I may have a swim bladder issue on my hands... input please!


In the last month 3 of my fish have died, and I suspect it may be caused by swim bladder. My bolivian ram,which I've had for over a year, died suddenly. It seemed to have lost it's buoyancy and was stuck to the bottom one day, and even getting blown about by the current. After about a day, it swelled up a bit and died.

Then my beloved female praecox rainbow died... I've only had her for a few months along with a male. After a routine water change a few weeks ago, she started to hang out toward the surface of the water, and it looked like she was really laboring to swim or breathe. At first I wondered if she was maybe looking to spawn. After about a week she started to act normal again, but was soon back to the surface. My water test seemed pretty fine, except nitrate was around 60, so I did another water change. (The other parameters looked fine: ammonia and nitrite at 0, pH at 8, and GH around 160... I've been wondering about adjusting the pH and hardness, but the overwhelming advice I receive says to just leave it be.) Eventually her tail started to droop down, and then over a few days she sank all the way to the bottom of the tank and died.

The last fish that died was a fire ember tetra (I've had for about a year), which wasn't too much of a surprise. I started to notice a bulging on its belly for weeks, then it became really lethargic and hiding out in the leaves of some plants. It swelled up like a balloon for a couple days, then shrank back in size, and I found it dead the other day.

My only guess is that there was a swim bladder issue going around. At the moment, all my other fish look and act fairly normal (except my male praecox rainbow does occasionally hang out at the surface of the water). I don't know much about the causes and treatments of swim bladder. I was considering adding some catappa leaves to my tank because of their antifungal properties, and maybe they will lower my pH slightly.

Any advice is appreciated!

Rose of Sharon


I can fill you in on some causes of swim bladder issues. One common cause is constipation. When the fish is constipated, the internal organs press against the swim bladder, and makes it hard to control the air that is taken in and let out of the body.

Another cause may be an internal infection, which will in turn affect the swim bladder.

Changes in temperature can affect the digestive process, and can cause swim bladder issues. (you didn't mention the temp of your tank)

Internal parasites can also cause swim bladder issues.

Treatments, depending on the cause, can range from fasting for a few days, and then feeding something like daphnia - a food that acts like a laxative.

And then there's antibiotics for the possible internal infection, or a med that treats internal parasites if that is the cause.

For temp changes, ususally that works itself out when the water temp is normalized, and fish have time to adequately digest their food.

Sometimes it is good to lower the water level if the fish are having a hard time swimming up to get food.

For cases of constipation, you can also try epsom salt baths, which will also act like a laxative, and help to bring down the swelling in the belly. For this, you will need pure unscented epsom salts with no additives. You should give the bath in a separate container; it does not go into the tank.

Catappa leaves will slightly and slowly lower the ph.

It's weird how the tetra's belly was swollen, then went back to normal, and then died.

Are you seeing/did you see any pineconing of scales when you look down at them from above? (possible dropsy) That would account for the breathing issues in the Bolivian ram.

Have you added any new fish to the tank recently?


Just wanted to add that the IALs likely won't lower your pH at all with water that hard. The tannic acid is super weak and imo not very effective as an antimicrobial. Your pH and hardness would not have caused the swim bladder issues so no need to try to lower it. Although, your nitrates are a little high so you might want to consider doing much larger and more frequent WCs to lower them and keep them low.

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