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URGENT: Betta with sudden Dropsy

Feb 1, 2024
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10 Gallon cycled, heated, HOB filtered tank with several species of live plants.

PH: 8, always steady, Ammonia: 0 ppm, Nitrites: 0 ppm, Nitrates: 1~ ppm, extremely close to 0 ppm so hard to tell.

About a week ago my female betta, Cheesecake, looked to be gaining some weight, but it was hard to tell since she's always been a stockier fish. Just to be on the safe side I fasted her for one day, fed her a frozen pea (which I forgot to boil first to blanche, unfortunately), and then fasted her for three more days. She was looking to be her regular size again, and her energy increased, so I started feeding her. Except this time, I soaked every pellet I gave her, using her tank water, which was not something I had ever done for her prior to her bloating scare. I had read this was a method to decrease the likelihood of bloat again. I fed her this new way for three days, and she did not gain any extra weight. Today would be the fourth day, but I have not fed her yet. Yesterday she looked to be like her usual self*. Every day when I come home from school I check on her, but when I did today I couldn't find her, which was unusual since she's always active and exploring during the day. I found her sleeping under her heater, and when she swam out to greet me, I saw she was extremely bloated, body misaligned, and the start of pine-coning scales on her belly and sides. After a quick but aggressive cry, I did an immediate water test to find the above mentioned parameters, nothing seems out of the ordinary there. I got her from PetSmart, and have had her for a little over 2 years in my care. She was decently sized (not obese) since I first saw her, and that never changed. She has been one of- if not the most- largest betta I've ever had. My guess is she's around 2.5 years (probably a little over) in age. My understanding is a betta's lifespan can be anywhere from 2-5 years under proper care. The only thing that stands out to me is that *over the past 6 months her colors have faded, and she's not as energetic as she once was. I confirmed she was not sick when I first started to notice the changes, and she continued to be healthy despite these changes. However, I'm still concerned that I missed something-- anything in those months that would have led to this. I was under the impression that, despite it being on the early end, she was getting old, and maybe in another year or so she'd be on her way out. She has shown absolutely ZERO indications of an actual problem prior to this sudden (and borderline severe) case of Dropsy. Is there anything I can do? Anything that I should have done? Have I made a grave error somewhere? Questions are welcomed and very encouraged, I will answer any and all. I am extremely attached to this fish, maybe more than I would like to admit. I am devastated at this-- from all my understandings-- sudden death sentence.
Hello 👋🏻 sorry to hear about Cheesecake, it's never easy to lose a pet....and I'm afraid once a fish gets Dropsy they normally never recover as its a symptom of their organs shutting down.

Sometimes the cause of why a fish dies never reveals itself and we put it down to 'just one of those things'...posting photos of the fish and her tank might hold clues for some members to help you.

Betta need soft water to thrive, slow moving water, lots of vegetation to hide and rest on, a high protein diet consisting of mostly insects...BugBites is a good one, frozen or live mosquito larvae etc...and of course, a clean well maintained tank with regular water changes. If you've provided all those things, then you've done a great job and nature has perhaps just taken its course
I'm so sorry to hear this. It sounds as though you poured a lot of love and attention into this betta and gave her a good life.

It's very normal to question yourself when you're facing loss and grieving, to wonder whether you missed something, if you could have done something else - please let yourself feel however you feel, but try not to beat yourself up, and focus on what you did provide for her. It sounds as though she had a much better life than the majority of Petsmart Bettas wind up with, and you did pick up on her slowing down a bit as old age creeped in.

Bettas that are mass-produced and shipped to big box chain stores tend to not be the healthiest stock to begin with, I'm afraid, and then they're also often kept in poor conditions before and after shipping. So even two years is a really good lifespan for one of these fish, sadly.

I believe that wild-type bettas tend to have longer lifespans, but they aren't a terribly long-lived fish in most cases when store bought, and often have health problems. It sounds as though you took excellent care of Cheesecake, you did everything possible when you thought something was wrong, but as @CaptainBarnicles said, we often don't know the reason a fish has passed without a necropsy, and even one of those (which are not cheap) cannot always give an answer.

Dropsy is a symptom, rather than an illness in and of itself, it means the organs are beginning to fail, and there isn't anything we can do to reverse that when fish are in organ failure, I'm so sorry. :(

I hope this doesn't put you off the hobby altogether, it sounds like you're a very caring keeper. But we can't fight old age and death, sadly. But to me, it sounds as though she was slowing gradually over the last months as you observed, very likely due to old age approaching, and you can't change that I'm afraid.

Now, all you can do really is try to keep her comfortable. You could drop the water level so it's shallower and easier for her to reach the surface, feed her if she wants food, but it's possible she will lose interest in food.

There is a humane way to euthanise a fish if it reaches the point where you think the fish is suffering. We can explain this humane method using clove oil to sedate, put the fish to sleep, and then overdose to stop the heart, so the fish passes peacefully from being asleep. I hope you don't need to do this, but if you do, clove oil is available cheaply in most pharmacies since it's a remedy for toothache. This is the video where I learned the method, I hope you never need it, but it's useful to know in advance, and have some clove oil on hand somewhere, just in case you need it.

I'm so sorry I don't have better news, but please try not to blame yourself.


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