Dropsy is one of the worst diseases goldfish can come down with. It’s usually fatal. I hope this description of one goldfish that survived a bout of dropsy will help someone to save their fish.

Fish are said to have the disease "dropsy" when they swell up and their scales stand out all over like a pinecone. As JoAnn the Goldfish Guru says, "Dropsy is a SYMPTOM of other problem(s) with the fish. Dropsy can be due to problems with the environment (water quality, temperature shock, alkalinity), parasites, bacteria or virus." Dropsy is apparently caused by bacterial infections and kidney failure.

Eggdrop in a happy moment. He has never been able to swim correctly, so he uses the bubblers to get around.

People get very attached to their fancy goldfish, and I am no exception. When my little oranda, Eggdrop developed dropsy I was very upset! I have already had one brush with the disease in my other goldfish, Tottle, who died within a short time after developing the characteristic pineconed scales. My attempts at treating Tottle were fruitless. He went straight into a decline and died. Unfortunately this is the usual course of the illness, so I am amazed that Eggdrop pulled through.

Eggdrop and Tottle

Treating Tottle for Dropsy

Tottle (short for "Aris-tottle") was a big, puppy-like oranda living in the same tank as Eggdrop and two other goldfish. Tottle was by far the biggest fish in the tank. At the age of 3, Tottle started to have more trouble getting to the bottom of the tank, and would swim in great vertical circles in order to reach the gravel, often ending up upside down at the bottom of the arc. At the time, I figured he was developing a touch of the swim bladder problems his brother Eggdrop has. Eggdrop’s swimbladder problem is chronic – he was unable to swim well when we got him and never seemed to mind that much. But Tottle didn’t seem to be adjusting to his new buoyancy problems. This condition remained constant for about 6 months, then one day, he suddenly flipped over and could not right himself. Within one day of flipping, he had developed a red spot on his belly and swelled up, and we put him in a hospital tank and started treating him with antibiotics. I think we used Naladixic acid and some Maracyn 2. I also removed the charcoal from the filter. Nothing I did made any difference – within a few days, he was totally pineconed, and died within a week.

Tottle with Dropsy – note the red spot on his belly, and pineconing.

In retrospect I believe removing the charcoal was not a good idea, since it meant the tank wasn’t nearly as clean as it would have been usually. The charcoal really helps in removing a lot of the proteins and gunk from the water, and I’ve found tha t, the medicine remains in the tank anyway for quite a while – then I replace it to keep the dose high. I tested this by using an antibacterial bath that turns the water green, and watching how long it takes for the green to vanish. So despite the need to use more medications if the charcoal is not removed, I now believe that keeping the water sparkling clean, and keeping the bacteria levels down is of primary importance.

Eggdrop’s Treatment

When Eggdrop began to show signs of the disease, I decided to do everything differently than I had with Tottle. I wanted to try all the things I had not yet tried, to make sure there wasn’t some way this disease could be licked. I re-read everything available on Dropsy on the internet and in the book Fancy Goldfish by Dr. Erik Johnson and Richard Hess. Unlike Tottle, who first swelled up then developed pineconing, the first sign that something was wrong with Eggdrop was a few pineconed scales on one side. As soon as I saw that, I re-read the koivet.com articles on dropsy and The Goldfish Guru, Jo Ann Burke’s description of how she cured dropsy in a ranchu. Dr. Johnson is much more pessimistic than Jo Ann about the chances of curing a dropsied fish, but he does say that you can try injecting antibiotics.

Following The Goldfish Guru’s recommendations

Based on Jo Ann’s article, I immediately raised the temp in the tank to 86 degrees F. I removed the gravel and cleaned the tank thoroughly. Then I put in some Antibac Bath I’d gotten from Goldfish connection. At first I removed the charcoal from the filter, but after a couple of days put it back in because I did not like how the water got scummy without it. I removed all the gravel, except for a small handful left for Eggdrop to chew on (he uses gravel to grind up his food). This was so that I could see every bit of debris in the tank, and suction it all out easily. The only ornament left in the tank was a PVC cylinder he uses as a "feeding station". When Eggdrop floats inside the cylinder, it holds him close enough to to the ground that he can easily reach pellets on the bottom easily. When he finishes eating, he paddles out of the cylinder, and pops back up to the surface of the water like a cork.

I also decided to try antibiotic injections as part of his treatment. Since I didn’t know how to do this myself, I looked for a veterinarian who wouldn’t laugh at me if I brought in a goldfish for treatment! I remembered seeing a sign for an animal clinic called "All Creatures Great and Small" and decided that included Eggdrop. I packed him up in his travel cooler and brought him in to the doctor’s office. It turned out the vet, Dr. Lewis, does many reptiles and turtles, but hadn’t treated many fish before. However I showed her the Fancy Goldfish book, gave her my tentative diagnosis based on Dr. Johnson’s descriptions and we used the book’s formulary to figure out the dose of Baytril he should get (.1 ml ). The book even shows good injection sites, and we decided on the tail as the most secure spot for an injection on Eggdrop’s tiny body. Eggdrop was surprisingly cooperative. Dr. Lewis showed me how to do the injection, and sent me home with enough medicine for 10 days. She also told me that keeping the bacteria count in the water as low as possible was of utmost importance. Because of this I decided to do a partial water change every single day, and keep the tank spotless. I also rinsed his Emperor filter cartridge every couple of days.

However, despite the antibiotics and everything else, Eggie got much worse, and by the fifth day looked like he would die any minute. He was not at all energetic, and he would try to eat, but spit everything out again. He was completely inflated, like a puffer fish, with a big red spot on his belly. He looked awful! But after a day or so more, he started eating again. He was hungry! I tried feeding him some antibacterial pellets I got from GoldfishConnection.com but he didn’t eat them, perhaps because they were a bit tougher than he is used to. So, instead, I fed him his normal food, which includes lionhead pellets (he has to be held down and run over them like a vaccuum), Cichlid sticks, which are easy to hand-feed to an upside-down fish, and peas.

Every day he would get a 30% water change and thorough tank cleaning. Every weekend he would get a 90% water change. I added Maracyn II to the regimen because it had once helped another one of my fish out with a serious infection, and it says it is indicated for dropsy on the package.

Finally, about two weeks after he inflated, Eggdrop’s left side slowly started to deflate. At the same time, a sort of bump appeared on the deflated side near his "stern." It was reddish with a few scales raised around it. It looked like an open blister under the scales, almost as if the infection were coming up to the surface. I put him in a salt bath for a short time to try to heal the blister. Whether because of the salt bath, or because of its normal progression, after another day, it had almost disappeared, and that whole side looked much better although the scales were not perfectly flat still. It did look like he was beginning to recover, and I began to have hope. His right side remained totally dropsied yet he didn’t look like he was dying. Every morning he nearly leaped out of the tank trying to get my atttention so I would feed him.

Relapse 1

Then I made what I think is a huge mistake – I put him in another salt bath, thinking that if it had helped once with the blister, it might help again. But immediately after the bath, he completely inflated again, and within a couple of days had developed a huge reddish-purple spot on his belly. I was kicking myself, although I am not sure it was the salt that caused it.. It is possible it was simply another flare-up of the infection. Eggdrop, however, seemed unperturbed, eating heartily and paddling around his tank.

After several days of him looking terminal again, slowly, very slowly, he began to deflate. The red spot faded then vanished. Then one day he developed little "bubbles" under his scales on his left side, exactly as described in Jo Ann Burke’s page on dropsy. I decided to try to use a syringe to aspirate the excess fluid out of the bubbles. I could also see that the main swelling on his left side was an clearly demarcated cavity under the skin that appeared to be filled with fluid.

I was very surprised to find that mostly it was not liquid, but gas. I removed almost 2 syringes full of gas from his side, being very careful to angle the needle so that it would not damage any internal organs. He only seemed to mind the procedure once the gas was nearly gone – then he struggled, and I stopped. Removing the gas helped deflate him a little more, and after a few more days his scales on the left side had settled down, although that side was still a little scruffy looking.

At the suggestion of some goldfish experts on the goldfishparadise.com forum, I added some epsom salts for a few days, but I don’t think they did much to help. I decided to give Eggdrop another round of shots. I asked the vet for Azactam which is stronger than Baytril, but she didn’t have any on hand, and didn’t want to order a whole $100.00 bottle just for Eggdrop! Instead, she gave me Baytril again and I gave him the shots every morning for 10 days. After a couple more weeks, he started looking a little bit better. His dropsied right side was still inflated and pineconed, but ever so slightly less. His "good" left side was definitely getting better now, and the red spot on his belly had disappeared. However, even on the good side there were still scales near the tail that were standing out.

The treatment I was doing at that point was mostly keeping the water extremely clean and the temperature high, plus the antibac bath and Maracyn II.

Eggdrop became quite active – at times he reminded me of a tiny outboard motor, since he hangs upside down and whirls his little fins, zipping around the tank. I was still very worried though, because the infection was still obviously active in some spots, and also because I had read on koivet.com that some fish survive dropsy for a month or so but finally become so edematous that their scales fall out.

But after about two more weeks, the right side also receded, and there was only a small patch of pineconing in the center of the swollen area. This side also developed bubbles under the scales, then that side really began to heal. Then finally I noticed that most of his scales were really laying FLAT again – not scruffy at all!! He looked better!

Relapse 2!

Then one day, he started to develop an ulcer, exactly where the old bump on his "stern" had been. As the ulcer enlarged, I started noticing a lot of blackish algae looking stuff in the tank. I believe he was casting off excess slime coat, in order to try to heal. It clogged the intake and filter pad, and I had to clean them both every day. Dr. Johnson recommends Melafix for ulcers, so I began adding Melafix to the water, and started up another round of both Maracyn II and Maracyn. I also applied hydrogen peroxide daily, using a q-tip. I found out later that I could have used iodine, according to Dr. Johnson.
The ulcer became larger, scales started to stand up near it and I was afraid he was a goner, but then it started to heal. This took about 5 days. All that remains of that ulcer now are some small brown marks on a few scales, like scars.

All his scales flattened again. But then about 1 week later, he developed a very small ulcer, right in the same spot. It never got very big, and I treated it with Melafix, Maracyn II and Maracyn, as before. It healed completely.

Since then, Eggdrop has been quite healthy. It has been about 3 weeks since there has been any further sign of illness. I still suction his tank every night, but am no longer treating him with any medications.

To read the story of Eggdrop, click here!


Postscript, about 6 weeks later: Sadly, Eggdrop died on October 29, in the early morning hours, while sleeping. He had no more dropsy problems, but may have developed an internal infection. I had noticed that for the last few days, when holding him still to feed him by hand, his belly felt “mushy”, which is always a bad sign.
We’ll miss him!