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Dropsy is a condition in fish describing the abdominal distension that occurs following any damage to the organs of osmoregulation leading to retention of fluid within the abdominal cavity and tissues.

Dropsy can arise from several causes:

Infectious diseases: bacteria, parasites and viruses which affect the kidneys

Non-infectious causes: physiological disorders of the osmoregulatory system, tumours or injuries to the organs of osmoregulation, senile-induced osmoregulatory dysfunction.

Dropsy often coincides with exophthalmia as there is tissue oedema around the eye.

Clinical Signs

Typical signs include: distended abdomen which causes the scaled to be raised in a 'pine-cone' appearance, bilateral exophthalmos, oedema and swelling of other tissues including the vent.


The clinical signs are pathognomonic for dropsy.

Investigation of the underlying cause of the presentation may include: water quality tests, cytology, histopathology, culture, viral isolation.


Water changes to improve water quality should be attempted.

Treating the underlying cause of the disease is important, though many infectious causes do not respond readily to treatment. This may involve administration of antibiotics in the feed or in the water.

Dropsy is the marker of a serious condition and mortality is common. Euthanasia may be performed if dropsy is severe and unresponsive.

Dropsy Learning Resources
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Ornamental Fish Q&A 07


Hoole, D. (2001) Diseases of Carp and other Cyprinid fishes John Wiley and Sons

Fairfield, T. (2000) A commonsense guide to fish health Barron's Educational Series

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