Swim Bladder

When a fish is unable to swim correctly, seems to be tilting when swimming, or is unable to even sink into the water (appears to be bloated resulting in it almost floating at the surface of the water) it is a strong sign that your fish has swim bladder disease. Although it is commonly labeled as a disease, swim bladder disease is more of a symptom due to either issues effecting the fish's swim bladder organ or other less obvious factors.


Swim bladder disease is mostly commonly known for making fish lose control of their swim bladder organ, which is turn allows for them to sink and float throughout the water column. When something goes wrong with this organ, it can cause for the fish to lose control of its ability to swim correct either temporarily or permanently. In a variety of cases due to breeding deformations into their own variety of fish, many fish breeds such as fancy goldfish and blood parrot cichlids are bred to have an enlarged swim bladder organ. Due to this organ being enlarged, it can result in the fish loosing complete control of being able to swim if they are fed incorrectly, constipated, or if they get any physical injuries inside of their setup.


In most cases the reason for the fish losing control of their swim bladder can stem into some simple facts that are overlooked when either feeding, cleaning, or housing the correct decorations inside of their setup. We will go over all of the various cases in which a fish can get swim bladder by either common mistakes or issues that are out of our hands (either when buying the fish or when the fish was born). As there are a wide variety of problems that may be the true cause to the fish losing control of its swim bladder, it is on a case by case situation. The treatment will also be dependent on which case is the cause for the fish to have swim bladder.

Treatment and Medication

Since there are various reasons why a fish's swim bladder can be working either incorrectly or not work at all, we must look at each of the individual cases that commonly effect this organ. Treatment can vary from a case by case situation, and in many times the swim bladder will appear to have fixed itself almost on its own if given enough time.

If the fish is a new born fry and is unable to swim correctly, the issue is instead resulting in bad genes or an issue when they were being developed inside of their mother. Sadly, nothing can be done for these cases since it is impossible to give them better genes or undo the damage that was done when they were being developed. If the fry are a few weeks to month old making sure not to move the fry from one setup to another (as water parameters can vary greatly from one tank to another even if the water source is the same) can reduce any damage that is gone through developmental issues. Since fry are technically growing into their adult form for up to the first few years (depending on the fish species), we must make sure we provide them with excellent conditions.

When feeding any fish species it is highly important to make sure that the foot is placed below the water surface, as if the fish are attempting to get the food from the surface of the water they can accidentally suck in air which will cause them to bloat. This bloat is temporary but can result in them losing control of their swim bladder organ for a few hours. The same can happen when a fish over eats (or is over fed) results in too much food inside of their body and making their swim bladder organ highly ineffective temporarily. Some common foods that will result in a fish having troubles with their swim bladder can include even algae wafers, since although they may be at the bottom of the setup they still normally enlarge over time when exposed to water (depending on the brand). If a fish eats some before it is fully enlarged, it will cause some excess bloat inside of their body. A common tip is to make sure that you let the fish fully digest all of their food before giving feeding them the next day. If you see any of the fish with a stomach that is larger than normal, have them fast that day to avoid them become constipated with food. Keep in mind that fish can survive up to a few weeks without any food if they are been properly cared for in the previous few weeks beforehand.

Less common issues can be related to bacterial infections, parasites that are inside of their body, worms of various kinds living inside of their organs, and physical damage is the fish is large enough to bite (or body slam) into another fish. If the fish is infected it is key to make sure that you find the symptoms that they appear to have and treat them as soon as possible. If a fish is injured at all, try making sure to remove any rough decorations, fish, or sometimes even equipment that could have lead the fish to hurt itself. Using medicine can improve the speed at which the fish will heal and therefore have their swim bladder back to working order.


Due to the way that this disease spreads and effects the inhabitants, the best prevention methods are to always make sure that you quarantine anything that you place inside of your water (this includes any plants, inhabitants, decorations, and more). Thus, when you do let them adjust to your water and you truly see how they are acting, eating and if they have any symptoms or signs, we will either start to get a better understanding if they are infected, or learn about what possible other diseases they might have.