Aquarium Fish Diseases

Dropsy in Goldfish

But what is dropsy of thecolored fish? And most importantly: Is there a cure? Read on to find out!

We continue with our series on goldfish care, we continue to focus on the important issue of feeding our pet. We have already talked about Goldfish Feeding, the Best Gel Food For Goldfish and now we are going to delve into dropsy in carassius auratus.

What are the symptoms of dropsy in goldfish?

A goldfish suffering from dropsy usually begins with a progressive swelling of the body, particularly visible behind the head, until eventually the entire fish swells.

Then the characteristic “pine” scales appear. This can be hard to spot to the untrained eye from the side, but is VERY apparent from above.

The edges of the scales are raised and point away from the body of the fish. Some may even fall off.

In advanced cases, the eyes may bulge due to the large amount of fluid pushing behind them.

Some other symptoms may include septicemia (red fins) due to internal bacterial infection wreaking havoc on the body of the poor fish.

A fish with dropsy does not always have “pine scales”. Sometimes it just swells up, and it shows with bulging eyes.

The joining of the eggs (which makes the fish look pregnant) does not cause that fluid behind the eyes.

What causes this disease?

Dropsy is caused by the fish’s inability to get rid of excess fluid (something called osmoregulation). It is believed that for many cases, dropsy is bacterial in nature.

There are some exceptions, such as when the kidney has been directly damaged.

Some conditions that lead to dropsy may include poor water quality or secondary infection after stress. This is because the bad bacteria that cause dropsy love dirty conditions and can only attack fish with the help of one or both factors.

The bacteria can invade the body of the fish while it is weakened and destroy an internal organ such as the kidney, which regulates the fluid balance in the body.

But why don’t fish release fluids as they should? That has to do with the main cause of dropsy. Sometimes bacteria are the secondary cause of this disease, instead of the primary one.

Is there a cure?

Part of what makes dropsy so deadly is that by the time symptoms are discovered, the damage has already been done and the kidneys are destroyed.

Organ failure is NOT reversible. This is why many fish keepers choose to euthanize their fish once they are at this point, rather than prolong certain death.

But do not despair, there may be hope.

If you catch it early enough, there may be hope that the fish will get back on their way before things get out of hand.

It doesn’t always work, dropsy is usually fatal, but sometimes it has worked and maybe it can help your fish.

I hope it works

The treatment plan to follow if your fish has dropsy

Many times, I am in favor of all-natural methods of treating fish diseases, and find that antibiotics are overused to treat problems that don’t need them.

But dropsy is one of those serious diseases that has such a high mortality rate that I think it’s justified.

Sometimes, if caught early enough and if the cause is bacterial, they CAN save fish when nothing else will.

You have to keep in mind that your fish may never be quite the same if it recovers from dropsy, but many aquarists still want to do whatever it takes to save the lives of their fish.

  • The combination of Kanaplex and Furan 2 has been able to reverse dropsy in goldfish. These must be added to the water together. This is a very strong treatment, but dropsy is aggressive.
  • It’s also a good idea to add Epsom salts to the water. (Use 1/4 teaspoon per 10 gallons of water.) This can help draw fluid out of bloated fish.
  • Feeding the Metroplex food mixed with Focus is also advisable to combat internal infection.
  • Increasing the heat rapidly (1 to 2 degrees per hour) can also harm bacteria. Keep it there for 2 weeks, then lower it very slowly (2 degrees per day). Be sure to use an air stone in a hospital tank without a filter, to keep the water well-oxygenated and the fish separated from others. One sick fish can infect an entire tank as it increases the number of bad bacteria in the water.
  • Many large changes in the water are important. At least 75% must be removed every 48 hours.

Lastly, don’t stress the fish. Keep the lights low and the fish calm. Make sure the water temperature remains stable when you make changes to the water. Don’t make loud sounds, etc. Avoid anything that makes the fish scared or upset.

Stress will hamper the fish’s natural immune response, which you will use to your advantage with this treatment.

If all goes well and you have acted on time, you should start to see a big improvement.

Once the treatment is over and the symptoms of bloating and «pine-tree» scales have improved and the fish appears more lively, keep up the frequent large water changes.

Continue treatment with Epsom salts. The main focus should now be on letting the fish heal. Within a week the fish should be much better if it hasn’t healed.

Dropsy can return if the main cause of the dropsy was never treated or if the fish becomes stressed or weakened in some way. Goldfish are very delicate.

What if this treatment doesn’t work?

There are times when fish are treated with antibiotics for dropsy but do not respond.

In this case this means that the underlying cause of the dropsy could be something like organ failure, or even antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

Antibiotic-resistant bacteria can be mycobacteria (for example, fish tuberculosis), bacteria that are very difficult to kill with conventional treatments and can spread to infect entire systems.

I recently came across a case of a fish that didn’t respond to antibiotic treatment, so I’ll share what we did next:

  • We first moved the fish to a 15 liter bucket with an air stone to make the water change easier.
  • We then dosed the water with 1/4 teaspoon of colloidal silver diluted to 10ppm every time a water change was done (which was 100% twice a day, once in the morning and once at night). Colloidal silver has been shown in studies to be effective against mycobacteria.
  • We gave the fish daily sunbaths in the bucket with the air stone outside. We used a thermometer to make sure the temperature didn’t rise more than 2 degrees. UV light is deadly to these types of bacteria. For sunbathing, we made sure the fish could go in a shaded area if it wanted to, but we tried to keep it in direct sun most of the time.
  • We also feed live earthworms and sun-dried krill to improve nutrition.

We continued this protocol while he was sick. The fish has shown significant improvement and is back to looking and acting more like its old self.

I am very happy because I was sure that I was going to lose this fish.

We finally decided to buy a UV sterilizer for the aquarium because we want to keep that bacteria out of the water and protect the other fish from infection.

I’m not saying this is the cure-all, by any means. But it might be worth a try for you.

Care after treatment

I am sure you and especially your fish do not want to go through all this only for the dropsy to come back, sometimes even more severe.

So make sure you maintain absolutely perfect water quality, which includes remembering not to overfeed. As much as you want to reward your goldfish for being a fighter, overfeeding is very dangerous right now, as your fish are very weak and vulnerable right now.

It is recommended to keep the fish in stable and warm water for the rest of its life (24-26ºC). UV sterilization is also a very good idea.

Make sure you feed him a nutritious, non-inflammatory diet. Low-quality feeds that irritate the fish’s digestive system should be avoided.
Supplement with bland, easy-to-digest foods like frozen peas or mushy spinach.

Prevention of dropsy in goldfish

As with most diseases, prevention is much better than trying to treat the fish. Dropsy is usually a condition caused by something that weakened the fish to begin with.

There are actually many different causes of dropsy, and eliminating them can go a long way in keeping your aquarium safe from this threat.

I also recommend always using a beneficial bacteria treatment in the water to keep bad bacteria, including those that cause dropsy, to a minimum.

What do you think?

Have you had success treating dropsy in your goldfish? Did you learn something new in this article? I’d love to hear your experiences when you fill in the comment box below.

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