Swim Bladder Disease & Fish Swimming Sideways – WHAT TO DO!

Estimated read time 17 min read
Quick Answer: Your fish may swim sideways due to various reasons such as swim bladder disorder, injury, stress, and water quality issues. To prevent this, maintain a suitable aquarium environment, feed them properly, and keep an eye on their behavior. Consult a veterinarian if needed.

In this article,  we’ll answer the question: Why Does My Fish Swim Sideways and explain why it’s happening and how you can prevent it.

It’s not easy figuring out what’s wrong with a fish. It’s not like you can feel their forehead and see if they have a fever.

Is it sick? Hungry? Sad?

Sometimes, your fish is just fine. Other times, there is definitely something wrong with your scale, baby, and you need answers – fast.

Have you noticed your fishy is swimming a little… oddly? Maybe it’s been swimming upside down or on its side? We know precisely what that means and how to fix it.

Table of Contents

Why Is My Fish Swimming Sideways?

A fish that is suddenly swimming sideways or upside down usually has what is known as “swim bladder disease.” The swim bladder is an internal organ that most bony fish have. It’s a gas-filled sac that sits behind the other internal organs and controls the fish’s buoyancy.

Basically, it’s a gas bag that allows the fish to control its position in the water. If you are familiar with scuba diving, you could like it to a buoyancy control device (BCD).

The swim bladder, also used for sound detection and production, is essential to your fish’s overall wellbeing.

A fish suffering from swim bladder disease can’t regulate the gas going in and out of their swim bladder, which causes an imbalance and makes them float on their side or upside down.

What Is Swim Bladder Disease?

Swim bladder disease, or SBD, is a disease that a fish may suffer from when its swim bladder is compacted. When this happens, the fish can’t hold air in the correct areas, resulting in the fish swimming upside down or on its side.

Betta fish and fancy goldfish are most often affected by SBD because of their shape and spine structure. Round, short bodies are more likely to have compressed organs, making it difficult to digest food, leading to constipation.

Be wary of SBD in these breeds of fish and prepare accordingly (check out our tips on preventing SBD below!).

What Causes Swim Bladder Disease?

Swim bladder disease isn’t some random cold your fish catches in the winter: SBD has causes (and solutions!).

There are multiple causes, and it’s crucial to determine what exactly happened so you can prevent it from happening in the future.

Swim bladder disease (some refer to it as swim bladder disorder) is largely caused by overfeeding (which then leads to bloating and constipation) or an infection (probably from a dirty tank). It can also be caused by taking in too much air when the fish bites at food.

Causes Of Swim Bladder Disease Include:

Constipation and metabolism issues

When a fish is constipated or has metabolism issues, the fish’s swim bladder is compressed, making it too full, which changes the buoyancy.


The high nitrate levels in the food can easily lead to bloating and constipation if the fish are overfed, leading to SBD.

Bacterial infections or parasites

Not keeping a clean tank is one of the leading causes of bacterial infections and parasites.

Enlarged organs and blockages

These can occur when fish swallow too much air. Some rare defects cause enlarged organs or blockages, though these usually show up early in the fish’s life.

Cool water temperature

Coldwater slows down your fish’s metabolism, causing constipation and other digestive issues that can lead to SBD.

Swim bladder issues can cause your pet fish to swim in peculiar ways, such as sideways or even upside down. This can be distressing for fish owners, but with the right knowledge and care, you can help your aquatic friends regain their neutral buoyancy and enjoy a happy life once again.

Maintaining Proper Water Quality

Importance of water parameters

One of the most common reasons behind swim bladder problems is poor water quality. To ensure your fish’s well-being, proper treatment of the tank water is essential. Keep an eye on pH levels and other water parameters.

Regular water changes for healthy fish

Regular water changes are the best way to maintain good water quality. It helps to prevent the accumulation of waste and unclean water, which can lead to swim bladder issues.

Avoiding poor water conditions

Dirty water can have a detrimental effect on bladder disorders in fish. Make sure your tank’s environmental factors are conducive to your fish’s health by providing a clean and well-maintained habitat.

The impact of dirty water on swim bladder health

Poor water conditions can weaken your fish’s immune system and make them more susceptible to swim bladder infection. Viral infections and bacterial infections thrive in unclean water, potentially causing further complications.

Dietary Considerations

Offering a balanced diet to prevent swim bladder problems

Feeding your fish a balanced diet is the best thing you can do to prevent swim bladder issues. Avoid overfeeding, as it can lead to digestive problems, a common cause of swim bladder disease.

The role of overfeeding in swim bladder issues

Overfeeding can cause your fish’s gastrointestinal tract to become overloaded, leading to constipation and metabolism issues. This can put undue pressure on their swim bladder, leading to negative buoyancy disorders.

How selective breeding can affect fish digestion

Selective breeding of fish species can sometimes result in fish that are more prone to swim bladder problems. Be aware of the specific needs of your fish, especially if they have been bred for certain traits.

Identifying Symptoms of Swim Bladder Disease

Common signs of swim bladder issues

Recognizing the symptoms of swim bladder disease is crucial. Look out for signs like fish swimming sideways, struggling to stay afloat, or having difficulty controlling their position in the water column.

Recognizing negative buoyancy disorders

Fish with swim bladder problems often display negative buoyancy disorders, causing them to sink to the bottom of the tank or float at the top of the tank uncontrollably.

Discover Why: If your fish are swimming at the top of the tank, explore our comprehensive guide for answers and actionable solutions. Your fish’s well-being matters!

When to suspect swim bladder infection

If you notice severe and persistent swim bladder issues, it could be a sign of swim bladder infection. Consult a fish veterinarian for a proper diagnosis and treatment.

Treatment Options for Swim Bladder Disease

Understanding different causes and possible treatments

Treating swim bladder disease depends on the underlying cause. Whether it’s due to constipation, infection, or other factors, the treatment approach may vary.

Using aquarium salt and Epsom salt as treatment methods

Aquarium salt and Epsom salt are often used to help fish recover from swim bladder issues. These salts can alleviate bloating and aid in fish recovery.

The effectiveness of special care and quarantine tanks

In severe cases, placing affected fish in a quarantine tank with pristine water conditions can provide the proper treatment needed for a full recovery.

Preventing Swim Bladder Disease

Best practices for preventing swim bladder issues

Prevention is key to maintaining your fish’s health. Regular water changes, maintaining good water quality, and providing a balanced diet are all part of the prevention strategy.

Environmental factors and their role in prevention

Be mindful of environmental changes, such as sudden shifts in temperature or water flow, as they can stress your fish and contribute to swim bladder issues.

The importance of gradual changes in the aquarium

When introducing new fish or making changes to the tank setup, ensure a gradual transition to reduce the risk of swim bladder problems.

When It Could Be Anything Else

Considering alternative diagnoses for fish swimming sideways

If your fish continue to swim sideways despite your efforts, it’s essential to explore other potential causes, such as kidney cysts, that might require specialized care.

Kidney cysts and other potential causes

Different causes beyond swim bladder disease can affect fish buoyancy. Consult with a veterinarian if you suspect an alternative diagnosis.

The need for a veterinarian’s expertise in complex cases

In challenging cases, seeking the advice of a fish veterinarian is crucial to identify and treat the root cause of your fish’s swimming issues accurately.

Introducing New Fish and Tank Setup

Precautions when introducing new fish to an aquarium

When bringing new fish into your tank, take precautions to minimize stress and ensure a smooth transition for both new and existing fish.

Setting up a new aquarium with swim bladder health in mind

If you’re starting with a new aquarium, pay special attention to its setup, as a well-designed environment can promote fish well-being and reduce swim bladder issues.

Ensuring a stress-free environment for fish

A stress-free environment contributes to overall fish health and helps prevent swim bladder problems. Keep your fish tank well-maintained and free from disturbances.

Special Considerations for Different Fish Species

Swim bladder issues in various species of fish

Different fish species have varying susceptibilities to swim bladder problems. For example, angel fish may be more prone to these issues due to their unique physiology.

Angel fish and their susceptibility to swim bladder problems

Angel fish are known for their susceptibility to swim bladder disease. It’s essential to tailor your care approach to the specific needs of your fish species.

Tailoring care to the specific needs of your fish

Understanding the specific requirements of your fish species will help you provide the special care they need to maintain good swim bladder health.

Monitoring and Maintaining pH Levels

How pH levels can impact fish health and swim bladder function

Maintaining proper pH levels in your tank is crucial for your fish’s overall health and their swim bladder function.

Ensuring proper pH levels in the tank water

Regularly test and adjust the pH levels in your tank water to ensure it falls within the optimal range for your fish species.

Testing and adjusting pH for a happy fish life

By monitoring and maintaining pH levels, you can help your fish lead a happy life with fewer swim bladder-related issues.

Promoting Neutral Buoyancy

Understanding neutral buoyancy in fish

Neutral buoyancy is essential for fish to swim comfortably. Learn how it works and why it’s crucial for your fish’s well-being.

Strategies to maintain neutral buoyancy

Implement strategies to maintain your fish’s neutral buoyancy, ensuring they can move freely and comfortably in the water.

Effects of compression of the swim bladder on buoyancy

Fish with swim bladder issues may experience compression of the swim bladder, affecting their buoyancy. Proper care can help alleviate this.

Environmental Changes and Their Impact

Sudden changes in the environment and their consequences Fish are sensitive to sudden changes in their environment, which can stress them and contribute to swim bladder problems.

Adapting fish to new conditions

When making changes to your aquarium, do so gradually to help your fish adapt without experiencing undue stress.

How environmental factors can lead to swim bladder issues

Environmental factors like temperature, water flow, and tank decorations can play a significant role in the development of swim bladder problems.

Fish Disease and Swim Bladder Infections

Relationship between viral infections and swim bladder disease

Viral infections can lead to swim bladder disease in fish. Learn how to recognize and address these issues effectively.

Gastrointestinal tract infections and their effect on swim bladder

Infections in the gastrointestinal tract can indirectly affect the swim bladder. Understanding these connections is vital for fish health.

Combating swim bladder infection through treatment

Treating swim bladder infection may require a multifaceted approach, including addressing underlying causes and providing proper care.

Best Practices for Fish Owners

Responsible ownership and its role in fish health

As a fish owner, it’s your responsibility to ensure your fish receive the best possible care. Educate yourself about their needs and common fish problems.

Providing the best possible care for your pet fish

Follow best practices for fish care, including maintaining good water quality, providing proper nutrition, and addressing health issues promptly.

Educating yourself about common fish problems

Knowledge is a powerful tool in preventing and addressing fish health problems. Continuously educate yourself about common issues like swim bladder disease.

Can Swim Bladder Disease Be Cured?

Thankfully, you can cure swim bladder disease if you catch it early on, but it’s not something that’s healed with medicine.

First, you need to put your fishy friend on a strict, no-food diet for three-to-four days. Fasting will allow whatever metabolism issues your fish has to sort themselves out.

On the fourth or fifth day, feed your scaly friend a cooked pea (no skin!). This will help ease any constipation and clear out the system. You can microwave or boil a pea and squeeze off the skin once it’s cooked.

Keep your fishy friend’s aquarium water between 78-80°F. This will help regulate your fish’s metabolism and keep them comfortable.

It’s also not a bad idea to lower your fish tank’s water level a little while they are recovering. It will make it less stressful for your fishy friend to swim around and get their food. Plus, the filter will clean up any excess gunk faster and easier.

How Do I Prevent Swim Bladder Disease?

The best medicine in this case (and most cases) is prevention. The two most vital factors to remember are water quality and proper feeding.

Dirty tanks are the main cause of infections and intestinal parasites, which is why it’s so important to keep your tank clean. Net out any excess food or debris you notice in the tank to extend your filter life and give it a break.

Overfeeding causes constipation and bloating, so take care to feed your fish the appropriate amount. The general rule is to feed your fish only what it can eat within 2-3 minutes.

If you’re feeding dry food, take a minute to wet it before giving it to your fishy friends. They won’t have to gulp in as much air if the food is already soaked.

Unless otherwise noted for your breed of fish, the ideal temperature is 75-80°F (Degrees Fahrenheit).

Could It Be Anything Else?

For this particular symptom, it usually isn’t another malady. However, fish can swim erratically (darting around, swimming in circles, etc.) for several reasons. If your fish is acting strangely, talk to your vet or an aquatics care specialist.

Video: How to treat a floating bloated Goldfish with a swim bladder disorder with Dr. Loh Fish veterinarian.

Conclusion: Ensuring a Happy and Healthy Fish

In conclusion, promoting a long and happy life for your fish involves maintaining good water quality, providing a balanced diet, and being attentive to their unique needs. By following the outlined guidelines, you can help your fish overcome swim bladder issues and enjoy a healthy, buoyant life.

So, Now What?

If your fishy friend is swimming funny, don’t panic. Follow these steps, and your friend will be on the boat road to recovery.

  1. Don’t feed them for 3-4 days.
  2. After the fasting period, please give them a cooked, shelled pea.
  3. Keep their water temperature at 78-80°F during the recovery period.
  4. Lower their water level during the recovery period.

If you haven’t had a run-in with swim bladder disease, take some preventative measures and make sure your fishy friend’s home is clean, the right temperature, and you are feeding them the appropriate amount.

If you have encountered SBD before, leave a comment! Did you use the same treatment, or do you have other tricks up your sleeve? Let us know!

Further Reading: Most Popular Freshwater Aquarium Fish


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