When it comes to caring for the health of marine aquarium fish, there is no bigger concern to worry about than ick. Ick, also known as ich or ichthyophthiriasis, is by far the most common disease that aquarium fish can contract. More aquarium fish die from ick than from any other cause. While it is an extremely dangerous disease, it is not incurable.
There are ways to tell if a fish tank has developed an ick problem and if so there are also ways for it to be properly treated. All freshwater fish can and do suffer from ick, but it is much more common in an aquarium setting. One of the reasons that ick is such a problem in aquariums is that the fish live in such close proximity to each other. Aquarium fish are also under much more stress than freshwater fish in the wild and this can also play into why they are even more susceptible to the disease.
Ick is a protozoan disease and is identifiable by the very obvious white spots that develop on the body of the fish as well as the gills. Often only the gills will develop the white spots. If they are left untreated, the spots will become more and more irritating to the fish and they will attempt to scratch the affected areas against the sides of the aquarium or the plants and structures that are located within their habitat.
Moving an infected fish to a quarantine tank is not a valid way to combat ick. The truth is that ick cannot be killed while it is on the fish, but only after it has been released from the fish and into the water of the tank. The medications that are added to the tank water to attack ick cannot pierce through the cyst that develops on the body or gills of the fish, it must attack the protozoa while it lives in the water on its own.
The standard treatment for ick involves removing the fish from the aquarium and isolating them in a tank that is clean. The water of the original tank then has its temperature raised to between 78 and 80 degrees to speed up the development of the organisms.
Depending on the temperature of the tank, this usually takes 48 hours. The ick organisms cannot survive on their own for more than 48 hours without attaching to a fish, so usually after a 3-4 day wait it will be safe to return fish to the aquarium. The most common treatments, and the ones with the best results are formalin or malachite green.
When treating the water of a tank, the carbon should be removed from the tank’s filter and any other tank cleaning mechanisms should be turned off or they will simply remove the treatment solution from the water.
There are a few steps that fish owners can take to prevent their tanks from becoming infected with ick. Many of these steps involve the purchase and introduction of new fish into an existing environment. Fish should never be purchased if they exhibit any symptoms of any disease or if they come from a tank that has a dead or diseased fish in it. Even if the fish owner is relatively sure that their new fish is free of disease, they should still quarantine it for ten days to two weeks before introducing it into the permanent aquarium setting.
An accessible quarantine tank should be kept on hand so that any fish displaying any type of sign of ick can be removed from the main tank immediately. Stress is also a major factor in the development of ick, removing the causes of unnecessary stress in an aquarium can go a long way in ensuring that the disease won’t develop. Some causes of stress can be fluctuating temperature of the tank water, varying levels of chemicals in the water, an overstocked fish tank, and water that is not changed regularly.
Though ick is a common disease found in aquariums everywhere, and it is the leading killer of most domestic freshwater fish, it is not the end of the world. Ick can be identified early and treated effectively. There are also many steps that can be taken to prevent ick from developing to start with.
A fish tank owner who is armed with the proper information to fight against an ick infection in their tank is going to be way ahead of the fish tank owner who doesn’t know what to do once their tank becomes infected.