Betta Ich, also known as betta Ick, is an irritating and one of the most common diseases among freshwater aquarium betta fish.
It wouldn’t be wrong to say that it’s one of the troublesome diseases of betta fish when it comes to treatment.
The treatment difficulty increases with the number of fish in your tank. For example, Betta ich would be difficult to treat if you have multiple betta fish in a single freshwater aquarium and all of them are infected.
There’re many standardised treatments for betta ich that you can use to treat your betta fish, but it’s important to its symptoms and causes first.
What is Betta Ich?
Betta ich is an infectious disease among betta fish caused by a parasite named Ichthyophthirius multifiliis.
It’s a microscopic ciliated protozoan that can swim freely.
The ability of this parasite to swim freely across the freshwater aquarium enables it to infect healthy fishes in the aquarium.
That’s why it’s a highly contagious disease.
Like other parasite-causing diseases, betta ich consists of different stages of infection that complete a whole life cycle of illness.
The life cycle of betta ich starts from the release of an egg packet into the water by a mature ich parasite.
This egg packet takes a few days to hatch.
On hatching of the egg packet, newborn Ich babies spread across the tank in search of finding a host (a fish). Newborn Ich babies have cilia that help them to swim around the tanks and infect fish.
Once they’re successful in finding a suitable host, they attach themselves to the fish’s skin, fins, and scales. This attachment helps them to feed on their host fish.
On maturation and infecting the host, they release egg packets in the tank, and the cycle starts over again.
What are the Symptoms of Betta Ich?
The main symptom of Betta Ich among infected fish is the visible white dots, white spots, or flecks all over their bodies.
These white dots can be found on almost every part of the body, whether fins, gills, or skin.
Their shape is similar to very fine sugar granules.
Besides white dots, infected fish show two types of symptoms: Visual and Behavioral.
Observing visual symptoms is the easiest way to figure out whether your betta fish is infected or not.
The most significant symptom is white dots on the fish’s body, gills, and fins.
The number of white dots on the betta fish body determines the level of severity of the illness.
These white dots cannot be confused with the pimples that are common on betta fish skin.
An infected betta fish may also show observable behavioural symptoms under the effect of Ich.
For example, some betta fish stop eating and become extremely lethargic in severe cases when the illness is in its last stage.
In its early stages, your betta fish might try to rub them against aquarium walls, gravel, stones, or anything that’s rough to get rid of the Ich parasite from their body, scales, and fins.
Some other behavioural symptoms include:
- Tears in fins
- Scale damage
- Clamped fins
- Laboured breathing
If not treated in the early stages, betta Ich could lead to the death of betta fish.
If you notice any of these symptoms in your betta fish, you should immediately seek professional help or initiate standardised treatments.
What are the Causes of Betta Ich?
As mentioned earlier, betta ich is caused by a ciliated parasite, Ichthyophthirius multifiliis.
So anything that can help this parasite to enter the aquarium of betta fish is a contributing cause of betta ich.
One of the major causes of betta ich is an infected betta fish.
An infected betta fish can infect all other healthy bettas in the aquarium as it’s a highly contagious disease.
So, whenever you buy new betta fish – or any fish for a fact – don’t forget to keep them in quarantine for a specified period before putting them in the community tank to make sure that they don’t have Ich parasites.
Modern research studies believe that the Ich parasite is present in almost every large aquarium.
This parasite is so common that most bettas have developed immunity against it.
So, when this parasite infects a betta fish, it’s highly likely that the problem lies with the fish, not the parasite.
If your bettas are in good condition and have a healthy immune system, they’re more than capable of fighting the Ich parasite off.
However, if their own health is not in good condition or is compromised, they could be at a higher risk of developing Ich.
Thus, anything that can affect the health and immune system of a betta fish can be a cause.
Following are some common causes of Betta Ich.
Stressed-out betta fish are highly susceptible to developing betta ich.
It’s because stress directly impacts the normal functionality and capacity of the immune system in bettas.
A stressed-out betta fish has a longer immune response that makes it weak in the fight against the Ich parasite.
There can be many reasons for stress among betta fish, including:
- Betta fish can feel stressed due to changes in their environment. When you change the aquarium or make changes to the betta’s aquarium, it potentially elevates the level of stress in them. This is because they are used to the layout and have established territories. They need time to adjust to the environment, during which they may be susceptible to the ich parasite.
- Changing water parameters in the tank could also trigger stress among betta fish. For example, betta fish may feel stressed out if you change the water temperature, pH, or quality.
- Some betta fish don’t feel good about coexisting with other fish and may develop stress when they’re made to live with other tank mates. An easy way to figure out whether or not your betta fish like to coexist with other tank mates is to check their fins and skin. If you notice ragged fins or damage on the body, it could be an indication that they don’t like the company of other fish and have engaged in light fights with them.
- If you observe your bettas flaring all the time, you should check for anything alongside the tank’s walls that could cause it. Sometimes too bright light in the aquarium makes bettas see their reflection in the wall and flare up.
Your bettas are prone to be stressed out if they’re living in a poor environment where water is poorly heated, or water conditions are not suitable for them to live.
This is why it’s always important to set, maintain, and manage your water parameters right from the start, especially if you’re keeping sensitive wild betta fish.
Ageing is another contributing cause of ich in betta fish. In fact, Ich is more common among aged betta fish than young ones.
Betta Ich lifecycle
The lifecycle of the Ichthyophthirius multifiliis consists of the following stages:
Trophont Stage (Feeding Stage)
The Trophont stage, which is also called as feeding stage, is a period of time for which the Ich parasite remains attached to its host betta fish and feeds on it.
This is the first stage of the Ich illness which is visible to the naked eye. In most cases, Ich cannot be treated in this stage as the parasite is usually not susceptible to any treatment.
Tomont is the second stage of the Ich parasite lifecycle.
In this stage, adult parasites release from the host betta fish and attach to the gravel or other objects in the tank.
After attachment, these parasites begin dividing through the binary fission processes.
They multiply rapidly, almost ten times more than other parasites. The Tomont stage is also called the Reproductive stage of the Ich parasite.
The Theront stage is the third and last stage of the betta ich lifecycle, newborn Ich parasites from binary fission and egg packets are free to swim around the water tank with their small cilia.
Parasites are invisible to the naked eye in this state. As they’re small and newborns, they’re susceptible to treatment.
Under normal conditions, when no treatment is applied, these parasites have 48 hours to find a host and attach to it, or they will die.
Treating and medication your water tank in this stage can be effective and crucial to recovery.
Betta Ich Treatments
Betta Ich can be treated in many ways.
However, the treatment you choose really depends on the level of severity of the illness.
No matter the treatment you choose, I would recommend implementing it in a quarantine tank, not your main tank.
Following are some common treatments to treat betta ich:
In this treatment method, you remove all your bettas from the infected tank and transfer them to a quarantine tank where they can be monitored and medicated.
By doing so, the infected tank will not have any betta fish (or any livestock), which means no hosts for Ich.
The Ich parasite cannot survive without a host.
So, when there are no hosts, all traces of Ich will die, and after cleaning, your aquarium will be healthy to live again for bettas.
While your betta fish is in quarantine, implement the salt & heat treatment.
Salt & Heat Treatment
The second treatment method involves treating your water tank with heat and aquarium salt.
You’ll raise the temperature of the tank and add aquarium salt to it.
This treatment is only effective in the 2nd and 3rd stages of the Ich lifecycle.
It means you cannot use this treatment if the Ich is attached to betta fish bodies. You can only treat the Ich that has no host and swim freely in the water.
The Salt & Heat Treatment Method consists of the following steps:
- Raise the tank temperature gradually. Don’t raise the temperature suddenly.
- I wouldn’t recommend raising more than 1°C a day.
- The maximum temperature of your aquarium can be 86°F or 30°C. You shouldn’t go beyond that limit. This point is debatable as betta fish keepers in South East Asia keep their bettas at 30~32°C on daily (this is our room temperature).
So if you live in cooler climates, try not to raise it above 30°C as your betta might not be used to it. However, those in warmer climates can attempt to raise temperatures; but do keep an eye out for lethargic fish.
The main purpose of raising the temperature is to speed up the Ich lifecycle. When the lifecycle proceeds rapidly, parasites will try to find hosts fast and will die after failure.
The aquarium salt raises the salinity of the tank, which makes it unhospitable for Ich. High salinity also improves your bettas’ slime coat.
The slime coat is a natural defence of bettas against Ich. You should follow these steps while adding aquarium salt to your quarantine tank:
- Take a small proportion of aquarium water from the infected tank and dissolve one teaspoon of aquarium salt into it. After that, add the salt-treated water back into your tank.
- The amount of salt should be one teaspoon per gallon.
- Perform 25% water changes every couple of days.
It’s recommended to do this in a quarantine tank instead of your main tank, even if your main aquarium is infected with Ich.
Putting aquarium salt in your main aquarium would mean that it’ll be difficult to get rid of it in the future as compared to an empty quarantine tank.
If you have plants and invertebrates, not all are tolerant to salt. So it’s best to do this in a quarantine tank.
Medicate Your Bettas
Medications having methylene blue or malachite green as their active component can be used to treat bettas.
How to Prevent Betta Ich
Preventing betta ich requires less effort than treating it. You can take some useful preventive measures in this regard, such as:
- Properly care for your bettas
- Reduce environmental stresses
- Quarantine all new living plants and tank mates
- Maintain good water quality and parameters
- Feed your bettas a varied and nutritional diet
Maintaining water quality, eliminating stress-triggering elements, and using any safe medication can help you prevent betta ich.
Remember, betta ich is easy to prevent rather than treat.
So, it is best to monitor your tank regularly to keep a check on Ich parasites.
Ich on its own isn’t particularly dangerous or deadly to betta fish; however, its complications could produce life-threatening conditions sometimes.
Try your best to give a healthy and stress-free environment for your betta fish.