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Floating and Sinking Issues

Goldfish Floating and Sinking Issues

Swimming disorders, such as floating haphazardly; bobbing at the surface; uncontrolled swimming, swimming at 45 degree angle or swimming vertical, or swimming upside down; sinking to the bottom 

A more natural environment for goldfish is a shallow pond with plenty of surface area. Aquariums and tanks are typically deeper than wider which can create serious issues for the more sensitive of the fancy goldfish; their bodies aren't designed for deep and narrow tanks. If we're going to keep goldfish in aquariums, we must make some compromises.  

Goldfish are bottom dwellers by nature. On the bottom is where they eat and rest. There's nothing quite as sad as a goldfish that can't stay on the bottom comfortably. It may live in constant fear that it will be eaten by a predator whether it's in a pond or in the safety of an aquarium.

The function of the swim bladder is to maintain the goldfish's buoyancy; giving it the ability to sink or rise, but some experts believe the swim bladder may also act as a conductor for sound or vibration. Loud booming noises could be one among many reasons a fish loses control of its ability to sink or rise at will.

The intestinal tract is connected to the swim bladder by a small tube where gas is exchanged. Ingested food in the tract creates carbon dioxide. This gas is exchanged back and forth from the tract to the bladder giving the fish the ability to sink or rise.

Goldfish that are fed too much at one time may gorge, and become constipated. The tract may slow, and even become impacted, trapping gas in the bladder, causing the fish to float aimlessly.
If food is withheld for long periods of time, the empty tract will cease to produce gas; causing the fish to lose its ability to rise, and may struggle to get off the bottom. 

A goldfish with a sinking disorder caused by lack of food doesn't have the ability to feed itself because it can't lift at a 45 degree angle to feed on the bottom or lift to catch falling food in the water. If the bladder is undamaged, it may regenerate and begin functioning again if the fish is fed small and frequent meals daily.

Forcing a goldfish with floating issues to the bottom of a deep tank could cause the swim bladder organ to rupture, causing permanent damage

Good digestive health is critical in eliminating swimming disorders. Feed less more often; feed a variety of veggies and flakes; feed consistently.

Some of the fancy fish develop digestive issues more easily than others, and some fish have floating disorders due to poor breeding or genetics. However true this may be, everything possible should be done to make certain these fish aren't suffering from constipation, and if this issue is ruled out, the water table should be lowered to assure these fish live comfortably.

Goldfish with permanent sinking issues can live a long and healthy life if kept in a healthy environment and fed consistently. Because Co2 is utilized in goldfish with a normal functioning bladder, those with a non functioning bladder may release bubbles from the mouth and or the gills as they chew and swallow. Goldfish with sinking issues seem to have no preference for deep or shallow water.

The aquarium in the photo below has a lowered water table for sensitive goldfish.

Courtesy of Cricket

  • Goldfish has uncontrolled swimming

Floating and Sinking Issues | Goldfish Emergency Floating and Sinking Issues | Goldfish Emergency Floating and Sinking Issues | Goldfish Emergency Floating and Sinking Issues | Goldfish Emergency Floating and Sinking Issues | Goldfish Emergency Floating and Sinking Issues | Goldfish Emergency Floating and Sinking Issues | Goldfish Emergency

The deeper your goldfish tank, the more pressure created by the volume of the water. This weight greatly affects some goldfish. The more sensitive goldfish contained in too tall of an aquarium may develop symptoms of uncontrolled swimming, floating or upside down syndrome. Depending on the amount of pressure and for how long the floating goldfish has been affected, or just how weak the organ is, this condition may or may not be life threatening.

Lowering the water table reduces water pressure, eliminating these types of problems in most goldfish that have genetic disorders. Parts of a Goldfish 

The swim bladder organ is connected to the intestinal tract where gas is exchanged; giving the fish the ability to sink to the bottom or rise to the top at will.

What causes this sensitivity in goldfish may always remain a mystery; in some cases the volume of water itself or perhaps a bacteria infection or digestive disorders could be responsible for weakening the bladder. A loud noise or a direct hit to the tank may be responsible. Some of these goldfish can eat, digest their food, and breathe without any problems, but the majority of these issues are caused from improper feeding. Most goldfish keepers make the mistake of feeding their fish only once, or twice a day; some even less which encourages the fish to gorge. Algae, the wonder plant

No specific type of goldfish is immune to floating issues

The digestive system of the goldfish evolved according to the food supply in its original and natural environment. In the wild, vegetation is found in abundance. Foods higher in protein such as fish eggs, worms, or small fry are scarce, and the competition is fierce. The goldfish spends every waking moment in search of food; finding a nibble here or a gobble there, they ingest small amounts of food frequently. Feed your fish several small meals every day, and feed consistently.

Goldfish have no stomachs like most animals

Feed a variety of foods. These fish greatly benefit from eating peas and fresh greens or algae, Mother nature provides a wide variety of vegetation, worms, bugs, fish eggs and fish, and so should we. Make sure you're feeding your properly; never sprinkle flakes or pellets on the surface. Although it's a trend to feed floating pellets; designed to bring pond fish to the surface for viewing; this trend encourages the fish to swallow air; which may disrupt the gas exchange from the intestinal tract to the swim bladder.

Goldfish are not designed to intake the air that we breathe; instead, they absorb the oxygen from the water as it passes through the gills. The oxygen is then absorbed into the blood stream.
Goldfish Feeding

Digestive Disorders

If you have an air pump or bubbler; remove it and replace it with a water pump. Some fish may intentionally or unintentionally swallow these bubbles; which may create complications with the swim bladder by disrupting the exchange of gas.

  • Goldfish floating upside down

Symptoms exhibited may worsen after water changes because of sudden and large pressure changes. To avoid further injury to these fish, increase number of water changes and decrease amount of water exchanged; performing smaller, but more frequent changes. Parts of a Goldfish

The most serious conditions may require the water table be lowered to match the length of the fish from head to tail. Some fish will recover quickly after the depth is lowered, and some will never recover, but the symptoms may be greatly reduced in shallow water. You may not need a pond pump at all if the water is less then 6" with a fan set up, and daily water changes performed.
Most fish suffering from floating disorders prefer water that is quiet so they'll have less trouble navigating. The more shallow the water, the higher the oxygen levels. The greater the surface area compared to the body of water, the greater the oxygen levels. Combining the two makes for heavily oxygenated water with or without a pond pump, but only with the use of a fan.

To make certain your fish tank or pond is free of harmful bacteria use Goldfish Salt Treatment  and  feed the gel food with natural antibiotic if you suspect your fish is infected internally.  Gel Food (Antibiotic) Recipe  

Feeding goldfish too much in one sitting can cause gorging, which leads to a slow moving tract, which leads to bad bacteria infection. Overfeeding can impact the intestinal tract eventually, leading to that fish's death. To determine which issue is causing your fish's floating disorder by process of elimination.

To relieve constipation administer the following intestinal flush remedy

one part castor or mineral oil
one part warm (tank or pond) water

Use an eye dropper or syringe to administer oil and water, place tip deep into throat and squeeze gently and slowly.

Scoop the fish and some tank water up in a separate container; gently catch up the fish in cupped hands; lift its head above the surface. After a moment it will gasp, giving you a chance to administer. The fish will spit and the container water will become contaminated, so hand carry the fish back home. Repeat as needed.

If you believe your fish has bad bacteria in its intestinal tract; long stringy pooh; pooh that is darker or lighter in color than the food it eats; replace the warm water with warm garlic water. Feed peas marinated in garlic water, and nothing but until it shows signs of improvement.

feed Recipe for Digestive Disorders

  • Goldfish swimming upside down

Some of the more delicate fancy fish may experience floating issues in deeper water just because they are awkward swimmers. Most goldfish with healthy bladders can easily tolerate 10 to 12" in depth.

It may take a few hours or a few days for the procedure to take affect. Some fish stop showing symptoms after lowering the table only a few inches, but some fish will need extreme therapy, requiring shallow water.

Point a fan where it skims across the surface keeping it exposed to fresh air when the water table is lowered


You may find that when the water table in your aquarium is reduced to a comfortable level for your goldfish, that it may not have enough space. If a larger tank or aquarium is needed, make sure you fill the new tank at the same level as the old to avoid further complications. Increase water changes if this places the stocking level over the standard of 2.5 gallons of water per inch of goldfish body.

Some fish preferred an increased depth because of suffering nitrate shock or poisoning in the past. These fish may have to separated from fish that require shallow depth.

If your tank is tall and your water table is low because of swimming issues, oxygen levels may drop, even if you have more than adequate surface action. Carbon dioxide is heavy, and even though the action may expel it, the gas may become trapped between the empty void between the surface of the water and the top of the tank. The carbon dioxide will be absorbed back into the water. It may be beneficial to point a fan at the surface, so that fresh air hits the water. This will assure your fish is getting all of the oxygen it needs.

The fish in this video has a serious floating issue due to constipation; bad bacteria and possibly due to gulping air from the bubblers or the surface. The red gills indicate the fish was in water with low oxygen levels.

Click here to view video  BEFORE

Here is the same fish just weeks later after the fish was administered oil and water; placed in shallow water for therapy; the diet and the set up improved by removing the top and adding an appropriately sized pond pump. Thanks to ice discus for providing the videos, for rescuing the fish from a bad situation, and for following our instruction here at goldfish emergency.

Click here to view video AFTER

Once the goldfish's condition is stabilized, after a period of time, you may be able to increase the level, but gradually. Try adding one only one inch with every weekly water change. Some of these fish may never be able to tolerate a high water table.

Goldfish Behavior

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