Guppy Fish Swimming Upside Down

While guppies have different personalities and behaviors, they will pretty much remain within the same behavioral range. For instance, you will never see a guppy swimming side-ways, resting on the substrate for hours, or swimming upside down.

You should immediately assume something’s not right whenever any of that happens.

If your guppy showcases any abnormal swimming behavior, you should look into the situation asap. Most fish diseases will display symptoms in advanced stages only, and many of them are deadly.

If your guppy fish is swimming upside down for no clear reason, you might have a swim bladder disease on your hands.

What is Swim Bladder Disorder?

Swim bladder disorder is erroneously named a disorder. In reality, it’s more like a syndrome, and the distinction goes beyond mere semantics. A syndrome is defined as the bulk of the symptoms announcing an underlying disease. In other words, swim bladder syndrome is an accumulation of symptoms that hint at a triggering condition that may or may not be viral.

  • Unfortunately, most of the underlying disorders triggering the swim bladder syndrome aggravate fast, are contagious, and deadly. So, early detection and adequate treatment are key to solving the problem. When it comes to detection, you need to compile several symptoms to make sure you pinpoint the disorder accurately. These include:
  • The tendency to swimming upside down and tipping on the side
  • Floating at the water’s surface
  • Difficulties maintaining buoyancy or stability during swimming
  • Inflated belly
  • A slightly curved spine due to internal inflammation
  • Low or lack of appetite
  • Signs of stress like irritability and hiding behavior, especially in the first phase

These are general symptoms of swim bladder syndrome. The problem is that they won’t always tell you what the underlying cause is. Because of this, many people will provide the guppies with a generalized treatment designed to cover most potential disorders.

Causes of Swim Bladder Disease in Guppies

Understanding how the syndrome works will help us understand its potential causes. The swim bladder is a fish-specific organ that inflates or deflates, depending on the fish’s aims. The swim bladder is quite large, mostly spanning throughout the fish’s entire internal cavity, above the digestive system.

The main problem occurs when the fish’s organs inflame for whatever reason, pressing against the swim bladder. This will prevent the fish from inflating it properly, causing buoyancy issues and affecting the fish’s ability to swim. The main causes for that include:

  • Eating-related problems – Overeating, rapid eating, or improper diets will all cause similar issues. If your fish eats too fast or too much, its stomach or intestines will fill up fast, pressing against the swim bladder. Improper eating will also lead to constipation or compaction, exacerbating the problem further. Another issue relates to improper feeding patterns, mostly related to floating flakes. Feeding your fish floating flakes may cause the fish to gulp air when picking them off of the water surface. The result is an inflated belly, triggering the swim bladder syndrome.
  • Coldwater – Guppies shouldn’t live in waters colder than 72 F. Anything below that will cause digestive issues due to a slower metabolism as a result of lower temperatures. The fish’s digestive system will lose its effectiveness, leading to problems similar to those occurring when overeating. In this case, constipation is the first sign to look for.
  • Inflamed organs – This happens for a variety of reasons, including kidney cysts, internal tumors, fat accumulation in the liver, and even egg binding in guppy females. The treatment depends on the cause, which may be difficult to determine without in-depth assessment. You might need your vet’s assistance in this case.
  • Parasitic or bacterial infections – These will most often occur in fish with weaker immune systems. The most common causes relate to poor environmental conditions and fluctuating water parameters, affecting the guppies’ immune system. Most bacterial and parasitic infections are contagious, so if one fish has it, the others will get it soon.
  • Mechanical injuries – These mostly refer to blunt force trauma affecting the fish’s midsection and damaging the swim bladder. It occurs rarely, but it can happen, especially if you pair your guppies with larger and more aggressive fish. Or in case of guppies tipping over some tank decorations and getting hurt in the process.
  • Genetic faults – This is probably the rarest occurrence since only a minority of guppies experience the issue. If they do, the signs will be visible at a young age, and the fish will probably not reach adulthood.

Now that we’re mentioned the most likely triggers, what about the treatment? Is there a way to treat and cure swim bladder syndrome? Let’s see about that!

Treating Guppy that Swims Upside Down

The main problem here is that this condition is rather difficult to address. That’s primarily because the disorder will only display visible signs when it’s already advanced. So, if your guppy begins to swim upside down, the situation is already dire. In that case, fast and adequate treatment is necessary to stop the disorder’s progression and increase the chances of recovery.

There are several treatment procedures you can try:

  • Force the fish to fast – Constipation and overeating are the most common triggers of swim bladder disease. If you’ve determined that your guppy’s problems are due to overeating, refrain from feeding it for a couple of days. The guppy will be fine, and the fasting period will allow the digestive system to resume its normal activity.
  • Increase the water’s temperature – This has the same effect as the previous point. Increase the tank’s temperature up to 78-80 F since this will speed up your guppy’s metabolism and support its digestive system.
  • Provide fibers – Boiled peas are ideal in this sense. Keep your sick guppy on a boiled pea diet for a few days to clean the digestive system and eliminate all the waste. Make sure you skin the peas before feeding it to the guppies.
  • Use medication – This measure is necessary in case of parasitic or bacterial infections. You will definitely need to quarantine the fish during the procedure since using antibiotics in the main tank will affect the tank’s biofilm. Given that there are numerous types of antibiotics you can use, I recommend consulting with your vet on what to use.

Monitor your fish for 2-3 days during the treatment to assess its progression. If the guppy doesn’t respond to the treatment and doesn’t appear to be getting better, consider euthanizing it. This will spare the fish of any further suffering and will protect the rest of the guppy population.

How to Prevent Swim Bladder Problems in Guppies?

Prevention is always preferable to any treatment for obvious reasons. To keep your guppies protected against swim bladder disease and other conditions, I recommend:

  • Avoiding overfeeding – Overfeeding is the source of most evils among any fish population. Providing the fish with excess food will mess up their digestion and pollute the water with too many leftovers. This will cause the ammonia and nitrites to spike, which can kill your fish in the process. Only feed guppies 2-3 times per day at most and only enough food for them to eat in 3-4 minutes. Anything above that falls into the overfeeding category.
  • Water changes – Water changes are necessary every 6-7 days in a properly established guppy tank. In some cases, you may require more frequent water changes in case you have a larger tank with many different aquatic life forms. Changing the water will keep your guppies’ environment fresh and clean for longer.
  • Prevent chlorine accumulation – This problem mostly arises from using tap water either to clean the tank’s equipment or when performing water changes. Chlorine is deadly for fish, and it can depopulate an entire tank within hours. To prevent that, either refrain from using tap water for tank-related tasks or dechlorinate it before use. You can do that by using a dechlorinating solution, boiling the water to eliminate chlorine or allow the water to breathe for 24-48 hours. The chlorine will dissipate naturally over time.
  • Control ammonia levels – Ammonia should remain at 0 at all times, and the same goes for nitrites. I recommend constantly assessing your tank’s ammonia levels since even small amounts of ammonia can be deadly to your fish. To prevent dangerous ammonia buildups, clean the tank regularly, perform water changes, prevent overfeeding, and avoid overcrowding. If your fish show signs of ammonia stress, quarantine them, clean the tank, and perform a larger water change (50-60%) to cleanse the environment.
  • Clean the tank – Many aquarists only clean their tanks when they begin showing visible signs of algae deposits. Or when the water gets visibly dirty. The problem is that, by that time, the situation is already too nasty. I recommend cleaning your tank once every 3-4 weeks, even if it doesn’t display any clear signs of dirt. Just remove some algae deposits here and there, clean the tank’s walls, and vacuum the substrate to remove fish waste and food leftovers.

In addition to all these tactics, I also suggest testing your water parameters at least once per week. Even more often, if you’re housing a large guppy population.


Guppies are pretty hardy fish that won’t get sick that easily. The problem is that, when living in a close environment, their wellbeing vastly depends on you.

Make the right choices, maintain their environment and water conditions, and provide them with adequate diets, and your guppies will thrive.

avatar Noah
I’m Noah, chief editor at VIVO Pets and the proud owner of a playful, energetic husky (Max). I’ve been a volunteer at Rex Animal Rescue for over 2 years. I love learning and writing about different animals that can be kept as pets. read more...

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