Guppy Dropsy (How To Detect It & How To Save Them)

Last Updated on 2023-12-19

Guppy dropsy is extremely serious. In fact, it’s one of the most serious things that can happen to your guppy. In this article, you’re going to find out the best ways to treat dropsy, what causes it, the symptoms, and most importantly, how to prevent it from happening in the first place!

So keep reading to find out everything there is to know about dropsy in guppies!

Key Takeaways:

  • Dropsy in guppies is primarily caused by bacterial infection due to compromised immune systems from poor water quality, poor nutrition, injuries, and other illnesses.
  • Symptoms include pinecone-like scales, a swollen stomach, curved spine, behavioral changes, and reduced appetite.
  • Early signs of dropsy consist of a swollen abdomen, outward pointing scales, pale gills, lethargy, lack of appetite, bulging eyes, clamped fins, and increased gill movement.
  • Treatment involves quarantining the affected guppy, using aquarium salt, maintaining a high-quality diet, and potentially using medications like API Melafix after consulting a veterinarian.
  • Prevention methods include regular water changes, use of filters and heaters, tank cleanliness, avoiding overcrowding, offering a varied high-quality diet, avoiding overfeeding, aggressive tank mates, and maintaining good tank conditions.

What Causes Dropsy In Guppies?

First of all, you may be wondering what causes dropsy in guppies. Well, while it’s generally a bacteria that infects your guppy and kills them. This isn’t the true cause. In fact, the bacteria that causes dropsy in guppies is present in the tank at all times.

Dropsy occurs in guppies when their immune system has been completely compromised due to poor water quality or poor nutrition. In results in pinecone scales, bloating, and a curved spine. Unfortunately, the prognosis of dropsy is never good, and euthanasia should be considered.

Poor Water Quality

The main cause of dropsy in your guppies will probably be poor water quality of some sort. If you don’t vacuum your gravel, change the water, remove old food and decaying plant matter, or have a filter, then the chances are, the quality of the water is going to become poor.

Not only this, but, ammonia is also going to build up in the tank, which could result in an ammonia spike which can become fatal extremely quickly as well.

Poor Nutrition

Another common cause of dropsy is often poor nutrition. If your guppy isn’t getting the food they need, then obviously they’re going to suffer. On top of this, they’re immune system will also weaken. Opening them up to dropsy and other diseases.


Dropsy can also occur when your guppy has sustained an injury. This can happen at any time. However, when you’re transporting them from your home to your tank can often be the most common time.

As well as this, they could also be injured by other fish who are bullying them as well as decorations in your tank which have damaged them.

Other Illnesses

If your guppy is already suffering from an illness, then it’s going to increase the chance of them suffering from dropsy as well. Once again, this is due to the fact that their immune system has been weakened.

A Sudden Change In Water Temperature

Lastly, a sudden drop or increase in water temperature can also increase the chance that your guppy is going to suffer from dropsy too. This is going to wreak havoc on their body. And if you don’t act quickly it can also kill them, thanks to something called temperature shock.

dropsy, guppies

What Are The Symptoms Of Dropsy In Guppies?

To know whether your guppy is suffering from dropsy, or whether it’s something else (such as constipation or swim bladder disease), then you’ll need to know the symptoms.

Here are some of the most likely symptoms you’ll notice when your guppy is suffering from dropsy.

Pinecone ScalesScales protrude due to excessive swelling, making them appear like a pinecone. Indicative of severe dropsy and poor prognosis.
Swollen StomachGuppy displays a bloated, distended belly due to infection and damage, leading to significant swelling.
Curved SpineGuppy may exhibit a spine curvature caused by internal pressure due to excessive fluid, notably different from a healthy curve.
Behavioral ChangesReduced appetite, avoidance of other fish, hiding in one area of the tank, and clamped fins due to discomfort and pain.
Physical AbnormalitiesLoss of color in gills, bulging red eyes, anus due to fluid retention, indicating an advanced stage of the disease.

Pinecone Scales

One of the tell-tale signs of dropsy is pinecone scales. In fact, when you notice this you can pretty much guarantee, that it’s what your guppy is suffering from.

The reason the scales pinecone is because the body has swelled so much, that they can no longer stick to their sides.

At this stage of dropsy, it’s highly unlikely that you’re going to be able to save your guppy, and euthanasia may be the best decision.

A Swollen Stomach

Another sign of dropsy in your guppy is a bloated, swollen or distended belly. Once again, this is because the infection and damage in your guppy’s body has caused it to swell massively.

However, just be careful you’re not mistaking it with swim bladder disease or constipation which could also cause this on a less severe scale.

A Curved Spine

As well as this, sometimes your guppies spine will begin to curve too. This is because the pressure inside their body is literally bending their spine. When the spine swells, though, it should be horizontal and not vertical. If it’s vertical then they may be suffering from tuberculosis.

(There can be many different reasons that your guppies spine is bent, however, so you should check this article out to figure it out!)

As well as the three main symptoms, you may also notice the following:

  • A lack of appetite.
  • They avoid other fish.
  • They hide in one part of the tank.
  • Their fins are clamped by their side (this is often due to pain caused by the swelling.)
  • Their gills have lost color.
  • And bulging red eyes and anus, which is caused by fluid retention.

While your guppy may not have all the symptoms listed above, if you do notice three of the main ones, then it’s most likely going to be dropsy.

Check out this video by Albert’s Guppy Adventure on how to cure guppies!

What Are Early Signs Of Dropsy In Guppies

Of course, you don’t want your guppies to get dropsy because it’s a very dangerous disease that can kill them. That’s why it’s so important to find the signs early so you can start the right treatment straight away. Here are some signs to look for to see if your guppies have dropsy.

Swelling of the Abdomen

When a fish has dropsy, its stomach swells quickly, which is easy to spot (unless they’re pregnant). The reason for the swelling is because the the guppy is filling up with fluid it can’t get rid of.

It’s important to note if a guppy is pregnant, their swollen stomach is more likely to be pointy rather than round.

Scales Starts To Point Outward

When your guppy has dropsy, the swelling will make the scales stick out and point outward from the skin, making the fish look like a “pine cone.” Sometimes this sign is hard to find because the pinecone scales only show up on some parts of the guppy and not on the whole body.

Pale Gills

While pale gills can be a sign of a lot of different diseases in fish, if you notice it along with other symptoms, then your fish could be suffering from dropsy. Either way if you do notice paler gills in your guppy you should act quickly to find out what’s making them sick.

(Check out this article on all the different guppy diseases and illnesses!)


If you notice that your guppy is lounging around more often at the bottom of the fish tank, it is a clear sign that something is wrong. And while there are many things that can stress your a guppy out, dropsy could definitely be approaching.

Appetite Loss

If your guppy doesn’t eat and completely ignores their food, then there’s another clear sign that something is wrong with it. Again while this may not be dropsy yet, if left untreated, it could be.

Bulging Eyes

Eyes that are swollen show that the body has too much fluid that it can’t get rid of. The fluid puts pressure behind the guppy’s eyeballs, which makes one or both of the eyes bulge outward.

Clamped Fins

Guppies that are stressed out will normally end up clamping their fins. This could be because of bad water conditions, being picked on by another fish, dropsy, or other diseases that causes your guppy to be stressed. When this happens, the guppy will put their fins flat on their body making giving the clamped appearance.

Increased Gill Movement

If your guppy has dropsy, it will move its gills faster. This is because your guppy’s gills don’t work right when fluid builds up in their bodies. This makes it harder for them to breathe in oxygen.

How Do You Treat Guppy Dropsy?

If your guppy has dropsy, then you can still try to treat it. However, it’s important to know that if your guppy is suffering from dropsy, then there is a strong possibility that they aren’t going to survive.

With that being said, here are the different ways you can treat dropsy in guppies.


The first thing you should do is remove your guppy from their tank and quarantine them on their own. Doing this is going to help alleviate their stress, and also to help you treat them more effectively.

This will also give you a chance to improve the water quality in your main tank without causing your sick guppy anymore stress.

When you’re setting up a quarantine tank, you should take some of the biological filter media from your first tank, as well as some of the water. This way good bacteria will be moved into your quarantine tank, and your guppy won’t have to acclimate to new water parameters.

Aquarium Salt Treatment

Once you’ve quarantined your guppy, the next treatment you should try is salt treatment. You generally want to use half a teaspoon of aquarium salt for every gallon of water in your tank.

However, don’t just place the salt straight into your tank. Instead, you should take out a small amount of tank water, and dissolve the aquarium salt into the water.

Once you’ve done this you can then add it to your quarantine tank. For the exact dosages and how long you need to use it, you should check the instructions. This will give you a good guide on what to do.

As well as this, make sure that you never dose the same water twice. You’ll need to perform a 100% water change every time you dose the tank so you don’t make the water too salty.

Lastly, make sure you’re using aquarium salt and not any other kind of salt. Aquarium salt is made for treating fish when they’re sick, whereas other salt isn’t.

Feed Them A High Quality Diet

While you’re treating your guppy with aquarium salt, simultaneously, you should also be feeding them a high quality diet.

A high quality flake food is going to be the best choice, however, this should also be supplemented with some live food and blanched vegetables as well.

Make sure you’re removing any food that hasn’t been eaten to slow down the build up of ammonia in your tank. This will help to keep your guppies immune system strong.

If you’re not sure what type of food to use then I highly recommend TetraMin Tropical Flakes. However, any of the food on this list will be a great choice for your guppy.


Lastly, you may also wish to try medication as well. This is normally the quickest and most effective method for treating your guppy. However, if you get the dosages wrong it can go wrong a lot quicker as well.

I’d recommend using a product such as API Melafix, however, you should consult a veterinarian before trying anything.

To use API Melafix, you should check the instructions on the outside of the bottle. They’ll tell you exactly what you need to do to keep your guppy healthy and happy.

dropsy, guppies

How Do You Prevent Dropsy In Guppies?

Fortunately, dropsy is preventable when you take care of your guppies and the tank that they’re in. If you follow the advice below, then you’re going to drastically reduce the chance of your guppies suffering from dropsy.

Change The Water Often

One of the most common reasons that your guppies will become sick is when the water is dirty. While a filter can keep it clean for a long period of time, you’re always going to need to change the water.

The amount of water you’ll need to change will depend on the size of the tank as well as how many fish you have in it. The smaller and more stocked your tank is, the more it will need it’s water changed.

Use A Filter And Heater

A filter and heater is also going to keep the water parameters in your tank as close to perfect as possible.

Without a filter, your tank will become dirtier much quicker, increasing the buildup of ammonia and bacteria in the tank.

And without a heater, it will only take one massive temperature drop to cause serious damage to your guppies.

So as you can see, both are tremendously important for keeping your guppies alive.

(Here’s a more in-depth explanation as to why you need a heater and filter.)

Clean The Tank

As well as using a filter, and changing the water regularly, you should also be cleaning your tank regularly as well. This means vacuuming the gravel to remove any build up of a grime, as well as scrubbing the walls and cleaning the filter.

Doing all of this will remove any parasites, bacteria and fungus that could contribute to your guppy suffering from dropsy.

Don’t Overcrowd Your Tank

The more overcrowded your tank is, the higher the bioload will be. If your filter can’t handle an increased bioload then the ammonia and bacteria will rise in it rapidly.

However, not only this but the more fish there are, the more likely it is for aggression to occur. All fish, no matter how peaceful they are, need their own space.

And if they don’t have this then they may begin to act in an aggressive manner. This could result in fighting which in turn could lead to dropsy.

(Find out how many guppies you should keep in a 5 gallon, 10 gallon and 20 gallon tank.)

Feed Them A Variety Of Food

You should make sure that your guppies are getting a varied diet. They’re omnivores, so they’ll need a mix of both plant and meat. However, tropical fish flakes on their own won’t be enough.

As well as feeding them tropical fish flakes you should also feed them live food such as daphnia, brine shrimp, and mosquito larvae. Vegetable wise, zucchini, lettuce, and peas all make a great choice, as long as they’re blanched first.

Feed Them High Quality Food

As well as feeding them variety of food, you should also make sure that you’re feeding your guppies high quality food as well. If you buy low quality food, then it’s going to have a lot more fillers in it.

These fillers are going to provide no nutritional value for your guppies, and in fact, could harm them.

(Here are some of the best foods you can feed your guppy as well as what their diet should look like.)

Don’t Overfeed Them

Overfeeding your guppies can often result in constipation and swim bladder disease. While these illnesses on their own are normally curable, they do weaken the immune system, opening it up for dropsy to strike.

When you’re feeding your guppies, you shouldn’t feed them anymore than they can eat in two minutes.

Don’t Add Aggressive Tank Mates

Lastly, make sure you’re not adding any aggressive tank mates into the tank. Obviously they’re going to bully guppies, which could stress them out or even cause damage to them.

In both cases, the chances of suffering from dropsy are going to increase.

(Some great tank mates for guppies include cherry shrimp, ghost shrimp, neon tetras, and even goldfish!)

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Does Your Guppy Have Dropsy Or Are They Pregnant?

When you’re taking care of your guppies, it’s important to be able to tell if one of them is sick so you can treat it right away. However, it’s not always easy to tell if your guppy is sick or pregnant. To help you determine if your guppy is pregnant, you can check for the following signs.

Swollen Abdomen

Most of the time, it is hard to tell if your guppy is bloated, pregnant, or has dropsy. This makes most beginner aquarists nervous if their guppy has a swollen abdomen.  However, one way you can tell is when a guppy is pregnant, its belly will grow bigger at an angle, making it more angular than round.

It’s important to note though, that when your guppies belly is swollen and the scales are pineconing out, then this is a clear sign of dropsy.

Mating Behavior

You may also be able to tell if your guppy is pregnant if you see common mating behaviors in your guppies.  Guppy males become more active during their mating phase. During mating, multiple male guppies will attempt to swim in front of the females and will try to impress them which could go on for hours.


If your female guppy starts acting mean out of the blue, it could be a sign that she is pregnant. They will be especially mean to the male guppy fish, which can be very pushy when they want to mate. This can lead to the female being harassed all the time, which can stress her out and make her more aggressive.

Gravid Spot

On top of this, when a guppy is pregnant, there will be a dark spot just behind the anal fin that will get darker over time. As the belly grows, the area will get darker and darker until she gives birth to baby guppies. You might even be able to see the eyes of the guppy fries in that area as tiny black dots.

Lack Of Appetite

When a female guppy is pregnant, she may have a tendency to lose interest in food, though this is not the case for all pregnant females. She might stop eating altogether, only eat a little at a time, or spit out her food. The closer she is to giving birth, the more frequently this occurs.


Lastly, when a guppy is pregnant, shemight hide from other fish or avoid them. They do this because they don’t want other fish in the tank to bother them when they are weak, especially when they are about to give birth. When they’re pregnant, it’s best to move them to a separate fish tank where they can feel safer.

Guppy Dropsy vs Constipation

Many fish keepers often confuse constipation with dropsy because the symptoms are similar. That’s why it’s very important to know the difference between constipation and dropsy. If you really think your guppy only has constipation, make sure your guppy has these symptoms below.

Hanging Stringy Poop

A healthy guppy will be able to poop very smoothly, and the waste will fall to the bottom of the tank. If your guppy is constipated, it may have trouble pooping, or it may not poop at all. Sometimes, it can even make your guppy’s poop hang on its anal vent.

Trouble Swimming

A guppy that is constipated will have a hard time swimming around the fish tank. This is caused by their swollen belly that prevents them from moving about freely. However, this could also be a sign of other health problems, so it’s a good practice to look for other signs as well.


your guppy will feel lethargic and swim at the bottom of the fish tank more if they are constipated. However, don’t jump to the wrong conclusion immediately. They might just not be as active or as restful because the temperature in the fish tank is very low or they might just be resting.

Lack of Appetite

Lack of appetite or interest in food is another sign that your guppy may be constipated. Even though guppies are known to eat anything, they usually stop when they are full. Constipation makes them feel like they are full, which makes them not want to eat.

Swim Bladder Disease

Many fish keepers don’t realize that swim bladder disease can be caused by constipation. If your guppy has trouble staying upright or swims sideways, along with the other signs above, it is probably constipated.

When a guppy has constipation, its stomach presses on its other organs, like its swim bladder, making it hard for it to stay upright.

When you think that your guppy has dropsy, instead of the symptoms listed above, you may find that they will stay in one part of the tank, they won’t want to eat food at all, they’re scales are pineconing out, and they may even be getting harassed by other fish!

Is Dropsy Contagious In Guppies?

Dropsy itself is not contagious in guppies, but the problems that can lead to it can be. If a parasite or bacteria got into one of your guppies, it could get dropsy, and the parasite could spread to other guppies in the tank. In the same way, if your aquarium water is of poor quality, all of your guppies can get dropsy.

Dropsy is a condition that not only affects guppies but also other fish. It causes their bellies to get very big, their eyes to bulge, and their scales to stick out like pinecones.  It’s more like a symptom of something else wrong with your guppy such as bacterial and parasitic infections, bad living conditions, or problems with the liver.

Dropsy is very fatal to fish, including guppies even within just a few days of the initial symptoms arising. The treatment is also complicated because the disease has both an environmental component as well as an internal one. The best thing you can actually do against dropsy is preventing it from happening to your fish in the first  place.

Is Epsom Salt Good For Dropsy In Guppies?

If your guppy has dropsy, which is caused by bacteria, you can give them an Epsom salt bath. Epsom salt is completely safe to use in aquariums. It is used as a fish relaxant and as a treatment for some health problems in fish like dropsy, constipation, and swim bladder disease.

To give your guppy a salt bath, you need a separate quarantine tank. Then, put 1 tablespoon of Epsom salt per 1 gallons of water in your quarantine tank and make sure the salt is well diluted. Then, put the sick guppy in the quarantine tank for 8 to 10 minutes before putting it back in the main tank.

Avoid putting Epsom salt in the main fish tank. Fish aren’t supposed to spend a long time in fish tanks with Epsom salt and doing this may end up causing way more harm than good.


Is Dropsy Painful for Fish?

Studies show fish feel pain, but it’s unclear if dropsy causes discomfort. Dropsy is a serious condition that can cause swelling and fluid buildup in the body, leading to discomfort and difficulty swimming. If left untreated, dropsy can be fatal for fish.

Is Dropsy Contagious to Humans?

Dropsy disease, or edema, affects both humans and fish. However, the symptoms differ. In humans, it causes fluid accumulation under the skin and pain, while in fish, it causes body swelling and protrusion of scales. Fish dropsy is not contagious to humans, but it’s advisable to wear rubber gloves when handling sick fish.


As you can see, dropsy is definitely something you don’t want your guppies to suffer from. As the prognosis is never good. However, with the right care, it is possible to bring your guppy back from the brink.

But the better option is to prevent your guppy from getting dropsy in the first place! So if you follow the advice above, you’re going to keep your guppies alive for a long time!


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