last thing to note is some finnies, like some fancy goldfish, have naturally rounded bodies, and the fish may seem bloated if when it’s pretty fine.

The good side to it is that your fish will keep you on toes because it’s hard to discern when it’s bloated. The bad part is you might miss a life-threatening condition until it’s too late, and the only solution is euthanizing.

Below is a list of things that most times cause bloating (swollen abdomen) in tropical fish kept in home aquariums.

  • Dropsy
  • Swim bladder disease
  • Parasites and bacterial infections (result in swim bladder if not resolved)
  • Bloating and constipation due to poor or inappropriate diet
  • Pregnancy (gravid females finnies)
  • Natural look of some fish such as fancy goldfish
  • Malawi bloat, mostly in African cichlids

If you are looking to learn how to treat a bloated, costipated fish in your fish tank, more so with epsom salt, I’ve covered everything you need to know on this post, please have a look, could come in really handy.

That’s all for this post.

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Have fun with your lady betta.

Have fun keeping finnies🐠🐟.

Eddie Waithaka

Resident Content Creator and Marketer at AquariaWise who talks about aquariums and fish and aquascapes a lot.

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