Care & Treatment of Dropsy

What is Dropsy?

Dropsy is not a disease, but a symptom of a bacterial infection. It surfaces as a swollen or bloated condition where the fish’s scales stand out like little pinecones. This is a serious infection and unless appropriate treatment is administered, the afflicted Betta may die.

What causes Dropsy in Bettas and other fish?

Bacteria (mostly gram negative) lodge itself in the tissues of the fish, thus affecting the kidneys and causing the retention of fluid and water in the body. It is this fluid retention that causes the Betta to bloat. Many times, dropsy occurs because of the condition of the water in your aquarium.

Care & Treatment of Dropsy

First aid kit

Dropsy is the symptom of a very serious fish disease, and must be treated with urgency. This and other diseases that afflict fresh or saltwater fish in your aquarium can, if neglected, kill other species in the tank as well. Your entire betta aquarium is at risk!

Periodic health checks for dropsy, as well as other serious fish diseases like Velvet, will always help to keep your pets healthy and swimming for years. It is imperative to consult a fish disease expert to discover the cause and to obtain the appropriate treatment for dropsy in your Betta.

On a lighter note, do not search for “Fish Doctor” on the internet as you may end up with information about “Doctor Fish” (the fish species) instead.

The steps below will help you alleviate a case of Dropsy in your fish tank:

1. Immediately, change at least a quarter of the water in the aquarium. The water must be treated as mentioned in the steps that follow, and it must not be re-used.

2. Place the diseased fish into a quarantine tank. As a precaution, treat the rest of the “unaffected” fish also.

3. Administer a prescribed antibiotic to stop growth of the infection. Suitable medicines are Maracyn, Kanacyn, Neomycin, or tetracycline drugs and anti fungicides for treating the tank water.

4. Give the fish a medicated bath at least two times a day with methylene blue, salt, Epsom salt, and electrolyte balancing salts to ensure removal of fluids and to keep electrolytes in balance. The proportion of medicines you administer in this bath is clearly stated on the labels. If you want to confirm the procedure is accurate, contact your local pet shop.

React to the very first signs of dropsy in your Betta. Proper care and treatment of the infection will revive him and other affected fish, allowing you to restore your aquarium to its original, healthy state. If you have just started keeping Betta fish, it would be advisable to study their traits and health precautions so that you immediately recognize signs of distress when it occurs.

If you are concerned about preventing betta fish diseases like Dropsy, watch this short, informative video on proper betta fish care techniques:

Even if you react swiftly to the first signs of dropsy in your betta, the sad fact is that dropsy is so severe it is often very difficult to treat. Of course, you can and should try to address the underlying cause of dropsy – the source of the bacterial infection – but part of the reason dropsy is notoriously difficult to cure is because it can also be caused by viral infections and parasitic infestations, according to

Even determining and treating the source of the infection doesn’t guarantee that your betta will survive. Bettas often die later because of irreversible kidney damage, which caused the bloating in the first place, or damage to and failure of other organs.

Not to be a downer, but if your betta is already experiencing bloating and swelling, the disease may already have progressed beyond being treatable. Because the success rate of dropsy treatment is so low, it is entirely up to you to decide how to proceed with addressing the illness. But whatever your decision about how or whether to treat dropsy, you should do everything you can to make your betta as comfortable as possible.

How can I make my betta more comfortable?

There are several ways you can help make your fish more comfortable while he is affected by dropsy. All of the following steps should be done only after you’ve placed your betta in his quarantine or “hospital” tank.

Make it easier for him to get air: You can lower the water level in the tank or add live plants to the aquarium, which will make it easier for your betta to get air. Some people even use netting to make small sling that they place just below the water’s surface, which allows your betta to stay near his air supply.

Adjust oxygen levels: Many medications can deplete the levels of dissolved oxygen in a tank, so watch your betta to see if he seems to be “gasping” or moving his gills more rapidly than normal. Adding an air stone or an aquarium bubbler can help increase the oxygen levels in the tank.

Relieve bloating: We all know salt is a natural diuretic, and adding salt to the aquarium can help alleviate your betta’s discomfort caused by bloating. Add half a teaspoon of aquarium salt per gallon of water. Never use table salt, which has iodine and other additives that can be harmful to your fish. The salt helps draw out some of the fluids that your betta is retaining and relieve pressure. Aquarium salt is available at pet stores.

Keep it clean: As always, make sure to keep your betta’s environment clean and comfortable. This includes cleaning the water and the tank and maintaining the water temperatures at a comfortable 76 to 82 degrees Fahrenheit.

Dropsy is a common condition in betta fish. Although you can take some simple steps to try to prevent your betta from getting dropsy, such as keeping the aquarium and water clean to avoid bacterial build-up, dropsy is not always preventable – and, unfortunately, the condition is not always curable.