What is Ich?
Ich or Ichthyophthirius (pronounced “ick”) is a free swimming protozoan parasite that infects the skin of fish. The infection can also take place within the gills which is much harder to detect making it more dangerous and threatening to your tank.
Parasites embedded in the skin create small white cysts. This can cause a lot of irritation leading fish to rub against objects. As cysts fall off of the fish they act as incubators and soon release more protozoa into the aquarium water. Though ich organisms may be in your water, it luckily does not always mean your fish will become infected. Read about prevention at the bottom of this page to fully understand why bettas and other fish may or may not become infected with ich.
Ich is a disease that is very curable but if left untreated will more than likely be lethal.
How to spot Ich…
Your number one indicator of this disease will be small white specks that look like grains of salt on the body of your betta. You may see just a few growths or so many that fins begin to clamp together. Ich is mainly a skin infection which will cause irritation to the body. Infected fish will rub up against items in the tank as if they are trying to itch themselves. Along with these signs, a lethargic demeanor and a loss of appetite sinks in as the illness progresses. It is best to treat this disease as soon as it is spotted.
What are your options for treatment?
The good news is that there is a healthy and low cost way to easily free your betta as well as other fish from this unfortunate disease. In fact, most breeders prefer this method over using chemicals and medication.
The simplest and most natural way to treat this disease is to raise the water temperature to 90 degrees Fahrenheit(32 degrees Celsius). Ich thrives in cooler water. Next you should add basic aquarium salt. The salt will aid your betta’s immunities to promote self-healing. The growths will soon drop off over the next few days. Finally you will need to perform a complete water change to remove free swimming parasites as well as the old cysts that contain many new organisms.
Medications can be used to remove infection if you prefer. However, I urge you to be very cautious when dosing. If you are treating an aquarium you should be able to safely follow guidelines as instructed on the packaging. When treating a bowl it is easy to accidentally overdose your betta fish.
How can you protect your fish from Ich in the future?
The best general disease preventative is to keep your fish habitat clean with safe water levels. In my experience, I have never encountered a case of Ich in any of my personal aquariums or betta bowls. I have only dealt with it working in the fish department at a big name pet store. In fact, that job is what originally caused me to become such a fish hobbyist.
So why are fish more prone to Ich in a retail setting?
It is simply due to constant, careless shipping conditions. The new fish that come in are stressed out and more prone to illness.
Once they are introduced to the new tanks that they can begin to heal. The good news is that retailers care about the fish more than the people they received them from. I know first hand that pet store aquariums check their water pH, ammonia, alkaline, and nitrate levels twice per day. They also use aquarium salt for all freshwater tropical fish as well as stress coat which contains aloe vera. These two things aid in maintaining a healthy slime coat to fend off potential infectious threats lurking in the water. Which brings me to my next point.
The ich protozoan can live freely in the tank and not affect a healthy fish. This is why I urge you to take your aquarium maintenance seriously and keep your tank a safe place. When you bring a new fish home you should try adding some aquarium salt and stress coat much like the pet store I worked for does. Lastly, as an absolute must, accurately temperature-acclimate your betta or new tank mate to make sure stress levels stay as low as they can be. This consists of floating the new fish bag or cup within the tank water for about ten minutes to prevent temperature shock to the betta or any other fish being added. I know it’s “just a fish”, but this is still a new situation they are experiencing and any extra care will help you prevent any of your fish from catching ich.