How to Cure Ich in Betta Fish
Your Friendly, Scaly Friend
Betta fish, also known as Siamese Fighting Fish, are the most popular pet fish around. Males, with their spectacular long fins and vibrant coloration, are found in just about any pet store. Because they are easy to take care of and delightful to watch, bettas are favorites of many aquarists and animal lovers.
But sometimes, things go wrong. Fish, like all other pets, can get sick, but treating a sick fish isn't like treating a sick cat or dog. You can't just put your betta in a carrier and take him to the vet! That's why it's important to be able to recognize the most common betta fish illnesses and know how to treat them so your little friend can go back to his old self. This article will help you diagnose and treat Ich (also spelled Ick), one of the most common betta sicknesses. Read on for more!
Is Something Wrong With My Fish?
Betta fish are hardy little creatures. Wild bettas live in very shallow rice paddies in Southeast Asia, sometimes in waters only a few inches deep, so their genetics give them the strength to withstand a lot of unpleasant conditions. However, the bettas you buy from pet stores have been bred more for beauty than for brawn, so they are susceptible to diseases, infections, and parasites.
Noticing that something is "off" with your betta seems like bad news, but the good news is that you've taken the first step and identified that something is wrong. Because healthy fish are so active, it's pretty easy to tell when your betta just isn't as healthy as he used to be. The symptom chart below can help you determine if your fish is unwell. Keep in mind that your fish may not exhibit every symptom. Trust your instincts. You know your betta better than anyone, and if you think it's acting strange, you are probably right.
Swims around eagerly
Swims more slowly
Comes up to the edge to see you
Lethargic, uninterested in stimuli
Loss of appetite
Smooth and vibrant
Color dulls, may develop spots
Males may blow bubbles
Little interest in mating
What is "Ich" and Does My Betta Have It?
Ich (also spelled Ick) is one of the most common aquarium parasites. Ich are tiny white pests that latch onto your betta's face and body, causing itchiness as well as general malaise. They remain on the fish for four days. After four days, they detach from the fish and float down into the tank to multiply. This lasts for a day before the Ich finish reproducing. The new Ich then swim around the tank for two days before attaching to your fish again and restarting the cycle.
Signs that your betta has Ich:
- White specks on his head and body. The specks are often compared in appearance to granules of salt. You may see only a few, or you may see lots of them, depending on the severity of the parasite attack.
- Itchiness: You may notice your betta rubbing his body on plants or gravel in his tank, trying to scratch himself.
- Loss of appetite, lethargy, and other common signs of illness listed in the table above.
Some fish may act completely normal, with the only sign of Ich being the white specks. If you're worried about Ich, take a good look at your fish every day and try to keep a record of any changes in behavior or appearance.
My Betta Has Ich! Will He Die? How Do I Treat It?
The survival rate from Ich is very high. Most infected fish who are treated in a timely fashion will be rid of the parasites and back to normal in no time. Most Ich-related fish deaths occur when the Ich goes untreated for a very long time, or when it is found along with other parasites or illnesses. If you've managed to tell that your fish has Ich, it is probably at a mild enough stage that killing the parasite and curing your fish will be very simple.
Step 1: Create an Ich-Free Environment
The first thing you want to do once you spot Ich is get the fish out of the water he is currently in. Ideally, this means setting up a "hospital tank" with clean water that has been treated with a water conditioner to ensure the best water for your fish while he heals. If you don't have another tank, then perform a complete water change, clean your tank thoroughly, and add water conditioner before returning your fish to the tank. Ich can spend up to three days swimming in the tank water, so putting your betta in new water will get him away from any free swimming parasites. The water in this new tank should be slowly raised up to a maximum of 82 degrees Fahrenheit (27.7 degrees Celsius). Bettas are tropical fish, so they prefer warm water, but Ich thrive in colder waters so by raising the temperature you give the pesky parasites a lower chance of survival.
Step 2: Choose Your Medicine
The next thing you should do is select a medicine to put in the tank that will kill the remaining Ich. There are three basic types of medications for betta fish: antiparasitics, antifungals, and antibacterials. Ich is a parasite, so if you're browsing the pet store shelves, look for a medicine that's advertised as an antiparasitic. There are a lot of medications that claim to kill Ich, but what you're looking for is one with either malachite green or methylene blue as a main ingredient. Check the label for one of these two ingredients before you buy the medicine.
A large container at a great price. This is the very first Ich treatment I tried, and the parasites were gone in a week. I recommend it to any betta owner who needs to treat an infection or wants a cure on-hand just in case.
Step 3: Add Your Medicine to the Tank
Follow the instructions on the bottle very carefully and completely. Usually you just need to measure out the liquid in a syringe and squirt it into the water, although smaller bottles may have a built-in dropper to make it easier. If you would prefer to use a dropper, QuICK Cure by Aquarium Products is a treatment with malachite green that I have had a lot of luck with. The medicine won't be able to kill the Ich while it's attached to your betta, so you must keep using the medicine even if you don't see Ich on your fish. When the Ich are free-swimming, the medicine will kill them.
Tips for adding the medicine:
- Add the medicine every day for at least a week. It is a good idea to continue using it for several days after that week just to be sure that all the Ich are killed.
- To keep the water clean, perform 25% water changes every day while you are treating your betta.
- You should only treat your betta if he is isolated. Malachite green and methylene blue won't harm your betta, but they could be harmful to any tankmates such as catfish or frogs.
- In addition, if your betta tank has a carbon filter, you will need to remove the carbon before beginning treatment with the medicine.
- The instructions that come with the medication can tell you more about what may be sensitive to that particular medication. Read the instructions thoroughly before beginning treatment.
The Ich is Gone! How Do I Keep It Gone?
Ich is most commonly the result of poor water conditions. Things like uneaten food and fish waste turn into ammonia, which is poisonous and makes your betta's environment unsafe. These things also add to nitrite and nitrate levels, which are very dangerous at high levels. Here are some things you can do to keep your water safe for your fish and prevent Ich.
- Invest in a water testing kit. A water testing kit will sample the water in your tank and tells you when various chemicals are present or too high.
- Change the water frequently. Even without a testing kit, you can usually tell when water needs to be changed. The tank will be cloudy and smell funny (this is the ammonia from your fish's waste). The moment ammonia is present, it's time to change the water. A betta kept in a one-gallon tank should have a 100% water change every three to four days. In larger tanks with filters, partial water changes of 25% to 50% every week or so will keep the water fresh and clean for your betta.
- Use aquarium salt. You may also want to start adding aquarium salt to your betta's tank. They don't need much; between half a teaspoon and one teaspoon per gallon will ward off Ich before it even gets the chance to find your fish. Aquarium salt is inexpensive and a very good deterrent to fish illnesses and parasites, Ich included.
Other Possible Culprits
If you keep your betta's tank clean, you'll almost certainly never get Ich. However, if you keep your tank immaculate but your fish still catches Ich, frozen live food may be to blame. Live food can carry the Ich parasite, and so when you put it into your betta's tank you may have yourself an Ich attack. If you feed your betta live food, make sure you buy it from a quality seller who takes good measures to keep parasites out of their supply.
Bettas that are stressed due to poor water quality, other illness, improper feeding, or proximity to other fish are more likely to be attacked by Ich. One of the best things you can do to prevent Ich is to keep your betta happy and stress-free. Make sure of these things and you'll probably never see Ich again!
Got any other tips for curing and preventing Ich you'd like to share? Have any questions about getting rid of those nasty parasites? Leave a comment below!