Bala Sharks With Swim Bladder Problem Not Getting Better :(

  • #1
Long post, but I need help, so please stay with me.


2 bala sharks in an overstocked 55 gallon seem to have developed swim bladder issues that aren't getting better.

  • Has anyone had similar problems in the past? What helped?
  • Can anyone confirm that my balas have swim bladder issues and/or postulate on etiology? My working assumption is swim bladder infection and I'm trying to cover my bases with the water change, stress coat, and medication, but if my assumptions are incorrect, this is obviously not going to help them.
  • What should I do about the fact that the sick balas aren't eating? I don't want them to stave
  • Any other general thoughts?

Day 1:
I have a 55 gallon freshwater tank currently stocked with 4 balas, an iridescent shark, and 4 kissing gouramis. I know the tank is definitely overstocked for their size, but I'm fishsitting the iridescent shark and one of the kissing gouramis for a close friend who recently moved and is in the process of setting up a new tank. Anyway, 2 days ago, I noticed one of the balas (we'll call him Bala A) was swimming erratically. Specifically, he seemed to have buoyancy issues and was blown by currents. He was moving his fins tirelessly, but could not seem to swim where he wanted. This all happened very suddenly as a few hours earlier, he was happily swimming around.

Given Bala A's behavior, I figured he had a swim bladder issue, but was unsure why. He had no visible signs of infection and I doubted he was constipated as the feeding routine had been consistent for at least 6 weeks (since adopting the 2 extra fish). I guessed his swim bladder problems may have been injury related since he darted into the wall that morning when he was startled. I added stress coat to the tank and put him in a small breeder box to prevent him from getting stuck in ornaments and plants since he couldn't control his direction. I also did the weekly 40% water change and gravel vacuum prior to adding the stress coat (tank maintenance routine below).

Day 2:
Fast forward 1 day, Bala A is still struggling with buoyancy (honestly, I was thrilled he made it through the night). He doesn't look much better, but not much worse. Still no signs of infection, but he hasn't touched last night's dinner (flakes). I can see him trying, but he can't stay in one place long enough to eat, and becomes visibly distressed when I try to "spoon feed" him by using chopsticks to place food near his mouth. However, I also notice Bala B begins to develop similar symptoms. Everyone else is still happily swimming. Water parameters are all within their normal range, so I worry there is some infection I'm not privy to. I put Bala B in a breeder as well and treat the tank with antifungal RidIch and antibacterial Melafix to cover my bases.

About 6 hours later, Balas A and B are both still struggling with buoyancy, but Bala B seems to be swimming a bit better. As long as he can get right side up, he can direct his movements, but upside down he is subject to the current. Bala A looks about the same as day 1. Still spending a lot of time upside down or side ways, still moving his fins furiously, still not eating, still no signs of infection, though his belly looks more translucent than normal.

12 hours after the first treatment, I give a second RidIch treatment since the bottle said you can dose twice a day for aggressive infections (and because I'm desperate).

Day 3 (Today):
So, its now day 3. Balas A and B are exhibiting pretty much the same behavior as day 2. Maybe some mild improvement with Bala B, but not Bala A. Other fish look fine. Gave another treatment of both medications, and another stress coat dose. Current water parameters below


Because the tank is currently overstocked, I adapted a new maintenance schedule about 6 weeks ago:
  • Food: 2 small feedings of TetraMin flakes each day. I've tried various flakes, pellets, and real food in the past, but my fish steadfastly refuse everything except TetraMin (picky!)
  • Water Changes: 40% water changes with gravel vacuum once a week (did it every 2 prior to new additions)
  • Filter Media Changes: Once every 3 wks (every 5-6 wks prior to addtions)
  • Temperature: 80-83F (usually 81.5)
  • I realize my maintenance is a bit unorthodox, but I've been following a similar routine for years without significant problems (usually only get some sort of infection once a yr)
  • The 2 visiting fish didn't have any infections in the past year
  • The last tank infection was 7 months ago when we had a nasty case of ich, but everyone pulled through.
  • #2
Welcome to Fishlore sorry your first post is about a problem, hope our members can help you today
  • #3
Have you seen them poop since? If it's constipation causing the bladder issues, you could try the deshelled cooked pea method. Otherwise an Epsom salt baths may help reduce the symptoms? Don't know if you've looked in to those methods but it may be worth a shot. I'm no expert but I know these are the common treatments for swim bladder. Good luck, hope you come right!
  • Thread Starter
  • #4
Thanks for the replies. I tried epsom salt, but it didn't do anything. I've been contemplating the pea method, but was unsure if its was worth it since they don't seem to be able to remain buoyant enough to eat anything. But at this point, I don't have any other ideas, so I'll give it a shot. Hopefully they'll nibble.

Also, to answer your question about poop, unsure. I usually don't watch the tank for a long enough period to witness pooping, but I'll keep an eye out for any poop today.

Also, Day 4 Update: Not too much change. Continuing stress coat/ melafix/ ridich treatment. Bala B spends a bit more time upright, but still most of his time on his side. Bala A still spends most time upside down. Still no signs of infection. Both are still moving their fins vigorously. It's hard to watch
  • Thread Starter
  • #5
Since I haven't been able to find much on how to help my balas, I'm going to try to update this thread daily in the hopes of providing some help to anyone who has this problem in the future.

Day 5:
  • Continuing melafix/ ridich/ stress coat
  • Tried the peas, but neither fish ate it
  • Bala B is doing better! I've been watching him for about 2 hrs and he's been swimming around his breeder right side up the whole time, occassionally pecking at the floor.
  • Bala A is about the same; still spends 99% of the time upside down, but otherwise looks healthy and is still moving his fins
  • I've kept Bala B in a mesh breeder and Bala A in a plastic one with tiny holes. I also put an airstone in Bala B's breeder. I'm guessing Bala B is doing better because I treated as soon as he exhibited symptoms, but I wonder if it may also be due to the better crossflow of the mesh breeder and the airstone? I bought a second mesh breeder for Bala A and switched the airstone to his box. We'll see if it helps.
  • Of note, when I tried to put Bala A in the new breeder, he had enough energy to jump out of the breeder into the tank, but his buoyancy problems caused him to be tossed with the current. So he's still struggling with buoyancy, but at least he could jump?
  • #6
Glad to hear at least one is better, though if the other hasn't shown any signs of improvement, there is a chance that it might not get better and you'll be stuck with an upside down bala hope things start looking up soon!
  • #7
A lot of people have tried to keep Balas with mixed success. I'd look for information on there as there are many more keepers of this species there. One person has a 17 inch Bala, though tank sizes tend to be massive. For most people Balas are a temporary resident of aquaria.
  • Thread Starter
  • #8
Thanks for the info. Found some neat threads there and its amazing how large and diverse some of the aquariums are!

Yea, balas are tough to keep in aquariums (especially a 55g), but we didn't know that when we got them and by the time we realized, we were too attached. If we did it over again, we'd pick fish that didn't need so much space or grow so much. Nonetheless, our eldest bala will be 8 yrs old next month and we love her!

Sad new to report today, though: Bala B died. Yesterday he was looking great. He was swimming around his breeder and seemed impatient to get out, so I let him out for a test run. He was able to swim around the tank, but still had some buoyancy issues, though less than day 1, so after a couple minutes, I returned him to the breeder. After that, he seemed to tank. He went back to floating upside down, stopped swimming around the breeder, didn't eat dinner last night (he'd started eating again on Wednesday night), and had passed away this morning. He was 1.5 yrs old. Raised him from the time he was just 2" long. RIP. Mama bala is still staying by his empty breeder box

Bala A is looking same as always: Fins still moving furiously, but still spending most time upside down and not swimming around much. May have to euthanize him since he doesn't seem to be improving and I worry that he's suffering since I haven't seen him poop (Bala B had started pooping) and he won't eat. Losing two fish in one week is rough
  • #9
I had a female dalmation lyretail molly that went through this. It came on all of a sudden one day and she was swimming nose down and in circles. She was the only one doing this so I didn't think it was a parasite. I gave her peas as described above but I also worried about her having trouble eating it. She was like this for about two days. While I didn't see her eat the peas, she starting swimming better around the third day and is now fine. I'm now working in peas here and there into the diet.

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