Swim Bladder Disease

Other than constipated goldfish, “swim bladder disease” is a very common home diagnosis. Or the more common vernacular, “My fish has swim bladder.”

Well, all fish have swim bladders, so that fact is correct, but it is not a disease. “Swim bladder disease” is most common in goldfish and koi, with a high percentage in fancy varieties of goldfish. For 99% of koi, swim bladder disease is caused by poor water quality. I have had one case of actual swim bladder disease in ONE case, shown below.

For this koi, her swim bladder is full of an sterile, non-cellular fluid. We don’t know why this happened, but it causes her to scoot around on her belly. But this is our ONE case of an actual swim bladder issue in a koi. We have had two instances of koi with tertiary swim bladders, but not causing any clinical signs.

For goldfish, 90% of our “swim bladder” cases are lethargy secondary to poor water quality. Most of our actual swim bladder cases are fancy goldfish with most likely structural deficiencies. We’ve illustrated this point previously with our case on red moor, Huxley. Compare this comet x-ray below…

To these fancy goldfish…

Goldfish are supposed to have a two chambered swim bladder, but due to their anatomy, these fancy varieties have limited space in their coelomic cavities. This sets them up for buoyancy issues from birth.

Goldfish and koi are also physostomous fish, meaning that they inflate their swim bladders by having a pneumatic duct between their esophagus and swim bladder. When they eat at the surface, it encourages air to enter the swim bladder. This is the main reason we see swim bladder issues. Goldfish are voracious eaters and if too much air gets sucked in, they can have positive buoyancy issues.

Fish with negative buoyancy may not have enough room in their body to support a larger swim bladder. However, being negatively buoyant is much safer than positively buoyant. Fish stuck at the surface are prone to air ulcerations where the skin starts to break down by being exposed to long periods of air.

External floats, such as those praised on YouTube, must be designed with the fish’s external surface in mind. Anything that rubs up against the skin will disrupt the protective mucus coat and cause secondary infection. Any float attachment will be TEMPORARY. We only apply them to get fish the surface to naturally inflate their swim bladder. We can take air out surgically, but we cannot add it in case the swim bladder ruptures.

If your fish is showing signs of negative or positive buoyancy, CHECK YOUR WATER QUALITY FIRST. Only 10% of our goldfish cases are primarily caused by the swim bladder. The other 90% are water quality, diet, maintenance or bullying/trauma. Do NOT add a float without proper surgical prep in order to minimize infection.

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5 Tricks to Healthy Fish

5 Tricks to Healthy Fish

5 Tricks to Healthy Fish

Directly from our veterinary staff!

Water Quality

The #1 thing you can do to keep your fish healthy is to have good, clean water. You’ve probably heard this before, but we cannot stress this point enough. Think about how the air you breathe can affect your own health. It’s the same for fish, just underwater.

Regular water testing is a simple step to add to your maintenance routine. You should test pH, ammonia, nitrite, nitrate, alkalinity and temperature regularly. Buy a reliable test kit that uses liquid drops, not strips, for the best results.

Buy a test kit here!

Quarantine

Any new fish you bring into your pond has the potential to bring along all of its diseases. In order to protect your established fish, all new additions should be separately quarantined for 4-6 weeks minimum. This will prevent disease spread to your other fish and allow you to treat the new fish specifically. Quarantining will save you time, money and lives. Potentially the lives of all your fish.

Can’t quarantine your fish at home? Send them to our hospital!

Nutrition

Indoor Tanks

Make sure you know what your fish need to be eating! Many specialty foods are available for all types of freshwater and saltwater species. Do your research before purchasing or adopting a new fish and make sure you have their favorite foods at the ready!

Outdoor Ponds

Pick a food for your koi from a reputable company with a good reputation who know their products well. The two main differences in koi foods are growth and maintenance. The temperature of the water in your pond will determine what type of food to feed when. Below 50°-55°F, do not feed your koi. Their metabolism is not high enough to digest anything. Between 55°F and 65°F, feed them a more easily digestible, wheat-germ based diet. Above 65°F, it is okay to feed a higher-protein, growth diet. There are also specialized diets to enhance the color of your koi.

We recommend feeding koi using the 5 Minute Technique. After checking the pond temperature and choosing the appropriate diet, sprinkle a small amount of food and wait for your fish to eat it ALL. Then, sprinkle another small handful and wait for them to eat it all. Continue this for 5 minutes, then stop.

Here are some recommendations:

Cold Weather Diets – 55-65F

Warm Weather Diets – >65F

Recognize Signs of Disease

Since you see your fish every day, you will be the first to notice anything amiss. Maybe one fish doesn’t have the appetite she used to or another who used to be a bully is hanging back at the bottom during feeding time. Sometimes, it’s not the obvious wounds that we get called out for.

Signs of disease can include inappetance, anorexia, lethargy, change in color or behavior. Fish have different personalities that may change upon the addition of new fish to the pond. Stress can cause a lot of problems in koi. Most stress in koi comes from poor water quality!

Don’t Guess! Ask a Fish Vet

Not all fish owners have direct access to a veterinarian specializing in fish, but not you! Dr. Jessie Sanders, chief veterinarian of Aquatic Veterinary Services of Northern California, is a certified aquatic veterinarian through the World Aquatic Veterinary Medical Association. Her mobile clinic brings the full veterinary clinic right to you! Our hospital offers in-house appointments, critical care and boarding.

Any questions you have about any aspect of koi care can be answered promptly and correctly. The next time your fish gets sick, don’t just throw a bunch of treatments at it hoping to correct the unknown problem. Call us and we can schedule a phone consultation or appointment to get to the root of the problem quickly and treat correctly the first time.

Call now to schedule an appointment or phone consultation!

(831) 346-6151