Dropsy in Bettas: How to Diagnose, Treat and Prevent Dropsy for Betta Fish

Dropsy is a relatively uncommon disease in bettas when compared to constipation and fin rot. Mainly due to their hardy nature and will to survive, bettas generally do not succumb to diseases easily.

That said, there are some occasions when serious diseases such as dropsy can inflict your betta and it can be tedious trying to find the right treatment or solution for the problem, especially when your fish starts looking like a ‘swollen pinecone’, novice keepers tend to freak out.

In today’s article, we talk about dropsy, the reasons, the treatments, and the preventions.

What is Dropsy?

Dropsy is another term for ‘edema’ which is a condition that causes swelling due to excess of fluid in the tissues or cavities of the body. It is generally caused by bacterial infections which will kill the fish if not treated quickly.

In bettas, dropsy is considered a rare condition as it is usually a symptom of extremely poor conditions that cause a buildup of ‘gram-negative’ bacteria which results in dropsy.

Therefore, dropsy is not considered a disease but rather a symptom that can indicate any number of underlying health issues, most of the time pointing to bacterial infections. In some extreme cases, homeostatic functions (the ability to regulate water within the body) is impaired by kidney or liver failure.

Symptoms

A telltale sign of dropsy is the dreaded ‘swollen pinecone’ appearance on a fish. However, when the fish is spotted at this stage, it usually is too late and the fish usually dies within the next few days.

You should also know to spot the signs of dropsy early as it will drastically increase the odds of saving your fish. Below are some of the common signs that you can look out for.

Signs of dropsy

Lack of appetite
While any disease will cause your betta to lose its appetite eventually, it will be good to know that once you notice a drop in appetite, automatically assume that something is wrong.

Isolation
Usually, bettas tend to mind their own business about the tank and are quite confident when they choose to be. However, during times of disease, they often choose to hide in isolation away from other fishes.

Bloating
It can be quite tricky to differentiate bloating from a full tummy. Bloating generally is accompanied by other undesired behavior like lethargy and a loss of appetite. During the advanced stages, bloating is very obvious.

Swollen Pinecone
This symptom is usually noticed towards the later stage of dropsy and is generally characterized by a very swollen abdomen or body and scales that seem to stick out. If you see this, unfortunately, the chances of survival for your fish is very low.

Also, the swollen pinecone symptom is often accompanied by other parts of the body being swollen, i.e the eyes. You might also notice that due to the swelling, the spine of the fish will start to curve due to the pressure the organs are exerting on the body.

Other symptoms can also include a general discoloration, inability to swim properly, and a red bulging anus due to the pressure within the body.

These signs are important because if you do spot dropsy early, the chances of saving your fish are extremely high.

Causes of Dropsy in Betta

Dropsy is usually caused by extended periods of poor husbandry which then leads to a stressed fish with a weak immune system that cannot fight off infection.

Generally, it is caused by viral or bacterial infections that attack organs such as the kidney forcing it to work in overdrive and ultimately causing a failure in homeostatic function, hence the extreme swelling.

Both dropsy and constipation also have similar symptoms and can be easily treated if spotted early. The difference is that once bloating clears in constipation and water quality improves, the fish will most probably go back to normal. In the case of dropsy, the symptoms quickly worsen if not treated till the point of death.

The final stages of dropsy usually are caused by multiple organ failures and sadly the chances of survival when it reaches the stage of the ‘swollen pinecone’ are incredibly slim.

Treatments

If you’ve managed to spot dropsy in the early stages, congratulations because the chances of your betta surviving are significantly higher when spotted early. Sadly, at the later stages, i.e once swollen pinecone starts to show, the chances of your betta surviving are unfortunately low to none.

That said, treating dropsy is relatively straightforward, however, you will do well following a few simple rules.

Isolate
Whether your betta is housed alone or in a community tank, it is best to isolate your fish into a separate smaller ‘hospital’ tank. I find it ideal for a hospital tank to be about 5 gallons.

This is for a few reasons, firstly, a separate tank will help you monitor your fish better. Secondly, you will need to maintain a few parameters in the ‘hospital’ tank which will be easier in a separate tank due to medication and equipment involved.

Water
The water in the hospital tank should be pristine, i.e aged water or treated with a water conditioner. Generally, I add 3-4 tablespoons of Epsom salt to the water to boost the fishes immune system and reduce stress.

Additionally, I find that adding blackwater to the tank, either by adding a few Indian almond leaves or blackwater extract, will also help in reducing stress and create a more natural environment for the betta.

Medication
Like what I mentioned above, I generally use Epsom salts. However many other fish keepers have had great success with commercially available medication such as API Melafix.

These medications come with easy dosage instructions and are usually an antibacterial treatment (anti-biotic) for both internal and external infections.

It is also important to note that if you choose to medicate with commercial medications, find one that is anti-bacterial.

Equipment
The 2 pieces of equipment I use are a heater and an aerator (bubbler). I find most of my successful treatments happening at around 80°F or 26°C. An aerator is also important because medication tends to reduce the oxygen levels in the water, and as such, an aerator will continue to introduce oxygen into the water.

Prevention

Like constipation, preventing dropsy is easy, as long as you keep to your maintenance schedule and take care of the water, it will in turn, keep your betta healthy and alive for a long time to come.

A good setup with a filter and regular water changes is highly recommended as it will keep excess nutrients at bay, preventing bacterial infections.

Optionally, you can choose to have Indian almond leaves in the tank to create blackwater.

Dropsy is not common in bettas as they are very hardy fishes and don’t fall prey to infections easily.

If you’ve got any questions, feel free to leave them in the comments section below and we hope you’ve found this article informative!

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