Dropsy In Betta Fish: Treatment For The Fatal Disease

Interested to know how to treat dropsy in betta fish?

If you catch dropsy early enough, administer the right treatment and take care of your fish, then there’s a good possibility it will survive. And this article will show you the exact steps you need to take.

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Key Takeaways

  • Dropsy in betta fish is not a disease itself but a set of symptoms indicating underlying poor health, often caused by gram-negative bacteria.
  • Dropsy primarily affects fish with weakened immune systems due to factors like poor water quality, poor nutrition, new tank syndrome, or other illnesses.
  • Early symptoms of dropsy in bettas include loss of appetite, avoidance of other fish, and hiding behavior.
  • Advanced symptoms of dropsy include pinecone scales, a distended or bloated stomach, and occasionally a curved spine.
  • Various treatments for dropsy include Maracyn 2, methylene blue dip, and Epsom salt bath, but these may not always guarantee a cure.

What Is Dropsy?

If you’ve heard of dropsy before, then you may have been told that it’s a disease. This simply isn’t true. In fact, dropsy is actually the symptom of underlying poor health, most often caused by gram-negative bacteria.

It’s incredibly rare for dropsy to happen in a healthy fish, instead, it’s most likely to happen to fish with weakened immune systems. If you want to know exactly what dropsy is, it’s similar to edema or ascites in humans. It’s when soft tissue fills up with fluid that the body can’t remove. This is what causes bloating.

Normally dropsy will end up damaging the kidneys and liver in your betta, which is where the fluid will tend to congregate.

NameDropsy
SymptomsEarly Stages:
Not Eating
Avoiding Other Fish
Hiding In The Tank
Advanced Stages:
Pinecone Scales
Distended/Swollen Stomach
Bloated Stomach
Curved Spine (Occasionally)
Other Signs:
Pale Gills
Clamped Fins
Bulging eyes/bulging anus
Treatment1. Move your betta to a quarantine tank. With plenty of hiding places, and an air bubbler.
2. Add API Stress Coat to the tank to help alleviate some stress.
3. Slowly acclimate your betta to the quarantine tank.
4. Test the parameters in your main tank to ensure water quality is high. If not perform a water change until the quality improves.
5. Once your betta is in the quarantine tank begin treating them with antibiotics like Maracyn 2.
6. Monitor your betta for improvements.
CausesPoor Water Quality
Poor Nutrition
New Tank Syndrome
Other Illnesses
PreventionKeep The Water Quality High
Don’t Overcrowd The Tank
Make Sure The Tank Is Big Enough
Don’t Overfeed Your Betta

Betta Dropsy Symptoms

One of the problems with dropsy is the fact that the early symptoms can be caused by a whole range of problems. But if you don’t catch dropsy early enough the risk of fatality increases dramatically. Here are are a list of common betta dropsy symptoms you may find.

Early Symptoms

Earlier symptoms of dropsy in bettas are:

  • You may notice that your betta has stopped eating. However, there can be a whole myriad of reasons for this, so take caution before treating your betta for dropsy straight away.
  • You may also notice if your betta avoids other fish.
  • A betta with dropsy often finds one spot in the tank and hides there.

If you notice all of these symptoms in your betta it’s often only 2-3 days before their belly starts distending. At which point it is a lot harder to treat dropsy effectively.

But remember these symptoms can also be caused by stress. So you should take some time to consider whether it’s a good idea to treat your betta for dropsy.

Because if your betta is suffering from stress, unneeded treatment for dropsy will make matters worse, and could drastically affect their immune system.

The 3 Most Noticeable Symptoms Of Dropsy

dropsy in fish
Pinecone scales & bloating

As well as the early symptoms there are a lot of other symptoms that you need to watch out for. These are 3 of the most common and noticeable symptoms of dropsy.

However, it’s important not to mistake a swollen or distended belly as dropsy when it could be constipation.

  • The BIGGEST indicator that your fish is suffering from dropsy is “pinecone scales”. If all of their scales are sticking out (similar to a pinecone) then it’s extremely probable that dropsy is the cause. The only problem is, when dropsy is diagnosed this late, the chance of your betta surviving are very slim.
  • Another BIG indicator that your betta has dropsy is a distended, swollen and bloated stomach.
  • Sometimes a fish with dropsy will have a curved spine that looks extremely unnatural. This is caused by the swelling of the organs which causes pressure, bending your fishes spine. However, swelling of the spine should be sideways, not vertical which is a symptom of tuberculosis.

Other Symptoms May Include:

  • Gills that have lost their color and become pale.
  • Fins clamped in (often because the pain and swelling make them hard to move).
  • Swimming at the top of the tank, and a reluctance to sink to the bottom.
  • Bulging eyes and a red/bulging anus which is caused by fluid retention in the skin.
  • Dropsy is incredibly taxing on your betta fish, so you may also notice a loss of appetite in them.

Your betta may not have all of these symptoms at once, or may never get some of them. But as time goes on you should notice more and more of these symptoms in your fish, ESPECIALLY the main 3.

If you notice the main 3 together, you should start treating your fish for dropsy ASAP.

Dropsy Or Constipation?

Before moving on to dropsy treatment it’s important not to confuse dropsy with constipation. If you treat your betta for dropsy when they’re suffering from constipation then you could severely stress them out.

The best way to discern dropsy from constipation is to notice whether your fish is passing stools or not. If they’re not, then it’s most likely constipation.

Also, you may be able to know if it’s constipation depending on how much your fish has been fed. You should only be feeding your betta a portion of high-quality food the size of their eyeball twice a day. If you’re doing anything more than this then it may just be constipation.

(If you don’t notice these symptoms in your betta, then they may be suffering from something else! Check out this article on all the diseases and illnesses your betta can end up suffering from.)

dropsy in betta fish infographic

Can Fish Recover From Dropsy?

Before you learn how to treat dropsy in betta fish, it’s important to know whether your fish is going to survive dropsy. And it really depends.

If you catch dropsy early enough then there is a good possibility your fish can survive. However, once you start seeing the 3 main symptoms then, unfortunately, survival rates are quite slim. Because at this point irreversible damage has been done to your bettas internal organs.

Some experts recommend euthanizing your fish immediately when it has the main 3 signs of dropsy. Not just for the fish, but because of the risk of it spreading to other fish. If you think your betta has a fighting chance though, at the very least you should move them to a quarantine tank.

How To Treat Dropsy In Betta Fish

If you’ve caught dropsy early enough in your fish, or you think your bettas will to survive is strong then keep reading and you’ll find out how to treat dropsy in betta fish!

  1. The first thing you’re going to need to do before anything else is set up a quarantine tank (a 5-gallon tank is ideal). Fill your quarantine tank with conditioned water and make sure that it has nothing else living in it. You should also add places for your betta to hide to help reduce stress. Make sure that you add a heater to keep the tank’s water temperature at a steady 78 degrees Fahrenheit, and a bubbler or airstone to keep the oxygen levels in the water high.
  2. When you’ve completed the first step you should add some aquarium salt to your quarantine tank. For best use, the instructions will come with the aquarium salts.
  3. Once you’ve set up your quarantine tank, acclimatize your betta by placing him in a bag with some of the water from your main tank. Once you’ve done this float the bag in the quarantine tank for 20 minutes, before releasing your betta into it.
  4. Check the parameters in your old tank to make sure they’re okay. If they’re not you should clean your filter (in the tank) and then perform a 25% water change. Scrub everything in the tank with hot water.
  5. Now back to your betta. Once your betta is in the tank you should start using a strong antibiotic like Maracyn 2 to treat them. When using Maracyn 2, make sure you stick to the manufacturer’s instructions which will come with the antibiotics.
  6. And lastly, remember that when you’re adding antibiotics and aquarium salts to your quarantine tank, you need to change the water daily. Otherwise, you risk overdosing your fish as well as starving them of oxygen.

Remember

Normally treatment like this will last for 10 days. You’ll need to monitor your fish closely to see if they’re getting better or worse. And most importantly stick to the manufacturer’s instructions precisely.

Even if you think your betta is well again you should still continue treatment. If you stop the treatment early, the bacteria could come back stronger and more resistant to antibiotics.

How To Treat Dropsy In Betta Fish (Complete Guide)

Maracyn 2 For Bettas

As of 2023, it’s now recommended to use Maracyn 2 for treating bettas with Dropsy. While it’s more expensive than other methods, it’s easier to use, and you may have a better chance of success.

To treat with Maracyn 2 the instructions recommend according to Fritz Aquatics:

Day 1: Add the contents of TWO packets per 10 gallons of water
Day 2: Add one packet per 10 gallons of water
Day 3: Add one packet per 10 gallons of water
Day 4: Add one packet per 10 gallons of water
Day 5: Add one packet per 10 gallons of water
Day 6: Perform a 25% water change. Repeat this five-day treatment if symptoms improve, but have not completely disappeared. If no improvement has occurred, try our Maracyn® and/or Maracyn® Oxy treatments.

Things To Remember:

  1. Make sure you remove any carbon and chemical filters from the tank.
  2. If you notice foaming occurring when you’re using Maracyn 2, you should stop using protein skimmers in your tank.
  3. Cloudiness is normal in the tank, and should clear up once the treatment stops.
  4. Even if the symptoms start to get better, make sure you don’t stop dosing until the medication is complete.
  5. Beware that it can cause some plants to turn yellow.
  6. Avoid performing any water changes when using this medication.
  7. If you’ve overdosed the tank make sure to perform a large water change.

Methylene Blue Dip/Bath For Bettas

Another treatment you may consider is a methylene blue bath. Methylene blue can cure dropsy as it’s great at fighting bacterial infections, as well as a whole host of other natural illnesses.

If you wanted to treat your betta with a methylene blue dip then below you’ll find the most common method. However, remember, that it’s important to ALWAYS follow the instructions that come with the bottle.

  1. You should find a container that you can house your betta in. You want to choose something that is non-metallic.
  2. Once you’ve done this, you should add aquarium water from the original tank so you don’t shock your betta, causing even more stress.
  3. Afterward, add the recommended amount of methylene blue to the water. As a rule of thumb, you should add 5 teaspoons of methylene blue for every 3 gallons of water. However, this can change depending on the concentration of the methylene blue you are using.
  4. Once you’ve done this, you can dip your fish in the bath. You should never leave it longer than 10 seconds when using a methylene blue bath.

Remember

Remember that you should avoid adding methylene blue to your main tank. If you add it, there’s a chance that you’re going to ruin your filter and make it unusable. As well as this, it’s not very good for the plant life in your tank and it can leave a stain on things.

Epsom Salt For Dropsy In Bettas

If your betta is suffering from dropsy, you can also try to use Epsom Salt to help them. If you plan on using Epsom salt, don’t add it to the tank itself, but rather you should give your betta an Epsom salt bath.

  1. Prepare a quarantine tank or a small container to hold your betta during the salt bath.
  2. Ensure that the water in the quarantine tank is conditioned and has the same temperature as the main tank.
  3. Use 1 tablespoon of Epsom salt for every gallon of water in the quarantine tank.
  4. Prepare a revival tank with 1/4 salt water and 3/4 water from the main tank.
  5. Use a thermometer to ensure consistent water temperature in all tanks.
  6. Scoop up your betta with a net and add them to the Epsom salt bath.
  7. Keep your betta in the Epsom salt bath for 5-8 minutes.
  8. Monitor your betta for any signs of distress during the salt bath.
  9. If your betta shows signs of distress, immediately remove them and move them to the revival tank.
  10. After the allotted time, move your betta to the revival tank and keep them there for 5 minutes.
  11. Finally, move your betta back to their main tank.
  12. Continue to monitor your betta’s health in the main tank.
  13. Remember, salt baths may not be enough to treat serious conditions, and medication may be necessary.

What Causes Dropsy In Betta Fish

Dropsy is caused when a build up of fluid occurs inside your betta’s, especially their organs. organs The most likely cause of this happening is stress, and it normally the result of your betta becoming weaker and weaker due to another ongoing illness they may have had. Some common things to watch out for to prevent dropsy occurring are:

Poor Water Quality

This is the number one thing to watch out for if you’re worried about your betta getting dropsy. And most of the time it can be avoided with a filtered tank that is getting frequent water changes. (Here are the ideal water conditions for a betta.)

When the water quality in your tank is poor it’s going to cause to ammonia, nitrites, and nitrates building up in the tank as well as bacteria, parasites and fungus which will weaken your bettas immune system

Poor Nutrition

One of the second biggest causes of stress is poor nutrition. If your betta isn’t getting the right food then it’s going to suffer, get stressed and have a weakened immune system.

New Tank Syndrome

Dropsy is also common in fish that have been recently added to a tank or transported. Normally sedatives are used to help keep transported fish calm, but in a new environment with new water parameters, a lot of stress can be caused to the fish.

If your betta is suffering from another illness or infection then they are also more susceptible to dropsy.

Stress

Also, in most cases, occasional stress that is short term will not cause dropsy to occur. It happens in fish that have been in a stressful environment for a long period of time. Long enough for their immune system to become weak. That’s why it’s so important to take care of your betta!

Even if your tank is a stress-free environment, dropsy can still occur in older fish. Just like with humans the older they get, the weaker their immune system will become.

betta care facebook group

How To Prevent Dropsy In Bettas

Because dropsy is one of the more difficult illnesses to cure, it’s always better to prevent it from occurring in the first place. Luckily, dropsy prevention is fairly straightforward and easy. And if you’re taking care of your fish tank the chances of dropsy occurring in healthy fish is quite low.

Remember, the aim of the game is to keep your betta as stress-free as possible. Here are some ways you can do that.

  • You should keep your tank clean. This includes regular water changes, as well as scrubbing the filter and using a gravel vacuum to remove feces and old food from the bottom of the tank.
  • Make sure you aren’t overcrowding your tank with fish. The more fish there are the higher the bioload will be. The bioload is the amount of waste caused by fish. A high bioload can increase the risk of bacteria and fungus in the tank. As well as increasing your bettas stress level.
  • If you have a betta you should only be feeding them twice a day. A bettas stomach is the same size as their eyeball, so overfeeding them is incredibly easy. Not only can overfeeding result in leftover food rotting in the tank, but it can also cause your betta to swell and bloat.
  • And lastly, make sure your betta is getting a varied diet. Bettas are carnivorous fish, so as well as feeding them fish flakes or pellets you should also be giving them meat. Bloodworms, daphnia and mosquito larvae are all great choices.

Check out this video by Everyday Aquatics about Treating Betta Fish Dropsy:

FAQ

Here are some frequently asked questions people have about dropsy in betta fish!

Can Poor Water Quality Cause Dropsy?

Absolutely, poor water quality is one of biggest causes of dropsy in fish. When the pH levels, temperature, or ammonia, nitrite, and nitrates in the tank aren’t right (or worse fluctuating), it will stress your betta out. Which can result in dropsy.

How Long Can Bettas Live With Dropsy?

How long a betta can live with dropsy will depend entirely on the betta. Sometimes, they’re able to make a recovery, however, in other cases, it will never get better. If your betta seems fine, then it might be okay, however, if they look like they’re suffering, you may need to consider euthanasia.

Can Melafix Be Used To Treat Dropsy?

API Melafix can be used as a treatment for dropsy as well as a whole host of other diseases. To use it add 5ml for every 45 litres of water in your aquarium. Dose the tank daily, and then perform a 25% water change when the treatment is done.

What Does Pine-coning Look Like In Betta Fish?

When your betta is pineconing, you’ll notice that their body starts to bloat and their scales will stick out the wrong way. As well as this, they’ll also tend to just sit at the bottom of the tank instead of swimming around.

In Conclusion

I hope you’ve learned everything you need to know on how to treat dropsy in bettas, as well as tips for preventing dropsy and what causes it in the first place. And remember, while the chances of survival aren’t ever great with dropsy, if you think you can, then you should try to do everything you can to save your betta!

Wondering where you can find a complete guide on Betta fish care? Check out this article!

Other common fish diseases:

  • How To Treat Fin Rot – Fin rot is a disease that affects a lot of bettas. If left for too long it can turn into body rot, which is often fatal.
  • How To Treat Ich – If your betta has ich the good news is it’s a lot more treatable than dropsy. However, if left unchecked it can become fatal.
  • Treating Velvet – Velvet leaves your betta covered in a gold like dust. The dust is actually mucus produced by your fish to try and remove the disease. If velvet gets into your bettas lungs it can become deadly fast.
  • Cloudy Eye – If your betta has cloudy eye it can lose it’s vision and have it’s immune system weakened. Find out how to treat it!
  • Treating Popeye In Bettas – Popeye looks horrible and has horrible side effects if not treated early. Don’t leave it too long to find out what they are.

Sources:

About the author

Hey! I'm Antonio!

Betta fish keeper for over 6 years now! Since owning a betta I've also housed all kinds of tropical fish, and have seen all manner of problems and how to look after them!

If you need any advice you can always message me or better yet join the Facebook group where a community can answer your questions!

4 thoughts on “Dropsy In Betta Fish: Treatment For The Fatal Disease”

  1. My Betta is hybrid, it’s elephant eared and at the same time comb tail . He is very aggressive and active, recently past 2 days I’ve noticed slightly swelling in the belly near Gill flap . He’s still active and aggressive but I’m worried. He is still attacking on bloodworms and eating then like before. No change in behavior or color yet. Tell me what to do

    Reply
    • Hi Ranjan,

      If you’re feeding your betta bloodworms all the time it could be the reason for the swelling. Bloodworms should only be used as a treat and not given to your betta every day. (Check out this article for more information about bloodworms.)

      If your betta still seems active then it might not be dropsy, it could be a sign that he’s too full, or that he’s constipated or is starting to get swim bladder disease.

      Also, how often are you feeding your betta and how much?

      Reply
  2. Hi! When using Methalyne Blue to treat Dropsy in a Betta as you suggest. Shall I dip the fish in the mix for no more than 10 seconds or 10 minutes? Thank you.

    Reply
    • Time Duration for the Dip
      10 Minutes, Not 10 Seconds: When treating Dropsy, a therapeutic dip in Methylene Blue usually lasts for about 10 minutes, not 10 seconds. Shorter dips may not be effective in treating the condition, while longer dips could stress or harm the fish.
      Steps to Follow
      Prepare the Dip: Mix the Methylene Blue in a separate container with some tank water, following the dosage instructions on the packaging.
      Monitor the Fish: During the dip, keep a close eye on your Betta. If you notice any signs of extreme stress, remove it immediately.
      Aftercare: After the 10-minute dip, place your Betta back into its regular tank or a hospital tank for observation.
      Important Points
      Hospital Tank: Consider setting up a separate hospital tank for your Betta. Treating it in its main tank could kill beneficial bacteria and harm other inhabitants.
      Consult a Vet: It’s always good to consult a vet experienced in treating aquatic animals to confirm the diagnosis and treatment plan.

      Reply

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