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. There are many ways to combat this disease, but this method is the best. It’s based on over a decade of experience in managing 100-200 tanks in a fish shop 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 cyst has broken open, hundreds of new ich prozoa are released into water. These protozoa can swim for two to three more days until they find a new host. The earlier you catch and treat the ich, the better your fish’s chances of full recovery.
This microscopic view shows Ich in its trophont stage.
Do My Fish Have Ich?
Fish with ich often looks like they have tiny crystals covering their bodies, similar to salt being sprinkled on them. Because there is less slime in these areas, we tend to see ich first on the fins. It’s also easier for parasites to target. 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. Stress ich is a condition that affects fish and covers their entire body (not just their 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. There are many treatments for chickenpox and stress acne. The same goes for ich. See our article on stress ich 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’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. It may also be beneficial to wait for 24 hours before confirming 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. For sensitive fish, do not use a half-strength dose as it will not kill the 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. You can repeat Step 3 every 24-hours until you see no 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 medication can kill protozoa is if they’re swimming unprotected. 6. Keep the medication in your water. You can gradually get rid of it by changing your water routine. 7. After treatment, the fish’s body has lots of wounds and tissue damage, making it an ideal environment for bacterial and fungal pathogens, so you may need to treat for secondary infections.
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.
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 diseases are common in fish that are stressed or weak. Find out the reason your fish have ich. Did you introduce new fish to your aquarium without quarantining them first? Were the conditions in your fish tank poor? Did they experience rapid changes in temperature or pH? It is possible to avoid future outbreaks of ich by maintaining a high water quality and minimising stress sources.
Fortunately, ich can be treated quickly and most fish will survive it, even if they already have compromised immune systems. 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.