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Fish Floating On Side But Not Dead ( 6 Ways to Treat )

Witnessing your fish floating on the side of your aquarium can terrify any pet parent. Many newbie aquarium hobbyists immediately assume that their fish is dead when they see them in this state. 

Relax! In most cases, fish float on their sides when they are sick or dying. However, a few reasons your fish might be floating on its side don’t necessarily mean death is imminent. 

This article will explain why your fish floating on side but not dead, plus cures for each ailment.

Fish Floating On Side But Not Dead

Why is my fish floating sideways but not dead?

Several reasons might cause your fish to float on its side. Fish float sideways or upside down because they lose their buoyancy, which is the ability to float or rise in a fluid. 

1. Swim Bladder Disease

One of the most common reasons fish float on their side is swim bladder disease. The swim bladder is an internal organ that helps fish maintain their buoyancy. 

Fish Floating On Side But Not Dead ...
Fish Floating On Side But Not Dead ( 6 Ways to Treat )

When the swim bladder doesn’t work correctly, the fish has trouble swimming and may even float to the water’s surface. 

A bacterial infection, a physical injury, or overeating can all induce swim bladder disease.

2. Intestinal parasites

Intestinal parasites are another common reason why fish float on their side. These parasites live in the fish’s intestines and consume the food that the fish eats. 

As a result, the fish doesn’t get the nutrients it needs and can become malnourished. Malnourished fish are more likely to float on their side because they don’t have the energy to swim correctly. 

Usually, fish infected with parasites die within a few days, so it will be no use to try to save them.

Among these reasons, swim bladder disease is more common in goldfish and other aquarium fish, while intestinal parasites are more common in wild fish.

However, we will focus more on swim bladder disease as it is more common in aquarium fishes.

Can we treat a fish with swim bladder disease?

Yes, there are several treatments available for swim bladder disease. If you caught your fish floating on the side but not upside down, you are at an advantage.

Swimming sideways is among the first signs and symptoms of swim bladder disease. So, there is a high chance of your fish getting cured. 

If you catch the ailment early, you can treat it effectively. Usually, the worst scenario you can expect is that your fish will have permanent swim bladder damage and may not be able to swim correctly for the rest of its life. 

The good news is that most fish with swim bladder disease don’t die from it.

How long can a fish live with swim bladder disease?

A fish with swim bladder disease can live for years if properly treated.

However, the quality of life may not be as good as a healthy fish. For example, a fish with swim bladder disease may not be able to swim correctly and may have a shorter life span. However, this is not always the case. 

In some cases, fish with swim bladder disease live a long and healthy life. It all depends on how bad the sickness is and how effectively the fish is cared for.

Can fish die from swim bladder disease?

Unfortunately yes. A percentage of fish that develop swim bladder disease die from it. Starvation is the leading cause of death.

When a fish is floating on its side, it has trouble reaching the surface of the water to feed. As a result, the fish doesn’t get the food it needs and starves to death. 

In some cases, the fish is unable to swim correctly and gets sucked into the filter or pump. This can also cause death.

If the fish gets the condition because of a bacterial condition, the fish might die from septicemia. Septicemia is a blood infection caused by bacteria. 

The good news is that most fish with swim bladder disease don’t die from it. With proper treatment, the fish can live a long and healthy life.

Causes of swim bladder disease

Now that you know that swim bladder disease is curable, you should learn the causes of swim bladder disease to diagnose and treat the disease properly. 

Constipation

Constipation is the most common cause of swim bladder disease. When a fish is constipated, it has trouble passing waste. This can cause the intestines to become bloated and put pressure on the swim bladder. 

As a result, the swim bladder doesn’t work correctly, and the fish has trouble swimming. In severe cases, the fish may float to the surface of the water and have trouble swimming down.

A constipated fish usually has a bloated belly and may be lethargic. The fish may also struggle to swim and float to the surface of the water.

Fortunately, this is the easiest form of swim bladder disease to treat. We will talk about how to treat constipation a few topics later.

Bacterial infections

Bacterial infections are another common cause of swim bladder disease. Many different types of bacteria can infect the fish.

The most common types of bacteria are Aeromonas, Mycobacterium, Pseudomonas fluorescent and Flexibacter columnaris.

These types of bacteria are often found in aquariums that are not clean. The bacteria can enter the fish through the gills, skin, or open wounds. Once the bacteria enter the fish, they can attack the swim bladder. 

Once the fish gets a bacterial infection, its swim bladder fills with fluids, making it hard for the fish to swim. In severe cases, the fish may float to the surface of the water and die.

A bacterial infection is often the hardest form of swim bladder disease to treat. We will talk about how to treat a bacterial infection later in this article.

Swallowing too much air

When you feed your fish non-sinking food, air-filled food, your fish may swallow air with the food. This often happens to greedy fish.

You might be surprised to learn that a fish’s body contains two swim bladder sacs. The first is smaller, whereas the second is larger. This larger sac is directly connected to the stomach.

So, once the stomach fills with excess air, the air directly goes into the swim bladder, making it unbalanced.

When only one sac is filled with more air, the fish get a disturbing buoyancy, making it hard to swim correctly.

If this is the case, it can be treated very easily.

Physical damage or injury

Injuries can happen by falling, during transportation, fighting with the tank mates, or escaping from aggressive fish. Although you can control and minimize some of these injuries, some are simply unpredictable. 

When the fish has an injury, it can damage the swim bladder or the connection between the stomach and swim bladder. In some cases, the fish may also get an infection, which can cause more damage.

If the fish has an injury, it’s important to treat the injury as soon as possible to prevent further damage. We will talk about how to treat an injury later in this article.

If the swim bladder is damaged, unfortunately, there are no other options than to euthanize the fish. You can usually tell if your fish is a goner when you observe no improvement even after 48 hours of treatment.

High Nitrate levels in the aquarium

When the water condition of the aquarium is not good, it can also lead to swim bladder disease. Ammonia and nitrite levels that are too high in the water can damage the fish’s gills, leading to infections.

High nitrate levels can also damage the fish’s swim bladder. When the nitrate level is high, it can cause the fish to have a hard time expelling waste.

This can lead to constipation and a bloated belly, which we talked about earlier.

If you think high nitrate levels might be the cause of your fish’s swim bladder disease, it’s important to do a water change as soon as possible. You should also clean the filter and vacuum the gravel to remove any nitrate buildup.

Although water change is necessary, massive water changes at once are not ideal either. We will talk about how to safely change the water and bring your fish back to their normal selves in a moment.

Birth deformation of the swim bladder

The reason for a swim bladder malfunction can sometimes be a birth deformity. If this is the case, you had probably noticed it when the fish was born.

In some cases, the swim bladder may not have developed correctly in the womb, which can lead to problems later in life.

As you know, some fish breeds are cross-bred to achieve aesthetic diversity. This is common in popular breeds like bettas, goldfish, and cichlids. Oftentimes, these selective breedings can cause genetic defects.

One of the most common defects is a swim bladder deformity. This means that the fish is born with a misshapen or non-functioning swim bladder.

Unfortunately, if your fish has a birth deformity, there is not much you can do to treat it. In some cases, the fish may be able to live a relatively normal life, but in other cases, the fish may need to be euthanized.

If you breed fish, you should be aware of these defects and only breed fish that are less prone to have them.

Swim bladder treatment

Now that you know the reasons for swim bladder disease, it is important to know how to treat it. Since there are various causes of swim bladder disease, the treatment options will vary as well.

Before proceeding to the next steps, we should advise you that treating the swim bladder can take several days or even weeks. So please be patient and don’t get discouraged if you don’t see any results immediately.

The first step is to determine what is causing the swim bladder disease. As previously stated, there are numerous probable causes, so inspect the fish and the aquarium thoroughly.

Once you have determined the cause, you can start treating the fish. A better approach is to relocate the sick fish to a hospital tank.

This will make treating the fish easier and will help prevent the disease from spreading to other fish in the tank. 

Further, ensure that the hospital tank has the same water conditions as the main aquarium. This includes temperature, pH, hardness, and so on. The hospital tank should also be well aerated and have a filter.

One of the most critical things you must do is keep the water clean. This entails performing regular water changes as well as vacuuming the gravel.

A dirty aquarium is one of the most common causes of swim bladder disease, so keeping the tank clean is important.

01. Constipation treatment options

As we mentioned earlier, constipation is the easiest form of swim bladder disease to treat. The first step is to fast the fish for two to three days.

This will give the fish’s digestive system a chance to rest and hopefully expel any waste that is causing constipation.

However, some experts advise against fasting fish as it can cause other problems. So if you decide to fast your fish, please do so with caution.

Another treatment option is to feed the fish a fiber-rich food source. Depending on the fish species and their diet preference, there are a number of food sources that can help.

For example, brine shrimp and daphnia are two of the most popular food sources for constipation treatment. This food will better suit if your fish are carnivores by diet.

Do peas help swim bladder disease?

Yes. Peas are rich in fiber, hence can be a great source of food to treat swim bladder disease caused by constipation.

However, if your fish is sick because of another cause, peas might not be the best option. Further, peas will better suit if your fish are omnivores or herbivores by diet.

If you decide to feed your fish peas, make sure to cook them first. This will make them easier to digest and reduce the risk of choking.

To cook the peas, simply boil them for a few minutes and then mash them up. Once they’re mashed, you can add them to the fish food or feed them directly to the fish.

An important note: Some people recommend removing the pea’s outer skin before cooking. However, we don’t think this step is necessary as the skin is generally soft and easy to digest.

Can I feed my fish canned peas?

Canned peas also contain fiber and can be used to treat constipation. However, we recommend avoiding canned peas as they often contain added salt, which is not good for fish.

If you decide to feed your fish canned peas, make sure to rinse them thoroughly before feeding. This will remove any added salt and make them safer for your fish.

Can I feed fish raw peas?

No. Raw peas are not recommended as they can be difficult to digest. If you feed your fish raw peas, there’s a chance they will choke on them or have difficulty digesting them.

It’s always best to cook the peas before feeding them to your fish. This will make them easier to digest and reduce the risk of any problems.

02. Treating swim bladder disease caused by bacteria

One of the leading causes of swim bladder disease is bacterial infections. This is due to the fact that germs can enter the fish’s body via the gills, mouth, or skin.

The most common symptom of a bacterial infection is a bloated belly. The fish might also swim in an unusual way or have trouble staying afloat.

If you suspect your fish has a bacterial infection, the best thing to do is to take them to the vet. They will be able to identify the issue and offer the proper remedy.

In some cases, the vet might recommend a course of antibiotics. However, these should only be used as a last resort as they can have harmful side effects.

As an alternative, you can try using a natural antibacterial treatment. This might be a more gentle option for your fish and will help to reduce the risk of side effects.

One popular natural antibacterial treatment is Epsom salt. This can be added to the water at a one tablespoon per gallon ratio.

The Epsom salt will help reduce the inflammation and kill any bacteria causing the infection.

You can also add a few drops of tea tree oil to the water. This has natural antibacterial properties and can help to treat the infection.

Important: Although we share these natural treatments, we can not guarantee they will work. If your fish’s condition does not improve, we recommend taking them to the vet for further treatment.

03. Treating swim bladder disease caused by swallowing too much air

It is easy to treat SBD caused by swallowing too much air, as we mentioned earlier. You only have to make some changes in your fish’s diet and environment.

First, you need to feed your fish smaller meals more often. This will help to reduce the amount of air they swallow when they eat.

You should also avoid overfeeding your fish as this can cause them to bloat. Give them only what they can eat in a few minutes.

Avoid feeding your fish floating food and air-filled food as these can also cause them to swallow air. Instead, feed them with sinking pellets or thawed food.

While making these changes would suffice, you can cure your fish faster by feeding your fish with boiled peas (we mentioned this treatment in the constipation section).

The fiber in the peas will help push the gas out of their system and make them feel better.

04. Treating SBD caused by physical damage or injury

If your fish has swim bladder issues due to physical damage or injury, you can not do much about it. The owner can not predict an injury or an infection in most cases.

If this is the case, your best bet would be to quarantine the fish and treat it with a broad-spectrum antibiotic to prevent bacterial infections. If your fish is lucky enough, it might recover from the injury.

But we should warn you that damage to the swim bladder is often fatal. Therefore, if you can confirm physical damage, euthanasia might be the best option to prevent any further suffering.

05. Treating SBD caused by High Nitrate levels in the aquarium

Nitrate levels rise in an aquarium when your fish produce waste. If these levels are not kept in check, they can cause swim bladder disease.

You should do a partial water change every week to prevent this from happening. This will help to remove the nitrates from the water and keep the levels low.

You should also avoid overfeeding your fish as this can cause them to produce more waste. Give them only what they can eat in a few minutes.

If your fish is already floating on the side or upside down, you should do a water change immediately.

You must remove and replace about 40% of water, but it should be done gradually. Otherwise, the sudden changes in water chemistry could shock your fish and kill them.

Perform about 5% to 10% water change every hour until you have reached the 40% mark.

You should also include an air stone in the tank to help aerate the water and keep nitrate levels low.

After the water change, you should monitor the nitrate levels closely and check your fish for any improvement. If the levels are still high or your fish is not showing any improvement, you should take them to the vet.

06. Treating Birth deformation of the swim bladder

Unfortunately, this is the hardest (or should we say impossible?) to treat. If your fish is born with a deformed swim bladder, there is not much you can do about it.

The only option you can do is make their surroundings as close as ideal as possible. This means you should maintain high water quality, feed them a nutritious meal, and avoid adding stress to their life.

You should also consider getting another tank mate for your fish, as this can help to reduce their stress levels.

How long does it take for the swim bladder to go away?

Swim bladder disease is often not a death sentence for your fish. In most cases, the fish will recover within a week or two. However, some might take longer depending on the severity of the disease.

After two weeks, if your fish is still floating on its side or upside down, you should bring them to the vet for further care.

How to prevent swim bladder disease?

The best way to prevent swim bladder disease is to keep your fish clean and stress-free. You should also feed them a balanced meal and replace their water on a regular basis.

If you have multiple fish, you should also quarantine any new fish before adding them to the tank. This will aid in preventing the spread of diseases.

You should also avoid overfeeding your fish, leading to obesity and swim bladder disease. Only provide them with enough food that they can eat in a few minutes.

Lastly, if you notice any changes in your fish’s behavior, you should take them to the vet for a check-up.

Conclusion

Fish floating on the side but not dead is a common symptom of swim bladder disease. Swim bladder disease is a common condition that a number of different things can cause.

In most cases, it is not fatal, and the fish will recover within a week or two. However, some fish might take longer to recover, depending on the severity of the disease. 

The best way to prevent swim bladder disease is to keep your fish in a clean and stress-free environment.

Providing a healthy diet and regular water changes can also help to prevent this disease. If you notice any changes in your fish’s behavior, taking them to a vet is the best course of action.

Credit to : Syed Shah5001
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About Dr.Chamika

Hello, I'm Dr. Chamika. I am a Researcher in Water quality, Aquatic organisms, and Environmental chemistry. I am a passionate fish keeper, with10 years of experience. My mission is to help other aquarists experience the joy of fish keeping.