Ich, short for Ichthyophthirius Multifiliis and also known as White Spot, is a common parasitic infection in aquarium fish that will eventually kill them if not treated. The white spots are each about the size of a grain of salt and cover the fish’s scales and gills.
The rest of this article tells you all you need to know about Ich, how it affects your betta, what to do in the event of an infestation, and other non-parasitic causes of white spots on your fish.
What Is Ich?
Ichthyophthirius Multifiliis is translated to “Fish louse with many children” in Latin, which highlights the proliferating nature of the disease. Ich isn’t exclusive to betta fish, and can affect most species of aquarium fish.
While the parasite in freshwater aquariums is called Ichthyophthirius Multifiliis, the parasite in saltwater aquariums is Cryptocaryon irritans. It is generally accepted that ich has three stages to its life cycle:
- On the Fish – after finding a fish and latching on, the theronts become Trophonts, which burrow into the skin of the fish host and start feeding on the fish’s flesh. This is the stage that the parasite becomes visible in the form of tiny white spots.
- Reproduction Stage – after feeing on the host for roughly a week, the trophont will leave the body of the fish, the Protomont now searching for a hard surface (such as decorations, rocks, or glass) upon which to reproduce. Once its anchored to a hard surface, it becomes a Tomont which forms several hundred of single celled offspring.
- Fish Seeking Stage – These single celled offspring will wander the water searching for a new host. Once the Tromites hatch and become free swimming in the water, after which they become Theronts and repeat the cycle. During this stage, the parasite is most effectively treated.
Ich reproduce more rapidly in warmer water, and depending upon the temperature of the water in your aquarium, it may only take a few days to a few weeks to develop a full-blown infestation.
What Causes Ich?
Ich is almost exclusively found in aquarium fish, as fish in the wild don’t encounter the parasite in large enough quantities to become infected.
Contrary to popular belief, Ich isn’t contagious, as only fish with weakened immune system are susceptible to the parasite. As long as your fish are healthy and happy, an Ich infestation is unlikely.
How Do I Know if My Betta Has Ich?
Ich is most commonly identified by the small white spots marking your betta’s gills and scales. Other symptoms include:
- Fish rubbing itself against coral or rocks (to alleviate the itch)
- Bruising or missing scales (a result of vigorous rubbing)
- Lethargy (sluggishness, decreased activity)
- Poor appetite
- Rapid breathing
- Death (caused by the grain-sized trophonts blocking fish’s gills)
How Do I Treat Ich?
Ich is easy to treat but can become fatal for your fish if left untreated. There are a couple common and effective methods for treating an Ich infestation.
First, before you do anything else, you should isolate your fish in a quarantine tank. Take your betta out of the main tank and into a quarantine tank. As the Ich proceeds with its life cycle, it will die without a host, so if you keep the tank empty for about a week, the parasite will die out.
Salt and Heat Treatment
- with your betta safely in a quarantine tank, raise the temperature in the fish-free main tank by 1- or 2- degrees Fahrenheit every day, until it reaches 86 degrees F. This will speed up the Ich life cycle.
- Add aquarium salt to the water – follow the instructions on the label
- Every 2 – 3 days, change out 25% of the water and replace any salt that is lost
- Stop adding salt after 10 days, but continue 25% water changes. Do this until there is no more salt in your tank.
there are many over-the-counter medications for Ich treatment. If your betta has Ich, add the medicine to the quarantine tank instead of the main tank. Follow the instructions listed on the medication as closely as possible to get the most effective treatment
How Do I Prevent Ich in my Betta?
By far, the best way to prevent an Ich infestation is to adequately quarantine a new fish before bringing it into the aquarium with your other fish. Quarantine should occur in a separate tank with separate equipment.
Quarantine Your New Betta
New fish should be isolated for 2 to 4 weeks in a quarantine tank.
They should be observed daily to look for any signs of distress or disease. It’s not uncommon for new fish not to eat for several days due to the stress of transporting and moving to a new tank.
After the first couple days, your fish should be eating, be active and be alert.
Keep your fish in quarantine for an additional 2 to 4 weeks as it can take up to 14 days for diseases and infections to fully impact your betta.
Other Tips to Prevent Ich
The following are other ways you can keep Ich from contaminating your aquarium.
- When buying new fish, never buy a fish from the same tank as a sick, diseased or dead fish. This is a clear indicator that there is something wrong with the fish or the water.
- Make sure you have good water quality with your betta so you don’t risk weakening their immune system.
- Make sure not to overcrowd your tank. It’s recommended to have one fish per one gallon of water. This ensures that your tank isn’t overcrowded and that each fish has enough room for healthy activity.
- Feed your betta a varied diet
- Avoid ordering fish online, since fish don’t travel well and often become sick and weakened from long distances. Buy your fish from a local pet store instead.
Can Betta Survive Ich?
With quick treatment and a healthy, varied diet, your betta can survive an Ich infection without any long-term health effects.
Are There Any Non-Parasitic Causes of White Spots?
While most white spots are caused by Ich, there are some non-parasitic causes:
- Severe Velvet Disease – spots look like dust particles
- Lymphocystis virus – larger white spots, like tumors clinging to fish’s body
- Brooklynella disease (most commonly affects clownfish) – large white patches, looks like mucus
- Stress spots – almost exclusively occur in Tangs
- Columnaris – white patches
- Fungal infections – fuzzy white patches
- Parasitic flatforms (flukes) – cylinder-shaped white spots
- Missing scales
- During mating, both males and females develop white patches on belly – this is normal