How Do You Treat Swim Bladder In Discus? – Swim Bladder Cure

Swim Bladder Disorder for discus fish

As you know, for proper treatment to be administered to a particular disease, the diagnosis must be accurate. For swim bladder disorder in discus fish, some signs indicate the possibility of swim bladder disorder, such as floating nose down with tail up, floating to the top, or sinking to the base of the aquarium. If you have noticed any of these signs, it means that your discus fish swim bladder is malfunctioning.

NOTE: Swim bladder malfunctioning is not a disease but a disorder, because it only occurs as a symptom of a problem affecting the fish. It’s just like you being dizzy, dizziness only makes you unstable, and it tells you something is wrong with your system. It is the same concept as discus fishes.

It is very much treatable when you identify the cause, but before we go into the treatment, let’s define what swim bladder is.

Table of Contents

What Is Swim Bladder Disorder?

A swim bladder disorder is a malfunction of an organ in a fish which is responsible for balancing and stabilizing a fish in water, mostly it’s not a bacterial, fungal, or parasitic infection yet, it is simply a syndrome caused mainly when the fish gulp air with the food which can be cured in certain methods. 

Now, having shone a light on what swim bladder is, it’s time to give a brief description of when, where, and why does this disorder occur?

When Does Swim Bladder Disorder Occur?

Mostly, swim bladder occurs when your discus fish is either overfed or took in too much air. But, in water with a cool temperature, the metabolism of the discus slows down, and this also leads to swimming bladder disorder.
Something else to watch out for is parasites and bacterial infections that can cause disorder in the swim bladder. Lastly, it can occur as a birth defect showing signs of disorder at the early stage of growth, but this rarely occurs.

Where Does Swim Bladder Disorder Occur?

The swim bladder is located in the dorsal part of a fish and spans across the length of the fish. The anterior swim bladder is close to the head, while the anterior swim bladder is close to the tail. Both the anterior and posterior portion of the swim bladder is connected via a small duct, which can change placement due to some divers causes.

Why Does Swim Bladder Disorder Occur?

Disorders occur in swim bladder because of over-inflation or under-inflation. This is possible due to overfeeding, too much air in-take, cool temperature, and infection, etc. While over-inflation leads to positive buoyancy disorder, under-inflation leads to negative buoyancy disorder.

Positive buoyancy disorder of the swim bladder causes fish to float on the surface or fish swimming vertically, and it affects the posterior region of the air bladder. This is the most common form of the disorder that occurs in the swim bladder. While negative buoyancy disorder is the opposite of the positive, this causes the fish to settle at the bottom of the aquarium.

Often, people get frustrated and start asking, ‘why is my discus fish swimming on its side?’ I believe you have the answer already, having read the last paragraph.

While for some others, having understood the problem with the fish through google or personal experience, they will ask ‘is swim bladder disease contagious?’ the answer to this question ‘NO.’ But a spread might likely occur because they are all in the same condition, this spread should not be mistaken for contagion.

Also, some will want to know the mortality rate; hence, they ask, ‘can fish die from swim bladder disease?’ And the answer is ‘YES,’ but with proper diagnosis and treatment, the mortality rate can be reduced. Knowing the cause is the key to the cure, so it is crucial to get the right diagnosis before the right medication can be administered.

Swim Bladder Disorder – Symptoms

  • Fish floating to the top, upside-down.
  • Fish sinking to the bottom of the aquarium.
  • Fish swims with its tail above its head (this is normal for head standing fish species).
  • Fish has a swollen stomach.
  • Loss of appetite.
  • Fish swimming on its side.

Swim Bladder Disorder – Details And Cause

The swim bladder disease, as it is fondly called, is not a disease but a syndrome, which is a secondary sign of disease processing. As stated above, the swim bladder disorder is not primarily caused by the swim bladder itself. So, this brings us to be negative and positive buoyancy disorder, which are preferred terms for the disorder.

Research on this topic has not been done in-depth, which has reduced many persons to source hard for information or make do with the poor prognosis from researchers. Experts are rare in this field, so the excuse for poor scientific research done on this subject.

In positive buoyancy disorder, the fish floats on the surface of the water with its skin exposed to air because of the over-inflation of the swim bladder. This exposure rubs the fish off its protective mucous barrier, and the skin is affected by infection and ulceration. The positive buoyancy occurs in the posterior chamber, and the exact cause of the over-inflation can only be revealed through proper diagnosis.

From research carried out, the causes of over-inflation may be trauma, parasitic infestation, polycystic kidney (in some fishes), and cancerous complications. You should also know that a slight shift of the swim bladder due to gas displacement, will trigger a positive buoyancy. Since the anterior region of the swim bladder is firmly attached to the spine, this displacement can only occur in the posterior part of the fish.

For positive buoyancy, gastrointestinal diseases are also a common cause. This will require a deeper diagnosis and treatment because the gastroenteritis or parasites responds differently to medications. Gastroenteritis can be triggered by fighting, change in diet, the stress of shipment, etc. The stomach of the fish does not have a diaphragm, and both the abdomen and chest are not separated. When the gastrointestinal tract is excessively filled with gas, it causes the fish to swim with its belly up. But, if other materials are discovered in the bowels, negative buoyancy may likely occur.

In negative buoyancy, the presence of fluid in the swim bladder causes the fish to sink to the bottom of the aquarium. The pneumatic air duct connects both the swim bladder and the esophagus, and it allows the passage of fluids. This fluid can upset the stability of the fish by displacing air in the swim bladder. While it maintains normal posture, neural stability is difficult to attain. Diagnosis is carried out through samples gotten by sticking needles into the swim bladder.

Swim Bladder Disorder – Causes

  • Overfeeding.
  • Gulping too much air.
  • Cooler temperature.
  • Infections.
  • Water quality.
  • Hereditary.
  • Water pH spike.

Swim Bladder Disorder – Treatment Steps

[STEP1] – Maintain the water quality and change the water partially every two to three days.

NOTE: It is very important to check your pH level after you water cycle your tank, as pH spikes might be a major cause of the Discus swim bladder disorder.

[STEP2] – Add Epsom salt to your aquarium (1 Tablespoon per 40 Gallons).

NOTE: Epsom salt will increase the discus fish metabolic rate which will help them quickly get everything out of them, so you will normally see poops increment in your tank.

[STEP3] – Starve the affected Discus fish, in cases due to overfeeding so food can digest, for at least three days.

[STEP4] – Increase temperature to up 86+ degrees Fahrenheit to aid digestion.

[STEP5] – Reduce the water level and feed them frozen green peas (after warming them up) after three days.

NOTE: Apply a little stress coat to the area that is exposed when the Discus is floating (that is, the area that is above the water surface when the Discus is either head standing or slant swimming) in order to prevent sores.

Reduce Water Level so the discus fish with swim bladder can eat the fish food at the bottom of your tank.

Prepare and feed your discus with green peas like the below video, remember that this is applicable to all types of fishes including discus fish.

NOTE: As usual I advise you not to feed them flakes or frozen blood worms, flakes will float on the water surface and by eating them there might gulp air inside the fish guts and this might cause your fish to have swim bladder issue, for frozen blood worms many people are complaining to having discus internal parasites.

[STEP6] – Hand feeds the fish(es), in case if they re not eating, by catching the fish very gently and put a small portion of green peas in their mouth and leave them in the water.

[STEP7] – For cases due to infection, see a veterinary professional quickly before it worsens.

NOTE: Regrettably, most cases that have to do with swim bladder disorder do not react to treatment, and if Discus does not recuperate within a sensible time frame, the best decision will be mercy killing.

Swim Bladder Disorder – Future Prevention Tips

  • Always soak food before feeding. This will avoid flaky foods on top of the water, and prevent fish from gulping air while eating. When you soak the food, it allows the food to sink into the water, and fish will not have to come to the surface to feed. Or you can get sinking feeds, to avoid the stress of soaking.
NOTE: This tip was for any type of fish food that might remain on the water surface including flakes in case if you still want to feed them with, Any feed other than pellets flakes should be thoroughly thawed before it is fed to the fish.
  • Avoid overfeeding the fish. Feed fish with small amounts of food per day to avoid constipation; it only requires a small quantity of food to function properly.
  • The aquarium should always be cleaned. Parasites and bacteria thrive in a dirty environment that infects the fish in the long run. Always test the pH, nitrite, and ammonia levels of the water or change the water constantly. You can introduce aquarium salt every now and then, to help combat diseases and boost the immune system of the fish.
  • Keep the temperature warm. You should maintain a warm temperature at all times and keep it steady. Cooler temperature stresses fishes and slow digestion rate, and the temperature should be between 80-86 degrees Fahrenheit (30 to 33ºc).
  • For tanks with a strong current, reduce the water flow.


Many persons enter into a frantic mood when they discover their discus fish is acting abnormally. With this article, you should fully comprehend and know the right steps to take to avoid the death of your discus fish due to swim bladder disorder. It is important not to self-medicate, except for the preventive measures highlighted. You should quickly see an expert for critical cases, proper diagnosis, and administration of drugs. Prevention is the greatest cure, so improve your preventive measures and swim bladder disorder will be distant from your aquarium.


This is me Firas Sameer, the founder of, I am an aquarist guy with a passion and love for Discus fishes, I am learning every day with my hobby at home and sharing the things I am learning from my experience with you.

10 thoughts on “How Do You Treat Swim Bladder In Discus? – Swim Bladder Cure

  1. Very informative. Many thanks I am from Sri Lanka. If you could give me a some advice on a healthy colour feed to buy for discus please.

    Thank you in advance

    1. You should add the Epsom salt one time only, cause the Epsom salt will remain in the water so it is not good to add more.

  2. One cause you didn’t mention, and I never would have expected, is a rapid change in pH. I recently changed my dosing procedure and messed up the measurements, causing my pH to spike up to 7.6. The next day, one of my five discus was in serious distress, bloated and floating upside down. I moved her to a 10g hospital tank (with an appropriate pH), added epsom salt per your recommendation, and spent all day keeping her upright and moving so she didn’t give up the ghost.

    By day’s end she was much better and by the next morning was 100% other than a scar near her right pectoral. However, that morning I noticed a second discus starting to show swim bladder symptoms, although not as severe as the first. This is when I suspected and discovered my water parameters were totally out of whack. This time I treated the whole tank with epsom salt and brought the pH back into spec.

    By the end of that second day, the second discus was normal, and the first was doing so well I returned her to her home tank. She swam right up to the glass and stared at me for a few minutes. I’m not sure if she was thanking me for curing her, or for returning her to her friends, or perhaps just wanted to kick my ass. Either way, I’m happy!

    1. Thank you so much Aciarochi for sharing your experience and I am happy that my instructional steps helped you save your Discus from the swim bladder disorder, I have noticed that I did not mention the pH spike as one of the reasons behind the disorder, however, if you see the future prevention points I already mentioned before to maintain the pH level in your aquarium.

      As per your last mentioned experience, I have added the pH spike into the Swim bladder causes above, as well as a note under the first treatment step.


  3. I almost euthanized a discus with swim bladder disease. But he is recovering. It coming up on three weeks and it is improving every day. Don’t give up.

  4. i lost one of my discus due to this swim bladder disorder … it was such a good looking and healthy discus and eating well … it started to show some signs like abruptly frantic swimming a few times a day few weeks ago .. i mean the fish ate well and behaved normally most of the day but swam abruptly upside and downside and sometimes looped around itself …. i suspected gill fluke and dosed the aquarium with prazi pro … but it didnt go well … finally seperated this one to the hospital tank i had … and it died .. last night … and i know this wasnet due to gill fluke and most probably it was due to swim bladder disorder … thanks so much

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