Goldfish Dropsy: Treatment, Causes & How to Identify this Disease

What are the Symptoms of Dropsy in Goldfish?

A goldfish coming down with dropsy will typically start off with increased body swelling, particularly visible behind the head until eventually the whole fish becomes bloated.

Then the characteristic “pineconing” scales appear.

This can be hard to detect with the untrained eye from the side…

… But is VERY apparent from above.

The edges of the scales are lifted and prickle outwards off the fish’s body.

Some may even fall off in patches.

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

Some other symptoms may include septicemia (redness of the fins) due to the internal bacterial infection wrecking havoc on your poor fishy’s body.

A dropsied fish might not always have pineconed scales.  Sometimes it just swells up, usually with bulging eyes.

Egg-binding (what makes the fish look pregnant) does not cause that fluid behind the eyes.

What Causes this Disease?

Let’s get something straight:

Dropsy is caused by the inability of the fish to rid itself of excess fluid (something called osmoregulation).

It is thought that for many cases, dropsy is bacterial in nature.

There are some exceptions, such as if the kidney has been directly injured.

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

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

But why isn’t the fish releasing fluids how it should?

That has to do with the root cause of dropsy.

The bacteria are usually the secondary cause of this disease, rather than the primary.

Is there a Cure?

Part of what makes dropsy so deadly is that by the time the pineconing is discovered, the damage has usually been done and the kidneys are shot.

Organ failure is NOT reversible.

That’s why many fish keepers opt to euthanize their fish once they are at this point, rather than prolong certain death. 🙁

But don’t despair:

There MAY BE HOPE.

If you catch it early enough, there might be hope to get the fish back on track before things get out of hand.

It doesn’t work ALL the time (dropsy is often fatal)…

But it has worked, and may help your fish.

I hope it does 🙂

The Treatment Plan to Follow if Your Fish Has Dropsy

Look:

Many times, I’m all for all-natural methods of treating fish diseases, and find that antibiotics are way too overused to treat problems that don’t need them.

But dropsy is one of those serious conditions that has such high fatality rates that I believe they are warranted.

Sometimes, if it’s caught soon enough… and if the cause is bacterial…

They CAN save the fish when nothing else will.

Note:

Your fish may never be totally the same if it recovers from dropsy, but many owners still want to do whatever it takes to bring back their fish.

  • The combination of Kanaplex and Furan 2 has been able to reverse dropsy in goldfish.  These should be added to the water together.  This is a very strong treatment, but dropsy is aggressive.
  • It is also a good idea to add Epsom salts to the water as well. (use 1/4 tsp per 10 gallons of water.)  This can help to draw the fluid out of the bloated fish.
  • Feeding Metroplex in food by mixing it with Focus is also advised to combat internal infection.
  • Bringing up the heat fast (by 1-2 degree per hour) can harm the bacteria as well.  Hold it there for 2 weeks, then bring it down very slowly (2 degrees per day). Be sure to use an air stone in a hospital tank without a filter for this to keep the water well oxygenated and the fish separate from the others.  A sick fish can infect an entire tank as it spikes the bad bacteria count in the water.
  • Lots of large water changes are important. At least 75% should be removed every 48 hours.

Finally, don’t stress the fish. Keep the lights low and the fish calm. Ensure the water temperature stays stable when doing water changes. Don’t make loud sounds, etc. Anything that causes the fish to act frightened or bothered, avoid. Stress will hinder the fish’s natural immune response which you will be using to your advantage with this treatment.

If all goes well and you have acted in time, you should start seeing major improvement.

Once the treatment is over and the swelling and pineconing symptoms are better and the fish is looking perkier, maintain the large frequent water changes. Continue treating with the Epsom salts. The primary focus should now be on letting the fish heal.

Within another week, your fish should be much better if not healed.

Dropsy can return if the primary cause of dropsy was never addressed or if the fish gets stressed or weakened in any way.  Fancy goldfish are very delicate.

Post-Treatment Care

You (and especiall your fish!) don’t want to go through all of this only to have the dropsy return, sometimes even more severe. 🙁

So you want to make sure that you keep the water quality absolutely perfect during that time – which includes remembering not to overfeed.

As much as you want to spoil your fish for being such a trooper…

…Overfeeding is very dangerous at this point, as your fish is very weakened and vulnerable at this point.

It is recommended to keep the fish in stable, warm water for the rest of its life (75-80 degrees F).

Be sure to feed it a nutritious, non-inflammatory diet such as Azayaka sinking pellets.  Low quality foods that irritate the fish’s digestive system should be avoided.

Tip: supplement with mild, easy to digest foods like frozen peas or soft spinach.

Preventing Goldfish Dropsy

As with most diseases, prevention is far better than trying to try to treat your fish.

Dropsy is usually a condition brought on by something that weakened the fish to begin with.

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

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

I talk more in detail about the 6 causes of dropsy in my book, The Truth About Goldfish, and how you can protect your fish from them to start with.

What do You Think?

Have you ever had success dealing with dropsy in your goldfish?

Did you learn something new in this article?

I’d love to hear about your experiences when you fill out the comment box below.

5 100% from 6 ratings
Rating 5 100%
2018-09-02T23:10:01+00:00

14 Comments

  1. GMD56 February 27, 2018 at 3:33 pm - Reply

    One of my fish (011 a common goldfish) Had Dropsy. I knew about the garlic. I have a 50 Gallon tank for my three goldies and I had to quarentine him in a 5 gallon because thats all I had. I did practicaly everything you said to do here but she died. The next week Mike my comet goldie got it to so I did everything again. He died to. Now I’m left with Lucas my black moor goldie and he is in perfect health. So I wonder: why didn’t he get it? did I not catch it in time? how could I prevent this from happening again?

    Thanks in advance.

    Rating: 5
    • Pure Goldfish
      Pure Goldfish March 4, 2018 at 11:00 pm - Reply

      Sorry to hear about your losses. Dropsy is usually terminal by the time it is detected. Did you recently get new fish?

  2. Gabriella January 7, 2019 at 9:56 pm - Reply

    I was just wondering, is irratic swimming, clumsy swimming and laying at the bottom of the tank symptoms of dropsy because I’m not sure if my fantail goldfish has swim bladder or dropsy.

    Also, can the API aquatic salt help to treat it?

    Rating: 4
    • Pure Goldfish
      Pure Goldfish January 7, 2019 at 10:21 pm - Reply

      Only if the fish has bloating and/or pineconing could that be assumed. Regular aquarium salt is useless in treating Dropsy.

  3. Nat January 27, 2019 at 3:06 am - Reply

    I treated my Panda Moore with dropsy lasy year and he survived
    But i noticed yesterday he was sick again a year later
    I am doing the same treatment of antibiotics
    Green malachite and salt for a week and yes he has been moved to a hospital tank with lots of air i feed my gold fish fresh cooked peas daily i have had this tank fir seven years hes a fighter of a fish and i really hope he will come back to normal again he already is swimming better
    I found your column and think its really informative
    Thank you if you can add anything more than appreciated
    Cheers

    Rating: 5
    • Pure Goldfish
      Pure Goldfish January 29, 2019 at 12:34 am - Reply

      Hoping he pulls through, Nat!

  4. Logan February 18, 2019 at 5:19 am - Reply

    We have a large Red Sea Max with Goldie’s and one of our youngest of the tribe Ash, only 4 years old, just started pineconing today. Luckily I have furan2 and epsom salt on hand so he’s already in a hospital tank, dosed with the temp raising to 80°, filters removed and a black shirt over the tank to lesson the light noise.

    Over the past 8 years I’ve dealt with Ich, bacterial and fungal infections including one case of fin rot and prior to these guys a case of Culumnaris that destroyed my entire tank… but never Dropsy. Hoping for the best and will let you know how Ash progresses.

    • Pure Goldfish
      Pure Goldfish February 18, 2019 at 5:42 pm - Reply

      Keep up posted, Logan!

  5. Logan February 19, 2019 at 6:32 pm - Reply

    Day 3, no improvement. Going to do a 75% water change this evening then redose with furan and epsom. He “seems” active and content yet he is visibly engorged and scales are pineconing.

    Rating: 5
    • Pure Goldfish
      Pure Goldfish February 20, 2019 at 4:56 pm - Reply

      Active is a good sign, hopefully she’ll pull through!

  6. Cat February 21, 2019 at 6:15 am - Reply

    Thank you so much for this article! Are injuries, or sores along the lateral line common when a fish has dropsy? My fish has been floating for about a week, and I thought it was just swim bladder, but then I noticed some small sores all along the lateral line. As of this morning I thought that a few of his scales looked just a bit pointy from above.

    I have kanaplex and focus so I started treatment this morning, but I’m not totally sure that this is dropsy.

    Rating: 5
    • Pure Goldfish
      Pure Goldfish February 22, 2019 at 6:58 pm - Reply

      Yes, they show up if a fish is really stressed. It could be the start of the disease.

  7. Mark March 1, 2019 at 8:25 pm - Reply

    Thanks for the great information. I realise this is a goldfish forum but I had a guppy with bloated belly but couldn’t see any pineconing from top or sides. Fish stores said looks like constipation (I never saw him poop while he had it also). I gave epsom salt baths and fed peas and fasted for few days but nothing helped at all and he finally started to sit on bottom of tank before he died after 9 days. We had another guppy which was inseparable from him and the second one would sit near the sick one to keep it company. On the morning that the sick one died, the other healthy one immediately keeled over and died too. Our water parameters are always good. With weekly water changes. No changes to tank stocking and other species in tank are fine. I didn’t have a hospital tank but will have for future. Do you think it was constipation or infection? Also, do you think other fish died of shock since it had no symptoms at all and seemed healthy until morning of sick fishes death?

    Rating: 5
    • Pure Goldfish
      Pure Goldfish March 4, 2019 at 5:35 pm - Reply

      It does sound like some infectious bacterial issue.

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