African Dwarf Frog Floating At The Top: Reasons & Solutions

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I got a bit nervous when I first noticed my African Dwarf Frog was always floating at the top. I knew it wasn’t a good sign, so I did some investigating to figure out what was going on. As it turned out, there are many reasons why an ADF might be floating at the top.

African dwarf frogs tend to float at the top due to Dropsy, a disease that causes fluid to accumulate in their bodies. Besides floating, the infected frog will also appear bloated. However, African Dwarf Frogs may also float due to overfeeding, inadequate water conditions, and lack of energy.

As we move forward, I will take you step-by-step through the most common causes of a floating frog and their associated treatment options. That includes testing the water parameters, treating Dropsy, and feeding your frog correctly.

Why Is My African Dwarf Frog Floating?

African Dwarf Frogs are aquatic. They spend most of their time in the water. However, they have proper lungs. The frogs will occasionally swim to the surface to breathe air.

However, these frogs are bottom dwellers.[1] In other words, you expect them to return to the bottom at some point. If your frogs are floating at the top for long periods, these are some of the common causes of their behavior:

1. The African Dwarf Frog Is Bloated

Bloating is complicated because beginners don’t know whether they should take the condition seriously. This is because bloating has numerous causes. For instance, African Dwarf Frogs become bloated when they are full of eggs. 

However, the females will shrink back to their original size once they lay the eggs. Food-related bloating is a more significant concern because overfeeding can have lasting consequences for African Dwarf Frogs, compromising their health and shortening their lives.

In the short term, the frogs will become fat and bloated. People can easily overfeed frogs because they are opportunistic feeders. Not only do they act like they are always hungry, but they won’t refuse food.

If you don’t know any better, you may surrender to their demands for food until you kill them. Food and gas-related bloating can be fatal. 

But they are not as dangerous as Dropsy, which is the primary concern among aquarists. A frog with Dropsy looks like a balloon. But rather than air, fluid has accumulated in the frog’s body. Bloating from Dropsy can happen overnight and without warning.

If you suspect Dropsy, consult a vet. They can analyze the frog to rule out the possibility of rocks, gravel, or any other object the frog could have eaten. Also, in the second part of this article, I will share a helpful Youtube video to help you with bloated frogs.

Dropsy doesn’t sound particularly serious until you realize that the accumulated fluid exerts pressure on organs like the kidney and liver, doing permanent harm in the long run.

2. Your Frog Doesn’t Have Enough Energy

Some frogs float because they are sluggish.[2] Like humans, frogs have moments where they don’t want to exert themselves. Floating prevents them from exerting unnecessary effort. They may stay at the top for hours at a time.

You can differentiate between a frog in distress and one in a state of idle relaxation by looking for symptoms of disease and despair. For instance, healthy frogs have a solid color, with skin free of bruises, lumps, wounds, and openings.

Sick or dying African Dwarf Frogs are pale with tattered skin.[3] When they float at the top, they are completely still. They will come to life every few minutes, kicking and swimming before returning to their immobile state.

3. The Water Conditions Don’t Suit African Dwarf Frogs

Fish and frogs have one thing in common. When the conditions in their environment become unbearable, they will attempt to escape by running to the top. Frogs are more dangerous because they can crawl out of the tank if it doesn’t have a cover. 

If the aquarium has a lid, the frogs will float at the surface because they have no means of escape. While floating frogs are concerning, it is better than allowing them to escape the aquarium. They won’t tolerate the dry conditions outside the tank, not for long.[4]

4. Your Frog Prefers The Upper Section

Some frogs float at the top because they want to. For the creatures, floating at the top is an enjoyable activity to pass the time. 

You can tell that the frog is at ease because the creature’s nose keeps poking out of the water. The rest of the frog’s body is still beneath the water. They will sprawl their limbs out in a posture called ‘Burbling.’

How To Treat African Dwarf Frogs That Keep Floating?

If the African Dwarf Frog is dead, remove it. But don’t flush it down the toilet. You don’t want to unleash deadly infections among the amphibians in your region. Put the dead frog in a paper towel and throw it in the trash. If the frog is still alive, you can take the following steps to treat it:

1. Adjusting The Aquarium Conditions

Start by improving the water quality. This means maintaining a pH of 6.5 to 7.8, a temperature of 72 to 78 degrees F, GH of 5 to 20, and KH of 4 to 15.[5] Frogs are just as sensitive to the quality of their water as fish.

To measure the water parameters, I use the API Water Test Kit (link to Amazon). This bundle also measures ammonia, nitrates, and nitrites, which should be kept at 0 ppm. If they are above that, it is better to perform more frequent water changes.

For the water hardness, I use the 16 in 1 Drinking Water Test Kit (link to Amazon). That bundle also measures metals such as mercury, lead, iron, and copper. It will also tell you if the chlorine or chloramine levels are too high.

If you want your African Dwarf Frog to spend more time at the bottom, it is best to create a conducive environment. Keep the following considerations in mind:[6]

  • Avoid locations with heavy human traffic and sunlight.
  • Create a consistent day/night cycle. Give the frogs a maximum of 12 hours of daylight. In case you don’t have the time to switch the lights on or off at the same time each day, install an automatic timer.
  • Perform regular water changes, at least 20 percent each week. Keep a test kit on hand. Don’t permit the parameters to vary too drastically from the ideal range. 
  • Install an appropriate filter. African Dwarf Frogs do not like strong currents. 
  • Add plants like Hornwort and Java Fern to the tank. Plants will put the frogs at ease, especially if they are stressed.
  • Add peaceful tankmates like guppies, danios, neon tetras, and ghost shrimp. A frog may float at the surface because it doesn’t want to confront violent neighbors such as cichlids in the water below. They will also swim at the top because of stress. Hiding places like plants and decorations can alleviate that stress.
  • Maintain an African Dwarf Frog community of 2 or 3 frogs. These creatures are social. They prefer to live in groups. A group makes the frogs feel more secure, which, in turn, alleviates stress.

2. Treating Bloated African Dwarf Frogs

Because the causes of Dropsy are challenging to identify, a vet will focus their efforts on fighting the symptoms, specifically the bloating. They can do this by draining the excess fluid, a solution that provides immediate relief because it alleviates the pressure on the organs.

I highly suggest letting the vet drain the fluid. Also, try not to listen to people who want you to add salt to the aquarium. Yes, salt can draw the excess liquid out, but your frog is unlikely to survive the procedure.[7]

African Dwarf Frogs are freshwater creatures. They don’t like saltwater. Exposing them to salt will only make their death more painful. If your frog is clearly suffering, and you want to end the pain, consider euthanasia, especially if you don’t have access to a vet.

You might be tempted to drain the fluid yourself by getting a needle and pushing it into the frog’s abdomen. But you don’t know what you’re doing, which means that you are just as likely to puncture a vital organ.

3. Feeding Your African Dwarf Frog Properly

Some people feed their frogs three times a week, and they always give them enough food to satisfy the frogs on these days. Others feed the creatures every day, but they only provide small amounts of food, not enough to fill the frogs.

Choose a schedule that suits you and your frogs. As a rule of thumb, I suggest giving the frogs what they can eat in 10 to 20 minutes. But don’t forget to remove the leftovers. Wait half an hour after feeding them and remove the uneaten food.

Though, if you have scavengers like shrimp, you can leave some of the leftovers on the substrate for the creatures to eat. 

4. Choosing The Right Tank Size

The tank size is essential. With fish, you need the biggest tank you can afford. But with African Dwarf Frogs, a large aquarium is a problem. These frogs must swim to the surface to breathe. 

But they are not strong swimmers, which means that a deep tank will cause unnecessary strain for the frogs whenever they have to swim to the surface. 

Don’t be so surprised if a frog in that situation drowns because it can’t reach the top. Even if the frog survives, it will eventually die from the stress. You don’t want the depth of the tank to exceed 12 inches.[8] 

Do African Dwarf Frogs Play Dead?

African Dwarf Frogs do not play dead. They may float at the top for long periods, but that doesn’t mean they are playing dead. More than likely, the frogs are in a state of relaxation. It isn’t about fooling you or the other creatures in the tank. They just don’t want to exert themselves.

Every once in a while, they will come to life, suddenly kicking and swimming. But you can’t prove that they were playing dead. 

How Long Does It Take For An African Dwarf Frog To Drown?

It takes 15 minutes for African Dwarf Frogs to drown. African Dwarf Frogs are aquatic creatures. However, because they have lungs, they must rise to the surface to breathe air. They can only stay submerged for 15 minutes, which means they must swim to the top several times a day to get air.

A frog that stays underwater for more than 15 minutes risks drowning. But the world outside the tank is just as dangerous. You shouldn’t keep them outside the water for more than 15 minutes. The dehydration will kill them.[9]

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African dwarf frogs typically float at the top due to the excess fluid on their bodies. However, several factors can make them float at the surface for prolonged periods, including overfeeding, bad water conditions, and lethargy.

The first step would be to test the water parameters and consult a vet. If an expert has diagnosed Dropsy, it may choose to drain out the fluid. You might be tempted to do it yourself, although I do not recommend it. You can easily damage internal organs.