It sounds old-fashioned, but dropsy is a common problem in modern fish tanks. An antiquated medical term for a fish health issue that is probably more accurately described as swelling or edema, dropsy causes the inflammation of the soft tissues in a fish’s stomach or similar body cavity.
Caused by an accumulation of fluids, dropsy is a phrase that comes from the Middle English word dropesie, which translates roughly to hydrops in Greek. And what does this mean? Water.
Although you may panic if you realize your fish has dropsy, there are luckily many steps you can take to eliminate it from your tank. While this condition is not one that affects humans, it’s very common in freshwater aquariums – therefore, there is a lot that you can do to help get rid of it.
What Is Dropsy?
Dropsy is a health issue among aquarium fish. This causes your fish to have massive, swollen stomachs, and it can cause serious bloating and lethargy. This disease is common among immune-compromised fish, and is most easily detected when you notice a fish that seems to have a belly that is literally dropping down.
While any fish can possess the bacteria that cause dropsy, healthy fish rarely succumb to its symptoms. Usually, fish are only susceptible when their immune system has become compromised by some other form of stress.
Therefore, if one fish has dropsy, it’s likely that all of your fish will fall ill – stress-inducing conditions, like over- or under-feeding or poor water quality, usually affect all the fish in your tank.
However, if you are able to take quick, effective action to reduce the spread and impact of this disease, you can prevent it from becoming a more serious problem in your tank.
What Causes Dropsy?
Dropsy is caused by a bacterium known as Aeromonas. This bacteria is very common, and is known as a gram-negative bacteria that can be found in most aquarium habitats. It does not react to a gram-staining procedure of identification.
This bacteria can cause serious infection in fish that already have compromised immune systems. Usually, this will happen as the result of stress from conditions like poor water quality, spikes in nitrite or ammonia, poor nutrition, transportation stress, aggressive or predatory tankmates, or the introduction of new species.
While short-term stress usually does not cause the immune systems of your fish to become compromised, left untreated, the stress can become so severe that your fish struggles to fight off any kind of illness.
What Are The Symptoms Of Dropsy?
Dropsy displays several symptoms on your fish. Usually, you will notice skin lesions as the stomach becomes filled with fluids and swells. Eventually, if left untreated, dropsy can damage the internal organs of your fish. It can lead to death if left untreated, and unfortunately, the mortality rate for this illness is high – even after treatment, in some cases.
Dropsy can be tough to treat, but if you catch it while your fish is in the earliest stages of infection, your chances of beating it will be better.
The symptoms of this disease can vary substantially among a population of fish. While some fish will have a swollen belly, others might have skin lesions – in some cases, your fish may not show any symptoms at all. This is what makes diagnosing dropsy so difficult.
These symptoms can occur together or one at a time as the disease progresses. Often, internal organs, like the kidney and liver, begins to shut down as the disease becomes more severe. You may notice that your fish become anemic and their gills can lose their normal coloration. Organs can be pushed aside as the stomach fills with fluid, which is what causes the curved spine and protruding scales. These last couple of symptoms are signs of a very severe infection.
How Can I Treat Dropsy?
Dropsy can be treated in your fish tank, but know that this will not necessarily be easy to do. There are some aquarium experts who recommend euthanizing infected fish to avoid spreading the disease to your healthy fish. However, if you are able to spot symptoms of the infection early on, you may be able to save your affected fish.
Treatment will need to alleviate these symptoms if your fish and also remove the underlying issue. To start with, you should move the infected fish to a separate tank. There, you will need to add a teaspoon of salt for every gallon of water you have in the separate tank. Supply your fish with fresh, nutrient-dense foods, and treat him with antibiotics.
The most important step in this process is moving your infected fish to a new tank. This will keep the old tank healthy for your remaining fish. Make sure you perform a water change on the original tank and keep an eye on your other fish while you are treating your sick individual – you will want to be aware of any changes in their appearance or demeanor so that you can isolate them if they fall ill, oto.
You should continue adding salt once a week to the treatment tank, and make sure you keep it immaculate. Weekly water changes are necessary as well. Often, this kind of treatment is enough to treat a case that is not too far gone – but you will want to keep the sick fish under observation for a few weeks until you are sure the symptoms will not reappear.
In some cases, you may need to treat your fish with antibiotics. Broad-spectrum antibiotics are recommended, such as Maracyn-Two. You may need to invest in a full 10-day course for full treatment.
How Can Dropsy Be Prevented In The Future?
As with most diseases that can befall the fish in your home aquarium, prevention is always more effective than treatment. You need to make sure that stress is reduced so that your fish are not susceptible to infection. Poor water quality is the most common cause of this disease, so maintaining your tank and keeping it super clean are the most effective steps you can take to prevent illness.
You should perform regular water changes and keep your tank clean by changing the filter on a regular basis. Avoid overcrowding your tank and do not overfeed fish. Any foods that are not eaten within five minutes of feeding your fish should be removed so that they do not contaminate the tank. In addition, you should not feed your fish expired food.
A varied diet can help prevent disease, too, as it will improve your fish’s immune functioning. Depending on the type of fish you have, you should offer unique foods that have the nutrients your fish needs to stay healthy. Do not rely singularly on one type of fish food, but instead feed your fish a wide variety of foods to keep him or her healthy.
Avoid feeding only one type of food – like flakes or pellets – and instead offer occasional treats in the form of live or frozen meats or vegetables (again, depending on the specific dietary requirements of your fish species). Only feed the amount that your fish can eat in a few minutes, and make sure the food is broken down into chunks that are manageable for your fish to eat depending on the size of his or her mouth.