Swim Bladder Disorder and Constipation

Swim Bladder Disorder (also called SBD, Swim Bladder Disease, or simply "swim bladder") is an extremely common disorder among bettas and other fish, particularly due to husbandry misconceptions. The swim bladder is an flexible-walled organ filled with gas, which controls the fish's buoyancy. Swim bladder disorder is a symptom rather than a disease in and of itself, but should be taken very seriously, as the conditions leading to it can be deadly if left untreated.

* Symptoms
* Causes
* Treatment
* Prevention
* Special Care for Fish with SBD

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The betta is unable to swim properly, characterized by floating at the top, sinking to the bottom and/or listing sideways. The betta often looks like it takes it a great deal of work to swim to the bottom (if floating) or reach the surface (if sinking), and will pop back up like a cork or sink like a stone.

A constipated fish may look bloated (slightly or greatly), or seem to have difficulty passing feces (stringy, trailing, or exceptionally large poop).

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The vast majority of the time, the cause is constipation. Constipation in bettas can be deadly if left untreated. Constipation causes the digestive tract to become enlarged and press on the swim bladder. Constipation is an extremely common condition.

Causes of Constipation

In a relatively few cases, SBD may be caused by bacterial infections, parasites, or trauma (injury). Fish may be born with SBD, in which case it is a congenital defect. Congenital defects may contribute to a fish being particularly sensitive to constipation and having chronic or frequent SBD.

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When SBD is observed with no other symptoms or known causes, it is best to begin treatment for constipation. Most of the time, SBD will clear up immediately when the fish is no longer constipated.

If the betta is pooping normally at the onset of SBD, and/or there is still no improvement after fasting and feeding a pea, the cause may be internal parasites or bacterial infection. Parasites may cause bloating. Either may cause clamped fins, lethargy, paleness and other general symptoms. If you are unsure which, it may be helpful to treat for both. Many anti-parasite medications and antibiotics can be used in conjunction, but check first.

If the cause is an injury, the only treatment is time, and keeping the water super clean and warm. Adding a pinch of pre-dissolved aquarium salt to the tank is also beneficial to help prevent secondary infections and assist the betta's other systems. With luck, the injury will heal and the betta will make a full recovery.

red veiltail Preventing Constipation and SBD blue veiltail

Preventing SBD is primarily prevention of constipation and keeping the betta healthy in general.

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Care for Your Special Needs Fish:
A Comfortable Environment for Your Fish with Acute or Chronic SBD
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When a fish has SBD, simply moving around to eat or breathe may tax its strength or exhaust it, which leaves it open to secondary infections and many other problems. There are many steps you should take to help out your sick fish, and it may help to set up a "hospital tank" until the fish has recovered. Some bettas may have a defect or injury that results in chronic Swim Bladder Disorder. For a betta with chronic SBD, there are many things you can change about their habitat to make their life easier and more comfortable.

Give the betta a wide, shallow home, rather than a tall, deep one.

Bettas with SBD will have trouble reaching the bottom or surface, and if the water is shallow, the betta won't have to work as hard and tire itself out. Make sure the betta still has plenty of room -- at least a gallon and preferably much more.

A great "tank" for a special needs betta is a Rubbermaid (or similar) storage bin. You can find wide, flat versions in five or more gallons, a perfect size for a betta, and they can be heated with 25 watt submersible heaters. Holes can be punched in the lid to provide air, or, even better, a clear lid can be made from glass or plexiglass/acrylic for easy viewing. (Remember, bettas are jumpers; though an SBD fish may have trouble with such athletics, it's best not to take chances!) Bettas don't mind an opaque home, as they come from shaded, dark water in the wild, but it is important you spend time observing your betta every day for signs of illness.

Alternately, a large tank (such as a ten gallon) can be filled with only a few gallons rather than full to provide enough space but shallow water.

Provide a soft, silk plant (or live plant) with wide leaves at various heights.

The betta will appreciate some soft decor on which to rest at varying depths in the water. A betta with SBD will perch on the leaves like a butterfly. Use a silk plant or live plant, as plastic plants often have rough or sharp edges that will tear a betta's long, delicate fins.


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