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. After the replication has been completed, the cyst bursts open and hundreds upon hundreds of ich protozoa can be released into the water. They are capable of swimming for up to three days before they find a host to attack. The better the chance that your fish will fully recover if caught and treated early.
This microscopic view shows ich in its trophont stage, feeding under the skin of the fish.
Do My Fish Have Ich?
An ich fish will look like it has tiny crystals all over its body. It’s almost like someone sprinkled salt on the fish. Since there’s less slime coating in these areas, it’s easier to spot the parasites. 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 can be compared to chickenpox, which are contagious spots caused by an infectious microbe. Stress ich can be compared to stress acne, which are hormonally-caused spots that are not contagious. The treatments for chickenpox versus stress acne are very different, and the same applies to ich versus stress ich. Check out our article on stressich for more details.
Clown loaches may get ich especially if they don’t like the temperature of the water.
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. Do not share siphons or nets among 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 is safe and effective for all fish, shrimp, snails, live plants, and scaleless fish.
1. First identify the disease. Second, confirm it is ich. Since stress ich and velvet also look very similar, it may be helpful to wait 24 hours and confirm the 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 use half-strength dosage for sensitive fish because that concentration will not be strong enough to kill ich. After treating thousands upon thousands of fish, we have never encountered a problem with any other species. 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. Repeat Step 3 every 24 hours until you don’t see any signs of ich. 5. Continue Step 3 one more day after last seeing ich on your fish. This is just in case any cysts are hiding in the ground. 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 there are many more wounds. It is an ideal environment for fungal and bacterial infections. 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 there’s no improvement after 5 days, the disease was mostly likely misdiagnosed, and you are not dealing with ich. Stop treating with Ich-X, gradually remove it using your normal water change schedule, and reevaluate the diagnosis.
Also, if Ich-X is not available in your country, salt is another good method for treating ich. It is often used with goldfish, cichlids (both African- and South American), and cichlids. However, salt can also be used to treat ich in catfish and loach species. 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. This disease is often opportunistic, and can occur when fish become stressed or weak. So try to find out why your fish got it. Did you introduce new fish to your aquarium without quarantining them first? Did the tank have rapid temperature and pH changes? By keeping the water quality high and minimizing sources of stress, you can easily avoid any future outbreaks of ich.
Fortunately, ich is one of the easiest diseases to treat, and fish generally will not die immediately from it (unless they already have a compromised immune system). Always keep a bottle of Ich-X on hand in case of emergencies because you don’t want to be forced to run to the store late at night and use a random product that may end up harming your fish. Your fish will be free from these pesky white spots in no time with the right medication and patience.