If you’re an aquarium hobbyist, you will probably have come across the term “swim bladder disease” at some point during your fishkeeping journey. Swim bladder problems can be serious and distressing for your fish, causing your pet to swim sideways, preventing them from swimming on an even keel, or even causing them to float upside-down or vertically.
Depending on the cause, swim bladder problems are usually treatable if you catch the condition early enough. But what is swim bladder disease, can your fish survive with the condition, and how long can a fish live with swim bladder disease?
Keep reading to learn more!
What is swim bladder disease?
The swim bladder is a gas-filled organ that sits in the fish’s abdomen, allowing the creature to swim upright and keep its balance in the water.
The level of gas contained in the swim bladder can be adjusted to enable the fish to maintain its position in the water, rise, or sink. If there’s a problem with the swim bladder and it can’t function correctly, the fish will struggle to swim on an even keel, often sinking to the bottom of the tank and being unable to swim back up again. You’ll also see your fish stuck on one side, swimming around in circles, or stuck at the water’s surface.
Rather than being a disease in itself, swim bladder problems describe a wide range of symptoms that tell you some underlying condition is causing a problem with the fish’s swim bladder. So, you’ll need to play detective and look at what other symptoms your fish displays to work out what’s causing the issue and take steps to fix it.
What fish species are affected by swim bladder disease?
Swim bladder problems generally affect round-bodied fish species like Fancy goldfish, certain types of cichlids, and bettas. However, almost any fish can suffer from swim bladder disease, including both marine and freshwater species.
Negative and positive swim bladder disorders
Swim bladder disorders are generally classified as positive or negative, depending on the fish’s symptoms.
Positively buoyant fish tend to spend too much time at the surface of the water and are unable to swim down again. In addition, these fish generally float in an abnormal posture, such as upside down or vertically.
Negatively buoyant fish tend to become trapped at the bottom of the tank and are unable to swim to the upper areas of the water column or reach the surface. These fish can also sometimes have an abnormal posture.
Can fish survive swim bladder disease?
Fish can often survive swim bladder disease, depending on its cause.
However, with positively buoyant fish, some of the creature’s body can be exposed above the water’s surface, making it difficult to prevent the skin from drying out. Don’t be tempted to cover the top of your tank to try to keep the fish submerged, as that results in decreased oxygen diffusion, and the fish could suffocate. Instead, ask your vet what you could apply to the fish’s skin to keep it moist and protected from the air.
When the fish has a negative buoyancy disorder, it will spend too much time on the bottom of the aquarium on its head, belly, or side. In this case, you will need to provide a clean, non-abrasive substrate to protect the fish from injury, and you must keep your tank extremely clean to ward off infection.
How long can a fish live with swim bladder disease?
The life expectancy of a fish with swim bladder disorder varies tremendously depending on what’s causing the problem.
I’ve found that with proper care, many fish that are prone to swim bladder problems can thrive for extended periods of time. I keep Fancy goldfish, which have a tendency to suffer from swim bladder issues because of their round body shape.
However, by providing a varied diet that includes protein-rich foods like frozen blood worms, brine shrimp, or daphnia as well as standard fish flakes and pellets, I’ve been able to prevent this problem from recurring.
Overfeeding is another common cause of swim bladder disease, so be sure to offer your fish only what they will eat in a couple of minutes and remove uneaten food promptly to prevent the water from becoming contaminated.
Even if your fish has a permanent swim bladder disorder, it can still live a happy, full life with a few lifestyle modifications. However, complications can often prove fatal if a serious bacterial infection causes the problem.
How long does it take for a fish to get over swim bladder disease?
Swim bladder disorders can sometimes get better on their own if you make changes to your fish’s diet or water conditions, but it’s not a good idea to depend on this. To give your fish the best chance of recovering fully, it’s important to take action as soon as possible.
The effectiveness of your treatment depends on the cause of the swim bladder problems. For example, if your fish’s swim bladder disease is caused by dietary imbalances, you can expect to see an improvement in just a few days by changing your fish’s diet. However, if a bacterial infection is to blame, it can take weeks to clear up and may even be fatal in serious cases.
Regardless of the cause, it’s essential to maintain a clean and hygienic aquarium, provide your fish with a high-quality, correct diet, and avoid overfeeding your pets.
How to stop swim bladder disease from happening
I highly recommend taking preventative measures when it comes to all fish diseases. Keeping a close eye on water parameters, feeding your fish a balanced diet, avoiding over-feeding, slowly introducing new fish to the main tank, and providing plenty of hiding spots are all great ways to keep your fish safe and healthy.
By doing that, you can avoid swim bladder problems and create a stress-free, healthy environment for your fish.
Can fish die from swim bladder disease?
If you can diagnose the cause of your fish’s swim bladder problems early and provide appropriate treatment, many fish will make a full recovery. However, if the cause of the disease is a serious parasitic or bacterial infection, swim bladder disease can be fatal.
Understanding swim bladder disease in fish
Swim bladder problems can affect almost all marine and freshwater fish species, although most buoyancy issues are treatable if they’re spotted quickly. In fact, even fish with permanent swim bladder issues can live a long, happy life with a few modifications to their diet and environment.
You can keep your fish healthy by providing stable water parameters that are appropriate for the species you keep, keeping the water clean and hygienic, and offering your fish a correct, balanced diet. When buying new fish, always quarantine them in a separate tank for at least a fortnight before introducing them to your main display tank.