I write about betta fish and how to care for them. My goal is to educate people on how to properly keep these beautiful fish.
Your Friendly, Scaly Friend
Betta fish, also known as Siamese Fighting Fish, are the most popular pet fish around. Males, with their spectacular long fins and vibrant coloration, are found in just about any pet store. Because they are easy to take care of and delightful to watch, bettas are favorites of many aquarists and animal lovers.
But sometimes, things go wrong. Fish, like all other pets, can get sick, but treating a sick fish isn't like treating a sick cat or dog. You can't just put your betta in a carrier and take him to the vet! That's why it's important to be able to recognize the most common betta fish illnesses and know how to treat them so your little friend can go back to his old self. This article will help you diagnose and treat Ich (also spelled Ick), one of the most common betta sicknesses. Read on for more!
Is Something Wrong With My Fish?
Betta fish are hardy little creatures. Wild bettas live in very shallow rice paddies in Southeast Asia, sometimes in waters only a few inches deep, so their genetics give them the strength to withstand a lot of unpleasant conditions. However, the bettas you buy from pet stores have been bred more for beauty than for brawn, so they are susceptible to diseases, infections, and parasites.
Noticing that something is "off" with your betta seems like bad news, but the good news is that you've taken the first step and identified that something is wrong. Because healthy fish are so active, it's pretty easy to tell when your betta just isn't as healthy as he used to be. The symptom chart below can help you determine if your fish is unwell. Keep in mind that your fish may not exhibit every symptom. Trust your instincts. You know your betta better than anyone, and if you think it's acting strange, you are probably right.
|Healthy Betta||Sick Betta|
Swims around eagerly
Swims more slowly
Comes up to the edge to see you
Lethargic, uninterested in stimuli
Loss of appetite
Smooth and vibrant
Color dulls, may develop spots
Males may blow bubbles
Little interest in mating
What Is "Ich" and Does My Betta Have It?
Ich (also spelled Ick) is one of the most common aquarium parasites. Ich are tiny white pests that latch onto your betta's face and body, causing itchiness as well as general malaise. They remain on the fish for four days. After four days, they detach from the fish and float down into the tank to multiply. This lasts for a day before the Ich finish reproducing. The new Ich then swim around the tank for two days before attaching to your fish again and restarting the cycle.
Signs That Your Betta Has Ich
- White specks on his head and body. The specks are often compared in appearance to granules of salt. You may see only a few, or you may see lots of them, depending on the severity of the parasite attack.
- Itchiness: You may notice your betta rubbing his body on plants or gravel in his tank, trying to scratch himself.
- Loss of appetite, lethargy, and other common signs of illness listed in the table above.
Some fish may act completely normal, with the only sign of Ich being the white specks. If you're worried about Ich, take a good look at your fish every day and try to keep a record of any changes in behavior or appearance.
My Betta Has Ich! Will He Die? How Do I Treat It?
The survival rate from Ich is very high. Most infected fish who are treated in a timely fashion will be rid of the parasites and back to normal in no time. Most Ich-related fish deaths occur when the Ich goes untreated for a very long time, or when it is found along with other parasites or illnesses. If you've managed to tell that your fish has Ich, it is probably at a mild enough stage that killing the parasite and curing your fish will be very simple.
Step 1: Create an Ich-Free Environment
The first thing you want to do once you spot Ich is get the fish out of the water he is currently in. Ideally, this means setting up a "hospital tank" with clean water that has been treated with a water conditioner to ensure the best water for your fish while he heals. If you don't have another tank, then perform a complete water change, clean your tank thoroughly, and add water conditioner before returning your fish to the tank. Ich can spend up to three days swimming in the tank water, so putting your betta in new water will get him away from any free swimming parasites.
The water in this new tank should be slowly raised up to a maximum of 82 degrees Fahrenheit (27.7 degrees Celsius). Bettas are tropical fish, so they prefer warm water, but Ich thrive in colder waters so by raising the temperature you give the pesky parasites a lower chance of survival.
Step 2: Choose Your Medicine
The next thing you should do is select a medicine to put in the tank that will kill the remaining Ich. There are three basic types of medications for betta fish: antiparasitics, antifungals, and antibacterials. Ich is a parasite, so if you're browsing the pet store shelves, look for a medicine that's advertised as an antiparasitic. There are a lot of medications that claim to kill Ich, but what you're looking for is one with either malachite green or methylene blue as a main ingredient. Check the label for one of these two ingredients before you buy the medicine.
Step 3: Add Your Medicine to the Tank
Follow the instructions on the bottle very carefully and completely. Usually you just need to measure out the liquid in a syringe and squirt it into the water, although smaller bottles may have a built-in dropper to make it easier. If you would prefer to use a dropper, QuICK Cure by Aquarium Products is a treatment with malachite green that I have had a lot of luck with. The medicine won't be able to kill the Ich while it's attached to your betta, so you must keep using the medicine even if you don't see Ich on your fish. When the Ich are free-swimming, the medicine will kill them.
Tips for adding the medicine:
- Add the medicine every day for at least a week. It is a good idea to continue using it for several days after that week just to be sure that all the Ich are killed.
- To keep the water clean, perform 25% water changes every day while you are treating your betta.
- You should only treat your betta if he is isolated. Malachite green and methylene blue won't harm your betta, but they could be harmful to any tankmates such as catfish or frogs.
- In addition, if your betta tank has a carbon filter, you will need to remove the carbon before beginning treatment with the medicine.
- The instructions that come with the medication can tell you more about what may be sensitive to that particular medication. Read the instructions thoroughly before beginning treatment.
The Ich Is Gone! How Do I Keep It This Way?
Ich is most commonly the result of poor water conditions. Things like uneaten food and fish waste turn into ammonia, which is poisonous and makes your betta's environment unsafe. These things also add to nitrite and nitrate levels, which are very dangerous at high levels. Here are some things you can do to keep your water safe for your fish and prevent Ich.
- Invest in a water testing kit. A water testing kit will sample the water in your tank and tells you when various chemicals are present or too high.
- Change the water frequently. Even without a testing kit, you can usually tell when water needs to be changed. The tank will be cloudy and smell funny (this is the ammonia from your fish's waste). The moment ammonia is present, it's time to change the water. A betta kept in a one-gallon tank should have a 100% water change every three to four days. In larger tanks with filters, partial water changes of 25% to 50% every week or so will keep the water fresh and clean for your betta.
- Use aquarium salt. You may also want to start adding aquarium salt to your betta's tank. They don't need much; between half a teaspoon and one teaspoon per gallon will ward off Ich before it even gets the chance to find your fish. Aquarium salt is inexpensive and a very good deterrent to fish illnesses and parasites, Ich included.
Other Possible Culprits
If you keep your betta's tank clean, you'll almost certainly never get Ich. However, if you keep your tank immaculate but your fish still catches Ich, frozen live food may be to blame. Live food can carry the Ich parasite, and so when you put it into your betta's tank, you may have yourself an Ich attack. If you feed your betta live food, make sure you buy it from a quality seller who takes good measures to keep parasites out of their supply.
Bettas that are stressed due to poor water quality, other illness, improper feeding, or proximity to other fish are more likely to be attacked by Ich. One of the best things you can do to prevent Ich is to keep your betta happy and stress-free. Make sure of these things and you'll probably never see Ich again!
Got any other tips for curing and preventing Ich you'd like to share? Have any questions about getting rid of those nasty parasites? Leave a comment below!
Jay D on March 24, 2019:
My betta has ick and there are harlequin rasboras in the tank are they ok for treatment even if they dont have ick
Fish lover on January 01, 2019:
What if you just got a betta and you realize that the betta his ick
Emily on September 30, 2018:
I need help! My Betta has ongoing ich or some other type of white fungus on its top fin. I’ve tried everything but it’s not getting better. Please help.
I can send pics of my dish.
horse/fish lover on September 06, 2018:
Thank you!!!!! My babies survived!!! Im so Glad!! thanks so much!
fish lover on July 24, 2018:
Thank you so much!!! this saved my fish!!! I am so happy I found this website!!! please keep posting.
Cayla on January 07, 2018:
Is it okay to treat a Betta fish for ich if you’re unsure if he has it? My Betta has a spot on its forehead which I’ve been adding melafix which seem to have helped with that spot and it’s barely noticeable anymore but I’m still worried he might have ich. He hasn’t been eating as much as he usually has as well. It’s only been 4 days since I’ve used the medicine but I’m still worried. I think I see white spots but I don’t know if I’m paranoid or not. I have a 10 gallon tank that has a divider in the tank. I also have another betta fish and a snail in there. I just don’t know what to do. The other fish seems fine and isn’t bothered by the treatment.
None on January 01, 2018:
My beta has ICK this article was sooo helpful
!!! I just cleaned his tank and was soo happy to know what to do or else's he may have died. Thank yoU so much
Laurajag on October 24, 2017:
Hi there! I just treated my betta for fin rot using Jungle fish clean tablets. the directions told me to remove my carbon filter. I put the tablet in yesterday and it turned my tank green. When can I put the filter back in? Thanks!
anonymos on April 06, 2017:
if the skin falls off is that ick
Anna on November 08, 2016:
my beta does not have Ich! thank goodness. I love my little guy. Anyway i really enjoyed this website and has very good information if my little guy gets Ich.
kaye reis on August 15, 2016:
Ive had numerous betas in the past years, and I've never encountered Ich. This morning I was looking at my steel blue fan tail and noticed little white, about 6 of them on top of his head. I dont know if it's his coloring I overlooked, or that he has Ich. He's eating, blowing bubbles, eating, his color is good and he's always watching me. I obviously don't want him to be sick. I've read the information on this site and it's real good info. Should I start treating for Ich now in the event that's what it is? Or should I wait to see if more spots on his body surface? I'm unsure. Any help is appreciated.
Rosma on July 16, 2016:
My betta started behaving strange when I introduce a Marimo moss ball in his tank, maybe it came with ich parasites because even though I did the squeeshing in running water, the betta has been acting strange :/ (I could say he's been trying to rub himself with the tank or decor swimming back and forth from one side of the tank to the other) even though he hasn't lost his appetite or activity.
When I introduced the Marimo I did see some white looking flakes. Where those the parasites?
I have a filter though, does it help with something at all?
I will remove the ball and treat him for it.
I think I have to buy now a treatment for the betta and the marimo as well?
Here are my specs 2.5 gal, 1 halfmoon male betta, no visible signs of ich (white dots or visible parasites) just the nonstop swimming, whisper carbon filter non adjustable strength but good for 1 to 3 gal tanks, no heater because I live in a warm area but will probably buy a heater. I've had him for a week so I haven't even made 1 water change.
lydia on March 25, 2016:
thank you for helping me I am watching my friends betta and I just want it to be helthy for her. also its face is brown and I don't know what it is I am getting worried but thank so much for the advise,
Animal girl 2904 on December 28, 2015:
Dear sharkey boy,
I am no expert ,but I do know that to keep ick out of the tank you need to clean the tank every 2 weeks atleast and use ick treatment for a few days after ick is gone. For the cleaning the bottom question you need to use a sponge or rag NO SOAP unless fish friendly. If you do happen to use soap make shure no soap residue is left or it could cause harm to the fish. Also since you have a cat make shure the lid is closed at all times except when feeding and make shure that your fish tank is not on corners of counters, cabinets,or stands so that your cat can not push the tank off. You probably don't belive it could happen but IT CAN!!! So I hope that kind of helped. Enjoy your fish hope the ick is gone forever!!
Sharkey Boy on November 19, 2015:
I have one male betta in a 3gallon half moon tank. He had ICK when he was in smaller 1gallon fish bowl with no heater or filter yet. So he was looking good until tonight when I saw his back was scraped and scales were gone again. And I was wondering why the water feels slimy. I condition it but dang I am new to all this. He is getting to be more of a pain in the butt than a real baby!!!!!! kidding....So i pulled him out and put him in the old 1gallon bowl along with filter and heater. Talk about a full bowl and I had bought an Ick treatment that came in tablets and I am assuming it has the methylene blue since everything turns blue. The heater I have is immersible and does not have a setting for temp, so I cannot alter that, but it I cover the top it helps to keep the water warmer. The fish wants to be warm and I want to be cool....always have a fan on even in Ohio winters, its the "lady thing" we get later in life. So i also have two table lamps by him to keep him warmer. He has been acting perfectly fine and loves to look at himself in my gold shiny lamp next to tank. I am not sure if he thinks its another fish or what but he stares in there for a long time if I dont interrupt him by waving to him. I have tried to teach him to play with a small pink plastic ball but doesnt want anything to do with it. Just watches it float around. He did push his thermometer across that tank one time and that was super fun to watch but will not do it again at all. If he were a people, i think he might ride the short bus to school, know what i mean?? haha so this is the first night in the hospital tank and looks like we have at good 10days ahead to bring him back to healthy. so what can i do to keep the 3gallon tank from getting ick again?? i dont have gravel in bottom, have colored clear stones that are pretty but .....i hadnt gotten around to plants yet, that was on the list for next months buys....would plants help and should i get gravel instead? and what kind of a suction type thing should i get for cleaning the bottom....is it available at walmart perhaps??? and guess i will have to change water more often. does anyone have an answer for me on if it is ok to keep water with the conditioner in it, in gallon jugs for couple weeks, ready to use or will it get stale-ish??? i have hard water where i live so i thought maybe letting it sit would let some of the chlorine settle . whats the best way to do it. any help is greatly appreciated since i am 62, still cool tho, ha, but very clueless on fish/tanks. i actually bought him for my cat to watch so she is not bored all the time. she lies in front of tank and like babysits him when i go to store or whatever. its cute. she has never attempted to touch the water at all. she is smart. ok fans, write back and give me help. thanks so very much and God bless.
Gene on October 25, 2015:
Could you start writing about human health? God I would like human doctors to express as clearly as you.
Austinsos on October 07, 2015:
I have a beta buddy moss ball. Any Rec w ich and the moss? Is it an issue? Do I need to get a new one? Is it the cause?
brataley fan on October 04, 2015:
I had 3 beta fish they all died from ick and i tried the treament on all of them
Animal girl2904 on August 22, 2015:
We used to have a 5 gallon tank and it was way to big and I couldn't clean it out by myself . The 1.5 gallon tank is perfect for her size she is still a baby and it wasn't the tank size we got itch medicine and it's gone now . so if your Betta gets itch don't buy a new tank unless necessary just use Bettafix we got it at petco
Jess on August 19, 2015:
Animal girl, if you REALLY love that betta, PLEASE get it a bigger tank. I'm not trying to sound like a bully here, but 1.5 gallons is not at all a suitable habitat for a betta. They sell 5.5 gallon aquariums at most pet stores for a decent price.
And you could still use that 1.5 gallon tank as the hospital tank
Animal girl 2904 on August 03, 2015:
I don't know if my beta has itch . I think she has a 1.5 gallon tank. I haven't tried any treatment cause I just noticed it . Please tell me what I should do . But it doesn't look like itch all the way on her body it sorta looks like her skin is peeling . Please answer someone!!! I really love her
Lostbetta on February 17, 2015:
Hello! I'm new to the fish land and my 10 gallon tank has ich. We bought the ich treatment, did a 50% water change then added the treatment. My betta is in a 3 gallon tank, do I add the treatment to his water? He seems to have less spots but still very lethargic.
Bettagirl on February 04, 2015:
"growing" spots I mean! My beta is one beta in a 3 gallon! And I try my hardest To keep him healthily! I have 3 CATS too!
Bettagirl on February 04, 2015:
My fish is "browning" white spots all over... is this also ick? My poor beta! He just got finished with curing his FIN ROT!
anonymous on January 28, 2015:
this definitely helped thank you so much
Grace on December 27, 2014:
I think my betta has ICH but I am not entirely sure, since he is a clear colored fish! He has a slightly whiter patch on his head but is that just a part of his complexion? I just got him from petco yesterday.
kelly on December 07, 2014:
I think my betta has ich
pixie on October 26, 2014:
Feel bad about my blue Betta,Aragon,what I think is ich
anonymous on August 23, 2013:
I had a very bad ich outbreak in my 10 gallon tank. Five new black neon fish were all affected with it, and it slowly started to spread to my beloved mail betta fish who had been active and healthy for months. I had done a lot of reading online and knew what all my ich treatment options were. I decided to set up a separate 2.5 gallon tank and treat my betta fish alone , using the aquarium salt ( 1 tsp per gallon ) & 86 degrees heat method. In my 10 gallon tank, I treated the black neon fish & otocinclus with half dose of Tetra Ich Guard tablets, plus raised the temp. to 86 degrees as well to speed up the ich life cycle. I wanted to see how effectively each method worked, and how quickly.
4 days into treatment, the betta fish has less ich spots and is very active, from the salt & heat method; the black neons also have much less ich spots ( they seem to have shrunk or disappeared in some places) from the Tetra 1/2 dose Ich Guard method. The ich guard medication is Blue, and will stain all the silicone in your fish tank; it also turns your water blue, and you have to do a 25% water change everyday, plus add more tablet dosages for a min. of 5 days.
I feel pretty confident that in a week's time, everyone should be cured from ich, regardless of which method.
In my opinion, I still prefer to go a non-chemical medicated route if possible ( using heat + salt). Scaleless fish like loaches and otocinclus are very salt- intolerant, and in cases like these, it's better to go the chemical medicated route at half dosage.
Namsak on August 22, 2013:
Very good information about 'ich' and how to cure it. What about doing lenses on other fish diseases?
anonymous on July 20, 2013:
hi thank you sooo much for the information i think my betta has ick but just got it recently i got the medicines you recommended and im going to try them thanks soo much
anonymous on June 19, 2013:
Fantastic information! I have 14 Betta's, only one came from the store with Ich. Thank you for helping me save this little guy!!!
anonymous on May 24, 2013:
yay u saved my fish
violateprivacy on March 12, 2013:
I feel this lens is high quality. Looking through lenses about fish is kinda discouraging, a lot of the top ones just seem to be mediocre content and overloaded with "buy this! buy that!" sections. Seems your aspirations are similar to mine, except I'm going for goldfish. ^_^
have you thought about starting a page discussing your own personal bettas? I'd love to hear of them!
I second aquarium salt. 8D
anonymous on February 25, 2013:
Thanks you made me fell a lot better about my fish
How to Treat Ich in Betta Fish
Rapid detection and action are essential for keeping your betta healthy. Otherwise, ich can be fatal if it is not treated properly. Most fish enthusiasts who have owned fish for a long time have had encounters with ich and have subsequently treated their fish at some time or another.
Treating ich is relatively easy just follow the steps below.
- Isolate your Betta in a quarantine tank, so they don’t infect the other fish in your tank.
- Slowly begin increasing the temperature in the tank to anywhere from 81 to 86 degrees Fahrenheit for ten days. Because ich parasites love cold water, it leads to a prolonged life cycle and an increase in the reproduction rates. Warmer waters will slow this down while you are treating your Bettas and the tank’s water.
- However, there is less oxygen in warmer waters, so you might consider adding an airstone to your tank. By increasing the oxygen in the tank’s water, you will be giving your Betta’s immune system a much-needed boost.
- Rid Ich Plus is a great medicine for treating ich. It contains formalin and malachite green, which has proven to be a strong and effective treatment. Be sure to follow the medicine’s directions and only give your Bettas the recommended dosage for treating ich.
- You will also need to change out the water every day by 25 – 50% to lower the elevated medication levels, as well as removing ich tomites and trophonts.
Continue to follow the medication’s directions through to the end of the medicating cycle. Although the ich protozoan only has a life span of seven days, it will only be vulnerable to the medication for two of those days. You will need to be sure to continue the medication until the end of the treatment to ensure that they are completely gone.
How Do You Treat Ich?
There is only so much that owners can do. Even if they do everything to prevent the disease, sometimes, fish still get infected. Luckily, there are different ways of treating ich.
Ich parasites are affected by temperature. Heat can be used to accelerate the parasites’ development and eliminate them. The tomite stage is the stage when parasites break away from the fish’s body and fall to the bottom of the tank or aquarium. During this stage, “tomites” multiply and swim around to find a new host.
Tomites can only survive for 48 hours without a host or a fish. Beyond 48 hours, they die.
To ensure that the heat treatment is successful, owners can move fish to another tank, raise the temperature and wait for 2-4 days for the parasites to die. The owners should also treat the tank that the fish moved to otherwise, the fish risk contaminating the first tank. While heat treatment is very effective, it can only be used to treat a contaminated tank, not the ich-infected fish per say.
Another way to treat ich is by using chemical treatments like formalin and/or malachite green. These also target parasites in the tomite stage. While both formalin and malachite green are effective, they can also be toxic to fish if not properly used. Formalin can turn into paraformaldehyde if it is left alone or stored for long periods of time. White precipitate in a bottle of formalin shows this transformation to paraformaldehyde.
Although ich is a common fish disease that causes a lot of problems for fish and fish owners, the disease can be treated and avoided. Owners need to keep their fish healthy and to be ready in case their fish catch ich.
How Does Ich Reproduce?
Ich is caused by a protozoan parasite known as Ichthyophthirius multifiliis which reproduces by simple division whereby one parasite splits into two.
In one generation, one Ich parasite can divide into hundreds of other new parasites. The reproduction of Ich is supported by the presence of fish in an aquarium, and it cannot survive without live fish.
The parasite has a direct life cycle that is relatively complex due to its three life stages. The first life stage is on the fish body where it feeds, and at this stage, it is known as trophont.
The second stage is where it releases the fish and starts reproducing other new parasites known as tomont. The third life stage is when the newly reproduced parasites seek a host to attach and feed on, and they are known as theront.
Effective treatment protocols should be made to target the theront life stage as it is the most fatal because of many newly reproduced parasites.
Ick, also known as ‘Ich’ or ‘white spot’, is an external parasite that latches onto the body of a betta, causing irritation, itchiness and malaise. The parasite stays on the fish for up to 4 or 5 days before it drops off, reproduces, and then latches back onto the fish. Ick is fairly easy to treat – especially if you catch it early on – but if left untreated, it can eventually lead to fatality.
The main sign of Ick is white spots covering the body of the betta, making the betta look like it’s covered in a white dust. The betta may start rubbing itself against objects in the aquarium (this is typical of Ick). General reactions to illness will also occur, such as a loss of appetite, lethargy and clamped fins.