Goldfish Ick

Kelly Roper
Lion Head Goldfish
Keep your goldfish free from ick.

Goldfish ick is a common disease dealt with by fanciers of these fish. Learn more about ick and how to treat it.

About Goldfish Ick

Life Cycle

Ichthyophthirius multifiliis, also referred to as "ick," "ich," or "white spot" is a common protozoan parasite that affects goldfish as well as many other types of fish. Ick is typically introduced into the environment when new fish carrying the parasite are added to the tank. Here's how this parasite's life cycle works.

When conditions are right, the parasite attaches to a host fish, burrows under the scales and begins actually feeding on the fish. A cyst forms over each point of entry, and this is typically the first sign of infestation.

Once the cyst has formed, it drops off the fish and drifts to the bottom of the tank where the ick parasite multiplies inside its encapsulated environment. The cyst eventually bursts, and a fresh batch of ick parasites are released in the tank. They then seek out a host fish, and the entire cycle begins again.

Causes

Since ick is so common, it's almost always present in any tank environment. Healthy fish are usually able to fight off these parasites, but fish that live in compromised conditions are more susceptible to infestation. Anytime a goldfish is living in a less-than-ideal environment, it is subject to stress. Stress has an adverse effect on the immune system and weakens its ability to fight off disease. The following conditions can stress a fish and create the ideal conditions for an ick infestation.

  • Poor water quality
  • Incorrect water temperature
  • Transporting the goldfish (from breeder to shop to new home)
  • Adding new fish to the tank (which are likely bringing ick with them)
  • Overcrowding
  • Poor/improper diet
  • Prior illness or injury

Symptoms

The signs of a goldfish ick infestation are easy to spot, and it's important to catch them as quickly as possible in order to save the affected goldfish.

  • Ick appears as small white spots on the goldfish's body, gills and fins. These are the cysts that eventually detach as part of the life cycle process, and they are the most obvious sign of infestation.
  • The fish seems irritated and will rub its body against the tank to try to rid itself of these pests.
  • As the infestation progresses, the goldfish's condition deteriorates. Its scales and eyes become dull, and its fins become damaged. The will develop difficulty breathing and will also loose interest in eating. If left untreated or not treated in time, the fish will eventually die.

Treating Ick

Treating goldfish ick can be a little tricky because the parasites are only vulnerable during their free-swimming stage. So, the first step is to raise the temperature in the tank in order to speed up the life cycle of the parasites. Goldfish typically prefer cooler temperatures, but you'll need to temporarily raise the tank's temperature to no more than 77 or 78 degrees Fahrenheit for about 48 hours. This will encourage the cysts to mature faster and break open. This releases the ick parasites, known as tomites at that stage of development, and they are then vulnerable to treatment.

The next step is to add an anti-parasitic treatment to the water. There are various products on the market that you can try, but any product that contains malachite green, alone or in combination with formalin, is usually the most effective. Quick Cure from Aquarium Products and Maracide from Mardel Labs are two such treatments. Maracide in particular attaches directly to the fish via microspheres that break down in a time-released manner to medicate the fish directly, but most treatments kill ick in the environment and don't directly treat the fish.

No matter which treatment you decide to use, follow the directions on the product to the letter to ensure the best results. You'll need to remove any carbon filter cartridges from your filtering system because they'll begin removing the medication as soon as you add it to the tank.

Prognosis for a Goldfish with Ick

It's possible to cure a case of goldfish ick if you manage to catch the infestation early enough, although it may take a little time for your pet to regain complete health. Goldfish ick doesn't have to be fatal, but if you fail to treat the infestation, your fish will eventually die. So, make it a point to take a good look at your goldfish at every feeding, and provide treatment the moment you see those telltale cysts.

Goldfish Ick