Why Is My Betta Fish Swimming Sideways: Everything You Need to Know About Swim Bladder Disease

Last Updated on August 5, 2020 by Anne Thynne

For any beginner betta fish owner, one of the most frightening scenarios to approach their fish aquarium is only to discover that the betta fish is swimming sideways. Such sideways swimming or floating upside down will mainly happen because your betta is experiencing Swim Bladder Diseases, aka SBD.

Guess what?

Things can become really scary when this happens.

First off, the immediate shock comes from the appearance of betta swimming sideways as if they are dead. And the second wave of shock comes when you know the fish is alive but caught with the swim bladder disorder.

Don’t be so disheartened yet…

Today we are going to ardently investigate the symptoms, reasons, cures, and prevention of the disorder that will effectively stop the sideways swimming of the betta.

So, let’s get to the point.

What is Swim Bladder Disease?

Before we get to the definition of swim bladder diseases, it’s crucial first to know what does even the term ‘swim bladder’ means.

So, here’s the answer.

It is an organ in the betta that helps it with the buoyancy. Since these fish always float in water that needs of physical energy, the bladder comes into effect to assist the buoyancy. This way, the fish swims easier without spending a lot of energy.

Now, get to the disease.

But here is a twist too- it’s not a disease!

Surprised?

Well, swim bladder disorder refers to several underlying conditions that may cause the bladder of the betta to stop working- not just one particular problem.

When the SBD happens, the betta can’t control the buoyancy and so starts swimming sideways without any control.

I have already mentioned that the swim bladder disorder is an accumulation of multiple underlying problems.

In the next chapter, we will reveal those issues, but even before that, let’s see the symptoms of the disorder.

betta fish swimming sideways

Common Symptoms of Bettas’ Swim Bladder Disease

When a betta is sick due to the swim bladder disease, it will develop multiple visible symptoms along with the sideways swimming. However, don’t expect to see all the signs together, sometimes a betta may show one or two, or some may even come along with several warnings.

However, the noticeable signs of the SBD disorder depend on the two common causes of it. These are:

  • Signs related to the overfeeding and constipation
  • Signs linked with bacterial and parasite attack

It’s time to discuss the signs of both problems.

Symptoms developing from overfeeding and constipation:

  1. A betta will only be able to swim at one side and somehow float on the tank water. It happens because the fish loses control over its buoyancy and fails to swim substrates.
  2. The most prominent sign of SBD is a betta swimming sideways or lopsidedly. Moreover, in the advanced state, you may notice the betta sinking towards the tank bottom.
  3. Since the bladder of the betta stops working, it loses its buoyancy. As a result, no matter how harder the fish tries to keep its position in a particular place, it will either start sinking or floating. The classic example is a loss of the standard swimming position.
  4. The back may seem slightly curved of the betta. Also, a distended belly is an iconic sign of the constipated betta.
  5. A betta affected with the SBD will suffer severely from appetite loss. In fact, after the sideways swimming, the appetite loss is the most common sign that you can identify as a sick betta.
  6. Lastly, the betta will feel more lethargic. You may see a decrease in its movement or watch it sleeping more than the regular time.

Symptoms linked with the bacterial and parasite attacks:

  1. When your betta is infected by bacteria or parasite, you will notice the fins clamped badly. Even if the fish tries to spread the fins, due to crams, it stays close to the body.
  2. Sometimes shaking of the betta body is a sign that a bacterial infection has caused the SBD. It is not from the overfeeding or constipation.

When either of these or even two signs occur, the treatment will be different from the overfeeding issues.

Causes of Swim Bladder Disease

Swim bladder disease in a betta can take place for several reasons. If you know them well, it would be the best help for you to treat the cause. It is even more necessary since failing to diagnose the reason correctly may lead to false treatment. Doing so can cause even more harm to your loving betta than good.

Overfeeding and constipation:

It is the most common reason for SBD. Since a betta is a gutty fish, it literally never stops eating. Even if its belly is full, the chances are high that it will continue eating.

The ultimate effect of such gigantic overfeeding is often the betta facing constipation. It will, thus, make the fish bladder stop working. Also, due to illness, fatty deposits will build-up in the bladder and takes its toll on the organ.

Sometimes, while eating food from the surface, betta can engulf more air that also causes the same issues of stopping the bladder.

The low temperature of the tank water:

The ideal temperature for the betta water tank is between 78-82°F (26-28°C). When the water temperature falls below the 78°F mark, it severely slows down the digestive system of the betta fish.

Since the digestive system slows down, the constipation is bound to take place. Sometimes, it also causes swelling of other essential organs in the betta fish. Solution is quite easy – introduce a heater in your betta tank.

Bacterial and parasite infection:

Bacteria and parasites such as worms sometimes might build-up within the betta bladder. It also slows down the digestive system and causes swim bladder disorder.

The most common cause of bacterial and parasite infections is the low water quality of the betta tank. Luckily, if you can identify the attacks early, the chances are high that these won’t turn into fatal ones.

Shock:

The least possible reason for a betta facing swim bladder disorder may come from a sudden shock. Whenever an unexpected happens around the betta fish, especially in the tank, it undergoes a tremendous trauma. The consequence of the trauma can be a stopped bladder system.

The shock can be a result of the sudden fall in the water temperature or the improper lighting around the tank.

Treatments of Swim Bladder Disease

Now that we know the reasons that cause the disorder in a betta fish, it should help you treat the issues with increased practicality. Likewise, for several reasons for swim bladder disease, the treatments are different as well.

Treatment of overfeeding and constipation:

Problems arising from the overfeeding and, consequently, constipation, are mostly curable. Also, you need not fear so much since it will not likely cause the death of a betta. Remember that all these steps are to eliminate the constipation of the betta.

  1. First of all, arrange a quarantine tank for the sick betta. Then, move the betta in the quarantine tank. It needs to smaller and also the water depth should be less than the standard tank level.
  2. After that, don’t provide food to the betta for the next 48-72 hours and make it fast. I understand that you might be thinking that it’s cruel. Don’t worry, fasting for 2-3 days for a betta in the wild is common. So, it doesn’t affect the sick betta at all.
  3. As the betta keeps fisting, meanwhile, you should raise the tank water temperature. Start slowly and reach up to 80°F. When the temperature rises, it also speeds up the overall digestion process of the betta just in the same way falling temperature slows down the process.
  4. Once the fast is over, you should check whether the betta is improving or not. In most cases, the problems with constipation should eliminate at this stage.

However, if the problem still resides, then you may need to apply the 2nd method of treatment.

This time the treatment will continue with the peas. Once the fasting of your betta ends, start feeding it two peas daily. But don’t boil the peas too much that it quickly gets mushy and falls to the tank surface. If it happens, the betta won’t be able to eat it and continue fasting.

Also, if the betta is too sick to catch the peas, you can hold it for him. This technique, as the most expert betta owners say, works wonderfully.

However, if this treatment also fails, the sickness might be more serious than you have anticipated. At this moment, immediately consult a pet fish doctor and seek his advice.

Treating the bacterial and parasite infection:

If you suspect that the swim bladder disorder is happening due to the parasite or bacterial, you need to quarantine it immediately.  Once you remove it in another tank, the medication process will start soon.

So, remember it- no starvation, only proper medication.

For bacterial infection, start treating the tank water with Melafix. Follow the user guideline to dose the betta with anti-bacterial medicine.

However, if the suspect symptoms mostly resemble parasite infestation, medicate the betta with Bettamax- an antiparasitic. Nonetheless, the parasite attack in a betta is sporadic.

A sad note…

Bacterial and parasite attacks in a betta will rarely cause swim bladder disorder. But if it happens, chances of the betta survival are bleak.

Shock treatment

The shock for a betta comes from two main reasons (mentioned earlier) –

  1. A sudden drop in the tank water temperature
  2. A fight with another betta causing severe injuries

When this happens, you can only afford two remedies –

  • Help to increase the tank water temperature
  • Place the tank away from the light source

Once the temperature rises in the betta comfort zone and there’s no lighting, the betta will have a sound sleep. It should speed up the total recovery procedure.

Effective Ways to Prevent Swim Bladder Disease

With all the complications now known, you might be wondering is the disease preventable at all. The answer is yes- swim bladder disorder or disease is 100% preventable. Also, it doesn’t require extensive expertise from your part.

The following ways will help you prevent the disease and ensure your betta lives long without any sickness.

  1. Make sure the betta isn’t overfed. The best thing is to feed two small meals to the betta instead of one big meal each day.
  2. Avoid dried and frozen food for the betta. Instead, soak the food so that it expands and sink in the tank. This way, the betta will eat the food from tank ground instead of engulfing it from the surface. It also decreases the chances of swallowing air bubbles accidentally.
  3. Always purchase betta food from a reputed supplier. The food needs to pass the standard quality and should suit the betta’s health.
  4. One of the most common reasons for betta sideways swimming is the dirty tank water. So, cleaning the tank water regularly will help betta. You should periodically change the water, and remove algae and other particles from the tank. Additionally, vacuum the gravels and clean the ornaments regularly.
  5. Always maintain a 78°F to 80°F temperature within the tank. It helps the betta remain active and digest better, eliminating the risks of constipation.
  6. Sometimes bettas will engage in fighting with another betta as well as fish of other species. Hence, always check the tank and make sure there’s no quarrel. However, you can choose the best betta companion to avoid fighting.
  7. Sometimes due to the maintenance of the tank or for other reasons, you may need to replace the betta in another container. When handling the betta, be gentle so that it doesn’t create a panic to the fish and also doesn’t get hurt in the process.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Is swimming sideways or swim bladder disease fatal?

The severity of the disease and fatality will depend on the causes of the sickness. If the condition is a result of overfeeding or constipation, chances are incredibly high that the betta will see a speedy recovery. However, if it is a result of bacterial or parasite attacks, chances of recovery are bleak.

2. Will swim bladder disease be contagious?

No, swim bladder disease doesn’t spread from one betta to another one. However, if the underlying cause of the disease is a parasite or bacteria, it will become sporadic and catch other fishes of the tank as well. So, always keep the tank water clean.

The Bottom Line

I sincerely hope you have got your answer to the question, “Why is my betta swimming sideways?” The answer is straightforward– it happens due to swimming bladder disorder.

So, the next time you notice betta’s swimming sideways, follow these instructions-

  • Inspect the fish and find out the symptoms it is showing.
  • Relate the signs with the underlying causes.
  • Quarantine the sick betta and start treatment.
  • If homemade treatment fails, consult a fish doctor.
  • And for prevention, make sure you don’t overfeed the fish, and the tank water is clean.

Once you maintain all these, be sure your betta is going to live more than you could anticipate. And finally, if you have guppies instead of betta, they too can be a victim of sideways swimming due to the complex disorder. At that ardent point in time, you should follow the same guidelines.

Good luck.

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