How to Treat Dropsy in Betta Fish? Causes, Symptoms & Prevention

Estimated read time 8 min read

Dropsy is a nightmare that frequents every fish keeper at least once as they progress into the hobby. Yes, your betta fish is beginner-friendly and might survive some of the novice fish keeping errors. But, despite its hardy nature, your betta fish always swims between a thin line of living its full life expectancy or succumbing to a very mind-boggling but fatal condition called – dropsy!

Betta fish are colorful and vivid, making them attractive additions to a tropical freshwater aquarium. It is easy to fall in love with their boisterous personalities and elegant appearance. Typically, betta fish are quite a sustainable variety of freshwater fish, but there is no reason to assume that they will do just fine without optimal care and maintenance.

We will equip you with comprehensive knowledge about dropsy, ways to prevent it, methods of treatment if you catch it early, as well as tips on keeping your betta healthy and happy!

And before you scrunch your noses, having heard the ever-present – Prevention is better than cure, for the millionth time! For dropsy in betta fish, it is your best bet, folks!

Before we get to the part about treating dropsy, let us get the basics out of the way so that you are never caught off guard ever again!


Equipment To Set Up A Quarantine Tank For Your Betta

What is dropsy?

If you have heard of dropsy before, there are higher chances that you understand it as a disease, which is not quite right. Dropsy is a remote term for a condition called ascites or edema, with which you might find some familiarity.

Dropsy is not an illness or disease. Instead, it is a symptom of an elementary disease. The most probable underlying cause of this condition is a bacterial infection. Dropsy, which is similar in context with edema- is the swelling in the tissues due to the accumulation of fluids, including water.

In a betta fish suffering from the condition, the belly is exceptionally bloated, explaining the name further. The belly is swelled up, it drops down literally, hence the name-dropsy!

The Main Cause of Dropsy Is Much Closer Than You Think

The causes behind dropsy in betta (or any other freshwater fish) are not clear, but they do lurk in the waters through which your betta fish glides. To get a better idea of the best ways to prevent the disaster from happening, let’s look at the causes behind dropsy in betta fish!

One of the most common causes of dropsy in betta fish is the bacteria – Aeromonas. This bacteria’s presence is hard to pick as it remains hidden even after several water quality tests. However, once the bacteria finds a home in your betta fish aquarium, it will find its way into your finny friends as well.

As scary as it sounds, if your betta is healthy and swims in a healthy environment, dropsy shouldn’t be a concern. The take here is to understand that this ailment becomes an urgent issue when your betta’s immune system is compromised or stressed.

Some other factors pertinent to dropsy in betta fish include:

  • Inferior water quality – one of the most common causes
  • Spikes in ammonia and nitrite levels
  • Extremely low water temperature, especially in cases of tropical freshwater fish
  • The stressful environment within the tank or during the transportation of the fish from the vendor to your home
  • Fin nipping or aggressive tank mates in a community fish tank
  • Other aquarium related infections

Contrary to the consensus, dropsy is not contagious, meaning it cannot spread from one betta fish to another. Instead, the underlying infection due to which dropsy appears as a symptom, and the ever-present stress in the aquarium can catch up to other healthy bettas if prolonged.

Understanding the causes of dropsy is crucial to its identification during the early stages. Timely measures can save your betta fish from the imminent end, and as a fish keeper, you know time is everything in the hobby!

Symptoms of Dropsy

Being able to hunt and identify dropsy symptoms quickly can be a matter of life and death for your betta fish. Literally! If you think your betta looks weird and ruffled up lately, it’s most likely dropsy, causing stress to the fish and compromising its immune system. In brief, the condition can completely alter the way your betta looks.

Two of the most common visual signs of dropsy in betta fish are – first, a swollen belly due to the accumulation of fluids, and two, the protrusion of scales of your betta, making them poke out like that of a pinecone.

Upon a closer look, you will see that your betta appears paler than before, and even their poo will look a little discolored. Your finny friend’s activity in the tank will reduce to nothing more than complete lethargy, and they will resist or ignore any food offered.

As the body bloats into a pinecone shape, the betta fish’s eyes pop out to look much more prominent than usual.

If you are not much of a reader or in a hurry to figure out what’s wrong with your betta, here’s a small overview of all the plausible symptoms of dropsy:

  • Visible swelling of the abdomen
  • Scales protrude out to give a pine cony appearance.
  • Bulged out eyes
  • Paleness or discoloration
  • Discolored droppings
  • Extreme lethargy
  • Loss of appetite
  • Moves closer to the water surface.

All symptoms of the underlying illness or infection, including dropsy, will progress if prolonged without proper treatment. The ailment is strongly associated with simultaneous organ failure in your betta, often starting with their kidneys and eventually latching on to other organs. It is estimated, when it remains unidentified or uncured, dropsy will most likely kill your betta fish within 15 to 20 days of the infection.

Your betta fish’s chances of being remitted or cured completely are slim and are very intricately dependent on time. The earlier you spot the sign, the better chance at survival your betta fish gets.

Preventing and Treating Dropsy in Betta Fish

Yet again, we cycle to the same sentiment- Prevention IS the best chance you can get to ensure that your betta fish reaches its full life expectancy. In plain words,- dropsy is a difficult condition to cure, first because it is almost impossible to spot what is causing the symptom to appear. Second, the condition accelerates quite quickly before you even get a chance at remission.

If you are meticulous enough and can spot the illness, here is what you can do to offer relief and cure to your betta fish:

The first step should always be to quarantine your sick betta fish into a hospital tank with clean and well-maintained water. In the quarantine scenario, using Epsom salt can help alleviate the ailment quickly. Conducting routine tests of the water parameters is a non-negotiable task on your dropsy cure checklist.

Pick the highest quality of fish food for your betta. Overfeeding is a vice that you want to stir clear since the uneaten food can cause an evil nitrite or ammonia spike in the tank. A nutritious diet will supplement the betta’s immune system, which will be entirely compromised by then.

Here’s an actionable routine for treating dropsy in betta fish, recommended by Richy, a marine biologist and founder of AquariumStuffs:

  • In the quarantine tank, dose in 1 to 2 teaspoons of Epsom Salt for every gallon of the tank.
  • Perform 100 percent water changes. Here is a list of things you need to ensure while making water changes:
  • Netting the fish is a big no-no. Instead, use a container or a cup to scoop up your sick betta from the tank gently.
  • Unless you are sure that the dropsy is caused due to a parasitic infection, rinsing the filter media or gravel is not recommended. It will push your tank into a mini cycle, which will further cause stress to your fish.
  • Make sure that the temperature in the fish tank is 84-degree Fahrenheit.
  • You can supplement the system with API General Cure or API Erythromycin, or Maracyn.
  • Make sure you are feeding fish food with Metronidazole as a component.

During the early stages of dropsy, the condition can be cured with the measures mentioned above. However, when the conditions remain unidentified, the illness can progress quite quickly, leaving little room for cure or remission. Typically, with dropsy in betta fish, the slightest of irregularities in the water parameters can cause the condition to come back again, and with a vengeance. When you have tried all forms of cure, and your betta is still visibly under stress, Euthanasia is an option for offering peace to your sick betta. Euthanizing a fish is a delicate measure and should only be employed after in-depth research after you have exhausted all forms of treatments to cure the illness in the betta fish.

Video: Dropsy in Betta Fish | Symptoms, Prevention, Life Expectancy, & More


If you are thinking of adding a betta fish to your aquarium set up, it is best to weigh your commitment and knowledge. Keeping any fish healthy and thriving, including the humble betta, begins at the heart of maintaining the water quality in check without fail. It is easy for disasters such as dropsy to lurk when the water parameters are compromised, thereby causing stress to your finny friends and breaking their immune system piece by piece.

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