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How to Treat Goldfish Swim Bladder Disease (in 5 Steps)

Lindsey Stanton Profile Picture

By Lindsey Stanton

vet holding goldfish

Have you noticed your fish isn’t swimming normally? Are you wondering what’s wrong or what you can do about it?

Well, good news: You’re in the right place. Goldfish swim bladder disease CAN be treated in many cases. Keep reading to learn how!

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What are the Symptoms?

Just like with the underlying conditions, the appearance of a “swim bladder disease” can vary widely among different fish.

Here’s what to look for:

  • Floating upside down at the surface of the water
  • Somersaulting through the water
  • Rising while at rest, struggling to swim down
  • Unable to rise from the bottom of the tank

Treatment Options for Swim Bladder Disease in Goldfish (5 Steps)

Treatment depends largely on the underlying condition the fish has. Each case is different and needs to be assessed as such. There is no one-size-fits-all solution that will work for all fish, such as just feeding a pea. Here are some options that can help:

1. Dietary changes

Constipated fish tend to float rather than sink. Short-bodied fancy fish are more prone to swim bladder difficulties. Their modified body shape compresses their organs, making them especially sensitive to diet and prone to issues with constipation.

That said, slim-bodied goldfish can also experience buoyancy issues related to diet. It’s just not as common.

For some fish, feeding peas may produce some positive short-term results. But I believe that if swim bladder issues are related to what the fish is eating (which they often are), you will get much better, long-lasting results through diet modification. This is because you are addressing the root cause. 

So, what are you feeding your fish? Are they getting good quality food that doesn’t have a lot of undigestible fillers? Because too many filler ingredients can lead to a backed up fish.

Many fish experts theorize that as food with fillers (that can’t be easily digested) ferments in the gut, it can lead to gas pressurizing the swim bladder like a balloon. The result? A floaty fish.

Overfeeding will also amplify the situation. Switching the feed to a good quality brand with minimal fillers is a great idea. For your fancy goldfish, a gel-based food is even better. The increased moisture content of gel food is thought to help the food pass through the digestive tract easier.

My fancy goldfish do very well on a diet of Repashy Super Gold. Others have found their swim bladder problems disappear by switching to this food. It’s also a good idea to give your fish access to fibrous vegetable material to forage on throughout the day.

Read More: Goldfish Diet Tips

Now, not all floating fish are constipated. So if you’ve tried switching the food and your fish are still struggling, there are other things you can try.

telescope eye goldfish swimming
Image credit: PxFuel

2. Addressing underlying disease

Different diseases in goldfish can affect the swim bladder and/or the fish’s buoyancy. For example, a floating fish that hangs at the surface of the water and struggles to swim down might have a fully functioning swim bladder but is unable to control its position in the water.

Conditions that cause abdominal wasting can lead to loss of buoyancy. This is because the head becomes heavier than the body and the fish is too weak to swim properly due to loss of muscle mass, such as intestinal parasites, Fish TB or malnutrition.

Egg binding or abdominal infection may require antibiotics and/or professional treatment by a veterinarian. Tumors can push the swim bladder out of place, causing it not to function properly. These are some of the main diseases that can result in your fishy’s swim bladder trouble.

If you're new to the world of goldfish or are an experienced goldfish keeper that loves to learn more, we recommend you check out our best-selling book, The Truth About Goldfish, on Amazon.

From diagnosing illnesses and providing correct treatments to ensuring your goldies are happy with their setup and your maintenance, this book brings our blog to life in color and will help you to be the best goldfishkeeper you can be. 

3. Nitrate control

Image Credit: finchfocus, Shutterstock

High levels of nitrate are thought to impact swim bladder functionality in goldfish, especially in the exotic breeds. If your nitrates are on the high end (80ppm+), this could be the culprit.

Performing several partial water changes is a quick fix to reduce the nitrate levels. You don’t want to change it all at once though, to avoid shocking the fish.

4. Consider surgery

Some fish owners have reported success with quartz implants placed in the swim bladder which help to weigh the fish down. Only a qualified veterinarian should attempt this.

There are also risks associated with invasive procedures like this that the reader should be aware of, such as secondary infection or further damage to the swim bladder.

5. Make your fish comfortable

Sometimes, swim bladder issues are not treatable. The fish may have a birth deformity or some kind of mechanical injury that has damaged the organ, such as chemical treatments or scar tissue from a prior disease. In such cases, all we can do is try our best to make our fish feel comfortable. We basically have to do our best to manage the condition as much as we can and take good care of our finned friend.

Quick tip: areas of the fish that protrude out of the water for a long period of time may become red and sore. While you can apply solutions like petroleum jelly to coat the area, this can be tricky to apply on small fish and periodically needs to be reapplied. Instead, I’ve found the use of a lot of floating plants is a fantastic help. With enough of them, they push the fish down in the water just low enough so they don’t stick out. Duckweed and Elodea are perfect for this, as well as other roots or stems that act like a “blanket.” The key is you want enough of them to totally cover the surface of the water so the fish doesn’t find that one spot where they can poke out of the water.

A word of caution: some people have developed these creative flotation devices to help the fish swim properly in the water. While some fish may be fine from this, others have experienced significant trauma from the abrasiveness of wearing them all the time. The reader is advised to use their best judgment and consult their veterinarian.

Finally, if the fish’s quality of life seems to be reduced significantly and you have exhausted all treatment options, you may want to consider euthanasia.

Swim Bladder Disease, a Misnomer?

bloated dropsy goldfish
Image Credit: Wari_Nuchczy, Shutterstock

This kind of bugs me: swim bladder “disease” or swim bladder “disorder” itself is not actually a specific disease or a disorder. It’s a label we put on condition or a symptom, and in my opinion, not a very accurate one.

Me? I prefer to just call it a swim bladder problem.

See, there can be multiple underlying causes for fish that have issues with regulating their buoyancy. Some diseases can cause the swim bladder to malfunction. But those aren’t typically diseases that just affect the swim bladder.

The swim bladder just ends up being affected in a chain reaction or a domino effect (whatever you like to call it) from the underlying cause. It’s not just one thing in every case.

Like dropsy. Dropsy is not a disease itself – it’s just a symptom of one of several things that could be wrong. The key to being able to fix your fish’s swim bladder issues lies in addressing the underlying cause.

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This disease can be frustrating to deal with, but hopefully this article gave you some useful suggestions for your fish.

Have you ever struggled (or are struggling) with a fish with buoyancy problems? Do you have tips you’d like to share, or a question?

Join the dialogue and let me know in the comments below.

Featured Image Credit: BannokStockPhoto, Shutterstock

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