Clownfish have become incredibly popular over the last decade. So many people are looking for these cute little fish to add to their saltwater fish tanks.
This is why clownfish have become such a common sight at various pet stores. The overall popularity of these fish will likely continue to grow due to how easy they are to care for.
Even beginners can do well caring for these fish, but issues do pop up now and then. For example, you might notice that your new clownfish is swimming upside down one day.
While this might seem kind of amusing at first, it’s a bit of a cause for concern. Swimming upside down doesn’t appear to be normal, and you’re likely worried that it’ll be bad for the fish.
Why would a clownfish start swimming upside down? Is this a typical thing for clownfish or could this be related to some type of health issue?
Continue reading to learn everything you need to know about these issues. After digging through all of the details, you’ll be able to do what is necessary to help your clownfish.
It’s Likely Swim Bladder Disease
The most likely scenario that you’re dealing with involves swim bladder disease. Simply put, something has happened that has caused the swim bladder to stop functioning properly.
There are a few different things that can cause this to happen, but the most common one involves bloating. Your clownfish might have eaten too much food, and this will cause the fish to experience bloating.
Your fish will get constipated when it eats too much at once. This is why it’s so important to only feed your fish the right amount of food that they need.
If you look at your clownfish, then you might notice that its belly will appear to be bloated. This tells you all that you need to know because it explains why the fish is swimming upside down.
Swim bladder issues can be very problematic for your clownfish. It’ll make it so they can’t swim around properly, and clownfish are generally considered to be weak swimmers to begin with.
If the current in your fish tank is somewhat strong, it might wind up being virtually impossible for the clownfish to get around. Even if the current is manageable for the fish, it’s going to have a difficult time doing what it needs to do.
Sometimes swim bladder issues can be so severe that the fish won’t be able to navigate anywhere. It’ll have trouble eating, and it won’t be able to get away from other fish either.
Thankfully, you can help the fish out and get it back to normal. Just know that it’s best to take action soon rather than leaving things alone.
Understanding What a Swim Bladder Is
If you’re new to caring for fish, then you might not even know what a swim bladder is. It’s just important to know that it’s the organ that is responsible for controlling the buoyancy of the fish.
When the swim bladder isn’t working properly, the fish won’t be able to maintain control of their bodies properly. Fish need the swim bladder to be able to balance in the water easily.
A fish that has a malfunctioning swim bladder might still be able to get around a bit. It’ll just have a lot of problems moving around normally.
Many fish that experience swim bladder issues will either swim upside down or sideways. They won’t be able to “right” themselves to swim as they usually do.
The actual swim bladder is located beneath the spine of the clownfish. It’s right at the center of the fish.
If you ever get to look at a swim bladder up close, you’ll see that it is a ball of thin membrane. This ball is filled with gas, and that helps with the buoyancy.
Most fish that you will find have swim bladders, but not all of them do. All fish that have swim bladders need them to be able to swim normally.
The swim bladder also helps the fish by allowing them to feel vibrations in the water. It could be very important for self-defense purposes since fish will be able to better detect incoming threats.
Another thing that you should know is that the swim bladder helps the fish with respiration. It truly is a key organ for a clownfish.
How to Treat Swim Bladder Disease
The treatment for swim bladder disease will differ depending on what caused the swim bladder to malfunction. If the swim bladder is simply experiencing issues due to the fish being bloated, then you’ll be able to solve things rather easily.
Feeding the clownfish a frozen pea should make it poop a lot. The constipated fish simply needs to clear out its system so that it can start swimming normally again.
This process shouldn’t take all that long, and it’ll be easy to get the fish feeling better. Of course, this only works if the swim bladder issues are brought on by bloating.
If something else is causing this to occur, then you’ll need to use other treatments. It’s also worth noting that many vets differentiate bloating swim bladder problems from swim bladder disease.
So it might not be accurate to say that bloating causes swim bladder disease. Bloating causes swim bladder issues, but other things cause swim bladder disease.
Significant stress can cause a fish to experience swim bladder disease. There are a number of different things that will stress your clownfish.
Being bullied by fish that aren’t compatible with clownfish will be a problem. Improper water conditions will also make it so that the fish will experience stress.
Always remember to keep the pH balance of the water between 7.6 and 8.4 when caring for clownfish. The temperature of the water needs to stay between 74 degrees Fahrenheit and 79 degrees Fahrenheit.
When a clownfish is stressed, it will experience immune deficiencies. This makes it more susceptible to the causes of swim bladder disease.
Big swings in the water parameters can make the fish very sick. This could lead to issues with swim bladder disease sometimes.
This is why you’re only supposed to do gradual changes. It’s also a good reason to keep a closer eye on the water parameters to keep them in the right range.
Another thing to consider involves whether the fish has an injured swim bladder. An injury could occur for a number of different reasons.
Sometimes the internal organs can get damaged when the clownfish has certain diseases. The clownfish could also be injured physically by getting attacked or having some type of accident.
If the swim bladder becomes inflamed, then that will cause it to start swimming upside down. Over time, the swim bladder should return to normal with proper care.
Treating Severe Instances of Swim Bladder Disease
Severe instances of swim bladder disease will sometimes occur. If the fish doesn’t seem to be getting better normally, then you might need to give it special treatment.
One option is to place the clownfish in a separate hospital tank. This is a tank where you can quarantine the clownfish and give it various types of medicines without impacting the main tank.
You might need to treat the fish using antibiotic treatments to try to get rid of an infection. Once the fish is no longer infected, the swim bladder should go back to normal.
To have the best experience, it’s recommended to discuss this situation with an exotic veterinarian. An exotic vet that treats fish will be able to help you determine exactly what is going on with the fish.
They can recommend the right medication and give you information about recommended water parameters while treating the fish. It truly is best to contact an expert when you’re unsure of the situation.
Copper baths have also been known to help clownfish with severe swim bladder issues. Your exotic vet can walk you through this process if you need assistance.
Sometimes swim bladder issues will be so bad that a veterinarian will decide to aspirate the fish. Aspirating the fish involves using a fine needle on the swim bladder.
Some clownfish enthusiasts will do this themselves, but it’s not a good idea if you don’t know what you’re doing. You could easily wind up hurting the fish more than you help it.
An experienced veterinarian with a steady hand will be able to handle this for you. It might help to solve the problem.
Permanent Swim Bladder Issues
Sadly, there are situations where swim bladder disease will become a permanent problem. This occurs when the damage to the swim bladder is irreversible.
For example, there could be a substantial physical injury that has impacted the swim bladder. If the swim bladder is physically harmed, then it might not heal and get back to normal.
What should you do in this situation? It really depends on how well the fish is doing.
If the fish is able to get around just fine, then it might be okay to let it live. This is assuming that the fish is able to eat normally and that it doesn’t appear to be distressed.
Some clownfish owners will choose to humanely euthanize clownfish that will have permanent swim bladder issues. It might seem like the kindest thing to do if the fish is having a very tough time.
A situation such as this can be very difficult for fish owners. You certainly wish that the fish could get better, but there are cases where things will be permanently damaged.
Advice for Feeding Your Clownfish
The most common reason why clownfish experience swim bladder issues has to do with overeating. If you’ve been feeding your fish more than you’re supposed to, then you should try to stop doing that.
Adult clownfish need to be fed twice per day. Juvenile clownfish need to be fed a bit more often, and it’s recommended to feed them three or four times each day.
You should only be feeding these fish as much as they can eat in a reasonable amount of time. Try to stand there while the clownfish eat to ensure that they’re actually finishing what you’re giving them.
If you just place the food in the tank and walk away, then it’ll be hard to say if you’re giving the fish too much or too little. Exercise some patience and do your best to observe the clownfish while they eat.
Endeavor to give the clownfish just enough food that they will be content. Even if the clownfish seem to want more food, it’d be better to feed them too little than to feed them too much.
You should get a feel for how much to feed the clownfish at once. It just takes a bit of practice and then it will become second nature.
Now that you know that a clownfish swimming upside down is a huge problem, it’ll be time to take action. Hopefully, your clownfish is simply bloated.
If the clownfish is just bloated, then feeding it a frozen pea should help you to get it back to normal. The fish will relieve itself and you’ll be able to see it swimming around as normal again soon enough.
Sickness and stress can cause clownfish to experience swim bladder disease, too. Anything that could cause the swim bladder to become inflamed could be a huge issue.
In some cases, it might be necessary to give the fish antibiotic medicines to get it back to normal. You might wish to ask for advice from a trusted exotic veterinarian.
If the swim bladder disease is very problematic, then the vet might choose to aspirate the swim bladder using a needle. This is likely not something that you should attempt to do yourself since you could easily injure the fish.
Keep all of this information in mind and make the best decision for your clownfish. If you act now, then the clownfish will likely be feeling better quite soon.
Let your friends know about this so that they will understand not to overfeed their clownfish. You might help someone to avoid worrying sick over their beloved pet fish suddenly swimming upside down.
Jeff has always enjoyed having pets, but as a child, he was drawn to his family’s fish tank. Being able to maintain a small ecosystem and observe the behaviors and interactions in the underwater world peaked his interest early on and has kept him hooked until this day. On Avid Aquarist, Jeff shares everything he’s learned about helping aquatic life survive and thrive in a home aquarium.