Betta Dropsy: Symptoms, Treatment, Prevention

how to treat dropsy in betta fish
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Dropsy is one of the serious conditions your betta fish may develop during their lifecycle.

It’s not a disease but rather a manifestation of an underlying ailment or illness your bettas already have.

You can think of it like when your betta gets a cut in her body, and as a secondary symptom of this cut, swelling appears around the infected body area.

Dropsy rarely proves lethal as it can be easily diagnosed and cured.

However, for dropsy to be not fatal, it must be diagnosed in its early stages of development.

This article serves as a guide to the causes, symptoms, and treatment of dropsy. It holds useful information to help keep your bettas safe from this potentially harmful condition.

However, before digging deep into the causes and symptoms of dropsy, it’s essential to understand what it is.

What is dropsy?

Dropsy can be considered an oedema in betta fish in which soft tissues of the abdominal area fill up with bodily fluids or water that becomes difficult to remove.

Filled tissues swell and bloat, causing betta fish to have massively swollen bellies with a drop-down appearance, appropriately described by the word “Dropsy.”

The word “dropsy” is derived from an old English word, “dropsie,” which translates into water.

Dropsy is sometimes also called “ascites” or “bloat.”

Any condition that causes the filling of soft tissues in the abdomen with bodily fluids can be a potential cause of dropsy.

Depending on the cause, dropsy shows various symptoms that may also indicate some other problems.

If your betta fish have swollen stomachs or pinecone-shaped scales, it can indicate dropsy.

Healthy betta fish are immune to dropsy to a greater extent, while betta fish with weak immune systems or those living in poor water conditions or environments are more prone to this condition.

In any case, you must catch dropsy in its early stages to decrease fatality risk in your betta fish, as it could prove life-threatening if not treated within a few days of onset.

Signs and symptoms of dropsy betta

Betta fish suffering from dropsy show a wide range of symptoms, among which the following are most noticeable:

Pinecone scales

One of the most significant symptoms of dropsy in your betta fish is pinecone scales.

You’ll notice that your betta’s scales protrude out of the body, making a pinecone shape.

This can be a clearcut indication of dropsy.

As soon as you see pinecone scales, your betta’s chances of surviving are slim.

Swollen stomach

Another significant symptom that your bettas are infected with dropsy is their swollen/bloated stomach that appears to be distending.

However, swelling in the stomach can also result from constipation, so you must look for other symptoms before deducing a conclusion.

Curved spine

When soft tissues in the abdominal region swell due to the filling of bodily fluids, they put pressure on the spine of the betta, causing it to bend.

You may notice a curved spine in your betta fish that can indicate dropsy.

However, you must keep in mind that dropsy can only causes the horizontal bending of the spine.

If you notice vertical bending, it could be a symptom of tuberculosis.

Decrease in appetite

During the severe stage of dropsy, your betta fish may suddenly lose their appetite and completely stop eating.

However, loss of appetite may also be caused by various other conditions, such as infection or swim bladder disease.

Therefore, you must take precautions and look for other symptoms before starting dropsy treatment immediately.

Ignores other fish

Your betta fish may lack interest in playing with other tankmates and may also completely ignore other fish in the aquarium in severe dropsy.

Hiding and/or not moving

It is a common trait for betta fish with dropsy to hide in dark spots for hours without moving.

The first three symptoms mentioned above are clearcut enough to diagnose dropsy in your betta fish. However, they appear after 2-3 days of dropsy onset.

In other words, they aren’t noticeable at the beginning.

To prevent dropsy from becoming fatal, you must identify early symptoms so you can treat it in time – the last three symptoms are signs of dropsy.

The signs and symptoms of dropsy are pretty much similar to stress.

For example, stressed betta fish develop lethargy and lack of appetite like dropsy in betta fish.

For that reason, you need to observe your betta fish to determine the exact condition constantly they’re suffering from.

Betta fish may also show cause-specific symptoms, such as:

  • Colouration loss by gills
  • Clamped fins
  • Betta fish tend to swim at the top of the tank
  • Bulging eyes
  • Red/bulging anus

What causes dropsy in betta fish?

Dropsy in betta fish can result from various body-related and environmental problems.

Although betta fish could develop dropsy at any point of their lifecycle, aged bettas are more prone to this condition than younger ones.

Several illnesses can cause dropsy in betta fish, such as kidney failure, malfunctioned osmoregulation, or severe internal infections.

Here are some potential causes:

Bacterial infection

Bacterial infection is one of the most common causes of dropsy.

A gram-negative specie of bacteria called “Aeromonas” is involved in weakening betta fish’s immune system.

It targets stressed betta fish more easily because their immune system is already vulnerable enough.

Generally, poor water conditions are one of the major elements that trigger stress in betta fish and make them a potential victim of bacterial infection.

Your betta fish won’t become sick due to bacterial action if they develop short-term stress. This can be mitigated by simply cleaning or changing the tank water.

It only occurs from long-term stress caused by persistent poor water quality and living conditions for more extended periods.

Poor water quality

As I’ve mentioned earlier, poor water quality causes your bettas to become stressed and expose them to bacterial infection, which can eventually lead to dropsy.

Therefore, it is considered one of the significant causes of dropsy.

Leftover food residues, excessive buildup of wastes excreted from your betta, lack of nutrition, or harmful levels of ammonia, nitrite, or nitrate are other factors that can lower water quality in the aquarium.

If you have kept your bettas with many tank mates, the aquarium water could likely have an excessive build of bio-load from them.

Harmful bacteria thrive in such conditions putting your bettas at a higher risk of dropsy.

That’s why keeping your aquarium water clean of bio-loads is always recommended.

Unstable/unfavourable water temperature is another main contributor to the poor quality of water.

Stress occurs when betta fish are forced to live at an unsuitable temperature.

Some bettas become stressed in response to even a minor change in the temperature, which might weaken their immune systems.

Well, you know what happens next – sickness.

Poor Nutrition/Diet

Stress, poor water quality, and bacterial infection are interlinked causes of dropsy.

Dropsy is caused by bacterial infections brought on by poor water quality, which triggers stress and weakens immune systems.

In addition to poor water conditions, a poor diet may also stress your betta fish.

A poor diet weakens your betta’s immune system, causing them to be susceptible to dropsy.

Sudden fluctuations in diet can also act as a stress factor for betta fish.

That’s why it’s important to feed betta fish with the right foods – one of which is daphnia.

Physical injury or trauma

Dropsy can occur when a betta fish sustains a physical injury or trauma in its abdominal area due to fighting with aggressive tank mates or striking a decorative object.

Aggressive tankmates are also stressful for your bettas because they disturb the peace of the tank.

Treating dropsy in betta fish

Before applying any treatment to your betta fish, be careful not to confuse dropsy with other conditions, such as constipation.

That’s because many symptoms of dropsy are similar to constipation.

If you move on with dropsy treatment when your betta fish have constipation, then it can cause them to become further stressed out.

The best way to distinguish between dropsy and constipation is to notice whether or not your bettas are passing stools.

If they’re passing stools, then it’s an indication of dropsy. On the other hand, if they aren’t passing stools, then it may be constipation.

You can use various dropsy treatment methods to cure your betta fish, among which the aquarium salt treatment and methylene blue bath are the most significant ones.

Your treatment method depends on the cause of dropsy in your bettas.

For example, aquarium salt is a preferred treatment method if your bettas suffer from dropsy due to stress and poor water quality.

On the other hand, if you notice bacterial infection as a cause of dropsy, then the methylene blue bath can be an effective treatment.

Treating dropsy through aquarium salt treatment

No matter the treatment method, you must first set up a quarantine tank.

You can take a clean 19-litre or 5-gallon container for this purpose.

Fill the container with conditioned water and ensure the temperature of this container matches that of the aquarium.

You can also add some decorations or hiding places to alleviate stress in your bettas.

Don’t forget to keep the water oxygenated in the quarantine tank. Once the quarantine tank is ready, you can proceed with the treatment.

  • Add a suitable amount of aquarium salt in the quarantine tank as per the instructions printed label. If your betta fish is in the early stage of dropsy, then you can add 0.5 teaspoons of aquarium salt per gallon (4 litres).
  • Transfer your betta fish from the aquarium to the quarantine tank. Make sure to acclimatise your betta to the new water conditions.
  • Once the betta is in the quarantine tank, perform a 25% water change in the aquarium. Doing this lowers the risk of dropsy development in other fish.
  • Following filter cleaning, perform a 75% water change if your aquarium has no fish.
  • Adding a strong antibiotic like amoxicillin after your bettas have bathed in aquarium salt will enhance the treatment’s effectiveness. When adding the antibiotic dosage to the quarantine tank, make sure you change the water first; otherwise, your bettas may overdose, which is harmful to them.

You should continue the treatment for 10 days, even if you notice any early signs of improvement.

You must strictly adhere to the manufacturer’s guidelines while administering aquarium salt and antibiotic.

Methylene Blue bath

Dropsy caused by bacterial infections can be effectively treated with methylene blue.

It’s an efficient antibacterial agent that eliminates harmful bacteria in your aquarium.

If you’re sure that your bettas are suffering from dropsy due to bacterial infection, then you can follow these instructions to treat them with Methylene Blue:

  • Transfer your betta fish into the quarantine tank.
  • Add the recommended amount of Methylene Blue to the quarantine tank. In typical conditions, you can use 5 teaspoons of methylene blue per 11 litres (3 gallons) of water. The amount also depends on the concentration of methylene blue you’re using. It’s best to follow the manufacturer’s instructions.
  • Once the methylene blue solution is ready in the quarantine tank, start bathing your bettas in it. The average length of the bath should not exceed 10 seconds.

Preventing dropsy in betta fish

Dropsy is one of the conditions that are difficult to treat.

That’s, it’s always better to prevent it from happening to your betta fish in the first place.

Luckily, preventing dropsy is pretty simple and easy, as it only requires you to follow some useful tips:

  • Keep your aquarium clean. Don’t allow the excessive buildup of bio-load, waste materials, or food residue.
  • Use a gravel vacuum to suck out faeces from the sides and bottom of the aquarium.
  • Don’t overcrowd your aquarium. It’s recommended to only keep a few non-aggressive tank mates in your betta aquarium. For me, I prefer a betta or a pair, max in an aquarium.
  • Feed your bettas only twice a day. The size of a betta’s stomach is similar to her eyeball, so the possibility of overfeeding cannot be ruled out, especially if you feed them more than twice a day.
  • You must ensure that your bettas are fed a varied diet recommended by experts.


In conclusion, keeping a betta is a fun and rewarding experience, but it takes time and research.

Bettas are beautiful fish, but they are also prone to dropsy if not cared for properly.

Be sure to be vigilant in caring for them and providing them with a clean and comfortable environment.

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