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. Many different approaches exist for combating this illness, but based on more than a decade of experience running 100 to 200 tanks in a fish store and importing wild-caught species, this is our go-to method for treating ich.
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 earlier you catch and treat the ich, the better your fish’s chances of full recovery.
This microscopic view of ich shows it in its trophont stage. It is below the skin of the fish.
Does My Fish Have Ich?
A fish with ich tends to look like it has tiny crystals on its body, like someone sprinkled salt on it. We tend to notice ich on the fins first since there’s less slime coat in those areas and it’s easier for the parasite to target. Other symptoms include rapid breathing, loss of appetite, fish rubbing against surfaces, hiding behavior, and lethargy.
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. For more information, see our article about stress ich.
Clown loaches can get ich if they are not given enough 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?
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, identify the disease and make sure it’s actually 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. (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. For one additional day after your last ich, complete Step 3. This is to make sure there are no cysts in the ground. (The only way medication can kill protozoa is if they’re swimming unprotected. 6. You can leave the medication in the water, and slowly remove it with your regular water changing routine. 7. The fish’s body will have many wounds and tissue damages after treatment. This makes it an ideal environment to harbor fungal and bacterial pathogens. You may need to treat 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 you don’t see improvement in 5 days, it is likely that the disease has been misdiagnosed. 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. 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. 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? Did the tank have rapid temperature and pH changes? You can avoid future outbreaks by keeping your water quality high and minimizing stress sources.
Fortunately, ich can be treated quickly and most fish will survive it, even if they already have compromised immune systems. 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.