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Life Cycle of the Ich Fish Disease (Ichthyophthirius multifiliis)

One of the most common problems that nearly all fish keepers have to contend with is dealing with White spot in the aquarium, nearly all of us have had to deal with this problem at some time and no doubt it will keep cropping up as a regular visitor in the future. It can be deadly at times, in other cases it can disappear as quickly as it came without harming the livestock in the aquarium. There are many ways of dealing with this problem but understanding the life cycle of this parasite will help you to understand the easiest way of keeping it under control in your aquarium. Treating the White spot can also cause further problems if any medication or treatment is not administered properly so this article will also explain the most effective methods for treating your fish.

Ich are Protozoa called by the scientific world as Ichthyophthirius multifiliis and are capable of multiplying at an alarming rate once they take over the tank. The problem is increased due to the closed environment of an aquarium as the fish are sometimes stressed in these conditions and this will weaken their immune system making them much more vulnerable. It is believed in some circles that these protozoa are present in the aquariums at all times but under normal circumstances, the fish can fight them off when they are in full health, in some cases it can be the conditions that the fish keepers are keeping their fish that actually help the disease rife especially if the water quality is poor or the fish are not being given the correct diet. Often new fish that are added to the aquarium can carry the disease to the older inhabitants, this is why it is important with certain species of fish to quarantine them before adding them to the main tank.

The life cycle of the protozoa involves several stages of development and catching it at the end of the cycle will speed up the treatment process. The protozoa attach themselves to the fish and will start to feed on the skin and tissues of the fish, as they work their way into the body the fishes natural defence is to try to form a barrier around the protozoa and block it off but unfortunately this has the effect of making it harder for any medication to be effective. The protozoa will encapsulate themselves in a cyst and continue to grow and feed but the cysts walls are impenetrable to any treatment that you try. Eventually these cysts will burst and the protozoa will fall to the substrate and these will then multiply into thousands of units ready to attack other fish in the aquarium. They rely on temperature to replicate, warmer temperatures will speed up the process, lower temperatures will slow it right down. The protozoa at this stage are known as “tomites” and these will now start to swim around the tank looking for fish to latch onto but they will also attach themselves to plants and décor in the aquarium. It is at this stage that any treatment will be at its most effective. The tomites only have 48 hours to find a fish to attach to, after this time they will die off. Once they have attached, the whole process will start again and cysts will form on the fish feeding on the skin and tissues.

Treating the Aquarium for Ich

Before adding any medications to the water to treat this disease make sure that this is the problem , there are a few symptoms to look out for and will help with your diagnosis. The first sign of Ich is the appearance of white spots on the gills and body of the affected fish, they are very small and can be missed if you do not look at the fish very carefully, they will increase in number but catching the disease at an early stage will speed up the process of eradicating it.

The fish will start to lose their appetite, they will appear restless and will start to rub themselves on the aquarium décor or substrate trying to relieve the irritation that the parasites are causing. If left unchecked it will lead to the death of the affected fish as the parasites will eventually cause permanent damage to the gills and vital organs of the fish which will be irreversible.

The first stage of the treatment should always be to turn up the temperature of the tank, we need to speed up the life cycle of the Ich so that the cysts will burst and the spores will fall to the substrate so that the medication can act quickly. Raise the temperature up to 80 deg F but do this gradually over a two day period so that we do not stress the fish. Once this temperature has been reached the life cycle of the Ich will be completed over a period of four days so adding medication over the same period should theoretically wipe-out the disease. The whole tank will need to be treated as from reading above trying to treat the infected fish doesn’t work once the cysts are attached, moving the infected fish will not cure the aquarium. The most effective treatments are the ones that contain formalin or you can also use malachite green but be careful as these treatments can also effect the health of certain species of fish, scale-less fish such as loaches will definitely be affected so in this case it is recommended to use the medication at half strength. Remove any carbon from the filters as this will soak up the medication straight way making it useless and in the case of a saltwater set up, turn off any skimmers or UV systems.

Preventing Ich from entering your aquarium

Of course we cannot guarantee that Ich will never enter the aquarium but there are several steps to decrease the chances.

By being observant and maintaining a healthy aquarium the chances of Ich striking will be minimised so form a regular routine with the tank maintenance!

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