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Ich (also known as white spots disease) is a fairly common parasitic infection in betta fish. Whether you are a veteran betta keeper or a beginner, an Ich outbreak can be quite stressful to deal with. Although it’s an easily treatable disease, if not diagnosed early, it can cause massive mortality infecting other fish in the tank.
The following is an all-encompassing guide to ich/ick, including the telltale signs to detect the infection in bettas, causative factors, and effective treatments. Furthermore, the subsequent section contains information on medicating fish the right way and tips to keep white spot disease at bay.
What Is The Ich (White Spot Disease)?
Ich is a parasitic disease caused by Ichthyophthirius multifiliis protozoan, an external parasite that attaches itself to the fish’s fins, body, and gills.
It weakens the slime coat to burrow into the epithelial tissue of fish and feed off cells. After that, the parasite releases the host and falls to the bottom, where it goes into reproduction mode, bringing forth 100s of free-swimming offspring ready to infect more fish. And the cycle continues.
Ich is a highly contagious disease that spreads rapidly from one fish to another without an additional host. Typically, it takes more or less 2 weeks to kill a fish.
An ich outbreak is an emergency; if you don’t catch it early and initiate treatment, you will lose your aquatic friends to the deadly infection within a short period.
How To Tell If Your Betta Have Ich?
The telltale sign of ich infection is the presence of small white spots on the fins, body, or gills. It should look like someone has sprinkled salt on your betta.
Ich first attacks the fins, as it has less slime coat, and then progresses further to the upper body. Sometimes, Ich is only found on the fish’s gills.
Apart from the most identifiable symptom (white spots), your betta may exhibit the following signs as well:
- Excessive flashing: you may find your fish rubbing or scratching against rocks or decorations in an attempt to take the parasite off the skin.
- Spending time on the surface: ich parasite, when it attacks the gill tissue, makes it hard for the fish to breathe; as a result, you may notice your betta often coming to the top of the tank for oxygen.
- Distress breathing: it can be identified by short, rapid gill movements or labored gill movements.
- Reduced appetite: if your fish isn’t eating as usual, it indicates stress or disease.
- Clamped fins: fins tightly held against the body shows sickness in fish
- Unusual behavior: if your betta fish seems lethargic or is hiding a lot lately, it means he’s either stressed or the disease is taking its toll.
NOTE: The white spots may not be as apparent on white or pale bettas or if the infection is limited to the gills.
Do Not Confuse Ich With Epistylis
Epistylis is a disease often mistaken for Ich. Due to the shared similarities between the two, it’s easy to misdiagnose Epistylis as Ich.
Following are the differentiating characteristics to help you determine which is which:
- Ich typically manifests as equally-sized, small white spots covering the fish. Whereas the physical appearance of Epistylis can range anywhere from a white powdery dusting across the fish to raised, fuzzy-looking patches, translucent grey/white spots, or individual granules resembling coarse salt.
- Epistylis commonly appears on/around the eyes, which is uncommon in an ich-affected fish.
White Spots On Betta: What Causes Ich or Ick?
Adding new fish to the tank without a period of quarantine can cause Ich. Remember that a betta may not show symptoms initially but can still be a carrier of disease and infest the whole aquarium.
Besides contamination, prolonged or chronic stress is a major contributing factor to the Ich outbreak.
Environmental stress weakens the fish’s immune system making them more susceptible to catching infections. The common stressors include:
- Poor water quality (high levels of ammonia, nitrite, nitrate, or significant changes in pH levels)
- Temperature swings
- Inadequate oxygen levels
- Aggressive tank mates or bullying behavior
- Lack of nutrition
- Improper handling or transportation
How To Treat Ich Infection In Bettas?
Ich is a fish killer, but fortunately, it’s fairly straightforward to treat the infection.
Step 1: Raise Temperature
Do you know medications have no effect on Ich until it’s attached to the fish’s body? Only when the parasites leave the host to reproduce, we can effectively eradicate them.
Exposing Ich to warmer temperatures (83 to 84 Fahrenheit) speeds up its life cycle, forcing the protozoa to complete its reproductive stages more quickly. As a result, it causes the ich cysts to detach from the fish’s body sooner.
And once the cysts are free-swimming, they become vulnerable to medication and are more easily killed.
Don’t crank up the temperature all of a sudden. Raise it gradually and incrementally over a day or more and lower it the same way after the treatment.
NOTE: Increasing temperature might not be the best option for a heavily planted tank, especially if you have sensitive plants. Also, if you have other tank mates, make sure they are able to tolerate the heat.
Ich can also be treated in normal temperatures. But it will take more time to cure the infection.
Step 2: Add Aquarium Salt
Salt in itself is a highly effective medication against external parasites like Ich. It’s cheap and readily available. However, salt cannot be used with most live plants and snails.
Most importantly, when using salt for aquariums, one has to be mindful of the correct dosage. It is easy to accidentally overdose, which may kill (not just Ich) but everything in your tank.
- For bettas, add 1 tablespoon of salt per 5 to 7 gallons.
- If you got plants in your tank, go for 1 tsp per 10 gallons.
Step 3: Increase Aeration
As we raise the temperature of the tank, it decreases the amount of dissolved oxygen in the water.
If your betta fish is already experiencing breathing difficulty or gasping for air, and on top of it, you increase the heat, the stress levels will run rampant and may kill your fish in a short time.
To make sure that doesn’t happen, employ air stones in your aquarium to increase the oxygen content in the water.
Step 4: Add Medications
There are several Ich medications sold under different brand names. Based on personal experience and reviews from thousands of customers, we have found Ich-X to be the most effective and safest medication for curing Ich infections (followed by CopperSafe).
NOTE: Remove carbon from your filter before introducing medicine into the tank.
The active ingredients in Ich are malachite green and formaldehyde. These chemicals work synergetically to eliminate the Ich parasite and don’t cause any adverse effects on fish.
The best part? Ich-X is relatively safe for invertebrates and plants. However, due to the presence of malachite green, it may give your aquarium a slightly green tint.
- Give your betta fish the first dose of ICH-X (based on the directions mentioned on the package)
- Wait for 24 hours and do a water change
- Dose again
- Repeat the steps until you can’t see any white spots on your fish
NOTE: After the last spot has been seen, continue the medication for at least 1 additional week while keeping the salt concentration and temperature at the treatment level for about 2 weeks. This is done to ensure all life forms of the Ich parasite are destroyed.
NOTE: After 5 days of treatment, if you don’t see any dramatic improvement in your betta fish, you might have misdiagnosed the disease. It’s not Ich. Stop dosing with ICH-X and reevaluate the symptoms.
This is another recommended medication for Ich. CopperSafe can be slightly more toxic to the fish than ICH-X, but it effectively cures the white spot disease.
Comply with the usage instructions on the bottle and follow the same process mentioned above.
NOTE: Do not use CopperSafe if you have plants or invertebrates in your tank.
Step 5: Make Water Changes
Perform water changes up to 30% every alternate day and vacuum the substrate, picking up the eggs the parasites lay.
If you have noticed, some Ich medications specifically mentioned not making water changes during treatment. Ever wondered why?
A partial water change dilutes the medication. Therefore, to maintain the required concentration, you’ll need to re-dose the tank, adding enough medication that compensates for the loss.
Step 6: Adjust Feeding & Lighting Schedule
During the treatment period, try to reduce the lighting duration. It lowers the stress and helps your fish relax down.
If your betta is showcasing a loss of appetite, don’t drop food unnecessarily into the tank. Moreover, it’s a good idea to back off a little from feedings during sickness.
Ich and Secondary Infections
Even if you have successfully gotten rid of white spots on your betta, the job is not done yet.
After the Ich is gone, the fish is still weak and might have wounds on the body, making it an easy target for a secondary bacterial infection.
To ensure that doesn’t happen, watch your fish closely during recovery and provide optimum habitat. Also, try to identify what triggered the Ich infection in the first place and eliminate the causative agent.
Can You Cure Ich With Garlic Treatment?
You might have heard fishkeepers using garlic to combat Ich. But does it really work, or is just yet another myth circling around the fraternity?
The truth is garlic doesn’t kill the Ich. It acts as a stimulant for appetite boost and helps strengthen the immune system, enabling the fish to fight the parasite.
Keep in mind that garlic alone can’t cure Ich. It’s best to be used with medications and not as a standalone parasite treatment.
How To Prevent Ich In Fish?
Prevention is always better than cure. Here are some tips to prevent ich disease in fish:
- Always quarantine new fish for approximately 30 days before adding it to your main tank. Typically, active diseases get evident 1-3 weeks after shipping.
- Maintain optimum water quality, keep ammonia/nitrite at 0 ppm, and work on minimizing stress sources such as overcrowding, rapid changes in temperature or pH, etc.
- Feed a varied, nutritious diet.
Is Ich Ever-Present In Fish Tanks?
Some fishkeepers believe Ich is always dormant in the tank, while others claim it can only be introduced.
This topic has been debated forever. There are barely any scientific studies conducted on this subject, and for that reason, we don’t know the truth yet. We can only speculate.
However, it’s best to assume that Ich is always present in your tanks. It subconsciously forces you to always keep up with the maintenance, ensuring optimal water quality, correct parameters, feeding the right food, and whatnot.
Eventually, all this work will keep your betta healthy and away from diseases.
Can fish survive Ich treatment?
If the infection is diagnosed early, it’s highly unlikely that your fish will die.
How long does Ich last in a tank?
Presumably, Ich lives forever in aquariums but in dormant stages. If your fish got Ick, typically, it takes 5 to 7 days of treatment to recover.
Is UV sterilization effective against Ick?
A UV sterilizer only kills the free-floating parasites, which helps control the Ich growth. But it can’t eradicate the parasites as Ich can be present in different life stages that are unaffected by UV sterilization.
An indicator of healthy fish is a good slime coat which protects them from external parasites like Ich.
Most fish have some level of natural resistance to Ich. All they need is clean water, a balanced diet, and a stress-free environment to defend themselves against these disease-causing microorganisms.