Diagnose and treat dropsy

Dropsy and malawi bloat


These are usually considered to be one and the same thing by most fish keepers.
The cause is not entirely known and may actually have more than one cause. It is thought to be caused by possibly a virus, bacteria or parasite in the intestines. This then spreads and has an effect on the wider internals of the fish.

Diagnose dropsy

Symptoms include a swollen body, protruding scales(pine cone effect), pale and stringy faeces. This is because of an accumulation of fluid in the fish’s body. The fish will stop eating, darken in colour and may develop pop-eyes where the eyes will bulge out and swell.

Treatment for dropsy

Because of the uncertain cause of this disease, it is difficult to treat. Many fish die once they have this, even with treatment. The best treatment is to separate the affected fish to a hospital tank and treat the fish with a broad-spectrum antibiotic. Try some methylene blue and malachite green. Also add in Epsom salts, which will help release fluid build-up. Do not feed the fish for a week. It probably won’t eat anyway. Then see if the condition improves. If it doesn’t improve then it is better to euthanise the fish than to let it continue to suffer.

If the fish recovers from dropsy, it does not mean that the fish is totally cured. You then have to maintain a healthy environment for a period of 3-6 months, feeding quality live food during the following months. This period is needed for the fish to repair any internal damage to vital organs and will be susceptible to dropsy re-occurring. Only then can the fish be considered as cured.

3 thoughts on “Diagnose and treat dropsy”

  1. Hello…I live in Scotland where the winter air temperature has varied between -7.4c to +10c…. I disconnected my UV filtration last November… I have tried to keep my 60gal outdoor pond at around +4c (although it has dropped to +2.9c)….aerated and with normal water parameters…My two 10 year old Pearl Shubunkins (Mungo and Saddle) have never had any health problems until now when I noticed, back in January that one of them (Mungo) looked fatter than usual..They are both big chunky fish, about 5” body length, however, I have been told by many of my ‘fishy’ friends this could be ‘dropsy’…Since then, I have read so many articles on dropsy I am now confused! Are his slightly raised scales normal because he is a pearl calico….. Due to the cold weather the fish have been in a state of torpor so it is very difficult to ascertain their movements, but when there has been a ‘mild’ spell (pond water 5c) they have been slowly shoaling together but not eating….I stopped feeding in December but there is some algae in the pond to sustain them……. In the last 9 weeks since i noticed this ‘bloat’, I have treated the pond with 2 six day doses of Melafix and one seven day course of anti-bacterial remedy….I have also on ‘mild’ days when water temp. is about 5c done at least four Epson Salts baths on ‘Mungo’ at weekly intervals…….After his last bath a week ago, I noticed a dark stringy excrement coming from his vent (? poo) I am now wondering if the problem, after nearly 11 weeks is just constipation or was this stuff some sort of parasitic worm…..I bought oil of cloves weeks ago but I don’t want to euthanize him unnecessarily! Your article has given me some hope…I have just purchased Anti Internal Bacteria treatment but now wonder if using this is necessary……This sunny morning Mungo has surfaced to the top of the pond…..He is still swollen and his scales remain slightly raised, but not as ‘pinecone’ as showing in many of the ‘gold’ fish photos on line. As I have already said, I don’t want to euthanise but I also don’t like to think my fish is suffering…Please please HELP!

    • It most probably is dropsy. The trouble with winter temperature variations is that a slightly warmer spell might provoke the fish to eat. And if it is followed by a cold snap the food might still be in the fish’s intestine and move very slowly and rotting in the fish’s stomach and cause problems. The raised scale is dropsy. It is possible to save a fish with dropsy, but most people including vet’s do not have the necessary skill to do so. His stringy excrement may be a good sign that he has released trapped food. In the future do not feed your fish with anything except green vegetable matter when the water temperatures drop even when they are still feeding.

    • But remember a lot of fish antibiotics have become useless because bacteria have become resistant so you may have to vary the type of antibiotic. The cases of success against dropsy have involved the use of very fine needles and the injection of antibiotic into the affected area. I have also heard of people tapping off and releasing the excess fluid.

      When you say pearl calico. I hope you don’t mean pearl-scale fish as these fish are not outdoor fish during the winter months. Do you mean a matt fish of a pinkish colour. These fish are not as hardy as the metallic scaled normal goldfish. And they are less hardy than even the multicolored (nacreous) shubunkins and will struggle in the winter months unless you had an anti-frost heater to keep off the chill.


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