As a betta owner, your fish’s health and wellbeing are always a top priority. Bettas are susceptible to many different diseases, one of the most common of which is ich.
If you’re worried about ich in your betta fish, fortunately, it’s fairly easy to treat.
Here, we’re going to go over how ich works, how to identify it, and the best ways to treat ich in your betta fish.
What is Ich?
Ichthyophthirius multifiliis, more commonly known as Ich or Ick, is a common disease in aquarium fish such as betta. It can end up causing serious harm if left untreated.
While many people believe that Ich is a virus or bacteria, it’s caused by single-celled parasites.
These parasites are hardy, surviving for weeks without a food source. They can even live in dry aquariums or on unwashed decorations, plats, bubblers, and more.
What’s more, a single cell can produce between 100 and 1,000 new parasites each day. With a lifespan of seven days, ich parasites can take over your tank in just a matter of weeks.
They spread quickly in a tank setup, especially one with fluctuating temperatures of pH levels.
It’s important to understand how the Ich parasite works when treating your fish. They grow in stages, each of which affects betta fish differently.
The Stages of Ich in Betta Fish
Like most parasites, ich cells go through several life stages before reaching maturity.
The growth stage of an ich parasite determines how it feeds, where it lives, and potential treatment options.
The ich parasite first lives as a trophozoite maturing in your betta’s skin. At this stage, you won’t see late-stage symptoms of the disease, but you may notice cysts on your fish.
This is its immune response attempting to wall off the young parasites. It can be difficult to treat ich when in the trophozoite stage without risking harm to your betta.
This stage, also known as the feeding stage, is the point where it’s most visible on your fish. Most people first notice the onset of ich in the trophont stage.
Parasites are near full maturation and attach to the fins, body, and gills in advanced cases. They feed and grow at this stage but are not yet able to reproduce.
Most available treatment options don’t work well on ich parasites in the trophont stage. Generally, it’s easier to kill more mature cells.
Once ich parasites reach the adult tomont stage, they’re able to reproduce. They detach from your fish and instead find a home within your tank.
Most prefer to hide out in rocks, decorative items, and aquarium plants.
Tomont parasites reproduce quickly through binary fission to release thousands of identical offspring into your aquarium water. Each cell can divide up to ten times in rapid succession.
After tomonts divide and reproduce, the young parasites are left floating in the water. They have around two days to attach to a host and begin feeding.
The theront stage is the best time to treat an ich infestation in your tank.
The young, unattached parasites are weak and susceptible to common treatments. What’s more, you won’t risk harming your fish during the process.
How to Treat Ich in Betta
Ich can be a challenge to treat in bettas without risking harm to your fish. As an internal parasite, it’s resistant to many common external disease treatments and antibiotics.
Fortunately, there are a couple of different treatment options to try when it comes to ich.
In advanced cases, you may need to combine treatment methods. This way, you ensure that you’ve completely eradicated all parasite stages.
Quarantine Your Betta
No matter what treatment method you choose, it’s always a good idea to quarantine infected fish first.
Take your betta and any other affected fish out of the main tank, putting them in a small, clean healing tank.
Quarantining your fish protects the rest of your aquarium inhabitants from catching the ich parasite.
Using a smaller quarantine tank also makes it easier to dose out medications, should your fish need any.
Quarantine should also include any rocks or aquarium decor present in your main tank.
Mature, reproducing ich cells live in these areas, and they can cause a brand new resurgence if left untreated.
As long as all fish are out of the tank, you can use harsh chemical cleaners on your setup to ensure that you kill all ich stages.
Always make sure to thoroughly rinse any chemical residue to protect your fish from harm.
The ich parasite is much more sensitive to temperature than your betta, making it possible to use heat to disinfect your tank safely.
Ich survives best between 75º to 79ºF, while betta fish prefer warmer water between 75º to 80ºF. They can also survive at higher temperatures for a brief period.
You should raise the temperature in your tank to at least 82ºF to kill ich parasites on your fish and in the water.
However, don’t go much higher than 86ºF, which is too hot for most fish to handle.
Aquarium Salts and Medications
You may have heard of aquarium salts as an inexpensive, safe, and effective way to treat ich in aquarium fish.
Single-celled parasites such as ich can’t survive in salty environments. It dries them out, forcing them to detach from your fish and eventually killing them.
When using aquarium salts to treat your tank, always be wary of how much salt your fish can tolerate.
If you have live plants, high salt levels can also stunt growth and cause other health problems.
Betta fish are fairly sensitive to salt concentration, so you should keep water fairly dilute. You should only use around one tablespoon of salt for every five gallons of water in your tank.
You can find commercial medication at your local pet store to treat ich. Most use methylene blue or malachite green to target parasites.
When adding salts or medication to your aquarium, dumping them straight into the water can be ineffective and even dangerous for your fish.
Instead, you should mix the salt into a separate solution of tank water. Ensure that it’s fully dissolved before adding the solution to your main tank.
How to Tell if Your Betta Has Ich
There are a couple of different symptoms to watch for that may indicate your betta is suffering from ich.
The most obvious symptom of ich in betta fish is white spots along the body, fins, and gills.
These spots are granular in appearance, causing some owners to mistake them as salt deposits.
If you see a white speckling across your fish, you should take action as soon as possible. The more spots you see, the more severe the case.
Early cases will usually only exhibit a few spots, so it’s important to keep a close eye on your fish.
Ich can affect breathing in fish, causing the appearance of labored or difficult breath intake. Gills will often display fast or erratic movement, and your fish may be in visible distress.
Labored breathing generally only occurs in more advanced cases of ich. Once parasites penetrate the gills, it can affect both movement and oxygen intake.
If ich has entered your fish’s gills, you may notice them lingering near the bottom or towards the top of your tank. They do this to help with breathing and increase exposure to oxygen.
Some betta owners can catch ich early on by noticing small behavioral changes in their fish.
In many ich cases, bettas will try to scratch the parasite off themselves by rubbing against plants or textured aquarium decor.
This usually ends up causing more damage to the fish than the parasite, leading to fin tearing and scale damage.
Fish infected with ich may also become lethargic and lose their appetite.
Sometimes they’ll start hiding in caves and crevices more than they swim around, which is not typical behavior for a betta.
If you notice any behavioral changes in your fish, continue monitoring for other symptoms.
If you also start seeing visual clues such as white spots or labored breathing, there’s a good chance you need to treat your tank for ich.
How do Aquarium Fish Get Ich?
If you notice ich showing up in your tank, you may be wondering how it got there.
In many cases, ich parasites are present on tank surfaces, gravel, or aquarium decor before they ever hit the water.
Once you add fish, theronts in the water can attach to their body and begin their life cycle.
Aquariums with fluctuating pH or temperatures create a hospitable environment for ich parasites. They can live anywhere between 75º to 79ºF and prefer alkaline water.
Even if your aquarium is squeaky clean before adding fish, you can still inadvertently introduce ich into your tank.
Introducing a contagious tank mate is one of the most common ways that aquarium fish contract ich.
If you buy a new fish from the pet store or accept a gift from a friend, you may not notice ich present in the trophozoite stage.
When you place a fish infected with ich into your tank, it only takes a matter of days for it to spread into the water.
From there, they can go on to infect formerly healthy fish, eventually resulting in a tank-wide infection.
Ich can be a dangerous and uncomfortable disease for your betta, but fortunately, it’s easy to treat.
As long as you identify the problem early on, you can use any treatment methods discussed to eliminate an ich problem in your aquarium.
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