Maintaining an aquarium takes knowledge and a great deal of patience. Unfortunately disease can occur at any time and without your knowledge. Fish should always be quarantined in a seperate aquarium before being introduced to the display tank. However, sometimes this just isn’t possible. When making your decision to start an aquarium, you shouldanticipate the possibility of fish diseases such as ich. Ich is very commonly encountered in the aquarium hobby. Thus, it’s important to know the best ways of both preventing and curing Ich. In this article we will give a brief overview of the disease followed by the best ways to cure it.
What is Ich?
Ich (also known as ick) is a very common disease affecting tropical fish. Both Freshwater and Marine species are susceptible to the disease however it is not known to affect invertebrates. Ich is one of, if not the most common disease. It is also responsible for the majority of disease related deaths in the aquarium. Ich can be identified by its distinctive white dot appearance.
How to Identify Ich in the aquarium
Ich can be identified by looking for a number of symptoms. Fish will have white, round dots attached to their gills and/or body. These white dots are usually between 0.5 to 1.5mm in size. Affected fish may try to scratch themselves on rocks and hardscape in the aquarium. Scratching and itching is one of the early warning signs of ich. Fish may also seem lethargic, have rapid breathing and generally seem unwell. If you have any concerns about any of the fish in your aquarium it is always better to quarantine that fish. Place it in a seperate aquarium and lower the risk your entire colony becoming affected.
At later stages of the disease the fish may lose its appetite completely. At this point the disease becomes fatal to the majority of carriers. Be sure to remove dead specimens as quickly as possible. This will prevent spikes in ammonia and nitrite.
What Causes Ich?
Most aquariums already host some form of protozoan which can affect its inhabitants. The easiest way to describe Ich is to compare it to the common cold in humans. When tired, stressed and run down you are much more susceptible to becoming sick. This due to your immune system weakening. The same happens for fish. Fish that have recently been moved to a new aquarium can become easily stressed. Their weakened immune system makes them highly susceptible to disease. This is when Ich is most prevalent. Strong, healthy and acclimatised fish are much less likely to fall victim to the disease.
For this reason reducing stress on your new inhabitants is crucial. Ich is much easier to prevent than cure. Prevention is step one below and we will go into further detail.
The most effective ways of Curing Ich
Prevention of Ich is the most effective route in making sure Ich never exposes itself in your aquarium. Taking steps to avoid the disease will greatly reduce the need for curing ich.
This can be done in a number of ways:
- Using a quarantine tank. The importance of a quarantine tank cannot be stressed enough. Store bought fish often carry disease. Even very healthy looking specimens can introduce parasites and protozoans. Keeping fish quarantined for two weeks will ensure disease is rarely spread to your display tank.
- Quarantine all plants. Plants should be quarantined for at least 3-4 days. Plants, like fish, can also introduce disease into your aquarium.
- Minimising transport of your new fish will help to reduce its stress. Stress is the number one precursor to ich.
- Matching aquarium parameters to the store parameters when adding new fish.
- Never purchase fish that have been in a tank with other diseased or dead fish. Be aware many stores use the same water for a number of display tanks. If the fish generally look unwell, show signs of itching or are breathing rapidly do not purchase fish from this store.
- Don’t overstock. Overstocking a tank is one of the more common reasons for ich outbreak. Make sure your inhabitants have plenty of room to grow.
- Regular water changes. By keeping nitrates low (and ammonia and nitrates at 0) it will reduce stress on your fish. This will make the likelihood of disease much, much lower.
- Purchase Plants from tanks without fish. Ich cannot survive without a host fish to carry the disease. Aquariums void of fish are much less likely to have ich. Always purchase plants from plant only display tanks.
If you can manage to follow at least a few of these simple steps, the possibility of Ich becomes extremely low. Preventing Ich is much easier in than inevitably curing ich. Always take caution when purchasing any live products from a fish store or online. If in doubt, don’t rush the purchase.
2. Raising the Temperature of the aquarium
Ich has a short life cycle that can be shortened even further by increasing the temperature. The ich protozoan metabolism speeds up in tandem with the tanks temperature. There are a number of advantages and disadvantages of this method we will discuss below.
It is recommended to increase the temperature to at least 86 degrees (30 celcius) from its current state. It is not recommended to exceed 90 degrees (32 degrees celcius). Most tropical fish will be able to withstand temperatures around 86 degrees for shorter periods of time. Ensure your species are able to cope with temperatures this high before proceeding.
It is recommended to increase the temperature by no more than 2 degrees every twelve hours. When your desired temperature is reached it should be left at this level for at least 2 weeks. After this time period, slowly reduce the temperature back down to its normal state.
There is a fine balance between shortening the life of Ich and placing your fish under undue stress. Unfortunately some strains of Ich will not be affected by temperatures of 86 degrees. In this case, 88 degrees or 90 degrees may be necessary.
If you have a quarantine tank, it is an excellent time to transfer your tanks inhabitants. You will then be able to push the display tank temperature much higher (96 degrees+) and leave the tank for 48 hours. Without any inhabitants, the high temperature will quickly kill the ich.
In the quarantine tank, increase the temperature to at least 86. Slowly add the inhabitants back to the display tank after a few week. Only do this when you are certain none of them are carrying or showing signs of the disease. This solution is the most optimal, however not always possible.
- Increasing the temperature will reduce the life cycle of Ich. It will make it far easier to remove from the aquarium.
- Most fish will not be affected by the temperature increase. Make sure to increase the temperature gradually
- This can be done in the display tank without needing to remove the fish
- Easy, efficient and comes at no cost to you
- Heating the aquarium to such high temperatures can stress already unhealthy fish
- Although higher temperatures speed up the life cycle, you may not completely kill Ich. The only guaranteed method to remove it from the aquarium is to remove the fish completely and push the temperature above 96 degrees for at least two days.
- It requires constant monitoring of your aquarium and fish. For some fishkeepers this may no be possible.
Raising the temperature of your aquarium can definitely aid in curing Ich. However, it should only be one point of attack. Raising the temperature alone can sometimes fail to completely remove Ich from your aquarium. Fish should be kept in quarantine for some time until you are certain the Ich has been removed. If absolutely necessary, use medications in the quarantine tank. It is also highly recommended to read through the prevention step above. Ensure to be vigilant when purchasing live goods from a store.
2.5 Adding Salt to the Aquarium
There is constant debate to the legitimacy of using salt when curing Ich. Salt is often hailed as an excellent additive for freshwater fish diseases. In personal experience salt has had little impact when curing Ich. More importantly, some fish such as Cories can be very sensitive to salinity changes. Unless you have had prior positive experience using salt I would not recommend it for curing Ich. You are more likely to find that raising the temperature
3. Using Commercial Medications
Unfortunately, sometimes medications are the only option. When using medications for curing ich there are three key points to remember.
1. It is never recommended to medicate your display tank.
Always transfer your fish to a quarantine tank before medicating. The chemicals from the medication will never completely be removed from the aquarium water column. For this reason it is essential to use a quarantine tank. Some medications can be dangerous to plants and anaerobic bacteria. Some medications contain copper which can be lethal to invertebrates. Ensure to read up online before using some medications.
2. Always read the directions carefully and never overdose the aquarium
Read the directions and use a calculator to work out the dosage required. Never add more to the aquarium than recommended. If the dosage is daily, it is usually a good idea to spread the dosage over a number of hours. This will allow you to see if any negative reactions occur in lower concentrations.
3. Remove carbon and other chemical absorbers from the filter.
Carbon and other filter media will absorb the chemicals in the medications. Rendering them useless. Be sure to remove all forms of chemical filtration before adding the medicines.
What are some recommended commercial products for Curing Ich?
There are a number of proven products that may help you beat Ich. These are Fenbendazole, Garlic Guard, Kordon Rid Ich, Para Guard and Melafix. Each tank has different inhabitants who react differently.
Garlic Guard is essential for fish that are having trouble consuming their food or are not hungry. The smell of garlic is a natural diet enhancer and should help you to keep them eating through the worst of the disease. Reducing the stress of your fish is imminent to your future success.
Kordon Rid Ich is one of the more popuplar ‘Ich Exclusive’ medications. It is described as having “two powerful medications” which are most likely some base form of Fomalin. This means the medication is powerful and deadly. Use any Ich medication with extreme caution with your inhabitants. The medications are toxic enough to kill the parasite while sparing your fish. This is a fine line to dance. Melafix/Pimafix are likely to have a similar make up of chemicals, although it is very difficult to know. There is no requirement for these companies to digress what ingredients they use. I would always recommend using an established brand for this reason.
ParaGuard is an aldehyde, which is probably preferable to other medications as it is undoubtably less toxic. On the downside, ParaGuard is not made exclusively for curing Ich. Medications that have a range of purposes will always make me more skeptical than those made specifically for Ich. Here’s what Seachem says about its product: “ParaGuard contains no formaldehyde or methanol and will not alter pH. ParaGuard employs a proprietary, synergistic blend of aldehydes, malachite green, and fish protective polymers that effectively and efficiently eradicates many ectoparasites on fish (e.g. ich)”.