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Diagnosing and Treating "Ich"

Updated on November 25, 2010

"Ich", or Ichthyophthirius, is a single-celled parasite that infects freshwater fish. It is extremely contagious, and almost all aquarists have had to deal with it some time or other. Fortunately, there are preventions and cures that can help keep your fish from being harmed by this protozoan.

The ich protozoans feed off the fish's tissue before dropping to the bottom to reproduce.
The ich protozoans feed off the fish's tissue before dropping to the bottom to reproduce.

Life Cycle

First, the protozoan embeds itself into the skin of the fish. It feeds off the fish's tissue and causes extreme discomfort to the poor creature. It matures on the fish's body, then, when grown, drops down to the aquarium substrate. Once there, it reproduces through cellular division, and more parasites are born. These new parasites infect more fish, and the cycle is repeated. 


There are several symptoms you may notice in your fish infected with ich. The most obvious is small white spots on your fish's body and gills. It may look almost like the animal has been salted. Some other symptoms include:

  • Breathing heavily
  • Rubbing against tank decorations and side
  • Loss of appetite
  • Gill inflammation
  • Severe agitation in the fish
Recognizing these signs early is crucial to quickly diagnosing and curing your fish. 


It is said that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. This is especially true with diseased fish, as many aren't noticed to be ill until it is too late. Here are some ways to help prevent your tank from becoming diseased:

  • Do not buy animals or plants from stores that sell sickly animals
  • Quarantine fish for several weeks before adding them to your aquarium
  • Keep everything in your tank stable, including pH and temperature, to keep your fish happy and stress-free
  • Do regular water changes and testing in your tank to make sure the water quality is optimal
  • Do not overstock your tank

Wal-mart Sells Sick Fish


While prevention is the best way to keep your fish healthy, you may realize your aquarium has become infected. There are many medications that are said to treat parasites. However, if you have live plants and invertebrates in your tank, be careful about which solutions you use. 

In addition to using medication, you can raise the temperature of your tank to 78-80 degrees Fahrenheit. The ich protozoans thrive best in cooler temperatures, and keeping your temperature warmer is recommended. 

The parasites can only survive for a limited time without a host to live on, so removing your fish from the tank and raising your temperature to over 80 degrees Fahrenheit is another method of exterminating ich. You will need to treat the fish in the other tank, however, or you could risk returning the parasite to your aquarium. 

Good Luck!

Ich is an annoying parasite that can harm your beloved fish. Thankfully, there are many preventions and cures to make sure your aquatic pets aren't harmed. Happy fishkeeping!


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