How to Rid Your Tank of Goldfish Ich (White Spot Disease) in 5 Simple Steps

What is Ich?

Ich!  It sounds like what it is… a tiny little parasite that gradually covers the body and fins of your precious goldfish until they look like they’ve just come out of a snow-globe.  Ich, short for Ichthyophythirius Multifilis, is common in aquariums that contain recently purchased goldfish.  Does your goldfish have ich? Common symptoms include:

  • Flashing (scratching and rubbing on objects in the tank)
  • Clamped fins
  • Lethargy
  • … And white spots

Sometimes goldfish ich can cause difficulty breathing and red skin, but this is less common.  Once you’ve seen ich, there’s no mistaking it.  The manifestation of white spot disease is far different from the breeding stars that appear on the gill covers and pectoral fin rays of male goldfish during the warm months of the year.  Ich will affix itself to any part of the goldfish’s body, save the eyes, and continues to multiply with time.

If left untreated, the goldfish can die.  This is because this creepy creature does considerable damage to the gill tissues of the fish, suffocating them through lack of oxygen. So what can you do to help your fish?  Understanding the life cycle of this pesky protozoan is the key to eradicating it from your aquarium.

In a nutshell, ich is one of the most common parasites of domestic fish.  But the tiny white spots which can appear fuzzy up close are actually not the ich parasites – they are the goldfish’s immune reaction to the parasite underneath its skin.  You may not always see the visible white spots when your goldfish has white spot disease.  Depending on the conditions in the tank, this disease may only be detected with a microscope.  If your fish flashes, clamps its fins and acts lethargic, it may host a vast number of ich organisms though it shows no speckles.

Goldfish do not always come down with ich.  The goldfish may be able to fight off the illness on its own before any white spots ever appear.

The Life Cycle of Ich

Ich enters the goldfish tank through the water.  (Let me say one thing about this: when you buy a new goldfish, please do not dump ANY of the pet store water into your tank EVER.  You do not know what invisible pathogens it may contain.)  At this stage, the creature is “free-swimming” like a goldfish fry, and seeks to latch onto a host.  When it finds one, it buries itself underneath the skin (yuck) where it grows and grows until it the skin bursts, releasing a packet that falls to the bottom of the tank.  From there, it continues to grow until it bursts open to release thousands of more free-swimmers that begin searching for a new host immediately.  The process continues until the tank is completely infested.

Treating Goldfish Ich

Controlling the temperature of the tank can help you clear up ich much faster.  While it is lodged in the skin of the goldfish, the protozoan cannot be touched by any cure and can remain there for over a week in low temperatures.

Because the pathogen can only be killed during the “free-swimming” stage, raising the temperature of the tank speeds up the life cycle of ich and allows you to kill the parasite while it is vulnerable.  Then you can destroy it with the treatment.

At Pure Goldfish, we prefer to go the natural way when it comes to goldfish treatment.  Store-bought medications are not only pricey, but they are very dangerous to the stability of the tank because they destroy the beneficial bacteria needed to ensure stable water parameters and stress the fish themselves. Recent evidence shows that strains of “Super Ich” are showing up – resistant to the traditional methods of salt and heat.

Why pay for something that could potentially destroy your goldfish community when you already have what you need in the kitchen cupboard?  Non-iodized sea salt (which cannot have any anti-caking agents) is by far the most effective and safe treatment for your goldfish tank. You can get aquarium salt here.

Follow these five steps to cure your goldfish from ich:

  1. Gradually raise the temperature to around 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Ensure plenty of aeration as warmer water contains less oxygen. The higher temperatures speed up the life cycle of ich, helping you get rid of it faster.
  2. Remove all live plants from the aquarium, if there are any.  Salt will damage or kill them.  If you have a carbon filter, remove that too. It may be easier to use a 10 gallon hospital tank for a single fish.
  3. Do a 90%  water change to ensure optimal water quality while treating.
  4. Dissolve 1 tsp of non-iodized sea salt (available from most convenience stores) per gallon in a cup full of tank water.  Pour slowly around the tank, and repeat every 12 hours for three days.  This will ensure that a 0.3% solution is maintained.  Between each treatment, perform a 90% water change to remove fallen packets of the ich parasite from the bottom of the tank, replacing the salt you took out into the new water.
  5. In addition to salt, be sure to use Melafix (a natural bacterial infection preventative) during treatment. This is because secondary bacterial infections after ich are common and can be extremely dangerous to an already weakened fish. The ich parasite does considerable damage to the tissues and skin of the fish which are at a high risk of infection.

If you must do a water change at some point of the treatment, be sure to replace the exact amount of salt you take out.

Do not worry if the ich seems to worsen during treatment – this is normal and means that the life cycle of the protozoan is indeed speeding up, as you want it to.  Keep a close eye on the goldfish and test the water frequently to maintain perfect water conditions.

Why Goldfish get Ich and How to Prevent it

Ich is a sort of “red-flag” disease that often tells you something is wrong in the tank, usually a matter of poor water quality.  Toxins that build up in the water from the waste and hormones of the goldfish can damage your goldfish’s health more than you’d think.

It may be a good time to examine your goldfish care-taking habits.  Do you do water changes correctly?  Is your tank size large enough to hold all of the fish you are keeping?  Do you test the water often to keep tabs on most critical parameters?  Are you following a correct feeding regimen?

If you answered no to any of these questions, chances are that environmental conditions are weakening your goldfish’s immune system, making it susceptible to disease. The good news is we have the resource you need to learn how to care for your fish properly:

By putting into practice everything you learn in it, you can help ensure that your goldfish live a happy, healthy life free from ich and other health issues.

Other tips for stopping ich:

  • Do not dump in pet store fish water into your tank along with new goldfish
  • Follow the correct water change and care outline to prevent toxins from accumulating and harming your fish’s immune system
  • Try to choose healthy goldfish from the start to avoid incurring preexisting problems.
  • Quarantine all new fish and only buy from a reputable goldfish seller.


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