Fish Bloat, Diagnoses and Treatment

- By DVRoss, updated by Kmuda

There has been a lot of contradictory information given regarding the treatment for bloating in fish. Bloating may be caused by a number of reasons:

Causes of Bloat

Egg-binding

This is where a female is unable or unwilling to expel the eggs. Usually the eggs are absorbed back into the body. Other symptoms are lethargy, rapid breathing and general loss of appetite. Epsom salts can help the fish absorb the eggs but in severe cases an antibiotic may be required if the eggs have decomposed and caused a bacterial infection. (See Epsom Salt treatment or Antibiotic Treatment.)

Intestinal blockage (constipation)

Due to constipation, gasses can build up inside the fish's stomach or intestines and cause the fish to bloat or lose equilibrium. If this is the cause, a change in diet is required including more variety and roughage. This is usually the cause of “Boring Diet Syndrome” and an excess of starchy foods.

Internal bacterial infection

In most cases this is characterized as a gram-negative bacterial infection. The best results can be garnered by using a broad spectrum “gram-negative” antibiotic. Egg-binding can also lead to an internal bacterial infection. (See below for antibacterial treatments.)

Swim bladder disorder

This can be characterized by the fish having a general buoyancy problem. You may observe the fish floating at the surface and being unable to stay at the bottom of the tank without considerable effort. The fish may also swim with its head pointed downwards or even appear as if it is standing on its head with its nose planted in the gravel. In severe cases the fish may even swim inverted.

Intestinal Parasite

Amongst African enthusiasts, this is considered a leading candidate for the cause of bloat in African cichlids. Symptoms are very similar (if not the same) as those of us that keep South American cichlids commonly diagnose as “Hex”. Treatment is generally the same as Hex, using metronidazole, and in extreme cases, using Clout.

Treatments

From my personal experience I always try the least invasive method of treatment first before resorting to any harsher methods. That said I will always assume an intestinal blockage before a bacterial infection unless there is overwhelming evidence to the contrary, and a bacterial infection before egg-binding unless the female is a known layer who is suspected as withhold the expulsion of her eggs. Below are the most common treatments for the symptoms and ailments described above:

Epsom Salt Treatment

Quickest Cure:

Feed a shelled pea. Peas are natural laxatives for fish. You may want to slightly blanch or microwave the peas for a few seconds to soften them up and remove the shell.

Quick Cure:

Feed a pea with a crystal of Epsom salts (magnesium sulfate) in it to the fish. Epsom salts is a purgative. If that doesn't purge the fish, use one of the expanded methods below. Ammonia levels must be watched carefully.

Short Dip:

In a large container filled with water from your aquarium, add 1 tablespoon Epsom salts per gallon (this keeps water temperature constant for the initial part of the bath. Swim the fish in this solution for 1/4 to 1/2 hour or until stress shows or feces are released. Top the water up in the fish's usual container with dechlorinated water and return the fish to it. Change the water in about an hour to remove any feces and residual salts. Repeat daily until fish shows signs of recovery. Check for signs of bacterial infection or parasites for further treatment.

Medium Term Bath:

1 tablespoon Epsom salt per 5g, repeated every day for 3 days. Up the temperature to between 82 and 86 degrees Fahrenheit and monitor for two weeks. Increase aeration or surface agitation during this time of offset the lack of oxygen in the water due to the high temperatures. During this procedure do not feed. After the fish has recovered - feed a more varied diet including live foods as much as possible (crickets, earthworms, bloodworms, etc.) Check for signs of bacterial infection or parasites for further treatment.

Long Term Bath:

Add 1/8 teaspoon of Epsom salt for every 5 gallons of water. Up the temperature to between 82 and 86 degrees Fahrenheit and monitor for two weeks. Increase aeration or surface agitation during this time of offset the lack of oxygen in the water due to the high temperatures. Check for signs of bacterial infection or parasites for further treatment

Antibiotic Treatment

Some of the best medications for treating for bacterial infections contributing to swim-bladder disorders and internal infections resulting from decomposing eggs in egg-bound females are listed below:

Nitrofuran (also known as Furan.)

Remove activated carbon, increase aeration during treatment, WILL AFFECT BIOLOGICAL FILTER - use of a quarantine tank is suggested.

Kanamycin Sulfate (Kanamycin, Kanacyn.)

Not for use with ornamental fish, remove activated carbon, increase aeration during treatment, WILL AFFECT BIOLOGICAL FILTER - use of a quarantine tank is suggested.

Kmuda note: SeaChem KanaPlex does not impact the biological filter, or at least has not impacted biofiltration when I've used it in over filtered tanks.

Maracyn-2.

Safe for biological filter - 5 day treatment, increase aeration during treatment.

African Bloat

If none of the above applies and you came across this article while searching for bloat related to African Cichlids, instead of recreating the information, I recommend you review the following link for the authority on the subject:

http://www.cichlid-forum.com/articles/malawi_bloat.php