Guppy Bloat: What's Wrong?

why does my guppy look bloated

There are several reasons why your guppy might look bloated. The most common cause is Dropsy disease, which is caused by a bacterial infection, water pollution, stress, or poor nutrition. Dropsy causes a fish's belly to become visibly swollen and oval-shaped, with protruding scales that form a pine cone appearance. Other reasons for bloating in guppies could be constipation or indigestion due to overeating, or even pregnancy in female guppies.

Characteristics Values
Guppy gender Male or female
Guppy behaviour Hiding, reduced appetite, lethargy, aggression
Guppy appearance Bloated belly, protruding scales, pale gills, bulging eyes
Guppy waste Long and stringy faecal matter
Tank conditions Toxins, poor water quality, overcrowding, poor nutrition
Guppy diet Overfed, dried and protein-rich foods
Guppy health Constipation, indigestion, swim bladder disorder, Dropsy, tumours



The gestation period for guppies is typically between 21 and 31 days, but it can vary. During pregnancy, a female guppy's abdomen will slowly swell, and the area where the abdomen meets the tail, known as the "gravid spot" or "gravid patch", will slowly darken. The darkening is caused by the eyes of the developing baby guppies, and the orange tinge is their jelly-like eggs. The gravid spot will become more prominent and darker as the pregnancy progresses, and right before birth, the area is practically black. The female guppy's belly may also take on a boxy or angular shape.

In addition to physical changes, pregnant guppies may also exhibit behavioural changes. They may become more aggressive, particularly towards male guppies, and may chase them away or nip their fins. Pregnant guppies may also rub themselves against things in the tank, such as the wall, leaves, or decorations. As the birth approaches, the pregnant guppy may stop eating or spit out food, and will seek out a quiet place to give birth, such as behind plants or decorations.

It is important to minimise stress for a pregnant guppy, as this can cause her to absorb or miscarry the babies. A breeding box or net breeder can be used to isolate a pregnant guppy, but it should be used for as short a time as possible to minimise stress. A separate breeding tank is another option, and a small 10-gallon aquarium is sufficient.

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Guppies can become constipated due to a variety of factors, including a poor diet, overfeeding, and a lack of exercise. Constipation in guppies can be life-threatening and should be taken seriously. If left untreated, it can lead to swim bladder disease, loss of appetite, and even death.

Causes of Constipation in Guppies

  • Poor Diet: Guppies may become constipated if their diet lacks fibre or includes inappropriate foods such as bread.
  • Overfeeding: Guppies will continue to eat even if they are not hungry, so it is important to feed them the recommended amount and avoid overfeeding treats like bloodworms.
  • Lack of Exercise: Insufficient exercise can contribute to constipation. Ensure your tank is large enough for the number of fish and maintain the water temperature between 72-82 °F (22-28 °C) to encourage activity.
  • Food Allergy: Guppies may have an allergy to certain foods, which can lead to constipation. Try changing food brands if constipation is suspected.

Symptoms of Constipation in Guppies

  • Bloated Belly: A swollen abdomen is a telltale sign of constipation, but it could also indicate pregnancy or other health issues like dropsy or swim bladder disease.
  • Not Passing Stool/Stringy Feces: Constipated guppies may have difficulty passing stool or exhibit stringy feces hanging from their bodies.
  • Lethargy and Lack of Swimming: Constipation can make guppies feel lethargic and less inclined to swim due to discomfort and bloating.
  • Trouble Swimming: A bloated tummy can physically hinder a guppy's ability to swim and navigate properly.

Treating Constipation in Guppies

  • Fasting: Start by fasting your guppy for 2-3 days to allow any food in the stomach to pass through completely.
  • High-Fibre Foods: Feed your guppy high-fibre foods like cooked, peeled peas, which act as a natural laxative. You can also offer plants like Elodea and Egeria, or live food such as shrimp.
  • Replace Water: Change 25% of the tank's water to improve water quality, as poor water conditions can contribute to constipation and other health issues.
  • Epsom Salt: Move your guppy to a quarantine tank and add Epsom salt (1/8 teaspoon per 5 gallons of water) to the water. This acts as a muscle relaxant and helps the fish release waste.
  • Increase Water Temperature: Guppies are cold-blooded, so raising the water temperature can boost their metabolism and aid digestion. Increase the temperature slowly and only by a couple of degrees over a few hours.

Preventing Constipation in Guppies

  • Provide a High-Quality Diet: Feed your guppies a varied and nutritious diet, including high-quality flake food, live food, and blanched vegetables like lettuce, peas, and zucchini.
  • Ensure Adequate Tank Size: Guppies need sufficient space to swim and exercise. As a general rule, provide at least one gallon of tank water for every inch of fish, with an extra 2 gallons for each additional guppy.
  • Maintain Water Temperature: Keep the water temperature warm enough (72-82 °F or 22-28 °C) to promote activity and healthy digestion.
  • Avoid Overfeeding: Feed your guppies only the recommended amount of food to prevent overconsumption and reduce the risk of constipation.
  • Provide Adequate Exercise: Ensure your tank is large enough and the water temperature is optimal to encourage your guppies to swim and stay active.
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Dropsy disease

Dropsy is a medical condition that affects both humans and fish, causing the belly to become bloated due to fluid accumulation in the guts and other internal organs. It is not very common in guppies, but when it does occur, it is usually caused by bacterial infections, polycystic kidney disease, amoebae, or mycobacteriosis.

Dropsy in guppies is primarily caused by a compromised immune system, which can be the result of poor water quality, poor nutrition, injuries, transportation, aggressive tank mates, or fluctuating water temperatures. Ammonia and nitrite spikes can also weaken the immune system and make guppies more susceptible to infection.

The symptoms of dropsy include a swollen, distended belly, protruding scales that form a pine cone appearance, a curved spine, behavioural changes, reduced appetite, lethargy, pale gills, bulging eyes, clamped fins, and increased gill movement.

If you suspect your guppy has dropsy, it is important to act quickly as the prognosis is often unfavourable. Early treatment can save the fish's life in some cases. The recommended treatment options include:

  • Quarantining the affected guppy in a ""hospital tank" with a sponge filter.
  • Daily Epsom salt baths in a separate container (2 tablespoons of Epsom salt per gallon of water).
  • Feeding the guppy fresh, high-quality food, such as good flake food.
  • Treating the tank with antibiotics, which can be prescribed by a veterinarian.
  • Improving water conditions by performing regular water changes, keeping the water temperature stable, and providing hiding places to reduce stress levels.
  • Testing water quality regularly using a reliable aquarium test kit.
  • Feeding a varied, high-quality diet, including fresh and frozen foods, and high-quality pellets or flakes.
  • Consulting a veterinarian for proper treatment and medication.

It is important to note that dropsy caused by bacterial infections cannot be treated, and euthanasia may be recommended to prevent the spread of infection. However, dropsy caused by other factors such as water pollution, stress, or improper nutrition can be managed with the above treatments.

To prevent dropsy, it is crucial to maintain good water quality, provide a varied and nutritious diet, avoid overfeeding, and reduce stress by providing a spacious tank with hiding places and avoiding aggressive tank mates.

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Inappropriate water conditions

Guppies are susceptible to bloating due to inappropriate water conditions. Poor water quality is one of the most common causes of illnesses that involve dropsy. Dropsy is a disease characterised by fluid build-up in the internal organs, body cavity, or tissues of the fish. The condition is also referred to as the 'swollen belly disease'.

The exact cause of dropsy can be difficult to determine. However, one of the reasons for dropsy is Mycobacteriosis, a bacterial infection that can occur in fish with a poor immune system. Another cause could be an infection in the fish's kidneys, a parasitic infection, or liver dysfunction. Poor water quality can also cause dropsy.

Dropsy is not a disease itself but a symptom of another condition. It involves the accumulation of fluid in a fish's body, giving it a swollen or bloated appearance. The fluid accumulation is caused by the inability of the kidneys and/or gills to eliminate water from the body, resulting from the underlying health problem.

The internal swelling of dropsy causes a fish's scales to protrude and point away from the skin, giving the fish a "pine cone" appearance. The fish's gills may also appear pale.

To prevent dropsy, it is important to maintain good water quality and provide optimum living conditions for the guppies. This includes regular water changes, a clean filter, stable water temperature, and a stress-free environment.

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To prevent overfeeding, it is recommended to feed guppies twice a day at most and to offer them meals in quantities they can consume within the first 40 seconds. If there is any leftover food within this time frame, you should feed them less during the next meal. It is also important to maintain a balanced diet that includes a variety of fresh foods such as freeze-dried brine shrimp, bloodworms, tubifex worms, spirulina tablets, flakes, and veggie pellets.

If your guppy is already bloated due to overfeeding, you can try the following treatments:

  • Refrain from feeding your guppy for a couple of days to ease constipation.
  • Feed your guppy small amounts of cooked peas, which act as a natural laxative.
  • Soak freeze-dried and pellet-like foods in water before feeding to prevent them from expanding in your guppy's belly.

It is always better to prevent constipation than to treat it, so be careful with the amount and type of food you are giving to your guppies.

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Frequently asked questions

There are several reasons why your guppy might look bloated. It could be due to constipation, indigestion, or overfeeding. It could also be a sign of Dropsy disease, which is caused by a bacterial infection, poor water quality, or stress. If your guppy is female, it might be pregnant.

If your guppy is female and has a swollen belly, it is most likely pregnant. Other signs of pregnancy include behavioural changes such as aggression and hiding, as well as the development of a gravid spot – a dark spot located just above the anal fin that enlarges and becomes darker in colour.

If your guppy is bloated, you should first try to identify the cause. If it is due to constipation, you can try feeding it cooked peas as a natural laxative. For Dropsy, you can treat the water with antibiotics or Epsom salt, but the prognosis is often poor and euthanasia may be necessary.

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