Prevention and Treatment of Ich

Ich, or white spot disease, is a protozoan disease caused mainly by Ichthyophthirius multifiliis. Ich is the most common disease of all freshwater and marine aquarium fish. White spot disease is responsible for more fish deaths than any other disease. Luckily, it is also easily treatable when caught early enough.

Ich is thought to be present in the environment of most aquariums, such as holding tanks and rearing ponds, but most fish have a built up immunity to ich, because it is so widely spread. Fish that get this disease when their immune systems are not functioning properly due to stress. Stress in fish is generally caused by changes in water temperature, water quality, tank inhabitants, improper diet, and shipping and handling of a new fish.

The most common sign that your fish has ich are white spots on the body and the gills. Sometimes these spots are only present on the gills. Once the protozoan attaches to the fish, it begins feeding on the skin and tissue causing irritation. The affected fish may try to rub, or scratch, against the sides and bottom of the tank. At this point the disease may cause respiratory distress, severe agitation, loss of appetite, and eventually death.

The most effective way to treat this disease is to treat the tank, rather than the fish because the fish’s body will try to “wall off” the ich to limit damage, making treatment with medicine difficult as it will not be able to reach the parasite. Because the Ichthyophthirius multifiliis’ life cycle is temperature dependent, and the disease can only be killed in the tomite stage, you will need to raise the water temperature to about 80 degrees Fahrenheit over a 48 hour period to accelerate the formation and release of tomites.

You should remove all fish from the tank as tomites will die within 48 hours if they are unable to attach to a fish. Just to be sure, experts recommend waiting up to four days. After this waiting period, you will need to treat the tank: formalin and malachite green are the most effective treatments. The mature ich organisms that cause the problems on your fish do not die from treatment, but they will fall off in a couple days during their normal life cycle and their offspring will die due to the treatment in the tank.

If you use formalin to treat your tank, make sure it is a fresh bottle because if this chemical is stored over long periods of time it will become paraformaldehyde, which can be toxic to your fish. Look for the formation of white precipitate in the bottle as this is an indicator that paraformaldehyde has developed. Malachite green has a tendency to stain aquarium decorations and silicone green. Malachite green may, at the recommended dose be toxic to piranhas, neons, sunfish, and some scaleless fish. In these cases, the fish should be treated at half strength and closely monitored.

There are quite a few things that you can do to keep your fish healthy and ich free. You should only purchase fish that are free from all signs of disease and are not in a tank with diseased or dead fish. If you are able to purchase fish from a direct source, this will reduce the stress of shipping and handling on a new fish. You should quarantine your new fish for two weeks before introducing them to your aquarium. Baths can also be given prior to or during the acclimation process. Tropicure, copper compounds, and potassium permanganate solutions can be used for this purpose; just dip your fish into these solutions for five to ten seconds. Make sure to feed your fish a variety of properly stored food including dried, frozen and flaked food.

It is extremely important in the prevention of all disease to maintain excellent water quality and to perform regular water changes in your tank. Avoid fluctuations in the temperature, pH, and ammonia levels as this may cause undue stress to your fish. Be very careful to not overstock your aquarium; it is essential that all of your fish have the proper amount of coverage, if not stress, disease and mortality will increase. You should not buy plants that are kept in the same tank as fish, if you decide to, quarantine the plants for four days. Hopefully, with these tips about the treatment and prevention of ich, you can maintain a beautiful and healthy aquarium!