Fish ick goes by numerous names in the aquarium hobby depending on who you ask, such as white spot disease and ich. However, they all point to the same parasite – a protozoan within the genus Ichthyophthirius. For this reason we will be using all these terms interchangeably during this discussion.
While this parasitic infestation is one of the most common fish problems in the hobby, it is also incredibly easy to treat so long as it is caught early enough – this is one of the main reasons it’s so important to watch your fish’s behavior daily! So let’s get started learning how to treat fish ick, shall we?
Common Symptoms of Fish Ick
Fish that are affected by the parasite will generally exhibit at least one of the following symptoms:
- Clamped fins (this just means that the dorsal and pectoral fins are held tightly to the body)
- Small, white spots all over the body – generally starts on the fins first
- Frequently scraping against rocks (not to be confused with territorial displays)
- Lethargy and bottom-sitting
How to Treat Fish Ick With Aquarium Salt
Personally, I am not a fan of the harsh chemicals that many pet stores freely recommend to treat ich. In fact, I’ve only used them a couple times and that was when I was first starting out and didn’t know any better. I firmly believe that you should do everything possible to minimize the amount of stress a sick fish has to undergo, and this is why I always choose natural methods over commercial medicines if I have the option.
The following method is the one that I use:
1. Immediately raise the temperature. Once you have determined that your fish are indeed suffering from an infestation of fish ick, you should begin slowly raising the water temperature to somewhere around 86 degrees F. It is very important that you do this slowly, one or two degrees at a time! Sudden temperature changes with throw your fish into shock and possibly kill them.
2. Add additional methods of aeration. The easiest way to do this is to just add several more air stones to the tank – if you have a powerful enough air pump all you will need to purchase are the stones and a gang valve to separate the air flow. This is an incredibly important step to remember – if you don’t your fish may die from a lack of dissolved oxygen. The simplest explanation for this is because warm water does not contain nearly as much oxygen as it does at cooler temperatures.
3. Slowly add in aquarium salt. I prefer a ratio of one teaspoon per gallon. Again, remember to add this slowly in the beginning because large changes in water chemistry are fatal to fish – especially stressed ones.
4. Perform frequent water changes. This is another very important step to remember – people generally fail at treating ich with salt and heat because they do not do the necessary water changes. You should aim to change part of your water daily – I shoot for around 50% and above. This will help get rid of the ick during its free swimming stage and it will keep your water quality pristine to minimize further stress to your fish.
*Very Important* There will be periods of time during the treatment that you will no longer see white spots on your fish. DO NOT discontinue treatment yet! Fish ick goes through a stage where it is free swimming, and at this time you cannot see it, but you can kill it – when ick is attached to the fish, you won’t be able to get rid of it. You will need to finish using heat and salt for at least seven days after the spots disappear to completely kill it.
Some Final Words About Fish Ick
If your fish suddenly develop a sprinkling of white spots all over their bodies sit down and don’t panic! Fish ick is one of the easiest fish problems to cure, even for a beginning hobbyist. However, the best way to avoid having outbreaks of ich in your aquarium is to simplyquarantine all new fish before you place them in your main aquarium.
So next time you are faced with the dilemma of treating fish ick, just try to remember that while the commercial medicines are very effective at killing the parasite they are also very effective at killing your already stressed fish if you get the dosage wrong. However, if you are unsuccessful at getting rid of the white spots with the above method, I recommend using the brand of ich medicine by Mardel as an alternative.
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