Swim Bladder Disorder: How to Tell If Your Floating Pet Fish Is Dead

Swim Bladder Disorder: How to Tell If Your Floating Pet Fish Is Dead

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I'm interested in pet fish, and I enjoy offering advice to aspiring fish owners.

Is Your Fish Lying on Its Side but Not Dead?

Have you ever found your pet goldfish floating listlessly at the top of the tank on its side? Most people who make this discovery assume that little goldie has passed on to the other side and immediately scoop him or her from the tank and toss them in the toilet for a traditional goldfish funeral.

Unfortunately, in many cases, the fish isn't actually dead, but rather suffering from a problem with their swim bladder due to overfeeding.

There are plenty of warnings about overfeeding fish, but many people are unaware of just how easy it is to overfeed. The danger of overfeeding is that it can lead to constipation, which can, in turn, lead to problems with the fish's swim bladder.

The swim bladder is an organ that is flexible and filled with gas. Fish use this organ to maintain their buoyancy in the water. The gas expands in lighter pressures, helping the fish to rise, and is compressed when the fish dives, which helps it descend into deeper waters.

Signs of Swim Bladder Disorder or Disease

Problems with the swim bladder can lead to the fish:

  • floating on the surface,
  • sitting at the bottom of the tank,
  • or even standing on its head at the bottom of the tank.


If you find your fish floating on its side, not feeding it for three or four days can often solve the problem as the fish's body recovers from the gorging and rights itself again.

Feeding small deshelled peas can help alleviate constipation, which in turn will help the fish's swimbladder to work effectively once more.


Test Your Water

The problem may also have been caused by the fish swallowing air, so pre-soak the fish food in the future to avoid this problem.

Fresh Diet

Feeding a fresh diet as opposed to fish flakes or pellets might be beneficial. Bloodworms, brine shrimp, and even small amounts of vegetables can help your fish be more healthy.

The most important thing you can do to prevent these problems is to regularly test your water and ensure good water quality.

Change the Tank Water Frequently

You should also change your water frequently (the 50% per week rule holds here), and ensure that you do not stir around in the gravel when you change the water. Doing so can unleash nasties into the water that otherwise would stay trapped in the gravel.

Don't Use Tap Water

Never use water straight out of the tap. Instead, use a water conditioner and test the water for the correct pH before adding it to your fish tank.

This has been a basic article aimed at the beginner fish keeper. I know I wish I had known this when I was keeping fish as a child, as I am sure I killed at least one fish unnecessarily who may have simply had a swim bladder disorder.

AaLa on July 03, 2020:

Thank you that was very infromative

Carla on May 17, 2020:

My guppies gorged themselves on fry after a large female gave birth and now ive noticed two that cant swim down from the top of the tank! What do i do???

Liam Swift on May 13, 2020:

I have checked all of my water and everything is clear, however 3 of my fish have already died and one is lying lifeless. I don't think it was all because of a bladder problem and I don't know what to do

Bryson Gooden on February 28, 2020:

I have 3 guppys and i think i flushed one of my fish that was still alive..... i woke up and he was inside the filter intake but didnt look hurt and i think he got hurt then got sucked in and i put him back and he just floated there on his side so he might have still been alive

Alex riachi on June 30, 2019:

I think my fish was not dead but I buried him before knowing this

Meena on June 08, 2019:

My fish was fine yesterday, eating and swimming around. (He looked a little tired last night but I don’t know) but I woke up this morning and now he is on his side on the bottom of the tank, I have many other fishes however he is the only affected.

Anissa on May 20, 2019:

My fish is lying on the bottom of the pot but is not breathing

I think I overfed him.

What should I do?

Riya on May 16, 2019:

My fish bowl brome down . so i put my fish in a big tub but its not transparent is it okay to put them tgere i will be getting an aquarium soon

Anna Shannon on April 11, 2019:

Thank you so much for this. i have got some baby fish in my pond and was so upset to see they were lying on their side. I want to do my best for them.

Bella on March 10, 2019:

My fish was fine yesterday, eating and swimming around. (He looked a little tired last night but I don’t know) but I woke up this morning and now he is on his side on the bottom of the tank, he is an only fish. Also, this morning I came into my room and my cat was on the desk so maybe she scared him.

I don’t think he is breathing but I can’t be sure. If he is stressed I’m afraid that if I try to wake him up or move him it will cause him to become even more stressed and die ( if he hasn’t already). I need help.

paige on February 25, 2019:

my fish is floating at the surface of my tank breathing and moving her find trying to swim. I think I may have over fed her. she has a bump on her side. what do I do

Ella on February 19, 2019:

My fish might live another day!

Paytc on May 05, 2018:

My goldfish is going upside down, laying on the rocks for 2 days and she is not dead yet because she is still swimming a little bit but he is going to the top and bottom of the tank// switching about every 3 minutes, and laying there. Is there anything I can do? At all? Do you happen to have any idea what the problem may be?

Dat goldfish lover on December 07, 2017:

Thank you! You might of just saved my goldfishes life!

Susan on October 26, 2017:

Our little gold fish from the school carnival is now five years old and seven inches long. How much should I feed him a day?

Jola on June 20, 2017:

My little brothers angel fish is floating on its side at they top of the tank but still swimming and trying (but most times failing) to eat

This has been for approx.4 days now

On the second day it was back to normal but by the next day it was it was afloat again pls help

My little brother is very very sad

Kelsey ---- on December 23, 2016:

Hm... My poor Undyne is still having a problem. Is there anything else I can try?

superfreak on July 26, 2011:


Hope Alexander (author) on January 31, 2008:

Yes, pet stores and private people selling fish should really supply this basic informtion, and it is incredibly basic.

Rebecca Mikulin from Sheridan, Wyoming on January 31, 2008:

Great "basics" article! It's sad how many goldfish are inadvertently abused due to misunderstandings about their space requirements, feeding, and common ailments. I also feed mine spirulina flakes regularly to help prevent SBD, not as easy to obtain as the peas but if you run into a fish that won't eat something so different than what the pet store gave it it's worth a try :D

Hope Alexander (author) on January 30, 2008:

As a child I didn't know either, which seems very silly, as this is a very common affliction amongst goldfish and other commonly kept pet fish. It seems very remiss of pet shops to sell fish without this sort of vital information. There are probably thousands, if not millions of fish killed every year needlessly because the owners had never heard of this problem.

Stephanie Marshall from Bend, Oregon on January 30, 2008:

Ah ha..... I see now. Thanks. I never knew.

Just Toyia from Tennessee on January 30, 2008:

I had a fish with this problem and nothing helped her except temporarily, but she lived for 2 years -I wrote about it here a few weeks ago-

Raven King from Cabin Fever on January 30, 2008:

Oh, that's why I never had much luck them. :)

Examination and Diagnostics

When presented with a case of buoyancy disorder, or any abnormality, you should start by examining the fish’s environment. Compile a detailed history, including when the fish was purchased or bred, if it was wild caught or tank raised, if it showed normal behavior and had been eating previously, and most importantly, what chemicals or drugs were added in attempt to treat the problem. Check water quality, including temperature, pH, ammonia, nitrates and nitrites. Part of this will be assessing the stocking density (amount of fish to the tank or pond volume) and the filtration system. Most test kits will come with pH, ammonia, nitrates and nitrites, but they may also include things such as phosphates, carbonate hardness, etc. The more parameters known, the easier it is to assess the overall water quality.

Nutrition should also be evaluated, as different species of fish can have different dietary requirements. If any environmental parameters are found to be out of the fish’s normal range, they must be corrected.

If all of the environmental components are within normal limits, a veterinarian will sedate the fish and perform a physical exam. The most common sedatives used for this are euganol or MS-222. These products should only be used by professionals, as incorrect dosages could be fatal. Samples taken during a routine exam include skin scrapes, fin clips and gill biopsies. For a skin scrape, a cover slip for a microscope slide is used to gently scrape the skin to obtain some of the protective mucousal barrier for microscopic exam. This allows for many different parasites, including ich, to be properly identified. For a fin clip, a small portion of one or more fins are cut off (as a reminder, under sedation) and examined microscopically. This may also yield more information regarding possible parasite infestation. Gill biopsies are similar to fin clips, in that a small portion of the gills are actually removed under sedation and, again, examined microscopically (figure 3). Gill biopsies provide a plethora of information and can offer a general idea on the fish’s overall health. On gill biopsy examinations, parasites may be found, the fish may be noted to have excess mucous production, which leads to poor oxygen exchange, or the fish may be found to have undergone some incident of trauma.

When a fish is examined for buoyancy disorders, numerous abnormalities may be noted. These could be primary causes of the disorder or secondary causes. Examples of common abnormalities in a fish with swim bladder disease include abnormal posture and position a possible swelling on one side, which could be the gas bladder itself or a tumor skin lesions from being exposed to air or rubbing on substrate and exophthalmos, which is more commonly called “pop eye.” Pop eye can be secondary to trauma, bacterial infections and different types of cancer.

To determine potential causes of swim bladder disease, radiographs, or X-rays, will always be suggested. X-rays are the most useful method, aside from surgical exploration or post-mortem necropsy, for visualizing what is going on in the swim bladder and how it is distributing gas. X-rays take just a few seconds and are taken with the fish sedated and out of water. Each species has a unique arrangement of gas pattern or anatomical pattern of the swim bladder. In goldfish, however, there can even be a difference within the species. For example, a comet typically has an anterior (toward the head) and posterior (toward the tail) chamber of the swim bladder, while a Ranchu or Ryukin has a dramatically reduced, or even absent, posterior chamber. Radiographic contrast agents can even be administered to help differentiate the intestinal tract from other organs. This technique is especially helpful if tumors are suspected. All in all, radiographs can indicate if the disorder is secondary to overinflation of the swim bladder, displacement of the swim bladder secondary to a tumor or mass effect, fluid within the swim bladder, rupture of the swim bladder, and severe gastrointestinal problems.

Swim Bladder Disease Information for Tropical Fish Owners

The swim bladder is a unique part of the fish that contributes to buoyancy control. Its primary function is to make sure that the fish can maintain its current depth in the water without having to expel energy in swimming.

The swim bladder disease is therefore a complication that interrupts the ability of the tropical fish to maintain such buoyancy. It also goes by the name Floating Disorder because of the obvious behavioral signs of the condition.

The problem is prevalent among aquarium fishes, specifically the Goldfish and Betta. Note though that all breeds of fish can have this type of condition, provided that they have a swim bladder. Many aquarium owners not familiar with the disease often assume that their fish is dead because it is ‘floating’ although this is obviously not the case. Fortunately, being aware of the condition gives you the chance to address it appropriately and give your tropical fish another lease at life. The good news is that the Floating Disorder can be treated with proper care and knowledge of the possible causes of the problem.

There are a variety of causes of SBD in betta. Let’s consider one of the most usual.

Irregularity: This is one of the most common cause. Not soakingdry pellets and freeze-dried food can be the perpetrator as they expand within the tummy.
Overfeeding: Many people will understand feeling remarkably puffed up after a square meal, however, for betta, this can cause problems with their swim bladder.
Injury: A betta that has actually experienced an injury can have harmed their swim bladder.
Bacterial infection: Some kinds of bacterial infection can trigger SBD.
Birth defect: Some betta with swim bladder problems are simply birthed that way.
Poor water top quality: High nitrate levels have actually been understood to lead to swim bladder disorder.

How to detect swim bladder disease?

There are several ways to detect this disease in fish. The first and the obvious observation is your fish swimming upside down or sideways. The second observation could be fish swimming vertical with mouth downwards.

More scientific way to find if a fish is suffering from this disease is x-Ray using a Fish Veterinarian’s advice.

Symptoms of swim bladder disease

  • Fish feel difficulty in swimming
  • They struggle to maintain level in fish tank water column
  • They swim upside down or sideways
  • Spine gets affected and becomes S shaped
  • They feel constipated

How to Fix Swim Bladder Disease in Goldfish

Last Updated: February 5, 2021 References Approved

This article was co-authored by Craig Morton. Craig Morton is the CEO of Aquarium Doctor Inc. based in Huntington Beach California and servicing Orange County, Los Angeles County, and the Inland Empire. With over 30 years of aquarium experience, Craig specializes in creating custom aquarium designs along with aquarium installation and service. Aquarium Doctor works with manufacturers and products such as Clear for Life, Sea Clear, Bubble Magus, Tropic Marine Centre, Salifert, ReeFlo, Little Giant, Coralife, and Kent Marine.

There are 13 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page.

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If your goldfish is swimming sideways or upside-down, it may have swim bladder disorder. Constipation, enlarged organs, or infection can all cause the swim bladder to stop functioning properly. With proper care, you may be able to treat this disease and get your goldfish back to good health.

Watch the video: Why Is My Fish Floating? Swim Bladder Disorder Goldfish, swimbladder, fix your upside down fish