Treating Tropical Fish with Garlic

Treating Tropical Fish with Garlic

The use of garlic as a medicinal aid has been popping up all over internet fish forums since 2009. Betta fish and discus owners in particular have been receptive and have touted its benefits for treating anything from appetite loss to blindness and everything in between. When I start seeing a new remedy gain in popularity without any scientific back-up (even loosely scientific), I have to ask the question: Where did this rumor get started? And more importantly, Does it work?

Internet aquarium forums are a wonderful way to gain knowledge about our hobby, share our mistakes, and get help at a moment’s notice. The down side is, much like the game Operator, facts move quickly from person to person – forum to forum, changing just a little until the original truth is all but lost. Starting with Google, I began to walk back in time to find the origins of treating fish with garlic.

 

It turns out that 2009 and 2010 were popular years for treating betta fish, in particular with garlic remedies. There were lots of questions about HOW to prepare garlic for your fish, but not a ton of information about why one would want to do so. Nearly all the fish care sites I found were focusing on preparing fresh garlic, direct from the clove. A high school student on Wiki Answers warned fish keepers that garlic should not be fed directly to bettas, but rather the juice should be squeezed out and used as a wash on frozen peas (a vegetable popular for treating constipation in betta fish). This fish keeper recommended it as an antioxidant and an appetite stimulant. Around the same time, Bettafish.com contributers were addressing rumors that garlic could cure fin rot. The consensus was that it could not directly, but when juiced and applied to betta food, could help improve immune system function. A few months before that there were claims that it could treat “internal and external problems“, however those problems weren’t specified. A different method for administering garlic to betta fish was recommended, which didn’t include food at all but rather sprinkling garlic powder directly into the aquarium. Meanwhile, at Fishlore.com, tropical fish hobbiests were using garlic to flush out and kill parasites from guppies and otocinclus catfish. One contributer shared that using garlic as a preventative tonic meant that parasites could not take hold.

 

From 2000 – 2008 there was very little online discussion about the use of garlic as a natural remedy for treating tropical fish. There were a few sporadic references to Seachems Garlic Guard, which is marketed as an Appetite and Flavor Enhancer for both freshwater and marine fish. For the first time, the Seachem product referenced garlic oil, rather than smashed up cloves, minced, or powdered garlic. This was the first I read about treating fish with garlic that had an air of legitimacy. Oils are more stable and predictable and calculating dosing would be a lot more accurate when dealing with an oil. Even so, the product was not advertised as a medicine, but rather a supplement. The popular online fish store, Drs. Foster & Smith elaborated that Garlic Guard contains the active ingredient allicin, which contains powerful antioxidant properties that can lessen free radical damage to cells. Of course they were careful to say that it can lessen free radicals, not that it does. Very few supplements are thoroughly tested in humans, I have to doubt that much is done with aquarium fish. Regarding its affects treating parasites, Seachem specifically states in their directions for Garlic Guard that it should be used with other Seachem products: “For enhanced effectiveness against Ich and other parasites use Seachem’s Focus and Metronidazole as follows: Add 1 measure of Metronidazole to 1 measure of Focus per tablespoon of frozen food. Completely soak this food mix in Garlic Guard, refrigerate, and feed once or twice daily for 1-2 weeks.”

Discus: Red, Yellow, Blue, originally uploaded by Lee Nachtigal.

Still unable to locate the origins of the rumor, I dug back deeper still, until I came across an article by the respected discus breeder, Jack Wattley in the May 1999 issue of Tropical Fish Hobbiest. In that one little article I was able to attribute most of the origins of the garlic rumor AND got to read about the quasi-scientific study he performed with garlic. I was in heaven.

The gist of it was this: Jack Wattley and Terry Fairfield soaked discus food in oil taken from garlic capsules and fed them to fish known to be infected with internal parasites. After 6 weeks treating food at every meal, there was a drop in the number of parasites found. (Ah ha! the origins of the garlic to treat parasites rumor) The article also mentioned that the discus ate all the food. Another version of the article online said they ate it “eagerly“, which may have contributed to the belief that garlic is an appetite enhancer in tropical fish.

Wattley and Fairfield also tried feeding their discus fresh garlic puree squeezed directly from the clove. Again, this may answer why this method has become so popular with betta fish owners. While Wattley found this method inconvenient, it did produce interesting results. The parasitic worms did not die when they came in contact with the garlic, however, the fish did have noticeably fewer parasites when treated at every meal for a course of 5 weeks. Wattley also conjectured in this article that the garlic method was safe for the fish and caused fewer problems when used repetitively than fish parasite medications.

In Wattley’s article he mentioned giving talks about garlic as fish medication years before the 1999 TFH article had been written, which suggests that others may have been trying the remedies too. He never mentioned where he learned of it or if the idea was one he had on his own. He did encourage others to try it and record their results. I was hesitant at first to recommend it as I am well aware that garlic is toxic to many animals, including dogs, cats and birds. After digging a little deeper it seems many have tried it, and while results are mixed, I haven’t yet read of any fish being harmed or killed when administered a conservative dose of garlic. I guess I have to agree with Jack.

Try it. See what happens and for God’s sake, report back. The only way we’re going to know exactly what it treats, if it works and how it works is by giving it a try.

Jack Wattley’s full Tropcial Fish Hobbiest article has been posted online. To get the details of his experiments and experience visit Discusnews.com.

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:

32 Comments for this entry

  1. Meg says:

    my betta has a problem. i don’t know what, or how he got it. It IS true that you’re supposed to fast you betta one day a week, right? Well, i didn’t feed him on thursday, and this morning, I gave him his food, and he swam up to it, took it in his mouth then it came floating out of his mouth, then he tried again, with the same results, he tried 3 or 4 times before he gave up. He just CAN’T EAT, I give him pellets, just so you know. PLEASE help, I’m so worried about him, I don’t want to lose him, do you think maybe feeding him a little piece of cooked pea would help? Or maybe garlic? I’m so scared that when i come home, he’ll be dead, or almost dead.

    thanks,
    a very sad meg

    • Christie F. says:

      Don’t panic. No harm will come to your betta from missing another meal and he can survive for several days without any food at all. Occasionally bettas will spit out their food. Sometimes they do it in an effort to break up the food, sometimes because they don’t like what they are offered. I would just try again a little later. If he still won’t eat by the next day, then I’d recommend doing the basic water tests to see if there is anything environmental that is stressing him out. (I always recommend testing ammonia, nitrite, nitrate, KH, GH, and pH) Also, look him over to see if there are any signs of disease, such as color loss, fungal-looking growths, parasites, spit or torn fins, clamped fins, sluggishness, bloating, etc. If there are no signs of illness and the water parameters are good, then perhaps you could entice him to eat with some delicious (to bettas) frozen bloodworms, daphnia, mysis shrimp or brine shrimp.

      You could also try feeding him another pellet, if he won’t eat it, try dipping it in garlic juice or oil. If he then eats it, there may be some truth to garlic as an appetite stimulant for bettas. Let us know the results.

    • Christie F. says:

      Meg – Also, check out our recent post: Top 4 Betta Fish Eating Problems if you haven’t already.

      • Piet says:

        Hi I got a betta fish last saturday. 2 females. Each of them lives separately on a 5 gallon tank. The problem here is they wont eat anything it has been a week. I tried flakes,pellets frozen food and dried food. I cant find any live foods in our area. I live in the tropics the temperature here is 76-82ºF / 24-27ºC. I do a weekly water change. What can i do to get them interested in eating. I also dried mixing garlic juice with the food it wont work. Can someone please help me i dont want my betta fish to die =( please help me Christie F.

  2. Meg says:

    I tried with the garlic juice on the pellet, and now he just won’t even try to eat the pellet, he just ignores it. I’m pretty sure he spent the entire day lying at the bottom of the tank. should i just get some bloodworms and see if he’ll eat them? oh, and, can bettas eat regular garden worms? (I don’t use pesticides)

    Thanks for answering so quickly,
    A less sad Meg :)

    • Christie F. says:

      Less Sad Meg,
      You could try earthworms… but you’d have to cut them up because they’d be much too big for a betta… That grosses me out a bit, but if you have a strong stomach… give it a shot and let me know if he likes it.

  3. Meg says:

    I think fernando has Ich, he has little white spots on his fins, his fins look rather clumped, he has no appetite, and he isn’t active. i’m going out to get ich treatment stuff now.

    • Christie F. says:

      Eww. Bummer. I’ve had pretty good luck treating Ich. They often pull through ok if you catch it early and treat for the entire recommended course. Check out our page on treating bettas with ICH for more information.

      • Meg says:

        I thought he had ich, but now i don’t think he does, the white spots were bubbles, which i didn’t realize until I treated him for ich, which i think was bad, but i thought he had it. Now I’m really getting worried, he won’t eat, he’s just laying on the bottom,his fins look clumped,and he hasn’t eaten in a week. Do you have any idea what could be wrong?? the tank temperature is constantly kept at 77 degrees farenheit.

  4. Meg says:

    thank you for answering so many of my questions, but Fernando died this morning, I guess it will always be a mystery as to what happened. Also, this site is AMAZING!

    • Christie F. says:

      Oh no, that’s awful. I’m sorry to hear about Fernando. I have to give you credit for trying to treat him and for researching betta illnesses. I can tell you cared for him.

  5. Meg says:

    ok, this has nothing to do with garlic, but I got my new betta (named STEVE) about a week ago, and when I came home from school today, I noticed one of his gills looked rather strange, then I looked at it from the top, and I noticed that the scales on his gill were sticking out just a bit, and were just a little bit red. He has no change in his temperament, he’s still a very active, friendly plakat. So I was just wondering if the scales sticking out could mean he is stressed, or sick, or could lead to dropsy or something, but he has no swelling at all. Also, could a betta’s scales stick out from rubbing against something?

    Thanks,
    A Not Sad Meg :D

    • Christie F. says:

      Hey there Not So Sad Meg (I think this nickname might stick). It’s possible it’s dropsy but I agree with you that it’s probably something else since the swelling is just around the gills. Inflamed gills can often be caused by toxins in the water or even injury. Have you checked out our page on Gill Hyperplasia? It might be a big help for you.

  6. Joy says:

    I feel the best thing to do is to set up a hospital tank. I have never heard of using garlic before. I have heard of using aqurium salt for fresh water fish you get at the pet store.

  7. Mia says:

    My betta, Rimington, has fin rot. :-( It’s not serious, I’m getting him Maracyn as soon as possible and I’ve already done a complete water change in his 2.5 gallon bowl (I’m getting him a five gallon tank tomorrow). I’m tempted to try this garlic thing but, I just don’t want to “test” anything out on my betta. If a few people comment with excellent results I will try it. Anyway, is there anything else I should do to help my betta? Should I cycle the new 5 gal. tank? I have an apple snail (black mystery snail), he does produce a ton of waste. Is that bad for my betta? Sorry for all the questions!

    Thanks,
    Mia

  8. Mia says:

    And BTW, this blog is amazing! :D Best one I’ve found!

  9. Gypsy says:

    I have used minced garlic for several years with my platys, mollies, and gold fish. I also have an albino bristle nose plecostomus, 3 Chinese algae eaters and 7 bettas(rescues from a Walmart) have shown no adverse reactions to it. The algae eaters and the pleco. I heard about using garlic on fish years ago from a little oriental guy who raised Koi for ponds. He said his family had used it for years for fish with suspected parasites and for stimulating appetite in sick fish. They used some other home made herbal treatments too, but this one stuck with me because I actually went home and tried it with my dad on his bettas(he bred them). It worked amazingly well. Peas soaked in garlic juice is a fabulous remedy for constipation, which is fairly common for bettas on a staple diet of pellet food, or so I have found over the years. I prefer to try to treat all of my pets homeopathically, so I just carried on with the garlic when I started up my own aquariums. I personally have had it succeed on even some severely ill fish. The pleco eats what the other fish drop, as do the algae eaters, and I have never had a bad reaction from any of the fish I fed it too. I did notice that just the presence of it in the water seems to make them “happy” and more active. I have used garlic juice and sea salt in the water to treat ich and fungal infections, conservatively and with periodic partial water changes. I also feed the whole aquarium bits of garlic whenever I introduce a new fish, as a precaution against imported parasites. Maybe I’ve been lucky, but it seems to have worked very well for me. You said you wanted to hear from anyone who has tried it, so I thought I would chime in… :)

  10. Michelle says:

    I’m attempting to treat my betta for symptoms that all point to parasitic worms. Flashing, listlessness, a little bloating. Water quality is very good. I soaked his usual pellets in garlic juice from a clove that I pureed. He spat it out instantly, and he’s never spat out food before. He is a voracious eater, and still is, despite what ails him. I’m going to try watering down the garlic juice with some of his aquarium water, and I’ll report back. So far though, he’s reacting the way I would to a mouthful of raw garlic soaked food…

  11. Sunflower says:

    I just noticed red feather like things hanging from my female guppies bum. I have been reading about parasites and worms. I old like to hear of the cheapest or easier way to treat this. I have only noticed iron the one guppy but it is In a tank with 9 other guppies, fry, retail shark and a few glass fish. I know I have to treat the whole tank but with what? Pleas help I don’t want to lose all my baby guppies and/or my mothers!

    • Sunflower says:

      Sorry my auo correct messed up some words, I am wondering if I use garlic what would be the dosage for a 20gal tank! And what kind of state should the garlic be in?

  12. Cheryl says:

    I have used garlic juice squeezed out from raw garlic then dip a frozen bloodworm in it and fed it to my dwarf puffers on the first few days when they come to me and they look all thin and malnourished and parasite infested. I have tried this with 4 dwarf puffers and it works. I never have a new fish die on me & partly I think is because of this. I don’t mind buying the most haggard looking thin fishes because I know the garlic juice will get them well again.

  13. Amanda Pan says:

    I feed my betta blood worms soaked in garlic juice. I do realize he is attacking the blood worms more aggressively/excitedly. I decided to use it more as a preventive measure against parasites. Along side with a little aquarium salt in the tank to prevent fin rot. My beta only mainly eats bloodworms. He seems to be doing fine.

  14. Williams says:

    My veil tail betta, Zuko seems to have fish rot. I’ve been looking for home remedies. Garlic sounded the most promising. Thank you Cheryl and Gypsy for sharing your positive results. It gave me hope. I just gave Zuzu one shred of fresh garlic he devoured! So I gave him another small piece, but he spit it out. I put his pellet in some of the juice then fed him. He spit it out too. I hope the bit he ate will have some positive effect. I also put a few salt crystals in his water. I let you guys know if these remedies help.

  15. Williams says:

    Zuzu seems to be a little more active today. I also gave him 10 mins in the sunlight and he started behaving like his normal self again, he was swimming regularly and displaying his fins for me. I think he will have another shred of garlic today along with some salt then a water change. His appetite never changed. Still as voracious as ever!

  16. Piet says:

    Hi I got a betta fish last saturday. 2 females. Each of them lives separately on a 5 gallon tank. The problem here is they wont eat anything it has been a week. I tried flakes,pellets frozen food and dried food. I cant find any live foods in our area. I live in the tropics the temperature here is 76-82ºF / 24-27ºC. I do a weekly water change. What can i do to get them interested in eating. I also dried mixing garlic juice with the food it wont work. Can someone please help me i dont want my betta fish to die =(

  17. Naibi Marinas says:

    I have a ryukin goldfish that developed septicemia. I tried Maracyn Two since it was supposed to be the most effective treatment and a week later there was no improvement. I waited for about three days and began a treatment with garlic water and salt. All the ulcers were gone in two days. I added a teaspoon of garlic water for three days and a tablespoon of aquarium salt for 5 days with 20% water change daily (10 gallon hospital tank). After five days I continued the water changes without adding anything for about a week to reverse the tank to normal conditions. I will definitely try this if I have another sick fish in the future, the expensive medicine did nothing. I don’t have any betas, so I am not sure if it will work on those.

  18. sachin says:

    I do have a question.
    Garlic juice is safe for oscar , parrot , gorami and turtles ?? Please help me my two baby oscar fishes are suffering from ich. I was out for 4 days wgen I came back today morning I saw that ich is there. Water Temperature was 24°Celsius and now I raised it to 28°Celsius, after every 3 hour’s 2° was raised. And 30% of water was changed immediately as I noticed ich. Should I add a teaspoon of garlic juice to my fish tank directly which is almost of 100 litres

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