How to Treat Ich or White Spot Disease on Freshwater Fish
Ich is one of the most common diseases that your aquarium fish can encounter. Although there are many options for how to treat this condition, we have found that this is the most effective method. This is based upon more than a decade’s experience managing 100 to 200 fish tanks and importing wild-caught species.
What is Ich?
The Ichthyophthirius Multifiliis Protozoan, also known as ick, or white spot disease is an external parasite. It attaches to fish’s fins and bodies by creating a small white capsule. After feeding off the fish and growing to maturity, it falls off the fish, encapsulates itself on the ground or other aquarium surface, and rapidly replicates itself. Once the cyst is broken open, hundreds more ich protozoa will be released into the aquarium. They are capable of swimming for about two to three weeks until they find another host. The greater your fish’s chances for full recovery are the earlier you catch and treat the infection.
This microscopic image shows ich at its trophont stage, eating under the skin.
Do My Fish Have Ich?
A fish with ich looks like it has tiny crystals embedded on its body. Since there’s less slime coating in those areas, it’s easier to spot the parasite. We notice ich more often on the fins. Other symptoms include loss of appetite and rapid breathing. Fish may also rub their bodies against surfaces or hide.
You may see five spots today, then 35 tomorrow if your fish has ich from an external parasite. Some fish can get stress ich, or stress spots. This spreads across the whole body, not just the fins. Stress ich is when you see the same number of spots today as tomorrow, but with no increase. This may not respond to the treatment plan below.
In a rough analogy ich could be described as chickenpox. These are skin conditions caused by an infectious microbe. Stress acne is a condition that is caused by hormones. The treatments for chickenpox versus stress acne are very different, and the same applies to ich versus stress ich. You can read our article on stress ich to find out more.
Clown loaches may get ich especially if the water is too cold.
Can Ich Affect Humans
Thankfully, no. You will not be infected if you touch the aquarium water. However, make sure to thoroughly wash your hands and forearms so that you will not accidentally pass the disease to other aquariums. Also, do not share any equipment such as siphons and nets between fish tanks. If you must reuse aquarium tools, you can disinfect them with very hot tap water and chlorine and then allow the items to completely dry before reuse.
What is the Best Ich Treatment for You?
There are numerous techniques for treating ich, from gentle herbal solutions to very invasive ones, but after years of testing, Aquarium Solutions Ich-X is our medication of choice. It’s very effective and safe to use with any fish (even scaleless ones), shrimp, snails, and live plants.
1. First, you need to identify the illness and confirm that it is ich. Because velvet and stress ich look very similar it is worth waiting 24 hours to confirm diagnosis. 2. Dose Ich-X according to the instructions, which is 5 ml of medication per 10 gallons of aquarium water, and wait 24 hours. Do not give ich half-strength medication if you have sensitive fish. This concentration is not strong enough to kill them. We have never encountered any problem with any species after treating thousands of fish. 3. Change one-third of the water and dose the aquarium again at the same concentration of 5 ml of Ich-X per 10 gallons of water. Remember to add enough medication to treat the total water volume of the aquarium, not just the volume of the water removed. 4. Keep repeating Step 3 every other day until you stop seeing any signs of ich. 5. You can continue Step 3 for an extra day after the last time you saw ich on your fish. The only way the medication can kill protozoa when they are free-swimming is if they are not enclosed in a cyst. 6. Leave the medication in the water and gradually remove it over time with your regular water change routine. 7. After treatment, the fish’s tissues are damaged and has many injuries, making it an ideal environment in which to spread fungal and bacterial diseases. Secondary infections may be necessary.
The active ingredient in Ich-X is malachite green chloride, which has a strong blue coloration, so avoid touching the liquid if at all possible. In our experience, we have not noticed any problems with blue staining on aquarium decor or silicone.
If the condition doesn’t improve within 5 days, then it is most likely that you have not been diagnosed with ich. You should stop treating Ich-X. Instead, slowly remove it according to your usual water change schedule and reevaluate your diagnosis.
You can also use salt to treat Ich-X if Ich-X cannot be found in your area. Salt is commonly used with cichlids, both African and South American, and goldfish. However catfish and loach varieties can be more sensitive than others to changes in salinity. For more details on using salt to treat ich, read our blog post on aquarium salt.
Is Ich Always Present in Aquariums?
This is a hotly debated question among fish keepers, but regardless of the answer, the key is to always run your aquariums as if it is there. Opportunistic disease, ich is most common when fish are stressed or weak. You should identify the reasons your fish got ich. Did you introduce new fish to your aquarium without quarantining them first? Is the fish tank in poor condition? Were there sudden changes in temperature or pH? You can avoid future outbreaks by keeping your water quality high and minimizing stress sources.
It is one of the most common diseases that fish can be treated. Fish will generally not succumb to it unless they have an already compromised immune system. Keep a bottle Ich-X handy in an emergency. You don’t want your fish to suffer from a strange product and you don’t want them to have to rush to the pharmacy. You can get rid of those white spots quickly with the right medication, patience and some good advice.