Have you woken up to check on your longtime betta fish, only to see that it’s covered in small white spots? Or perhaps, you’ve got a new betta, and these white spots appeared almost as soon as you got it into its new home.
There could be other reasons that your betta fish has white spots, but it’s most likely that your fish has a parasitic infection known as ‘ich.’
If you’d like to know what exactly ich is, how your fish got it and how to treat it, read on!
What are these white spots on my fish?
Ichthyophthirius multifiliis (Ich)
If your betta fish has white spots, it is almost definitely the sickness called ‘Ich.’
Ich is the name of both a parasite and the illness that the parasite causes. The most notable symptoms are the trademark white spots.
These white spots are so identifiable with ich that it has gained the nickname ‘white spot disease.’
Ich is a common illness in freshwater and saltwater tanks, with freshwater more than saltwater. If you’ve kept fish tanks for any extended amounts of time, you’d know ich when you see it!
How did my betta fish get ich?
Contamination by other fishes
If your betta fish is in a tank with any other fish, any new addition may carry a dormant form of ich, which can infect your whole tank.
Any new fish, plant, or invertebrate could be carrying ich- anything that has had contact with water is a potential ich vector.
This is why many fish keepers opt to put new additions through quarantine. Quarantine is an essential tool for any fish tank, especially if it’s inhabited by multiple animals.
Even in a tank with a singular fish, or a singular animal at all, quarantine can be very useful. After all, it gives you more time to tell if anything is wrong with your new fish!
Even if your new betta fish looks healthy, it could be carrying the aforementioned dormant form of ich, which can flare up almost as soon as it gets into its new tank.
The spots on your fish don’t simply materialize out of thin air- they have to come from somewhere, and the water they came from may have had ich!
Equipment was not thoroughly sanitized
Sanitization is crucial, especially when adding new items to an existing tank.
Ich can be carried on surfaces just as well as fish, and if you use the same equipment on multiple tanks, this cross-contamination can increase the risk of ich transferring from one tank to another.
This is why cleaning your equipment with an aquarium-safe sanitizer is important, as that will destroy any microbes that attach themselves to it. A water siphon is the most common place for microbes to attach, so be careful when cleaning one out!
Like any animal, stress can weaken the immune system of your betta fish. With a stress-weakened immune system, your betta fish is more likely to catch a disease of any kind.
Naturally, this will increase the chances of contamination by ich- and if you have other animals in your tank, the ich could spread to them.
If one fish in a tank is stressed, there are likely many other stressed animals in the tank as well, which means that the possibility of a major ich outbreak is very high.
Ich effects on fishes
Itching and scratching
Funnily enough, the fact that it can make a fish itchy is not how ich got its name, but it’s a useful way to remember ich’s symptoms.
Ich is a parasite that gets onto the skin of your fish, and as it burrows into the fish’s mucus layer and feeds on the betta fish’s skin, it can make your fish feel extremely itchy.
To combat this, a betta fish will begin to scratch themselves against tank decorations, walls, or substrate. While this may not be lethal at first, excessive scratching can cause severe damage to your betta fish’s skin and can be lethal.
As the ich parasite lives on the skin, it can quickly get into your betta fish’s gills. Betta fish breathe through their gills, and a parasite infestation can lead to your betta fish having trouble breathing.
You can tell if your betta fish is having trouble breathing if it is spending more time towards the surface of its tank, while bettas usually stake their territory around the middle and bottom of the tank.
It will do this for easier access to air, allowing it to spend less effort constantly swimming towards the surface.
If left untreated, ich can harm your fish in the worst way possible; sudden death. Thankfully, ich is easily treated if you put in a slight amount of effort, but it can just as easily be lethal.
A parasitic infection is something to take seriously, especially if the ich has already spread to the betta fish’s lungs.
When a betta fish has ich inside its lungs, it is quickly nearing a lethal stage unless it’s already lethal and needs treatment as soon as possible.
More than a few fish have died of ich, though it is easily treatable. If the ich infestation is recent, you don’t have much to worry about!
Treatment for ich
Heat and salt
One of the most trusted methods in treating ich is adding salt and heat to your betta fish’s tank, which is regularly recommended by fish keepers.
Salt helps your fish’s blood oxygenate faster, boosting their immune system. It also gives fish a thicker slime coat, making it harder for the ich parasite to burrow into the fish’s skin.
Aquarium salt is recommended for this. Don’t use table salt! It’s also crucial that you use an appropriate amount of salt. Do not turn your tank into a saltwater tank!
On the other hand, heat speeds up the lifespan of the ich parasites, giving them less time to harm your fish. With salt and heat combined, your fish will be healthier, with less time for the ich to take hold.
This method does not directly kill the ich but combined with water changes over time, it can absolutely get rid of your Ich problem.
Copper is a stronger medication and absolutely not recommended if your betta shares a tank with any scaleless fish or inverts. Copper supplements will kill the ich parasites but also kill any snails or shrimp you may have.
If your tank consists solely of your betta fish, using copper medications can kill the ich parasite without severely injuring your betta fish. Just make sure to use a proper dose, like with any medicine!
There are plenty of publicly-available copper medications specifically designed for treating ich, so make sure you do your research and find one you are happy with.
This is not necessarily an ich treatment, but it is necessary for combination with any other ich treatment. You should be doing plenty of these regardless of if your fish is sick or not, and especially if your fish has ich!
Water changes help maintain the water quality and can also siphon off the microscopic forms of ich in your tank, lowering their population and making it less likely for your fish to get infected by any disease, including ich.
Best anti-ich medications
Ich-X is a medication that uses ‘Malachite Green’, making it safer on scaleless fish and invertebrates.
The chemical called ‘Malachite Green’ is typically used as a green dye but is used in many different antimicrobial fish tank medications.
In terms of these antimicrobial, anti-ich medications, Ich-X is one of the most trusted names and is highly recommended by fish keepers everywhere.
ParaGuard is a fish-and-filter-safe anti-parasite medication that will not damage your filter materials or harm your fish.
This is because ParaGuard is aldehyde-based, along with Malachite Green, though it does not use the formaldehyde that other medications are known for.
Due to the chemical composition of ParaGuard, it will not affect your tank’s pH, making fish tank care easier for you, as you won’t have to do as many water changes.
RichIch Plus works for both saltwater and freshwater tanks and treats fungal infections as well.
You’ve read that right. Ich also comes in a saltwater variety, and in saltwater tanks, you will have to worry about chemical balances even more than in freshwater.
This is where RichIch Plus comes in, specifically designed to work in saltwater and freshwater!
A copper-based medication, Coppersafe is a powerful anti-parasite medication for use in both fresh and saltwater, much like RichIch Plus.
However, the issues with copper medication continue with Coppersafe.
If you have any invertebrates in your tank, such as shrimp, snails, crabs, or crayfish, Coppersafe and similar medications are likely to kill them. While Coppersafe is extremely effective, you may want to keep your little invertebrate pets!