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Ich Disease: How to treat white spot


Just like us humans, our aquarium-dwelling fishy friends can contract diseases and fall ill from time to time. Of course, while we can easily communicate with one another that we aren’t feeling well, book our own appointments at the doctor’s, and take medication to feel better, fish must rely solely on the skills and knowledge of their keepers to help them when they fall ill. As such, it's the responsibility of every fishkeeper to recognise the signs and source the treatments that will bring their tank inhabitants back up to full health.

One such illness that keepers should be on the lookout for is white spot. One of the most common issues that affect freshwater tanks, white spot fish disease can cause distress, irritation and, if left to worsen, even death. In this blog, our expert fishkeepers will be taking you through everything you need to know about white spot, including how to diagnose, treat and protect against this parasite plague troubling your fish in the future. So, if you’ve spied white spots on your fish, and aren’t sure what to do, we’re here to share our aquatic wisdom to save your fish.

What is white spot disease in fish?

White spot disease, or as it's also commonly known ‘ich’ or ‘ick’ disease, is caused by a type of parasite which often lives in home aquariums called the ichthyophthirius multifiliis parasite. These are naturally occurring in small numbers, and don’t typically pose any real danger to your fish unless they’re given the chance to overwhelm the tank’s ecosystem. Once this happens (and don’t worry, we’ll be sharing our top tips on how to prevent this later in this post), adult ich parasites will latch onto fish and feed from them. When they do, the fish will become distressed and unwell, and if they’re overwhelmed by the number of ich parasites, the results could be fatal.

What causes white spot on fish?

The most literal answer to this question is that the white spots are caused by (brace yourself if you’re squeamish) the ich parasites burrowing into the fish’s skin. The parasites are known to hide underneath the fish’s skin layer, using it as a protective layer so they can’t be picked or scratched off by their host. The bodies of the adult ich parasites are visible to the naked eye, and look like little white spots on the skin of the fish, which is where the disease gets its name.

If you take a step back and look at this question from another angle, however, you could also say that white spot is caused by one of two things: heightened stress or a new tankmate. This leads to two more questions:

  1. Can fish get ick from stress? - Yes. Unfortunately, having some number of ich parasites in your aquarium water is somewhat unavoidable. Fortunately, however, fish typically have a good immune response to these common parasites and won’t fall ill unless their immune system is weakened by other stress triggers such as poor water quality, overcrowding or temperature fluctuations. So, if you keep on top of your tank maintenance duties, you’re less likely to see your fish fall ill.
  2. Can ich spread to other fish? - Yes. White spot is highly contagious, and if one fish is carrying the parasite it’s all but guaranteed to spread to the other fish in your tank. This is why you should always be careful when introducing new fish into an established tank as, if that new fish is carrying diseases or parasites, it can put your whole aquarium in danger.

How to diagnose white spot in fish

White spot is one of the easiest fish diseases to diagnose because, unlike many illnesses such as clamped fin, hemorrhagic septicemia or gil mites where symptoms are primarily behavioural, ich has the clear physical symptom of white spots covering the body of the fish. However, white spot isn’t the only illness which presents in this way, so if you’re looking to diagnose and treat your fish make sure to consider all the signs they’re showing and match them up with the full list of ich symptoms we’ve listed below.



What are the symptoms of white spot in fish?

  • White spots on fish: The appearance of white spots on fish is the easiest identifier that your fish are suffering from ich disease. These spots, which resemble small white specks of sand or salt, can appear anywhere on your fish including their tail, body and fins, and sometimes around and inside the fish’s gills.
  • Scratching and fish flashing: White spot fish disease can be incredibly irritating for fish, with the parasites causing itchiness and soreness which fish try to alleviate through scratching. This means that, if your fish is infected, you may see them using objects in the tank to try and scratch themselves.
  • Scale damage and bruising: As a result of the itchiness of white spot, you may notice scale damage and general bruising from where your fish have tried to scratch themselves. This is a cause for concern as these tears can leave your fish open to further infection and illness.
  • Lethargy and clamped fins: A lessening in activity and signs of extreme lethargy are both side effects of advanced cases of ich disease and are linked to increased stress levels and poor health.

Can white spots on fish be something other than Ich?

Yes, the white spots which are caused by the ich parasite can sometimes be confused with other illnesses with similar symptoms. The diseases which are most commonly confused with ich are epistylis and marine velvet. Getting these illnesses confused and using the wrong treatments can have dire consequences, so familiarise yourself with the differences between ich and these common ich-imitators by getting to know the symptoms of all three:

  • What is the difference between epistylis and ich? - While both illnesses present themselves through the appearance of white spots, the pattern, colouring and shape of these spots are quite distinct once you know the difference. In particular, the white spots in ich are a pure white colour, sit mostly flat against the skin of the fish, and are quite uniform. Contrastingly, epistylis spots are more translucent, protrude from the skin, have patchy coverage and are commonly found on the eyes of the infected fish.
  • What is the difference between velvet and white spot? - While ich is a freshwater aquarium disease, there is a similar illness which affects saltwater aquariums (the marine equivalent of the ichthyophthirius multifiliis parasite is called cryptocaryon irritans). Saltwater ich is often confused with marine velvet as they both have similar physical characteristics, but while ich shows as uniformly-shaped pure white spots, the marine velvet parasite (dinoflagellate) is more dust-like in its appearance, with very fine particles covering the fish.

Can fish recover from white spot?

Yes, if you act quickly and administer the right treatments, your aquarium can make a full recovery from white spot. The key to minimising the damage caused by this pesky parasite is to act as fast as possible - so if you’re seeing white spots begin to appear on your fish or they’re displaying any unusual behaviours which match up to the symptoms we’ve laid out, it's time to start treating your fish.

How to treat white spot in fish?

As one of the more common parasitic illnesses aquariums suffer from, experts have a thorough understanding of the ichthyophthirius multifiliis lifecycle and have developed highly effective treatments which target them when they are at their weakest. This is during the two ‘free-swimming’ phases of the parasite life cycle, the first of which occurs when they are looking for a host to latch onto and the second occurs after the mature parasite has finished feeding on the fish and bursts from the skin.

In order to be effective, you need to administer the treatment in multiple doses, ensuring that there is enough of the product in the water to kill the parasites as they emerge from the host bodies or their eggs. While instructions will change from treatment to treatment, the basic step-by-step routine for treating white spot is:

  1. Remove any chemical media from your filter. This is because this type of media, including carbon, can absorb the ingredients in the white spot medication, making the treatment less effective. The filter media should be removed throughout the ich treatment process but can be re-introduced seven days after the last treatment is given.
  2. Administer your chosen anti-white spot treatment. Most white spot treatments require two doses, four days apart, in order to kill all parasites in their different lifecycle stages. Make sure to follow the directions detailed in the medication booklet carefully to ensure it is as effective as possible.
  3. Monitor your tank for returning symptoms. While most white spot treatments should work first time around, there’s a chance that the parasite will survive and require a second course of treatment. If this is the case for your tank, you should wait a minimum of seven days from the last dose and carry out a water change before applying more of the medication (these timings may vary depending on the chosen treatment - always follow the instructions of your treatment as directed in the instructions).

Optional: If you’re worried about the happiness and stress levels of your freshwater fish during the treatment process, try adding a dose of first-aid salt to the water. This should have the dual effect of de-stressing your fish and stabilising the conditions of the water.

What is the best white spot treatment?

At Aquacadabra, we have a number of proven treatments to choose from, including Esha EXIT Anti White Spot Treatment, Interpet Anti White Spot and Bermuda White Spot Treatment. Which one you choose will depend on how big your tank (or pond) is, and how much treatment you’ll need as a result.

Esha EXIT Anti White Spot Treatment, from £7.99

The anti-white spot treatment from Esha is available in 20ml, 180ml and 500ml sizes, and is designed to target all ‘spot’ parasite illnesses. This includes white spot, import spot, pepper spot, black spot and coarse spot, as well as velvet. The treatment is also safe to use for sensitive fish, giving extra peace of mind to fishkeepers who haven’t had to tackle illnesses before and are worried for the safety of their fish.

Interpet Anti White Spot, £6.99

Available in a 100ml bottle, which is enough to treat tanks of up to 500L, Interpet’s Anti White Spot treatment is easy and safe to administer to your aquarium. As with other parasite-targeting medication, the formula remains effective for several days, killing the parasites while they’re in the free-swimming stages of their life cycle.

Bermuda White Spot Treatment, from £8.40

Sold in larger quantities of 250ml, 500ml and 1l, Bermuda’s White Spot Treatment is designed to put a stop to ich disease, flukes and slime diseases in larger freshwater environments such as ponds. The treatment is safe for fish and other wildlife, so you don’t need to worry about visitors to your pond being dosed.

How to stop white spot from coming back?

Once your aquarium inhabitants have made a full recovery, there are plenty of steps you can take to help your fish fight off future illnesses by reducing their stress and strengthening their immune system. Take a look at some preventative measures you can start taking below:

  • Invest in a strong and well-maintained filter to improve overall water quality in your tank. This will keep your fish’s stress levels low, and immune system high, leaving them with all the tools they need to fight off common fish diseases.
  • Consider environmental factors that can increase fish stress levels, such as loud noises, sudden light changes and glass vibrations, and do what you can to minimise them. We recommend supervising young children when they’re around the tank so they don’t tap on the glass and investing in a lighting system that changes intensity gradually, such as the Juwel HeliaLux SmartControl.
  • Check your water quality regularly, either through automatic testers such as the Seneye USB Home V2 or manual water test kits. Making adjustments to your water chemistry when necessary is a great way of ensuring that your tank’s environment is comfortable for its inhabitants.
  • Add a UV steriliser into your tank as an additional layer of defence against bacterial and parasitic infections. UV sterilisers work by naturally halting the reproduction of organisms as they pass through the filter, and as ich parasites are free-flowing through some stages of their lifecycle, they’ll pass through the filter.

Frequently asked questions about white spot disease

From noticing symptoms and diagnosing your fish, to treating them and protecting against re-infection, you should now have a good idea of how to defend your aquarium or pond against the ich parasite. We’ve also compiled a handy list of frequently asked questions below to help you learn a little more about ich, its dangers, common mistakes fishkeepers make when treating it, and more.

Can salt cure white spots on fish?

Aquarium salt can be used as a natural cure for white spot, but not in every circumstance. This is because, as the salt additive works by increasing the salinity of the water, not all fish species will be able to survive the doses required to kill the ich parasite. This is also not necessarily an easier or better way to cure fish of which are okay with the salinity, as you’ll also need to perform water changes with freshwater once the parasite is gone.

Will ich go away on its own?

Depending on the severity of the breakout, fish have been known to beat ich by relying on their own immune system to do the fighting for them. However, as white spot causes itching and stress, we would recommend going through with the treatments rather than waiting to see if your tank can beat ich alone. This is because, beyond wanting to keep your fish happy and healthy, the damage done to skin and scales which can come about as a result of fish flashing can leave them at greater risk of illness and infection.

How long does ich live in a tank?

The full lifecycle of the ichthyophthirius multifiliis parasite, from when you first see it as white spots on your fish, through to when it becomes infectious again, is around six days. This is why treatments call for multiple doses and an observation period of around seven days, so you can be sure it won’t make a return.

How long does it take for white spot to clear?

If you’ve chosen to apply one of our recommended white spot treatments, you’re likely to see the white spots on your fish disappear over the course of several days. The process is not instant as the ich parasite is protected by the host fish’s body during the ‘feeding’ phase of its lifecycle. It’s only when these parasites have finished feeding and leave the fish that they’re killed by the treatment.

Find white spot fish treatment at Aquacadabra

If you think your aquarium is suffering from an outbreak of ich fish disease, don’t panic. We know that keeping your fish healthy and happy is the top priority of every hobbyist, and are here to help get your fish back to top condition fast.

Browse the collection of white spot fish treatments available online at Aquacadabra and follow the simple steps above to swiftly eradicate the infection from your fish tank. If you have any questions or are worried about medicating your fish yourself, contact our friendly experts here at Aquacadabra. We have plenty of expertise dealing with fish diseases such as ich disease, and are always on hand to share our knowledge with fellow fishkeepers.