Symptoms vary widely. Some fish present with the classic swollen belly, others display skin lesions, while still others show few symptoms at all. This variability is what makes diagnosis difficult. However, in most cases a number of symptoms are observed, both physical and behavioral.
These symptoms are the result of the progression of the infection. Internal organs are affected, most notably the liver and kidneys. Anemia occurs, causing the gills to lose their normal red color. As the abdomen fills with fluid organs are pushed aside, sometimes causing the spine to curve. Scales protrude from the body, giving the appearance of a pine cone. This symptom is a classic indication of a severe infection.
The bacterial agent that causes Dropsy is one of several gram negative bacteria commonly present in aquarium habitats. The underlying cause of fish becoming infected in the first place is a compromised immune system that leaves the fish susceptible to infection. This can happen as the result of stress from a number of factors, such as the following:
Generally a single or short-term exposure to stress will not compromise the ability of the fish to fight infection. In most cases of lowered immunity, the stress exposure has happened for an extended period of time, or several stress factors have occurred in rapid succession.
Dropsy is not easily cured. Treatment is geared towards correcting the underlying problem, and providing supportive care to the sick fish.
A broad spectrum antibiotic specifically formulated for gram negative bacteria is recommended, like Maracyn-Two. Always follow directions for duration and dosage. It is important to move the infected fish to another tank to separate them from the healthy fish. Meanwhile, perform a water change on the original tank and monitor the fish closely for appearance of symptoms. Salt should be added to the hospital tank, at the ratio of one teaspoon per gallon of water. Keep the tank scrupulously clean, and perform weekly partial water changes. Provide a variety of fresh, high quality food. Often this is enough to resolve the infection in cases that are not advanced. Keep the fish under observation for several weeks after symptoms disappear.
Prevention is the best cure. Almost all the factors that stress fish enough to cause them to be susceptible to infection can be prevented. Because poor water quality is the most common root cause of stress, tank maintenance is critical. Other factors to keep in mind include:
If the tank is well maintained, and the fish fed a healthy diet, outbreaks of Dropsy are unlikely.