STOP! Your Pet Fish May Not Be Dead!

Updated on November 15, 2016

Ever found your pet goldfish floating listlessly at the top of the tank on its side? Most people who make this discovery assume that little goldie has passed on to the other side and immediately scoop him or her from the tank and toss them in the toilet for a traditional goldfish funeral. Unfortunately, in many cases the fish isn't actually dead, rather suffering from a problem with their swim bladder due to over feeding.

There are plenty of warnings about over feeding fish, but many people are unaware of just how easy it is to over feed. The danger of over feeding is that it can lead to constipation, which can in turn lead to problems with the fish's swim bladder.

The swim bladder is an organ that is flexible and filled with gas. Fish use this organ to maintain their buoyancy in the water. The gas expands in lighter pressures, helping the fish to rise, and is compressed when the fish dives, which helps it descend into deeper waters. Problems with the swim bladder can lead to the fish floating on the surface, or sitting at the bottom of the tank, or even standing on its head at the bottom of the tank.


If you find your fish floating on its side, not feeding it for three or four days can often solve the problem as the fish's body recovers from the gorging and rights itself again.

Feeding small deshelled peas can help alleviate constipation, which in turn will help the fish's swimbladder to work effectively once more.


The problem may also have been caused by the fish swallowing air, so pre-soak the fish food in future to avoid this problem.

Feeding a fresh diet as opposed to fish flakes or pellets might be beneficial. Bloodworms, brine shrimp, and even small amounts of vegetables can help your fish be more healthy.

The most important thing you can to to prevent these problems is to regularly test your water, and ensure good water quality.

You should also change your water frequently (the 50% per week rule holds here), and ensure that you do not stir around in the gravel when you change the water. Doing so can unleash nasties into the water that otherwise would stay trapped in the gravel.

Never use water straight out of the tap. Instead use a water conditioner and test the water for the correct pH before adding it to your fish tank.

This has been a basic article aimed at the beginner fish keeper. I know I wish I had known this when I was keeping fish as a child, as I am sure I killed at least one fish unnecessarily who may have simply had a swim bladder disorder.


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    • profile image

      Dat goldfish lover 2 months ago

      Thank you! You might of just saved my goldfishes life!

    • profile image

      Susan 3 months ago

      Our little gold fish from the school carnival is now five years old and seven inches long. How much should I feed him a day?

    • profile image

      Jola 8 months ago

      My little brothers angel fish is floating on its side at they top of the tank but still swimming and trying (but most times failing) to eat

      This has been for approx.4 days now

      On the second day it was back to normal but by the next day it was it was afloat again pls help

      My little brother is very very sad

    • profile image

      Kelsey ---- 14 months ago

      Hm... My poor Undyne is still having a problem. Is there anything else I can try?

    • profile image

      superfreak 6 years ago


    • Hope Alexander profile image

      Hope Alexander 10 years ago

      Yes, pet stores and private people selling fish should really supply this basic informtion, and it is incredibly basic.

    • wychic profile image

      Rebecca Mikulin 10 years ago from Sheridan, Wyoming

      Great "basics" article! It's sad how many goldfish are inadvertently abused due to misunderstandings about their space requirements, feeding, and common ailments. I also feed mine spirulina flakes regularly to help prevent SBD, not as easy to obtain as the peas but if you run into a fish that won't eat something so different than what the pet store gave it it's worth a try :D

    • Hope Alexander profile image

      Hope Alexander 10 years ago

      As a child I didn't know either, which seems very silly, as this is a very common affliction amongst goldfish and other commonly kept pet fish. It seems very remiss of pet shops to sell fish without this sort of vital information. There are probably thousands, if not millions of fish killed every year needlessly because the owners had never heard of this problem.

    • stephhicks68 profile image

      Stephanie Hicks 10 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Ah ha..... I see now. Thanks. I never knew.

    • Just Toyia profile image

      Just Toyia 10 years ago from Tennessee

      I had a fish with this problem and nothing helped her except temporarily, but she lived for 2 years -I wrote about it here a few weeks ago-

    • Raven King profile image

      Raven King 10 years ago from Cabin Fever

      Oh, that's why I never had much luck them. Thanks. :)