Disclaimer: This article is based on my own personal research and experience. I am not a licensed veterinarian, and this is not professional advice.
This article will go through all the questions and topics below that a fish keeper may have about swim bladder disease:
What is a swim bladder?
What is swim bladder disease?
What fish are prone to swim bladder disease?
What causes swim bladder disease in fish?
Signs of swim bladder disease
Is swim bladder disease contagious?
Is swim bladder disease deadly?
Treatments for swim bladder disease
How to prevent swim bladder disease
By the time you finish this article, hopefully, you'll be able to understand how to treat swim bladder disease in betta fish.
What is a Swim Bladder?
In layman's terms, the swim bladder is a balloon within the body of a bony fish.
The whole purpose of the swim bladder is to allow fish to control their buoyancy efficiently. The swim bladder helps fish navigate up and down the water column and stay balanced and upright.
Betta fish that have swim bladder issues usually swim abnormally.
What is Swim Bladder Disease?
For the intents and purposes of this article, swim bladder disease encompasses any dysfunction of the swim bladder.
What Fish Are Prone to Swim Bladder Disease?
Essentially, any fish with a swim bladder can get swim bladder disease. It's important to note that fish swimming to the water's surface to gulp air, such as betta fish and gourami, are more prone to this condition.
You'll often see this condition with goldfish as well. While they don't have labyrinth organs that cause them to go up to the surface of the air to breathe, they often go up near the top layer of the water column.
What Causes Swim Bladder Disease?
Several causes can lead to swim bladder disease within betta fish, which can be divided into 2 groups: external and internal:
Examples of external causes: constipation, shipping, and poor tank parameters
Examples of internal causes: bacterial infections and internal parasites
Let's deep dive into each of these causes further.
The most common cause of swim bladder disease is constipation.
There are several reasons why your betta fish may be experiencing constipation:
Using low-quality fish food
Giving a diet with no variety (i.e., feeding the same thing every single day)
If you suspect one of these is the cause of your betta fish's swim bladder disease, here's some content to help:
Bacterial Infections & Internal Parasites
Two other causes of swim bladder disease include bacterial infections and internal parasites.
Internal infections often affect the kidney of the betta fish. When the kidney does not function correctly, it can lead to internal swelling within your betta fish.
In severe cases of swelling, you'll see the scales start to poke out. This is called pineconing. It usually points to a more severe condition known as dropsy.
Dropsy is frequently confused with swim bladder disease. While dropsy often results in swim bladder disease, the good thing is not all cases of swim bladder disease are necessarily associated with dropsy.
Since dropsy is a more severe condition, we'll save that topic for another day.
A fourth potential cause of swim bladder disease is short-term shock.
A very common case of short-term shock is the stress from being shipped. When betta fish are shipped, there's no light duration, temperatures can fluctuate, and ammonia can build up in a limited amount of water.
Overall, taking a joy ride with a local FedEx guy is just not an optimal time for any fish.
Other cases of short-term shock can include sudden temperature fluctuations during water changes and/or accidental physical trauma.
Unlike short-term shock, a fifth cause to swim bladder disease can be long-term stress.
Long-term cases of stress include bad water quality or poor tank parameters.
If your tank temperature is outside the optimal range or your tank is not fully cycled, havoc will ensue.
Always test your water regularly with a trustable water test kit to ensure there are no trace amounts of ammonia (goal: 0 ppm), nitrates (goal: 0 ppm), or nitrates (goal: 0-40 ppm). Nitrate levels can vary depending on how planted your tank is.
Another type of long-term stress is a betta fish living in a community tank. How?
Bad neighbors: If your betta is not with suitable tank mates, it can be put in a constantly stressful environment
Inconsistent feeding: There is a possibility of overfeeding your betta fish when it's in a community tank since you have to put in more food to ensure everyone is eating
Genetic or Congenital Disabilities
The last potential cause of swim bladder disease is genetic or congenital disability.
Some betta fish are just genetically predisposed to having swim bladder problems. For those who have raised and bred guppies before, it's not uncommon to see a baby or two born with a sub-functioning swim bladder right out of the womb.
Signs of Swim Bladder Disease
How do you know if your betta fish has swim bladder disease? You can check for visual signs and behavioral signs.
Sign 1: Betta fish with swim bladder disease due to constipation may have a bloated stomach or an overly distended stomach.
Sign 2: Sometimes, you'll see betta fish with swim bladder disease have a spine that creates an S-curvature.
Sign 3: You may see clamped fins kept closer to the body. Clamped fins are usually indicative of an internal parasite or a bacterial infection.
Sign 4: The last thing you might see is stringy white stool. This sign can point toward an internal parasite or bacterial infection. It can also be a telltale sign that you're not giving an adequate diet to your betta fish.
Sign 1: Behavioral signs revolve around any deviation from the usual swimming patterns you see with your betta fish.
Sign 2: Swim bladder disease behavioral signs can include being overly lethargic or the betta fish staying in one part of the tank, whether at the top or the bottom. If you see your betta fish not moving around as much as they usually would... that can be a red flag.
Sign 3: Another sign is seeing your betta fish swimming lopsidedly or awkwardly. This can transpire in the form of your betta fish's head being constantly tilted upwards or constantly tilted downwards.
Sign 4: One sign I've seen in the past is a betta fish that's unable to stay in one spot. If you ever see a betta fish that can't seem to stop itself from drifting when it wants to stay put, that might be because of swim bladder disease.
Sign 5: The last behavioral sign that I've noticed is a betta fish that's unable to stay upright when laying on anything.
Is Swim Bladder Disease Contagious?
Some videos and articles claim that swim bladder disease is a contagious condition, while others say it's not. So what's the real answer?
The true answer is that it depends on the cause.
If the swim bladder disease is due to an external cause such as constipation or shock, then theoretically, swim bladder disease in these cases is not contagious.
However, if the swim bladder disease is from an internal cause such as an internal parasite or bacterial infection, this form of swim bladder disease is contagious and thus, can spread to other fish within a tank.