Bdellovibrio and like organisms (BALOs) are largely distributed in soils and in water bodies obligate predators of gram-negative bacteria that can affect bacterial communities. Potential applications of BALOs include biomass reduction, their use against pathogenic bacteria in agriculture, and in medicine as an alternative against antibiotic-resistant pathogens. Such different environments and uses mean that BALOs should be active under a range of viscosities. In this study, the predatory behaviour of two strains of the periplasmic predator B. bacteriovorus and of the epibiotic predator Micavibrio aeruginosavorus was examined in viscous polyvinylpyrrolidone (PVP) solutions at 28 and at 37°C, using fluorescent markers and plate counts to track predator growth and prey decay. We found that at high viscosities, although swimming speed was largely decreased, the three predators reduced prey to levels similar to those of non-viscous suspensions, albeit with short delays. Prey motility and clumping did not affect the outcome. Strikingly, under low initial predator concentrations, predation dynamics were faster with increasing viscosity, an effect that dissipated with increasing predator concentrations. Changes in swimming patterns and in futile predator–predator encounters with viscosity, as revealed by path analysis under changing viscosities, along with possible PVP-mediated crowding effects, may explain the observed phenomena. © 2019 Society for Applied Microbiology and John Wiley & Sons Ltd.