Hepper is reader-supported. When you buy via links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission at no cost to you. Learn more.

Dropsy in Betta Fish: Causes, Symptoms, & Treatments

Brooke Billingsley

By Brooke Billingsley

dropsy in white betta fish

Dropsy is a dreaded word in the fish-keeping community. This disease has a high mortality rate, and many people don’t understand why. This is because many people don’t fully understand what exactly Dropsy is. It’s important to understand the underlying pathology of Dropsy to understand what causes it and how you can give your Betta fish the best chance at surviving Dropsy.

What is Dropsy?

The first thing you need to know about Dropsy is that it isn’t a disease at all. Dropsy is a symptom of an internal problem. It indicates that there is some type of systemic infection your fish is attempting to fight. It is usually caused by bacterial infections, but Dropsy can be caused by other problems, like parasites and tumors. The reason that Dropsy is so deadly is that it is a late symptom of a problem, so by the time Dropsy sets in, your fish is already gravely ill.

Dropsy is a build-up of fluid, mainly within the abdominal cavity of the fish. What happens with severe infections is that they eventually lead to organ failure. As organs begin to fail, the body stops functioning properly, which can lead to fluid leaving where it should be, like the blood vessels, and escaping into the body cavity itself. Free-floating fluid in the abdomen is the main identifying symptom of Dropsy.

What Causes Dropsy?

Dropsy is almost always caused by problems related to water quality. Poor water quality depresses your Betta fish’s immune system, leading to your fish more easily picking up infections. Under normal circumstances, your Betta’s immune system would be able to combat infections, but when the immune system is depressed, even simple bacteria and fungi can become deadly.

Poor water quality is usually related to waste build-up in the tank due to poor filtration or aeration. In Betta fish, they can become extremely stressed and get sick easily if their tank is kept too cool. They are tropical fish that require warm water temperatures, and room temperature water is almost always too cool for their needs. Water outside their preferred temperature range can lead to immune system depression, stress, and illness. You may also see immune system depression with travel, bullying and fin nipping, and an overall stressful environment.

What are the Symptoms of Dropsy?

The number one symptom of Dropsy is “pineconeing”. What this means is that your fish takes on an appearance like that of a pinecone. As the abdomen swells with fluid, the scales begin to push outward, creating the pinecone look. This is simply due to the scales being pushed out from the body due to excessive swelling.

Other symptoms of Dropsy can include noticeable swelling in other areas. Sometimes, you may notice swelling around the eyes, which can even lead to a bug-eyed appearance. Swelling may also be visible around the gills. Fish suffering from Dropsy are very ill, so you will also see symptoms like fin clamping, lethargy, heavy breathing, inappetence, bottom sitting, or floating at the top of the tank.

How Can I Treat Dropsy?

Ideally, you should move your Betta to a hospital or quarantine tank that has pristine water. Sometimes, this isn’t possible for everyone, which is fine. Just make sure you create a pristine water environment in your Betta’s tank if you can’t move it.

Your Betta should be treated with aquarium salt in the tank. Keep in mind, especially if you are adding this to your primary tank, that aquarium salt will not evaporate with water and can only be removed with water changes. If you keep adding aquarium salt without performing water changes, you are slowly increasing the salinity of the tank. You should also feed a high quality, high protein diet during this time.

You will also need to treat your Betta fish with a broad-spectrum antibiotic or a gram-negative antibiotic. Kanamycin is a favorite in the fish keeping community, but it is not accessible in all areas and often has to be special ordered. If you are not able to acquire Kanamycin, some other options include Minocycline, Amoxicillin, Sulfamethoxazole, Neomycin, and Gentamycin.

Related Read: Betta Fish Popeye: Causes, Treatment & Prevention

aquarium plant divider

In Conclusion

If your Betta fish develops Dropsy, it can be extremely distressing to you and them. Dropsy is indicative of a profoundly serious problem and is likely to result in the death of your fish. You can absolutely attempt to treat Dropsy, though. Many people are successful in their attempts at treating their Betta fish’s Dropsy. Remember that a fish that is already weakened by illness may not survive the stress of medical treatment. Follow all instructions on any products you choose to use to attempt to treat Dropsy. Don’t double dose or overdose medications, and ensure your antibiotic is safe to use with aquarium salt because aquarium salt is sometimes contraindicated in antibiotic use.

Featured Image Credit By: Thassaphong Jarung, Shutterstock

Brooke Billingsley

Authored by

Brooke Billingsley spent nine years as a veterinary assistant before becoming a human nurse in 2013. She resides in Arkansas with her boyfriend of five years. She loves all animals and currently shares a home with three dogs, two cats, five fish, and two snails. She has a soft spot for special needs animals and has a three-legged senior dog and an internet famous cat with acromegaly and cerebellar hypoplasia. Fish keeping...Read more

Related Articles

Further Reading

Vet Articles

Latest Vet Answers

The latest veterinarians' answers to questions from our database