Help! My Goldfish is Upside Down!

An upside-down goldfish can be quickly mistaken for a dead goldfish, but if you double check and see movement, your goldfish probably has Swim Bladder Disorder (also known as flipover disease, floating disease, constipation and swim bladder disease).  Swim Bladder Disorder is not actually a disease, but it is a symptom of another problem.  We are going to explore what its causes are and how to “cure” it so your goldfish can right itself and get happily swimming again.

Swim Bladder Disease: What is it?

The swim bladder is the organ that controls a fish’s orientation in the water.  Normally, goldfish control their ability to sink or float by taking in more air into their swim bladder (allowing them to float higher in the water) or release air from their swim bladder (allowing them to sink down further in the water).  This ability becomes impaired when something is not right with that organ.  Goldfish that are having swim bladder difficulties often:

  • Float upside down at the surface of the water
  • Are unable to rise from the bottom of the tank
  • “Log-roll” through the water as they try to swim
  • “List” to one side

Causes of Swim Bladder Disease

Swim bladder disorder occurs when a goldfish becomes constipated.  Constipation in goldfish can be caused by feeding a diet that consists of too much of the same thing – usually flakes – or feeding to much at once.  Ingesting too much air can also lead to buoyancy issues.  Constipation and swim bladder issues in general are relatively common among the fancy goldfish varieties, as their short, compact body has led to the internal organs being “smushed” more than in the longer single-tailed varieties such as the common and comet goldfish.

While it is safe to assume that constipation constitutes as the majority of swim bladder disease related problems, please note that not all buoyancy issues are dietary related.  Illness and poor water quality can also lead to the swim bladder functioning incorrectly, but this cannot be solved by feeding modifications.  Bacterial or parasitic infections must be addressed separately.

Treating Swim Bladder Disease

Fortunately for us goldfish owners (and for our fish), treating swim bladder disease is relatively simple when it is caused by constipation and/or ingested air.  Feeding de-shelled, dethawed, finely chopped frozen peas has been the reliable method of remedy.  They serve as a laxitive and help to remove blockage quickly.  Lowering the water level of the tank for a temporary time can help relieve extra water pressure on the fish and make swimming less difficult as well.  Within a few days, the fish should be able to right itself again and be swimming happily as it did before.  Swim bladder disorder is not contagious to other fish in the tank, so don’t fret, but other fish in the tank that have been fed a similar diet might also show signs of it.

Preventing Future Swim Bladder Disorders

The most important thing you can do to prevent your goldfish from coming down with swim bladder disease is to feed them a good, varied diet.  Feeding a diet of flakes every night will inevitably lead to swim bladder, so you will want to break it up.  Flakes are helpful to have on hand, but it’s probably not a good idea to feed them very frequently.  When you do feed your goldfish flakes, you will want to pre-soak them in tank water before administering them to avoid having your goldfish swallow extra air.  In fact, soaking most dry foods is a good idea and can help fancy goldfish digest easier.  Vegetables are also a very good food to feed, as they do not cause swim bladder.