Ich is one of the most common diseases seen in home freshwater aquariums. It’s a pesky disease that can be difficult to treat, especially when there are multiple fish in the tank. The good news is that it’s unlikely your Betta fish is sharing a tank with a ton of tank mates. The bad news is that it can still be difficult to treat because of the life cycle of the illness. Here’s what you need to know about Betta fish Ich.
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What is Ich?
Although it looks like some type of fungal infection, Ich is actually a parasite. The parasite is called Ichthyophthirius multifiliis and it is a ciliated protozoan, which means that it is a nearly microscopic creature that is able to swim freely. This ability to swim is what makes Ich so contagious in aquariums.
The life cycle of Ich starts when a mature Ich parasite releases an egg packet into the water. This egg packet will hatch within a few days, and then new Ich babies are out in the tank. These parasites will then use their cilia to swim around the tank until they locate a host. Once they find a host, they attach to the scales, skin, or fins of the host animal, where they then begin to feed on the fish. Once mature, the life cycle starts over again with a new egg packet.
What are the Symptoms of Ich?
The main symptom of Ich is the presence of white flecks all over your fish. It’s extremely easy to spot as infestations begin to spread. It will look like someone sprinkled salt or sugar over your fish, leaving little white crystals behind. You won’t be able to see Ich free-swimming in the tank and the egg packets are microscopic, so you won’t be able to spot those either.
Other symptoms of Ich include fin clamping, lethargy, inappetence, a decrease in color, and flashing, which involves your fish shooting rapidly around the tank in an attempt to stop the itching caused by the parasites. The diffuse white flecks across the body are the most easily identifiable symptom of Ich. Make sure you are familiar with what Ich looks like versus other parasites and fungal and bacterial infections. Properly identifying Ich will help you treat it effectively.
How is Ich Treated?
Ich is best treated with antiparasitic medications that are intended for use in fish. Be cautious with some medications if there are invertebrates in the tank with your Betta, as some medications can be deadly to snails and other inverts. It’s important to note that as you’re treating Ich, not all parts of the lifecycle are susceptible to treatments. This means that you will likely have to repeat medication treatments.
A treatment that can be used in conjunction with medications, but that many people report works effectively on its own, is slowly raising the tank temperature by 2-3˚ every 12-24 hours. Ich requires cooler water temperatures to reproduce and complete its life cycle. They are susceptible to high temperatures and the good news is that Ich will usually die off in 2-4 days at 80˚F. This means that you should barely have to raise the tank temperature to treat Ich in your Betta’s tank.
Another effective treatment is aquarium salt. However, aquarium salt must be used sparingly and added slowly since rapid changes in salinity can be dangerous to your Betta. You also have to understand that aquarium salt does not evaporate with water, so salt will stay in your aquarium until you vacuum out and replace the water. Be very cautious with this treatment, especially if you have inverts or plants in your aquarium as aquarium salt can be deadly to both.
What Causes Ich?
Ich is more common in home tanks than many people realize. If your tank is well-maintained and clean, water parameters are in check, and your fish are thriving, then it’s not likely you’ll see an Ich outbreak. This is because Ich takes advantage of a depressed immune system. So, if there’s a problem with your water quality or parameters, then your fish can become stressed. Once stressed, the immune system takes a hit, making your Betta more susceptible to infections of all kinds.
The presence of Ich in your tank indicates there is a problem with your water quality, water parameters, or the overall health of your fish. Most health problems in fish are directly related to water quality problems, but if your fish is ill for another reason, like malnutrition, or if your fish is stressed for reasons like recently being brought home from the pet store, then your fish is at risk for Ich and many other types of infections.
Maintaining the water quality in your Betta’s tank is your best defense against Ich. Once Ich has taken a foothold in your tank, it can be a pain to take care of, so be prepared to closely monitor the tank until you are certain the lifecycle has been stopped and you’ve fully eliminated the parasites. Ich on its own isn’t particularly dangerous or deadly to fish, but it does indicate that there is a problem. If your fish has a depressed immune system, then it’s at risk for secondary infections and poor healing. Work to create a healthy and stress-free environment for your Betta fish.
Featured Image Credit: Wirestock Creators, Shutterstock