Dropsy in Betta Fish: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment, and Prevention

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By Linh Nguyen Updated on 02 Feb 2023

Betta fish are one of the most popular fish kept as pets and for a good reason. They're colorful, easy to care for, and can be pretty entertaining. However, Bettas are also susceptible to dropsy.

Dropsy is a condition that can affect betta fish. It is characterized by an accumulation of fluid in the body, which can cause the fish to appear bloated. This disease can be caused by a number of different things, including bacterial infections, parasites, or even stress. If your betta fish is displaying any signs of dropsy, it is important to seek veterinary care right away as the condition can be fatal if left untreated. With prompt treatment, however, many betta fish make a full recovery.

In this post, we'll take a look at what dropsy is, what causes it, how to spot the symptoms, and how to treat it. We'll also discuss some ways to help prevent dropsy in your betta fish. Read on to learn more!

A dropsy betta fish shaped like a pinecone

A dropsy betta fish shaped like a pinecone

1. What is dropsy betta fish?

Dropsy is a condition that can affect betta fish, characterized by an abnormal accumulation of fluid in the fish's body. This fluid build-up can cause the betta's scales to protrude outward which results in the fish's body swelling up and taking on a pinecone-like shape.

The exact cause of dropsy is unknown, but it is thought to be caused by a bacterial infection. The bacteria enters the fish's body through the skin or gills and begins to multiply, causing the fish to swell up. In some cases, dropsy may also be caused by a virus or parasite. Besides, tumors or kidney disease can also be potential causes.

Symptoms of dropsy include bloating, lethargy, and loss of appetite. If left untreated, dropsy can be fatal. Treatment for dropsy typically involves antibiotics and/or surgery to remove the cause of the condition. Prevention of dropsy includes maintaining a clean and healthy aquarium environment for your betta fish.

2. Causes

Dropsy is a symptom of an underlying disease rather than a disease itself. There are many possible causes of dropsy in betta fish, including:

2.1.  Kidney failure

There are a few different things that can cause kidney failure in betta fish, but the most common cause is simply old age. As betta fish get older, their kidneys begin to deteriorate and eventually fail. This is why dropsy is most commonly seen in older fish.

There are also some diseases and infections that can cause kidney failure in bettas. One of the most common is columnaris, which is a bacterial infection that attacks the skin and fins. Columnaris can spread to the internal organs, including the kidneys, and cause serious damage. Other diseases that can lead to kidney failure include swim bladder disease, velvet disease, and various forms of cancer.

2.2. Bacterial infections, viral infections, or parasites

Dropsy is a condition that can be caused by several different things, but most often it is caused by an infection. The most common cause of infection is bacteria, but it can also be caused by viruses or parasites. When a betta fish is infected with a bacteria or virus, its immune system is weakened and they are more susceptible to developing dropsy.

2. 3. Tumors

Tumors can cause the fish to retain fluid, which can lead to a bloated appearance. In some cases, the tumor may be cancerous and may need to be removed by a veterinarian. However, not all tumors are cancerous, and many bettas recover from dropsy without any treatment.

2.4. Stress

When a betta fish is stressed, its immune system weakens, making the fish more susceptible to infection and disease. Infections and diseases that might not normally be harmful can cause serious health problems in a stressed fish, including dropsy.

Other causes of stress in betta fish include poor water quality, overcrowding, incorrect water temperature, and lack of hiding places. Any of these stressors can lead to a weakening of the immune system and an increased risk of developing dropsy.

2.5. Poor water quality

Dropsy is often caused by poor water quality in bettas. Ammonia and nitrite poisoning are the most common culprits, as they can damage the fish's kidneys and other organs. Bacterial infections are also a common cause of dropsy, as they can cause fluid to build up in the fish's body. If your betta is displaying any signs of illness, it is important to test the water quality and make sure that all levels are within safe limits. Improving the water quality will often help to resolve dropsy and other illnesses.

2.6. Nutritional deficiencies

Poor nutrition can lead to a number of health problems, including dropsy. Many betta fish are not properly fed and do not receive the nutrients they need to stay healthy. A lack of vitamins, minerals, and other essential nutrients can weaken the immune system and make the fish more susceptible to disease. In addition, poor nutrition can cause organ dysfunction and other health problems.

2.7. Genetics

There are many different causes of dropsy in betta fish, but the most common cause is genetics. Dropsical bettas often have a genetic predisposition towards the condition, which means that it can be passed down from parents to their offspring. In some cases, environmental factors such as poor water quality or stress can also contribute to the development of dropsy. However, in most cases, genetics is the primary cause of this condition.

2.8. Severe dehydration

One of the most common causes of dropsy in betta fish is severe dehydration. When a betta fish becomes dehydrated, its body begins to store water in its tissues, which can cause the fish to swell up and eventually die. In some cases, dehydration can also lead to organ failure.

a betta fish with dropsy

3. Symptoms

In betta fish, dropsy is often associated with an internal bacterial infection known as columnaris. Columnaris is a gram-negative bacterium that affects the skin and fins of bettas. This infection can cause a number of symptoms, including ulcers, fin rot, and scale loss. 

Dropsy is often mistaken for bloating, but there are some key differences between the two conditions. Bloating is typically caused by overeating or constipation, and the fish's abdomen will appear rounded and bloated. In dropsy, the abdomen is often sunken in and the scales may stick out from the body.

If you suspect that your betta has dropsy, it is important to seek veterinary care immediately. Dropsy is a fatal condition, but early diagnosis and treatment can improve the chances of survival. 

This disease is divided into two stages of development, early stage, and severe stage. Here are the signs and symptoms for each stage.

3.1. Early stage

Dropsy is a disease that can affect betta fish at any stage of their life. The early stages of dropsy in betta fish are characterized by a bloated abdomen, lethargy, and a loss of appetite. The fish may appear to be healthy and active, but as the disease progresses, they will become increasingly lethargic and may stop eating altogether.

The fish may also display red streaks on their body and fins, and their scales may start to peel off. As the disease progresses, the betta fish's body will become increasingly swollen, and its eyes will bulge out from its head.

This stage usually happens quite quickly. Usually, after only 2 to 3 days they start to get severe.

3.2. Severe stage

As the disease progresses, the symptoms become more severe. The fish may stop eating and become lethargic. The scales start to protrude even more, and the abdomen swells up significantly. The eyes may bulge out of their sockets, and the fins and tail may start to disintegrate. In the most severe cases, the fish may be so bloated that it can no longer swim and floats upside down at the surface of the water. Death typically occurs within a week of the onset of these symptoms.

Common signs of this stage include:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Lethargy
  • Difficulty swimming
  • Hiding away more than usual
  • Bloated abdomen
  • Pinecone-like shape
  • Scales that stand out from the body (known as pineconing)
  • Increased mucus production
  • Cloudy eyes
  • Redness or inflammation around the fins or gills
a red betta fish with dropsy

4. Treatment

Dropsy is a disease that can affect bettas and other fish. There are several possible treatments for dropsy, but not all of them are effective in every case. Here is a guide on how to treat dropsy for betta fish.

  1. First, you need to remove the betta fish from the main tank and place it in a separate hospital tank. 
  2. Be sure to clean and disinfect the hospital tank before adding your betta fish.
  3. Fill the hospital tank with clean, fresh water. You can add a little bit of aquarium salt to the water, which will help to reduce stress on the fish and make it more comfortable.
  4. Next, you need to treat the disease with dropsy betta medicine. There are different types of medications depending on the cause. We will guide you in detail in the next part of this article.
  5. After treating the betta fish with medicine, you should see an improvement in the fish's condition within a few days. 
  6. Once the fish is feeling better, you can slowly reintroduce it back into the main tank.
  7. Be sure to keep a close eye on the betta fish for any signs of relapse and be sure to finish the entire course of antibiotics as prescribed by your vet.

Antibiotics are often used to treat bacterial infections that can cause ascites. Besides that, there are several other methods that are also commonly used, this depends on the cause of the disease in your betta. These methods include:

  1. Fluid therapy: In some cases, fish with dropsy may be treated with intravenous or subcutaneous fluids in order to prevent dehydration.
  2. Surgery: In severe cases of dropsy, surgery may be necessary to remove fluid from the abdomen.
  3. Supportive care: Even if the underlying cause of dropsy cannot be treated, supportive care measures such as regular water changes and 1935/9 feeding can help to improve the fish's quality of life.
  4. Euthanasia: In some cases, humane euthanasia may be the best option for a fish suffering from dropsy.

If you think your betta has dropsy, it's important that you find the cause and treat it early to have a better chance of success.

5. Medicine for dropsy betta

If your fish is displaying any signs of dropsy, it is important to seek treatment immediately. There are several different options for treatment, including medication and home remedies. Here are detailed instructions:

5.1. Using Bettafix 

Bettafix is a popular choice for treating dropsy in betta fish. This medication contains antibiotics and anti-fungal properties that can help to fight the infection causing the disease. 

Using Bettafix to treat dropsy in betta fish is a multi-step process that requires careful attention to detail.

First, the fish must be quarantined in a separate tank from any other fish. The recommended dose of Bettafix for treatment is 8 drops per gallon of water. The Bettafix should be added to the quarantine tank and the water should be changed every day.

After 10 days of treatment, the fish should be moved to a hospital tank for an additional 10 days of treatment. Finally, the fish should be returned to its original tank.

Some important things to remember when using Bettafix to treat dropsy are to never add more than the recommended dose, as this can be harmful to the fish, and to make sure the quarantine tank is large enough to accommodate the betta fish comfortably.

Besides, you must also monitor the fish closely during treatment for any signs of stress or illness. If at any point during treatment, the fish appears to be struggling, let's seek professional help from a veterinarian.

5.2. Using Methylene Blue

Methylene blue is a common treatment for dropsy in bettas. This medication can be used to treat a wide variety of infections, making it a good choice for those who are not sure what is causing their fish's condition. It can be toxic in high doses, so it is important to follow the directions carefully. 

To treat dropsy, mix the recommended amount of methylene blue with tank water, and then add it to the tank. The recommended dose is 1 drop per gallon of water. If you are using a smaller tank, you can use 1 drop per 2 cups of water. Once you have added the methylene blue to the tank, let your fish swim around for about an hour. After an hour has passed, do a water change to remove the methylene blue from the tank. 

It is important to do a water change after treatment with methylene blue, as it can be toxic in high doses. Besides, you must monitor your fish during treatment, and look for any signs of distress. If your fish shows any signs of distress, stop the treatment and do a water change immediately. 

Methylene blue is a common and effective treatment for dropsy, but it is important to follow the instructions carefully to avoid over-treating your fish.

5.3. Using Epsom salt

There are also a few home remedies that can be used to treat dropsy in betta fish. One popular option is to use Epsom salt. This salt has long been used as a natural remedy for dropsy. The salt works by drawing excess fluid out of the fish's body and reducing inflammation. It also helps to replenish electrolytes that may be lost due to dehydration.

To treat dropsy with Epsom salt, dissolve 2 teaspoons of salt in 1 gallon of warm water. Add the solution to your betta's tank, making sure that the salt is evenly distributed. The treatment should be done over the course of 3-5 days, with a 25% water change being carried out after each day.

During the treatment, let's monitor your fish closely and look for any signs of distress. If you notice that your fish is struggling to breathe or has any open wounds, discontinue the treatment immediately and seek professional help.

After the treatment is finished, do a 50% water change and continue to monitor your fish for any further signs of illness. With proper care, most bettas will make a full recovery from dropsy. However, the disease can be fatal in severe cases, so it is important to catch it early and timely treatment.

6. Prevent dropsy in betta fish

There are a number of things that can cause dropsy, including bacterial infections, parasites, and even stress. Luckily, there are a few things you can do to help prevent this condition from affecting your fish.

  1. Maintain clean and well-filtered water conditions - Dropsical bettas are often the result of poor water quality, so it's important to keep your tank clean and free of ammonia, nitrites, and other toxins. Regular water changes (weekly or biweekly) are a must, as is using a good filter.
  2. Avoid overfeeding - Bettas have small stomachs, so overfeeding them can lead to problems such as dropsy. Feed your fish only what they can eat in a minute or two, and don't leave uneaten food floating in the tank. In addition, be sure to feed your fish a high-quality diet that is rich in nutrients. A healthy diet will help to boost the immune system and make your fish less susceptible to disease.
  3. Keep an eye out for early signs of illness - If you notice your betta acting unusually sluggish or listless, or if it has lost its appetite, these could be early signs of dropsy. Take your fish to the vet as soon as possible for a diagnosis and treatment.
  4. Avoid stress - Stress can weaken a betta's immune system and make it more susceptible to illness, so try to create a calm environment for your fish. Do not overcrowd the tank, and avoid using harsh chemicals such as copper sulfate in the water.
  5. Quarantine new fish - When adding new fish to your tank, always quarantine them first to make sure they are healthy and free of disease. This will help prevent any illnesses from spreading to your other fish.

By following these tips, you can help prevent dropsy in your betta fish. If you do notice any signs of the disease, get treatment as soon as possible.


Dropsy is a serious condition that can be deadly for betta fish. If you notice any of the symptoms of dropsy, including swelling, scales protruding, and redness around the fins or gills, it's important to get treatment right away. There are several treatment options available for dropsy in betta fish, but the best way to prevent this disease from affecting your pet is by keeping its water clean and providing a healthy diet. Have you ever had to treat your betta fish for dropsy? Let me know in the comments below.

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