Ich (sometimes spelled Ick) and also known as white spot disease is a common problem in the aquarium world. It is actually a single celled parasite that floats through the water looking for a host. When it comes in contact with the skin or gills of a fish it will attach itself, feed on the blood and fluids of the fish, and grow. While it is growing it forms a white cyst on the skin or gills of the fish. This is the white spot many people notice to identify the parasite. Once it has been identified then treatment methods can be used to take care of the problem. However, ich can and often does kill fish. It is much better if you prevent your tank from getting ich rather than just to treat it when it happens.

Choose Your Fish With Care.
It is important that you take the time to pick out your fish. Buy them from reputable places when buying online. When buying from a fish store you should look at the fish in the tank. Buy only if all the fish look hearty and they show no signs of problems. If any of them have ich, don't buy from that tank. Better yet, don't buy from that store for a couple of weeks. These things will help prevent bringing ich home.

Many new fish keepers don't quarantine fish and if you only have one fish tank this is really hard to do. However, if you are going to have multiple tanks or are buying expensive fish then it is important that you set up a small tank to use as a quarantine tank. To use your quarantine tank you should follow these steps.

  1. Set up your tank before you buy fish. You want your tank to be well established so you should take filter media and gravel from a well established tank to "seed" this one. That will help grow the good bacteria that your tank needs. Next you should add a few live, low light plants so that you can keep these bacteria healthy and growing.
  2. Place your fish in the tank. You should only buy 1 to 3 fish at a time and never more than that (whenever you can help that). Place them in your quarantine tank and maintain good water quality while you are feeding them well.
  3. Watch them. It is important that you are looking for signs of illness while they are in the quarantine tank so that you can take care of any problems before they are placed in the main tank.
  4. Treat them. If there are any problems it may be a good idea to treat them just in case. However, using natural methods is your best option. You may also want to add some salt and raise the temperatures so that you kill bacteria, parasites, and fungus. Make sure that the fish that you are buying can handle these additions first.
  5. Keep them there. Many people are tempted to skip quarantine or to move their fish over after a short period of time. You should keep your fish in the quarantine tank for at least 3 weeks, but 4 to 6 is better. You may need to keep them there longer if any problems arise.

Watch Your Plants.
Your plants won't get ich in the same manner, they can carry the parasite. This means you should buy plants from tanks that don't have fish. You should also quarantine it for a week or two. Finally it is a good idea to wash it a potassium wash.

Keep Your Fish Healthy.
Your fish are less likely to be susceptible to ich if they are healthy. To keep them in excellent shape make sure that you are doing all of the following.

  • Keep your water quality excellent. You should do regular water changes to make sure that your water quality is very good.
  • Make sure you don't overstock your tank. Most tanks have too many fish in them and not enough hiding places. This is stressful and lowers fish resistance.
  • Feed a variety of foods. Your fish need more than just your cheap flake foods. You need to offer variety and a complete diet. It is a good idea to research each type of fish that you have to make sure that you are feeding them well. You can also make your own fish food (check out the article Tips For Feeding Your Fish a Well Rounded Diet as well as the articles on making your own fish food Frozen Fish Food and Flake Fish Food for more information on diet).
  • Keep changes slow. You want to avoid dramatic changes because they are stressful to the fish. You should add fish one or two at a time so you don't overload your bioload (for more information on this topic check out Aquarium Set Up: The Nitrogen Cycle). You don't want to make dramatic changes in your pH, water hardness, or other factors. Therefore you should avoid making changes to these with chemicals because they will cause wild fluctuations.

Other Good Practices.
There are a few random practices that can also make a huge difference when you are dealing with fish and ich.

  • Never add someone else's water to your tank. It is important that you are careful to avoid adding water from a pet store or fish dealer to your aquarium (even your quarantine tank!). You should float the bag so the water temperature gets to be about the same. Open it carefully and either use the bag or a bowl, bucket, or dish to place the fish and the water in. Add some of the water from the tank (for hardy fish add about 1 cup every 15 minutes for the first 30 minutes and for sensitive fish and invertebrates add 1/4 a cup of water every 15 minutes for 2 hours). Then scoop the fish out and place it in the tank and discard the water.
  • Don't share nets. It is important that you avoid sharing nets from one tank to another. You should have one net for each tank that you deal with.
  • Dry it all. You should also make sure that all tools that go into the tank dry thoroughly. If you don't let the net or other tools dry they may be carrying ich and adding it back into your tank or adding it to your other tanks.

They say that prevention is worth a pound of cure and when it comes to ich you will be glad that you prevent it rather than just treat it. Remember that treating a tank for ich requires a daily water changes and other issues (See Treating Ich Naturally for more information on getting rid of it). However, you can save the headache by preventing it to begin with.