Swim Bladder Disease In Goldfish – 3 common causes and what can we do about them

I think one of the joys in goldfish keeping is seeing them swim around the tank gracefully and glide through the water as if they are weightless. Like any other fishes, goldfish have this natural ability to keep their balance and move around the water without much of effort, thanks to an internal organ called the swim bladder.

Calico Ranchu

Although this organ is susceptible to complications in any types of fish, swim bladder disease in goldfish is more common especially for those with rounded bodies. Yeap… so we, the goldfish keepers will need to deal with this more often than we like.

Swim Bladder in Goldfish

A swim bladder is an internal organ found in most fishes that allow them to control their buoyancy in the water without much of effort. It is an air filled sac which gets expanded and inflated by the fish to move upwards and downwards in the water.

Fish Swim Bladder

Goldfish with rounded or egg-shaped bodies have a more compact body cavity. The cramped cavity causes the swim bladder to be compressed and susceptible to complications. This is why swim bladder disease is more prevalent among fancy goldfish.

Signs of Swim Bladder Disease

When there is a problem with the swim bladder, the goldfish will lose its ability to control its buoyancy and balance in the water.

A few signs of swim bladder disease in goldfish:

  • the goldfish is swimming on its side instead of with its body upright
  • the goldfish is just floating or upside down at the surface of the water and struggling to swim downward
  • the goldfish is just sinking to the bottom of the tank and struggling to swim upward
  • the goldfish is swimming with a tilted body where the tail is higher than the head
Swim Bladder Disease in Goldfish
A ranchu with swim bladder disease

While there are different severities to the swim bladder disease, the goldfish affected by it could be stressed out, and this will affect their immune system, exposing them to other diseases.

Besides that, they may get too exhausted to move around for food that they give up and stop eating. This, of course, is never a good thing.

Causes of Swim Bladder Disease in goldfish

Swim bladder disease can be caused by many factors. The 3 most common causes of this in goldfish are:

1) Birth Defect

Fancy goldfish are selectively bred through generations to produce the varieties that we have today, and with bodies that are rounder and shorter.

Yeah…we can be Ooo’ing and Aah’ing on how cute they look, but the design of these bodies is really not ideal, as the swim bladder and other organs are cramped into a very restricted cavity area.

This exposes them to complications at birth and as they are growing up. The swim bladder can easily be compressed and become deformed. This is very much a genetical or a “design” issue.

If the swim bladder disease in goldfish is caused by birth defect, there is nothing much that we can do for it.

2) Constipation

Constipation in goldfish can cause the swim bladder to be compressed to a point of affecting the fish buoyancy. Constipation can be due to too much food or too much air in the goldfish’s intestines.

The usual culprit here is overfeeding. Oh… we so love our goldfish to be so fat and so round that we feed and feed and feed, not knowing how detrimental this is to them.  Besides that, having our goldfish gulp too much air from the water surface is not a good idea as well.  The air contained in floating fish food also does not help.

3) Infections

Goldfish’s swim bladder can also be inflamed or damaged due to bacterial or parasitic infections. This risk becomes even higher when the necessary fish tank maintenance is not done accordingly.

High concentration of Nitrate in the fish tank is also said to be harmful to the goldfish’s swim bladder which leads to infection. Nitrate is the last chemical compound from the fish tank’s Nitrogen Cycle. Although Nitrate is a non-toxic compound, a high concentration of it is still bad for our goldfish.  We should keep it under 50ppm.

Majority of Nitrate can only be removed from our fish tank via water change, reiterating the importance of doing regular fish tank maintenance.

What can we do to treat it?

When we see a goldfish is showing the signs of swim bladder disease, it is best to move it to a separate tank with lower water level so that it does not have to struggle so much to move around. Do note that this should be a cycled tank and with a filter. Isolating it makes it easier for you to give treatment, instead of treating the whole main tank with other fish that are healthy.

If the swim bladder disease is due to birth defect or already deformed, there is nothing much that can be done… well unless you do not mind spending a lot of money to get it X-ray’ed and have it surgically fixed without the guarantee that it will solve the problem. Even so, some places do not even have such vet facilities for fish.

Feeding peas to the affected goldfish is effective if the swim bladder disease is caused by constipation. The dense texture of peas will help to clear the blockage in the intestines, serving as a laxative to the fish.

PeasPreparation of these peas is quite simple. If those peas are frozen, thaw it for a while. Then either boil it or soak it in boiling water until they get soft. Remove the skin, and cut it into smaller pieces that can fit into its mouth.

Before feeding peas to the affected goldfish, let it fast for 3 days. Then feed it with the prepared peas in a small portion. You can continue feeding these peas for the next few days, and at the same time observe whether it has been pooping. If the swim bladder disease in goldfish is due to constipation, its condition will slowly improve.

If feeding peas to the goldfish did not help, it can mean that the swim bladder disease is more serious than constipation. In case it is due to infections, we can try treating it with broad spectrum anti-bacterial and anti-parasites medication.

How to prevent Swim Bladder Disease?

As swim bladder disease in goldfish is widely due to their genetics, it is really hard to say that we can prevent it fully. What we can do though is to take some precautions so that the swim bladder is not inflamed or harmed. These precautions are:

  • Do regular fish tank maintenance to uphold the quality of the water. Bad water quality affects the goldfish immune system and makes them susceptible to diseases, including the swim bladder disease.
  • Do not overfeed the goldfish. This can cause constipation that compresses the goldfish’s swim bladder.
  • Do feed them sinking food instead of floating ones. This is to prevent the goldfish from gulping too much air from the water surface. Besides that, floating food has more air in them.

So what is your take on the swim bladder disease in goldfish? Have you treated it before? If so, please do share your experience in the comments section below.

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6 Replies to “Swim Bladder Disease In Goldfish – 3 common causes and what can we do about them

  1. Hello,
    Great article! I was not even aware that goldfish were able to have such disease! I have had a share of goldfish in my life so maybe I have just been taking care of them. Are there any special vitamin foods or something to give to fish to keep them all around healthy to avoid issues like this? I am not sure if food would do it alone?

    1. Hi Tyler,
      I am so happy to hear that you have not encountered any diseases with your goldfish. Keep it up!

      On feeding goldfish, yes, there are indeed supplements available in the market. The important thing with feeding goldfish is giving them a variety of food so that they can get the nutrients that they need. You can check out the link below on this matter: https://mygoldfishisalive.com/feeding-time-what-to-feed-the-goldfish

      Although what we feed to the goldfish is important, there are also other factors contributing to their well-being such as water quality and genetics. For swim bladder disease, food may just be part of the solution.

  2. I have a koi pond (koi in the pond), with 2 ‘whiskey barrels’ for goldfish, and all connected to a pump and filter, so can’t isolate the goldfish very well.
    I tried feeding it peas, but they didn’t eat it and eventually, it got washed down and out of the barrel that I normally keep goldfish in.
    I tried Melafix, but it did not resolve the bladder problems in a couple of the goldfish. Some of the other goldfish also have started showing bloated stomachs.
    What can I do – outside of putting the affected goldfish out of its misery?

    1. Hi Harry,
      So sorry to hear about the situation. I really hate it when my goldfish have to go through the same too. Anyway have they been eating. If they are still eating, try not feeding them for a few days (3-5 days) and see whether the situation gets better.

  3. Hi I have had a fancy black goldfish for about a little longer than half a year, what I want to ask is my fish just started to swim sideways. I don’t want to stop feeding it risking that it might not even have this problem. So I am just wondering if you may have some ideas on how to confirm what is wrong with him. Because I like my fish very much thankyou!

    1. Hi Austin,
      I am so sorry to hear about your goldfish. Have you checked your fish tank’s water parameters? If not, that’s a good place to start. If you are not sure what this is about, you can check here -> https://mygoldfishisalive.com/fish-tank-water-test

      If your water condition is in a tip top condition, check whether there’s any problem with any part of the fish’s body. Are the fins OK, any swelling in the body, any cottony stuff or white dots on the body? If there is nothing wrong here, then I have to say that it’s a very possible case that your goldfish has a problem with its swim bladder. Swim bladder problem can be caused by many factors, as what I have mentioned in my post.

      You do not have to worry about not feeding your goldfish temporary as they will do fine. If you have been feeding them regularly, they can go without food for a little while. This move is to eliminate constipation as the cause of your fish swimming sideways.

      Hope this help. Take care and all the best with your goldfish.

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