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The Most Common Goldfish Illnesses

Updated on January 9, 2014

Swim Bladder Disorder

Ever notice your chubby little friend sometimes floats upside-down uncontrollably? Or maybe you're reading this because you are worried he's going to kick the bucket.

Fortunately, your goldfish just had a little too much to drink (air, that is)

It is called swim bladder disorder, and they don't usually die from it. When your friend goes up for food and instead gets a mouth-full of air, it accumulates in his system and eventually causes him to have some motor issues. If you notice your fish is floating upside down, swimming sideways, or unable to swim around in the tank, he likely has a problem with his swim bladder.

This disorder appears most often in fancy goldfish, as they already have odd body shapes.

According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, the swim bladder is an organ found in most fish. It is a sac-like expansion of a digestive canal. The swim bladder is filled with oxygen and allows the fish to float upright in water and conserve energy, as it does not have to keep swimming to stay afloat in water.

There are two known causes of swim bladder disorder, the first is an abnormal intake of air that deforms the swim bladder, causing the fish to be unable to keep an upright position. The second cause is due to constipation, which causes unwanted pressure on the swim bladder.

Sinking Goldfish Food - Perfect for Preventing Swim Bladder Problems
Sinking Goldfish Food - Perfect for Preventing Swim Bladder Problems | Source

What To Do About It

There are a few steps that can be taken if you do not know what is causing the issue.

First: Get some peas, frozen or canned, and remove the skin. then cut up pieces small enough and get the poor guy to eat it. The fiber in the peas allow any constipation to pass, helping the fish cleanse his system and relieve the pressure if constipation is the problem.

Second: Stop feeding for one to three days, depending on their size. Smaller fish tend to clear the problem faster than larger ones. The reason to stop feeding periodically, especially if they are fed floating food, is because fish intake more air when eating food from the top of the tank.

Be sure to buy some sinking goldfish pellets. This way the fish can consume less air and stay busy finding the food longer.

Try Tetra Color Fin Sinking Granules, sold at Petco.

And finally, don't panic. The fish may remain this way for a few days before returning to normal. Allow the fish to rest, but please, do not remove him from his tank or separate him from others! This may cause more stress on him and make him feel even worse, especially if moved to different water. Recovery will take longer if the fish is distressed.

Red sores and missing scales on Gravy's side
Red sores and missing scales on Gravy's side
Swollen side
Swollen side

Pop Eye and Dropsy

If you notice something strange with your goldfish's eye, it is important to take action quickly. Pop eye is distinguished by the protrusion of the eye socket and discoloration. This is a sign of a pending bacterial infection (Dropsy).

Dropsy is a buildup of fluid in the fish's body. Some symptoms include pop eye, protruding scales, weight gain, and lethargy. This is commonly fatal, but can be treated if caught in time.

The video below includes instructions on how to treat dropsy and which medications to purchase.


My fantail goldfish, Gravy, recently developed dropsy. Unfortunately his best friend (Biscuits) passed away while I was on vacation (he had a vacation feeder) and I suspect it was due to dropsy as his belly was rather large, and I mistook it for overfeeding. Biscuit's scales did not raise up and he had no physical signs of the infection except a large belly, so be sure to take action when seeing this sign.

I am currently treating Gravy and so far have seen minor improvement, I have my fingers crossed. His treatment includes 1/4 teaspoon of epsom salt for the swelling and regular doses of Maracyn Two. I have heard a few success stories of treating with this medication, however I do not recommend using generic bacterial medicines like Melafix, as they are not quite strong enough. I bought Maracyn Two at Petsmart for just under ten dollars.

I also added a small heater to raise the temperature, right now it is at 72 degrees and I am trying to raise it up to 80.

How to Treat Dropsy

Color Changes

When your goldfish changes colors, this can either be harmless or a sign of disease or illness.

Reason 1: Genetics play a role in color. Black moors are known to turn gold (partially or completely). Some white goldfish will turn completely white. Usually this is not an issue, but if it accompanies lethargy it needs to be addressed.

Reason 2: Bullying. Sometimes goldfish do not play nice and can causes "bruises" on each other. Usually if your fish are fighting or chasing each other around during feeding time this means the tank is overcrowded. Goldfish tend to get rather large and need at least a 20 gallon or larger tank. It is possible to keep them in a 10 gallon for the beginning of their life, though probably not recommended. If they are not moved to a larger tank, their organs may outgrow their body and they will not live as long as they should.

Reason 3: Serious illness. If they are sick, they will likely show those signs of lethargy. At this point you need to check for any physical deformities or swelling. If there are none, it may be a parasite, usually accompanies by a slime coat. The video below has more information about parasites.

Goldfish Parasite Signs

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