Swim Bladder Disease in Bettas: Causes, Symptoms, And Treatment

Swim Bladder Disease in Bettas

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Every part of a betta fish is obviously important in one fashion or another. Having said that, there is a special significance to their swim bladders. This vital organ plays an equally vital role in how your bettas swim in their surroundings. Responsible for maintaining their buoyancy, betta fish naturally need this organ to maintain their ideal lifestyle and optimal health.

An Introduction To Swim Bladder Disease In Bettas

Unfortunately, like anything else your betta needs to look and feel their best, there are threats which can create complications. Swim bladder disease can indeed be treated, but this is something that must be done as soon as possible. This means being able to quickly identify the signs your betta is suffering from this condition. It also includes knowing the best ways to treat your betta.

Let’s take a closer look at exactly what we mean by swim bladder disease. The first challenge to keep in mind with this potential issue is that there are a lot of potential of places in which it can originate.

Breaking Down The Basics

In the simplest terms, swim bladder disorder is when a disruption occurs within the swim bladder of your betta. This is a fairly common disease among bettas.

However, it does have the benefit of being fairly easy to treat. As we mentioned before, the success of your treatment is going to be fairly dependent upon how quickly you notice the condition. It is a good thing indeed then that there are some fairly easy-to-notice symptoms of swim bladder disease.

Remember: Your betta relies on their swim bladder to essentially swim with as little actual effort as possible. As opposed to having to swim nonstop to stay in place, your betta’s swim bladder will take care of that instead. In other words, once we delve more deeply into the subject of swim bladder symptoms, you’ll already know to look for any signs that your betta isn’t swimming as it normally should.

Without the swim bladder, your betta is going to find it very difficult to swim properly. It will also waste enormous amounts of energy on trying to stay in one place. This can put a notable strain on its overall health on a variety of levels.

But, wait, is it true that swim bladder disease isn’t even what the name suggests it might be? This is true to a certain extent. Here is what you need to keep in mind.

Is Swim Bladder Disease Actually A Disease? What Exactly Happens?

In the most technical sense of the word, swim bladder disease isn’t actually a disease. It is a condition that can potentially be part of something else altogether. This is important to remember, as you learn about the different ways in which you can treat swim bladder disease.

What happens to your betta fish when it has this condition?

  • You are going to notice your betta either floating along the surface, which it does not want to do, nor should be doing. The betta may also be found along the bottom of your aquarium, if it does in fact have this condition.
  • The gas-filled sac which represents this organ becomes damaged or diseased. It is important to note that this condition can come from a variety of different places.

What Are Some Of The Most Common Causes Of Swim Bladder Disease?

Before we take a closer look at common symptoms to look for, beyond the buoyancy issue, the next step is to see where the condition can come from. To reiterate, one of the most frustrating things about swim bladder disease is the fact that it can come from a variety of different sources.

The importance of diagnosing the specific cause of your betta’s swim bladder disease cannot be understated. Knowing the exact cause is going to go a long way towards knowing the specific treatment you should explore. In some situations, the wrong treatment can actually cause more problems than it solves.

Here are the most notable causes you are going to want to look for:

Cause #1: Overfeeding

Constipation, or simply overfeeding your betta, is one of the most well-known causes of swim bladder disease. One of the more annoying things about bettas is that they never know when to say “enough!” They love to eat, and they do not know the meaning of the word quit. To that end, you need to make sure you are taking special care to feed them exactly as your directions suggest. Failing to do so can lead to bloating, constipation, and eventually swim bladder disease.

Cause #2: Too Much Air In The Food

This ties into the first point mentioned above. Cheap betta food often has a lot of excess air inside it. In addition to the air they ingest while eating around the surface of the cage, airy food can add to this. The end result can lead to your betta becoming constipated.

A good diet is vital to the health of your betta on several levels. For this reason, make sure you are feeding your fish the best betta food on the market. There are several possibilities to that end.

Cause #3: Shock/Surprise

Stress can create a variety of problems for your betta. If your betta goes through consistent and ongoing stress, including bullying from other fish, or drastic changes to their surroundings, their health can be impacted on a variety of levels.

On a similar note, extreme shock or surprise can also cause problems. This includes swim bladder disease. While this cause is considered to be quite rare, something along the lines of a drastic water or light change can create this element of shock. This can perhaps diminish their immune systems enough to make swim bladder disease a regrettably viable possibility.

Cause #4: Parasites And Bacteria

Our last potential culprit is arguably the most frustrating of them all, in terms of being able to correctly identify it as a cause. Furthermore, parasites and bacteria can strike from a variety of different places. This in of itself can make it hard to give your betta the attention it needs to get better.

Parasites are particularly problematic. They can be created through unsanitary or stressful conditions. They can also get the parasites from another fish in your aquarium. General poor health, which can be caused by some of the items we just covered, can also create conditions ideal for parasites to appear. Click here to read up on parasites and bettas, and what you can do if this is indeed the case.

Bacteria is a similar headache. This is particularly true in terms of where bacteria can come from. An unclean tank in particular can create a wide variety of problems. Make sure you are cleaning the tank on a regular basis. 

It is also a good idea to make sure your aquarium has an exceptional filter. As long as you can maintain the best possible conditions for your betta tank, the odds of dealing with parasites and/or bacteria will go down considerably.

Keep in mind that if your betta is indeed fighting a bacterial infection, swim bladder disease is going to be just one the many symptoms you will notice.

If none of these causes apply to your betta, it could be as simple as a low temperature in the water. In certain extreme cases, it can be brought about by kidney cysts and the binding of eggs with female bettas.

Now, with a clear idea of the most notable causes to watch out for, we can come back to the subject of symptoms. All of this information is going to make it that much easier to find the best way to treat swim bladder disease in betta fish.

What Are The Most Common Betta Swim Bladder Disease Symptoms?

The most important thing at this point is to consider the causes we listed above, and then match the cause to the symptoms. Also, you will want to remember that poor buoyancy is the most consistent thread in this entire discussion. It is one of the biggest indicators that your betta has this condition.

For example, if the cause of your betta’s SBD is from overeating and/or constipation, you’re going to come across the following symptoms:

  • In addition to a betta that seems to stay on the top, or along the bottom of the aquarium, you should also look for a betta which is swimming in a lopsided fashion.
  • The constant struggle to keep a normal position while it is in the aquarium.
  • The presence of a distended stomach. A curved back is also an indicator that your betta is suffering from either constipation or just plain overeating.
  • A lack of energy is particularly troubling. Poor appetite is also often observed.

This is what we mean by how difficult it can be to diagnose the proper swim bladder disease treatment. Clamped fins, as well as shaking, are two very strong likelihoods that your betta’s SBD is coming from the many issues that can steam from bacterial infections or parasites.

Simply put, if your betta is spending ALL of their time along the top of the tank, combined with an inability to swim correctly, the odds are extremely high that they have SBD.

With all of this in mind, what can you do about effectively treating this condition in your betta fish?

What Are The Best Ways To Treat Swim Bladder In My Betta?

Here is some good news about betta fish and swim bladder disease: The condition is not inherently fatal. In fact, by paying attention to specific symptoms, and addressing your options for treatment accordingly, you should be able to get your betta back on the mend with ease.

There are a number of different SBD treatment options you are going to want to keep in mind. Here is a closer look at your most prominent possibilities.

Treatment Option For Overfed/Constipation

If this is the cause of SBD in your betta, one of the most obvious steps will be to change how you are feeding them. This is simple enough, but it won’t be the only thing you need to do.

Quarantine your betta (this shows up in other treatments). Then fast them for a period of three days, increasing the temperature of the tank to 80 degrees. This can cure the betta of constipation, or the consequences of being fed too much food. If the situation doesn’t improve for the betta, consider feeding it a maximum of two cooked, peeled peas for approximately one week.

Treatment Option For Parasites And/Or Bacteria

Once again, your first step when dealing with parasites or bacteria, specifically in the context of eliminating Swim Bladder Disease, is going to come down to quarantining your ailing betta from the rest of the fish in your tank.

While this is not something you absolutely must do, it is widely seen as the best way to ensure the rest of your fish do not get sick. Don’t forget that SBD can be carried to other fish.

After your betta has been safely cut off from the rest, you can begin treatment. Melafix is the most common and effective way of getting rid of a bacterial infection. It is also not harmful to bettas, and the odds of your betta having a bacterial infection are much higher than the odds of your betta having parasites. With these thoughts in mind, consider trying out the Melafix first.

API MELAFIX Freshwater Fish Bacterial Infection...
  • Contains one (1) API MELAFIX Freshwater Fish Bacterial Infection Remedy 8-Ounce Bottle
  • Heals bacterial infections and repairs damaged fins, ulcers and open wounds
  • Contains natural, botanical tea tree extract to quickly and rapidly help fish
  • Helps treat newly-introduced fish to reduce risk of disease outbreak in freshwater aquariums
  • Use daily for a week when treating infections and for 3 days as a preventive when adding new fish

If that doesn’t work, start looking into the best ways to kill parasites in betta fish.

Treatment Option For Shock

Thankfully, this is one of the easiest treatment paths you are going to encounter. Remember that when your betta has been shocked, it means that something specific has likely shocked them. If this is in fact shock, and not just ongoing stress, your best bet will be to turn off the lights, and make sure the temperature for the tank is optimal for the betta.

Generally speaking, your betta is going to recover in short order.

What Are Some Of The Ways I Can Prevent Betta Fish Swim Bladder Disease?

While treatment is naturally important, there are also preventative measures that are worth keeping in mind. The more you are willing to do in this regard, the less likely it is that your bettas are going to get sick in the first place.

If it helps to motivate you, note that these measures can also go a long way towards preventing many other diseases and conditions with your betta.

The first suggestion is one we’ve mentioned before, but is worth covering again. We cannot repeat often enough the importance of a clean tank. This means maintaining the ideal temperature, which is somewhere between seventy-four and seventy-nine degrees. Anything higher than that should only be in situations in which it is part of a treatment.

As far as pH levels are concerned, the sweet spot is said to be somewhere around 7.0. Bettas are a hardy species, so some can handle small deviations from that number. Nonetheless, we would suggest starting there, if you are caring for bettas for the first time.

A good diet is something else we should touch on again. You get what you pay for when it comes to pet food. This fact unquestionably holds true for bettas, as well. If you want your bettas to be as happy as possible, then you are going to need to buy them the best possible food.

Watering down your betta food can also prove to be a good idea. Why? Because it will better sink to the bottom of the aquarium. When this happens, your bettas will do their eating there. That means they won’t be swallowing quite as much air, which is considered to be one of the chief causes of swim bladder disease.

Do not overfeed your betta, and make sure they are not getting into any fights with other fish in the tank. These fights are unfortunately common. The stress can put a serious toll on your betta, impacting how they eat and travel about the tank. Such conditions can cause several issues, and one of them can be the symptoms of swim bladder disease.


There is no question that swim bladder disease is something that you need to take seriously. Even so, it is not the most serious of the potential conditions and diseases which can cause harm to your betta. 

The preventative measures we mentioned above can all but guarantee that you will never have to worry about swim bladder disease, or just about anything else that can prevent your betta from living a happy, productive life.

However, if you do still encounter SBD, don’t worry. By keeping in mind everything we have covered in this article, your betta is going to be in the best possible hands. In all likelihood, they will recover in fine form.

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Jeff Colt

Jeff Colt

Hello, I'm Jeff- an aquarium enthusiast with over 25 years of experience caring for a wide array of tropical fish, including koi, goldfish bettas, cichlids and more! For me: Aquariums are like jello - there's always room for more!

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