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When Midnight arrived from the pet store, he was as black as night itself.
A week later, our little half moon Betta fish looked like he brought the stars with him. Or, he was sleepy and was just wearing polka-dot pajamas when we saw him.
Or, it could be ick.
Trying to solve the mystery, we whipped out our magnifying glass and took a closer look at Midnight’s fins and body.
It was indeed an ick-y situation.
What Is Ick Disease Or White Spot In Betta Fish?
Ick – the name itself expresses disgust. And surely even fish are disgusted by these itchy parasites in the water.
Ick or ich is short for Ichthyophthirius multifiliis (White Spot Disease), a protozoan parasite that appear as tiny white spots on a freshwater fish’s body, fins, or gills. These parasites feed off of its skin, and replicate at an alarming rate.
The French scientist who named this parasite meant to say “louse with many offspring”. This is because the tomocysts (seen as those nasty white spots) that attach themselves to the fish multiply easily. Tomocysts are adult ick parasites that have encased themselves in cyst walls or sacs for protection as they give birth to more daughter cells.
Ick is a well-understood disease that was discovered in 1876. Since then, fishkeepers have become familiar with the parasite and its life cycle, and various medicine have been developed to combat it. Even a vaccine against ick is being developed for future use.
Symptoms: How Do You Know If Your Betta Fish Has Ick?
Using our powers of deduction, we knew Midnight had some sort of disease because he was showing the usual signs of a typical sick fish.
A Betta fish with ick will have one or more of these symptoms: white spots, lethargy, loss of appetite, flashing, fin clamping, and rapid breathing.
Look closely at your fish to notice white “dust” on it. These protozoa are about half to 1mm in diameter each. Under a microscope, you’ll notice that the parasite has cilia (something similar to hair) that they use to latch themselves onto the fish’s skin, causing irritation.
The uncomfortable feeling this causes will make your Betta fish lethargic and withdrawn, making them hide more than usual under leaves and decors, and lose their appetite.
After 5 days, the tomocysts will fall off of the Betta fish and start to multiply. They produce several thousand ick babies (or theront) that can float around the water for hours until they find themselves back on the fish. And since they are constantly rotating, they are smaller and itchier. Your Betta fish then, is now worse than before.
Because fish don’t have fingers to scratch themselves with, they tend to clamp their fins in their attempt to rid themselves of the parasites. Fin clamping is a sign that your Betta fish is indeed suffering.
The persistent itch will have your pet looking for objects in the aquarium it can rub itself onto. Some will even try to jump out of the water or hurl itself towards the walls of its tank. This is called flashing, and often causes injuries like swelling, internal organ damage, and lacerations.
Will Ick Kill Your Betta Fish?
Ick can appear on a fish’s gills, causing respiratory distress. This eventually leads to death.
What Causes of Ick On Betta Fish? Is Ick Contagious Disease In Betta Fish?
The ick parasite can be carried by a newly-arrived fish and transferred to the objects in your aquarium. That includes plants, substrates, rocks, and decors.
Many fish pet stores that have multiple aquariums have a linked system that share water. If this is the case, diseases from other tanks may get transferred to others.
It could also have been present in your own tank for so long, but a compromise in your Betta fish’s immunity caused its slime coat to become thin. This gave the opportunity for the parasites to jump in. Thus, stress is also a factor (and most often times the number one factor) as one of its effects is to reduce a Betta fish’s slime coat.
Ick tends to appear more in colder water as it gets irritated in temperatures above the 70 degree F. At about 86 degree F, the ick will fall off of your Betta fish.
Will The Ick Disease In Betta Fish Go Away On Its Own?
Don’t panic, we know what the problem is, and we know how to solve it. Midnight will get past this.
Ick in Betta fish is easily treatable if caught early. But still, it doesn’t go away on its own and can become severe and fatal.
How To Treat Betta Fish With The Ick Disease?
We will start first with the simplest of all cures.
Start with the substances that are effective and easily found in your home: garlic and salt.
No, we’re not going to cook poor little Midnight. Get that look of horror off your face.
While it may be surprising in the Western world, fish keepers in the tropics where Betta fish come from have used herbal and organic methods long before the advent of the chemicals we know now.
But first up, do a 50% water change in your tank to lessen the parasites.
Garlic As Treatment For Betta Fish With Ick Disease
Before all those meds and treatments came out in bottles, traditional fishkeepers fed their pets fishfood laced in garlic juice. Garlic has several benefits:
- Garlic (Allicin) is anti-parasitic, especially in fish
Freshly pressed garlic contains allicin, the compound responsible for that unique garlicky aroma. Allicin is a natural antioxidant in humans, and also has benefits to your Betta fish.
The compound allicin is anti-parasitic, and is a major component in organic ick treatments that can be bought from your local pet store.
Why spend a lot when you have the real thing right in your kitchen?
- Does Garlic Increase Appetite In A lethargic Betta Fish?
Since Betta fish infected with ick almost have no appetite, the allicin in garlic will serve to help correct that, too. In fact, some hobbyists use garlic to help fish eat if its appetite is affected by stress or shock.
In order to feed your Betta fish some of this spicy goodness, extract the garlic juice and soak the fish food in it. You’ll find your fish back to its usual happy self especially after enduring some travelling or sickness and lethargy.
- Does Garlic Boost A Betta Fish Immune System?
Because garlic kills germs, viruses, fungi, and parasites in Betta fish, they can become healthier with occasional feeding of garlic juice-soaked fish food.
If your Betta fish suffered from sores because of the ick, the garlic can also help heal that.
To cure ick, simply crush a garlic clove to activate that allicin your Betta fish needs. Remove the skin and drop the right-sized clove into your Betta fish’s tank. A 10-gallon tank will need a clove of garlic, so if you have a 5-gallon, just use half a clove. A smaller tank will need even less.
Don’t worry about your Betta fish nibbling on the clove. It’s safe.
For those who don’t like to use garlic, the methylene blue soak is a safe alternative for all the occupants in your tank.
Use Salt To Treat Betta Fish With Ick Disease
For ick, any kind of sodium chloride will do, as long as it’s not iodized.
Increased salinity in the water is something ick parasites don’t like. Adding 2 to 2.5 tablespoons of salt to your 5-gallon tank will help get rid of ick, as the burn of salt in the Betta fish’s skin will make its slime coat thicken. As this happens, the ick tomocysts are suffocated and killed, preventing them from reproducing any further.
Just make sure to dissolve the salt completely before adding to the water especially if your tank has live plants in it.
Don’t forget to clean out your main tank since ick can live in filters, sponges, plants, rocks, and gravel. You can opt for a 50% water change at first, or you can rinse the tank with hot water and chlorine if the ick infection is severe. Dry it completely before reuse.
Without a host, ick parasites die within 48 hours.
If you are interested in learning more about your fish behavior, check out the links below:
How To Prevent Your Betta Fish From Getting Ick Disease?
A lot of fishkeepers say that ick is a common condition, and it is. It doesn’t mean though, that ick is in every aquarium because not all Betta fish get infected with it.
To prevent the occurrence or re-occurrence of ick:
- Follow quarantine protocol
Never forget to quarantine new fish when they arrive. Betta fish can be quarantined for as long as 4 weeks before being introduced into your multi-fish tank.
Admittedly, we got a little excited when we brought Midnight home and put him straight into his monochrome tank after a short acclimation time. And that’s when the problem started.
- Keep everything clean
Make sure your hands are clean whenever you stick your hands into your tank. Wash them first with soap and water. This also applies to other implements you use on your fish, such as nets, decors, and other materials that come in contact to your pet or its water. Some fish keepers go as far as using changing shirts when handling Betta fish, especially fry.
- Stick to the healthy routine for keeping Betta fish
Our periodic water treatments of partial water changes, Indian Almond leaves, aquarium salt, and even methylene blue soaks shouldn’t be stopped or neglected. You wouldn’t want to have to see symptoms of ick, or any disease for that matter, before you start or continue with these.
- Watch out for signs of stress
Stressed fish have reduced slime coats that parasites can latch onto easily, so check everyday if your Betta fish is behaving oddly. Besides, you get calm and satisfaction (read: happiness) from being with your Betta fish, so why can’t it stay happy while it’s with you?
Midnight is now back to his usual calm self, eating well and swimming languidly in his tank. Cloaked in twilight, he’s ready for his next mystery.