Pineconing is a distressing—and often fatal—condition in bettas that causes swelling all over the body, especially in scales, which swell and point outward like a pinecone.
Bettas that are pineconing often also lose their appetite. They spend most of their time at the bottom of the tank, occasionally darting up to the surface for oxygen. When bettas that are pineconing are at the bottom of their tank, they tend to spend a lot of time lying on their side.
Pineconing used to be identified with a medical condition called dropsy. Dropsy refers to the accumulation of fluid under the skin. It is observed in humans as well as in fish.
The modern understanding of pineconing, however, is that it is a symptom, not a disease. The underlying problem can be a bacterial, viral, or parasitic infection of the kidneys or the heart.
Bettas get these kinds of infections when they are placed in tanks with other infected fish, when their water isn’t changed often enough, and when exposure to toxic chemicals weakens their immune systems.
The only way to save your betta is to intervene at the first sign of a problem. Checking on your bettas every day is the only way to keep them healthy.
What Causes Betta Pineconing: How to Recognize the Earliest Signs of Infection in Your Bettas
Bettas love to eat—a lot. In the wild, bettas will eat food whenever they can find it. The natural environment of these fish is a tough, competitive world, where starvation is a constant possibility.
If you feed your bettas on a regular schedule, there is no danger that they will starve, unless they stop eating. That is exactly what happens in the earliest stages of an infection that can lead to betta pineconing.
As long as two weeks before changes in scales and swelling all over your betta’s body become obvious, your fish may lose interest in food.
Chances of survival are greater when treatment is started right away. Immediate treatment limits the disease and gives your betta’s immune system a chance to fight it off. If you wait until your fish is showing all the signs of betta pineconing, survival and recovery are not likely.
How Do You Treat Pineconing in Betta Fish, Part I: Quarantining a Betta You Just Bought to Make Sure It Doesn’t Have Betta Pineconing Disease
The best way to deal with betta pineconing disease is to keep it out of your tank. Any new betta needs to be quarantined for two weeks before placing it in the tank with other fish, Sometimes this goes against the natural instincts of betta owners who are especially enthusiastic about their new fish.
Fish hobbyists who find the perfect betta for breeding usually want to start breeding babies right away. This can be a serious mistake.
Nine times out of 10, you will be buying your betta from a pet store or a breeder whose setup you have not seen. This means that once you get your betta home, you should keep it in isolation to make sure that it does not have any diseases it can transmit to your other fish.
Even after your fish gets out of quarantine, you may need to get it into good shape before you even think about breeding it.
Some bettas will be ready for breeding the minute you get them home, because they were kept under optimal conditions.
But even if you have a good experience with a breeder or a pet store over and over again, it’s always a good idea to quarantine any fish before you put it in a tank with others.
How do you quarantine a new betta?
- Place your betta in a 5-gallon tank. Bettas that have a mild, survivable infection do better in bigger tanks, so they aren’t constantly ingesting another dose of the pathogens.
- Place your betta in with a lid you can lift to inspect your fish. You need to examine your betta from above to detect betta pineconing, especially if it is a female. Female betas can look swollen because they are full of eggs. An overhead view is always best for detecting betta pineconing disease.
- Don’t give your fish any preventative antibiotics. Giving fish antibiotics they do not need can lead to antibiotic resistance, which makes the drugs ineffective when your fish actually need them.
Betta pineconing can’t be treated with herbs, but there are a number of herbs that can keep your bettas from getting constipated, so you think they are swollen.
Give your bettas any of the following laxative herbs:
- Dried black myrobalan leaves.
- Dried banana leaves.
- Dried Indian almond leaves.
- Coconut husk.
- Ground mimosa seeds.
- Dried gruay leaves.
- Golden shower tree seed pod or bark.
These herbs also lower the pH of the water, encouraging the growth of a protective slime that protects your betta against injury. Just a teaspoon (5 grams) of one or two of these herbs is enough.
How Do You Treat Pineconing in Betta Fish, Part II: Quarantining a Betta You Suspect May Already Have Betta Pineconing Disease
Betta pineconing sometimes shows up after you have had a betta for months or even years. Everything may be fine, but your betta loses interest in eating and then shows other distressing symptoms.
The key to success with treating betta pineconing disease, rather than juust preventing it, is acting at the first sign of possible symptoms. If your betta doesn’t develop full-blown symptoms of the disease, you can always return them to their home tank after two weeks.
Any time you quarantine a betta, you need to put them in a 5-gallon tank. Providing your betta with enough room is even more important when you suspect they are sick. You need to follow these rules when you place a betta in a hospital tank.
- Remove and replace 25 percent of the water in the tank every day. This keeps nitrogen levels from getting too high.
- Add a heater to the tank to keep the temperature around 78 degrees Fahrenheit. Sick bettas need slightly lower temperatures that encourage oxygenation.
- Add aquarium salt (not table salt) to the tank at the rate of half a teaspoon per gallon of water when you set up the tank to encourage release of fluids. Add salt again every four days as you completely replace the water.
- Soak your betta’s food in Kanamycin, using the amount recommended on the label. This makes it easier for your fish to absorb the antibiotic.
- Don’t add any live plants to the tank.o
Should You Be Worrying If Your Betta Fish Is Pineconing?
The good news about betta pineconing is that it is a rare condition when owners take good care of their bettas. Put your betas in a large tank and keep it clean, and you will probably never have to deal with betta pineconing.