How to Treat Swim Bladder Disease

Written By Lewis German  |  Disease  |  0 Comments

Swim bladder disease is a common condition that affects many aquarium fish, including coldwater and tropical species, freshwater and marine.

If you’ve noticed your fish swimming sideways, struggling to maintain an upright position, or even floating upside-down, they could be suffering from this distressing condition. 

Read this comprehensive guide to learn everything you need to know about recognizing, treating, and preventing swim bladder disease in your aquarium fish.

What is swim bladder disease?

The fish’s swim bladder is a gas-filled structure in the fish’s abdomen that enables the fish to swim on an even keel and remain buoyant in the water. Fish can adjust the amount of gas the organ contains, allowing them to rise, sink or stay at a particular depth in water. 

When the swim bladder is compromised, the fish struggle to swim on an even keel, often swimming on one side, sinking right down to the substrate and being unable to rise up again, swimming around in circles, or floating on the water’s surface, unable to descend.

As mentioned above, swim bladder disease is not a disease in itself but rather a collection of symptoms that indicate a problem with the fish’s swim bladder, usually due to a variety of different causes.

What fish species can get swim bladder disease?

Blue betta fish

Both tropical and coldwater fish species, as can freshwater and marine species, can be affected by swim bladder disease. Fish such as goldfish, bettas and certain varieties of cichlids are particularly susceptible due to their round body shapes and diet.

How long can a fish live with swim bladder disease?

The lifespan of a fish with swim bladder disease varies depending on the underlying cause of the condition. 

Many fish can live for months to years with proper treatment and care, and the condition is manageable. I keep Fancy goldfish, which are prone to swim bladder problems because of their round body shape. However, provided the fish are fed a varied daily diet that includes some meaty protein, such as frozen blood worms, brine shrimp, or daphnia, in addition to basic fish flakes and pellets, the problem doesn’t occur.

However, severe or untreated cases of swim bladder disease can be fatal, depending on the cause.

Is swim bladder disease painful for fish?

Although fish aren’t thought to experience pain in the same way that mammals do, they can experience discomfort. A fish struggling with buoyancy will undoubtedly be stressed, weakening its immune system and making it susceptible to other illnesses.

Can swim bladder disease be cured?

Yes, in many cases, you can effectively treat and cure swim bladder problems, especially if caught early. However, the cure rate for swim bladder problems depends entirely on the cause of the condition. 

For example, if dietary factors cause the problem, you can generally fix it without too much difficulty. However, if a bacterial infection is to blame, that can be trickier to cure.

How to treat swim bladder disease

There are several ways to treat swim bladder disease, depending on what is causing the problem. However, the following treatments can be pretty successful in my experience.

Dietary changes

Overfeeding or feeding your fish the wrong type of food can cause constipation and bloating, a common cause of swim bladder issues. Try switching to high-quality, easily digestible foods, including a daily portion of meaty protein, such as frozen blood worms, and use only species-appropriate dried food for your fish’s basic diet. 

Peas can act as a laxative for fish, and many owners find that feeding their fish shelled, boiled peas works well to alleviate swim bladder problems.

Adjust Water Condition

Test the water in your aquarium to ensure that it is clean and free from toxins, such as ammonia, nitrites and nitrate. In addition, check the water parameters are correct for the fish species you keep,  including water temperature, hardness, and pH level and make any necessary adjustments.

Reduce stress

Stress can compromise your fish’s immune system, leaving them vulnerable to bacterial diseases and other health problems. You can help to prevent stress by providing your fish with plenty of hiding places, stocking your tank with live plants, and dimming the lighting. Sometimes, isolating the affected fish in a quarantine tank where its tank mates won’t hassle it is also effective.


If the swim bladder problems are caused by a bacterial infection, treating the tank with antibiotics can be highly effective.

Causes of swim bladder disease

Swim bladder problems can be caused by a variety of factors,  including the following:

Overfeeding or feeding an incorrect diet

Different fish species need different diets to thrive, and if you offer your fish an incorrect diet, that can cause swim bladder problems. Research your fish thoroughly and ensure you are giving them a well-balanced, nutritious diet that is correct for their needs and digestive capabilities.

For example, betta fish and round-bodied fancy goldfish varieties cannot tolerate a diet that contains only dried commercially-produced fish food. These fish species need an amount of plant matter, algae and meaty protein in their daily diet to keep their digestive systems healthy and prevent constipation and bloating.

Fluctuations in water temperature

Less hardy fish species cannot tolerate fluctuations in water temperature and parameters. Changing conditions can cause the fish to become highly stressed, compromising their immune systems and leaving them open to attack by parasites and bacteria, which sometimes cause swim bladder problems.

Bacterial or viral infections

Bacteria can enter the swim bladder via contaminated food, dirty water, or exposure to other infected fish. Once inside the swim bladder, bacteria can cause inflammation and damage to the organ.

Congenital deformities

Sometimes, fish are born with certain congenital deformities that predispose them to developing swim bladder problems. These individuals generally suffer from ill health and usually have a relatively short lifespan, so there is not much you can do to help them other than providing them with a clean, healthy environment and feeding them a correct, high-quality diet.

Physical trauma

Physical trauma, often from collisions with rough surfaces or sharp decorations and fights with tank mates, can be responsible for swim bladder problems, depending on the nature of the injury. Slow-swimming fish are particularly vulnerable to this kind of damage, especially round-bodied fish and those with a clumsy swimming style or very long trailing fins.

If you have this type of fish in your collection, the best thing to do is ensure that your aquarium has plenty of open swimming space that is not obstructed and cluttered by decorations. In addition, choose tank mates that are similar in size, swimming style, and temperament to avoid collisions and injury.

Poor water quality

Dirty fish tank

Poor water quality provides a breeding ground for harmful bacteria and parasites that can cause swim bladder problems for your fish. 

Keep the water in your aquarium clean and healthy for your livestock by carrying out partial water changes every week and using an aquarium vacuum to remove organic waste from deep within the substrate, where it would rot and pollute your water.

Don’t overfeed your fish, as uneaten food will gradually decompose, adding to the bioload on your filtration system and quickly polluting the water.

How long does swim bladder treatment take to work?

The response to treatment varies, depending on the cause of the condition. For example, in swim bladder problems caused by dietary imbalances, you can usually expect to see a marked improvement in your fish’s swimming abilities in a couple of days.

However, if a bacterial infection causes the condition, it can take weeks to clear up completely, and in serious cases, your fish might not recover, and the condition could be fatal.

Regardless of the cause of your fish’s swim bladder disease, Keeping conditions in the aquarium clean and hygienic and providing your fish with a correct, high-quality diet is essential.

How to stop swim bladder disease from happening

As with all fish diseases, prevention is always much better than cure!

You can keep your fish safe and protected from swim bladder problems by regularly checking the water parameters in your aquarium, not over-feeding your fish, and providing them with a balanced diet. 

In addition, gradually introduce any new fish to your main display tank to avoid rapid fluctuations in water conditions and provide your fish with a stress-free environment with suitable tank mates and plenty of hiding spots.

How often do fish recover from swim bladder disease?

If you recognize swim bladder disease early and take the appropriate course of treatment, many fish will fully recover. However, permanent damage or even death might result if a serious bacterial or parasitic infection causes the condition.

Will swim bladder disease cure itself?

Although some mild cases of swim bladder disease do resolve on their own with changes in diet or water conditions, you should not rely on self-healing to save your fish.

You can give your fish the best chance of a full recovery by addressing the issue promptly and taking whatever action is necessary.

Final thoughts

Swim bladder disease can be alarming to many aquarium keepers, especially those new to the hobby. 

However, understanding the causes of swim bladder diseases and knowing how to treat them can increase the chances of your fish leading a healthy, buoyant life! 

Regular fish tank maintenance, a balanced diet, and attention to the well-being of each fish are crucial to preventing this distressing condition and ensuring a long, healthy life for your fishy friends.