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Diagnosing Dropsy

Learn to recognize whether your fish have dropsy or some other malady.

By Mary E. Sweeney |

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Dropsy, or ascites, is a condition that causes a fish’s abdomen to become abnormally distended. It is frequently confused with other conditions, but dropsy is often accompanied by protruding scales on the sides of a fish’s body. When a fish has dropsy, the whole belly is swollen, and the scales protrude, making the fish look like a pinecone. “Pinecone disease” is one of several older names for dropsy; “bloat” is another. In some cases, the symptoms appear quickly, but they usually develop over some days. Loss of pep, appetite, balance and difficulty breathing can all be precursors to dropsy.

As usual, the cleaner the aquarium and better the care (and less stress) the fish receive, the less likely we are to see medical problems. Virtually all of the parasites, bacteria and viruses that can kill our fish are already present in the aquarium. It is how we care for the aquarium that determines whether the fish will be able to withstand the pathogens and if the population of these disease-causing creatures increases or decreases. Fish that live in seldom-changed water and that are overfed are more prone to the symptoms of dropsy. Keep the aquarium clean and feed the fish a small amount of food so that none goes uneaten. Use a gravel vacuum at every opportunity; cleaning uneaten food from the substrate helps to prevent so many fish diseases.

Want to read the full story? Pick up the July 2011 issue of Aquarium Fish International, or subscribe to get 12 months of articles just like this.

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