When my gourami gets sick, I know it’s something serious and cause for concern. While a hardy species, it has its weaknesses too. For instance, they become more vulnerable to diseases and injuries as they age, which may cause them to swim on their sides.

The most commonly known reason for gourami to swim on its side is the swim bladder infection. However, other causes that could make them swim sideways include constipation, infectious aquatic diseases, and unfavorable water temperatures.

There are also cases where the gourami may swim on the side when it accidentally overfeeds or if it’s too old. It could also be sleeping or, in some cases, dead. Dead gourami may float while lying on the side, and you may not realize it unless you take a closer look.

Causes: Why is my gourami swimming on its side?

Below are some reasons that may make them swim on their side or sideways. Gouramis may swim on their sides in both normal and abnormal circumstances.

CausesWhat To Do
Extreme/poor temperaturesKeep it between 70-80°F
OverfeedingOnly give the fish enough food.
Remove any remnants after feeding.
ConstipationGive them tinned peas.
Old ageProvide resting areas and good food.
SleepingLeave them alone.
IchTreat them with antibiotics.
Poor healthTreat the specific cause or call the vet.
Water changeEnsure 6.0 to 7.0 pH, 10 to 20 dGH, and 70-80°F
Dead or dyingRemove it when dead.

1. Extreme temperature

Low temperatures (below 70°F) often cause a slowed digestive process in fish. Gouramis will likely experience challenges digesting food, especially proteins.
The implication is that the undigested food leads to gas build-up in the gut; hence, the swim bladder condition develops. With a swim bladder infection, gourami can’t swim upright, and you could spot it swimming on its side.

The same goes for temperatures beyond 80°F, which are too high for the fish.

2. Overfeeding

While parasitic worms and germs in the intestines can trigger swim bladder infection, overfeeding, feeding too fast, or ingesting excessive air while feeding are the most common causes of the condition. 

The fish gulps down granules that enlarge like sponges as they suck up water in the mouth and the rest of the digestive tract, causing constipation. When sufficient pressure is applied to the swim bladder, the gourami will most likely swim in any direction except upright.

3. Constipation

If the gourami is constipated, it is likely to experience a gas build-up that will lead to a swim bladder infection in the same way as it would if the fish were overfed.

Feeding the fish tinned peas helps do away with constipation.

4. Old age

Older gourami will be less active than younger ones. It will tend to rest more, especially at the bottom of the tank. Resting gourami will likely lie on its side, and a closer look can reveal whether it’s still breathing. If not, it’ll be dead.

5. Sleeping

Gourami is known to sleep on its side, unlike sleeping koi, which do so in their normal swimming position. The resting position is mostly seen at night when gourami prefers to stay calm. However, sometimes gourami may sleep for long, which is quite uncommon.

Gouramis sleep for a few minutes, move around a bit, then sleep again till they’re fully rested.

6. The gourami has the ich

Upon closely watching the fish, you may realize it’s rubbing itself on the substrate. The reason for this behavior is a condition called ich.
It’s a relatively uncomfortable experience for the gourami and can often cause spots to develop on the fish scales. It is critical to note that the ich can often be fatal if left unattended.

Due to the sickness from the ich, your gourami could also turn white, showing that it’s unhealthy.

7. Underlying health conditions

Because of varied illnesses, some fish may rest on their sides, especially at the bottom of the tank. Illnesses such as fin rot, dropsy, and columnaris, can render a fish so frail and motionless that it can only stay in one position, mostly at the bottom of the tank.

8. Water change

A water change in an aquarium or a pond is likely to influence water quality changes. Gourami will pick out the difference in water quality; if the new water is of poor quality, it’ll stress the fish.

It will most likely lie on its side if the conditions created by the water are unfavorable. At times, the new tank syndrome occurs due to drastic changes in the living conditions of the tank.

The best parameters should be a pH of 6.0 to 7.0, hardness of 10 to 20 dGH, and a water temperature of 70-80 degrees Fahrenheit. Remove the nitrates and ammonia from the water as often as possible to keep the fish healthy.

9. It could be dead or dying

Gouramis have a life expectancy of about 5 years. They get slower as they get older. Their sluggishness will make them rest more frequently, either by lying down on the ground or locating something to lean on.

They may also get tired faster and find it difficult to flap their fins on either side. Thus, they may opt to use one-side flaps. They are also more susceptible to infections that can severely weaken them and render them immobile for extended periods.

Dead fish often float because the bacteria that eat their bodies produce gases that fill all the body cavities when decomposing. These gases influence buoyancy because gases are less dense than water.

Always also confirm whether the floating gourami is still alive or dead.

What to do when gourami is swimming on its side

If you suspect any issues with your gourami, do the following:

  1. The first step is to check the water quality. If there is a problem with the water quality, always perform a water change. The most appropriate parameters for the water are a pH of between 6.0 and 7.0, a hardness of 10 to 20 dGH, and a water temperature of 70-80°F.
  2. Eliminate the likelihood of stressors by introducing plants into the tank. Gouramis prefer heavily planted areas because they use plants as hiding places. Also, plants enrich the water with oxygen, especially during the day. They will struggle less for oxygen in a planted tank.
  3. Consider treating underlying illnesses in the event there are any. One of the best ways to treat a swimbladder disorder is to feed the fish some peas.
  4. Check to see if the fish is asleep. You could be worried for nothing since a sleeping gourami may lie on its side and appear to be moving when the water moves up and down.

Upon effecting such action, one will successfully establish the likely problems and apply the most appropriate solutions. Besides gourami, goldfish can also swim on their sides due to the same reasons.

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