Q: Hi - I cleaned my betta's water today, and since then, he has been acting odd.  He stays at the top, or when he tries to swim down, he bounces right back up, like he can't stay 'down.'  He reacts to seeing my other bettas, still (flares out), and ate his food, though.  Any ideas on what might be wrong with him?

Question submitted by Lynn, Angola - Indiana

A: As a matter of fact, I do :). Your betta has swimbladder disorder. "swimWHAT?" you ask? OK, here is our "Swimbladder 101" crash course.

The swimbladder is a handy little device that stretches inside your betta's body alongside his spine. The function of the swimbladder is to allow the fish to control where he wants to be as far as depth is and to maintain its position. Fishes that do not have a swimbladder cannot "hover" in place but instead are condemned to swim night and day (many of the fish that live in schools in the ocean do not have swimbladder).

Our bettas however are the "Deluxe" model and come standard fully equipped with a swimbladder ;) and since they do not have to swim to maintain buoyancy, they have the luxury to be as lazy as they darn please (which, usually is quite a lot LOL). 

But sometimes the swimbladder goes bad. Too much food, or stress or sometimes certain diseases cause the swimbladder to malfunction. Sorta like electric windows on cars LOL they're great to have, until they stop working properly that is ;). Since bettas are 'made in Taiwan' ;), expect the bells and whistles to go bad on this model rather promptly LOL. What you are left with is a betta that cannot swim properly. The main two way things can go at this point are:


Betta cannot swim 'down' and maintain its buoyancy and floats pathetically at the surface, usually on one of its side. If that is the case you can usually SEE the swimbladder protrude as thought it is swollen or full or air (like a long balloon). You are likely to find it protruding from the side which is floating UP. Betta may try to swim down but it is like it is spinning its wheel for nothing and floats right back up. In a way, think of it as though you had little floatation devices around your arms (like kids do) and you were trying to swim under water. Pretty darn hard, huh? For Mr. Betta it gets very tiring so he will prefer to just 'lay there' at the surface. Although this lying around cannot kill him (as all lazy people and couch potatoes will attest LOL) it makes feeding very difficult because lining up the mouth with the food becomes an all time out effort (oftentimes a useless one). It might become necessary to hold the food with tweezers and aim it directly for his mouth cavity. In your case, you mention the betta is still flaring which to me indicates the ability to swim (at least temporarily) so that is a good sign. 


Betta cannot swim 'up' and lies pathetically at the bottom of his jar. Going up to get a gulp of air or food is a huge effort and the betta immediately sinks right back to the bottom. In this case you will not see the swimbladder protruding. It is more likely to actually be contracted if anything (like a deflated balloon ;)  ).

Either way you look at it, whether down or up, stuck at the surface or stuck at the bottom, your betta looks pitiful. But do not give up hope. Just as the swimbladder malfunction seams to appear overnight, it oftentimes goes away on its own. Meanwhile, lowering the water level might be kind so Mr.Betta has less efforts to make when trying to move up or down. Or you could install a betta elevator, but they often get stuck between floors, so it is a bit risky (just kidding ).  If he cannot get to his food use the tweezers trick mentioned above. Keep water clean and use a broad spectrum antibiotic to help fight any diseases that might be causing the problem. Feed a lot less so that Mr.Betta's belly does not look "full". Favor two very tiny feedings a day as opposed to one large one. Overfeeding is the #1 cause of swimbladder disorders. So feeding less may rectify the problem. I woud start by not feeding the betta for 3 days, and then feed twice a day in TINY amounts.

Most of all DO NOT GIVE UP. He will probably bounce back, but it may take up to 6 weeks (or more), so be patient. I hope you do know how to perform water changes properly and how to treat the water so it is adequate for bettas. Just in case, click here and read that page.


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I am a member of the IBC, founder and President of LABS  (Los Angeles Betta Society) and have been helping the betta community through this website since 1998. 
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