Bettas and Ich Parasites


Q: JK wrote,

I am a new Betta owner and I have a dilemma. I have one very healthy Betta in a Biorb (do you think he hates the bubbles?) and one that is very sick. The sick guy was in a group tank with mollies and a cory catfish. He is (I think) suffering from ammonia poisoning (new tank syndrome) and then came down with ich. I have moved him from the big tank to a 2 gallon tank with a heater. Am using spring water to combat the ammonia poisoning. Have been treating the ich with Rid-Ich. My question is how long do I let the poor guy suffer before I euthanize him humanely? I think he’s suffering but since I know little about fish I could be wrong. He is lethargic, floats along at the top at a 45 degree angle, seems to hang in with the floating plants, seemingly for support. Won’t eat, seems to have labored gill action -they flare quite a bit and seem red around the edges. But he’s a gold and red Betta so that could be normal. 1) Can ammonia poisoning be countered by new water and if so how long does it take for improvement to show? 2) How long does it take for improvement to show for the ich?

Help! I feel horrible everytime I walk by his tank and see him hanging there.

A: Your poor little betta sure has been through a lot with ammonia poisoning and then Ich. Ich is generally quite easy to treat as long as you understand the life cycle of the parasite. I was actually going to write a whole article about it for the Betta Blog today but when I saw your email I thought I had better get back to you first. It’s hard to say for sure if he has suffered severe ammonia poisoning or not, unless you tested the water initially and have the ammonia level available. The red gills and Ich could have been caused by exposure to ammonia but the redness could also be caused by the Ich itself. I have gotten a lot of inquires in the website recently about Ich and wonder, because the parasites thrive in cool water, if there has been an increase in incidents due to the recent cold snap.

Your betta certainly may heal completely with clean water and Rid-Ich. Spring water isn’t necessary if you have decent tap water. Clean tap water is usually fine as long as you are using a water conditioner to neutralize the chlorine, chloramines and heavy metals. It’s definitely a lot more affordable then spring. If you already have spring water and are happy using it, it certainly is just fine.

Continue to keep his water clean but be sure to carefully follow the directions on the Rid-Ich bottle. Here is information from Nippyfish.netabout understanding Ich and treating it.

Ich

Common Name: Ich
Scientific Name: Ichthyophthirius multifiliisDescription: Parasite
Symptoms: white spots on body appear to look like sugar sprinkled on fish, darting, rubbing body against tank decor, sometimes no symptoms other then spots
Cause: stress, poor water quality, most common in water under 78˚F [25.5˚C]
Medications: RidIch+ by Kordon
Ingredients: formalin, malachite green
Notes: Because the Ich parasite is only visibly present 4 out of the 7 day lifecyle it is important to continue to dose for the full recommended number of days

More Information

Ich (Ichthyophthirius multifiliis) is a contagious parasitic infestation that commonly affects both marine and freshwater fish. The Ich protozoan may be present in the water without you even knowing it. It often only preys on fish that are stressed due to poor water quality or other stressors.

A fish that has the Ich parasites on him will look as though he has been sprinkled with little granules of sugar or salt. A mild case may only turn up two or three small white dots but a severe case could leave your entire fish dotted with white parasites.

A fish with Ich may become twitchy and try to rub its body up along the tank décor or gravel. In severe cases the fish may become lethargic or loose it’s appetite. It’s not uncommon, however for the fish to act pretty normal despite the parasites being present.

Ich is quite easy to treat but left too long can be fatal. It’s very important to understand the life cycle of the Ich parasite in order to treat it properly. The protozoan has a three-part life cycle of which it is only vulnerable to treatment for approximately two days out of its life. Because some fish are more sensitive to medications then others I am going to go through the proper treatment for a Betta. Some fish are more delicate (like scaleless fish) and may need a modified form of treatment.

Trophont Phase- [approx 4 days] The Trophont is the adult protozoan that is feeding on your fish. This is what you are looking at when you see the “granules” attached to your fish. The parasites are not susceptible to treatment during this phase.

Tomont Phase- [approx 1 day] The Tomont occurs when the Trophont [above] releases from your fish and falls away. It then begins to divide hundreds of times in your tank but is too small to be seen by the naked eye. To the inexperienced aquarist it may appear that your fish is healed but the protozoan is still not susceptible to treatment during this phase. It is just reproducing and will attack your fish more severely if not handled in the next phase.

Thernont Phase- [approx 2 days] This is the phase where the microscopic parasites are free swimming around your tank and are most vulnerable to treatment. While they are looking for a host it is important to be medicating your tank. With proper treatment the parasites will die off during this stage before feeding on your fish and starting the cycle again.

To treat your betta it’s important to know that the Ich parasites are contagious and the medication is fairly strong. It’s best to move your fish to a hospital tank if he has tank mates so as not to expose them to more parasites or unnecessary medication. The medicine used may kill helpful nitrifying bacteria so activated carbon filters should be removed during the treatment process.

The Ich parasites thrive in cooler water below a temperature of 78˚F [25.5˚C] so slowly raise the temperature in the tank to around 80˚F – 82˚F [26.6˚C – 27.7˚C] over the next 24 to 48 hours.

Carefully follow the directions on the medicine bottle remembering to perform 25% water changes before each dose and to continue dosing for several days past the visible signs of the disease.

Since fish generally become infected due to stressors it’s imperative that you determine what may have caused the fish to get sick to begin with. Check your water parameters and make any corrections as needed.

Hopefully this will be helpful to you. The most important thing about treating Ich is that you finish the recommended course even if you no longer see the parasites. If the medication calls for 5 days of treatment and you don’t see any spots after day 3, continue to treat for the full 5 days. If you still see spots after 5 days, repeat the entire course a second time.

Euthanization is a difficult decision to make. It’s impossible to know how your fish is feeling and to what degree he is suffering. We also have to consider that medications are often successful and fish have their own immune systems to help fight disease. Just because he’s sick doesn’t mean he won’t get better. What I usually tell people is if their fish tries to flee when you attempt to net him then he still has the desire in him to live. If he’s so far gone that you can scoop him right up then you may want to consider humane euthanization. Though, I will say I have seen some amazing recoveries where I thought there was no hope. If you decide euthanization please do look into humane methods like clove oil (available at pharmacies), MS-222 (available online), or decapitation, which sounds harsh but is considered the most humane method if you have the stomach for it… (I do not.) The freezer method is not considered humane and is believed to take a long time and may be quite painful, though we don’t really know.

Again, I hope your betta heals quickly and fully and will soon be up and about.

Written by

Christie F is a Betta splendens hobbyist that enjoys spending time caring for her fish and helping new betta keepers learn the ropes. More posts by:

3 Comments for this entry

  1. Anonymous says:

    This article helped me so much! I have been looking through the internet to combine information about ich and your article had the complete information. My goldfish is so infested with ich. I recently bought medication and learning about the phases of the parasite definitly make me feel better :) Thank you!

  2. Goldfish Ich Medications says:

    What a great article all about ich indeed! You have an excellent blog and I can see you helping many people.

    Ich is a pain in the butt so to speak but with the right type of medication you can get rid of ich pretty easily.

    Keep up the great work! Will stop by again.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Thanks for the info! My betta just got ich and already has 2 spots on him. I'll try to do the best I can. He's a fighter so, wish me luck!

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