Ich On Cichlid? We Swear By This Treatment!

Oct 31, 2021

Ich On Cichlid

Credits: Andy Goodwin (Creative Commons license)

Ich, I see. Welcome to the club. It is a common parasite that all aquarists will eventually encounter at some point – in other words, the bane of our existence. This disease, called White Spot Disease, is actually short for ichthyophthirius multifiliis. So, do you suspect there’s ich on cichlid? 

Don’t worry yet. When handled correctly, ich can be easily and permanently eradicated from the tank. So, buckle up. I’ll tell you all about it. 

Ich On Cichlid 

Ich can be harmless or dangerous depending on when you detect it and how you treat it. As hardy as cichlids are, they’re susceptible to ich due to stress, foul water parameters, and contamination. We use and recommend Ich-X solution by Aquarium Solutions to treat ich. 

But before we jump to the treatment, let me introduce you to ich once again – this time, in a detailed manner. 

An Introduction To Ich 

Ich is a ciliate protozoan, which means it’s a single-cell organism. In fact, it is the largest known ciliated protozoan that infects fish. Ich manifests itself as tiny white dots like grains of salt across the cichlid’s body and the fins. That’s how it got its name – “white spot disease.” 

The white spots join together to form tiny white patches. 

As a matter of fact, there’s a saltwater edition of ich too, caused by cryptocaryon irritans

Both saltwater and freshwater culprits have a complex lifecycle and are challenging to treat. 

Freshwater Ich Life Stages 

To correctly diagnose and treat ich, it’s critical to understand its different life stages. I know this is not the kind of information you’re looking for right now, but read up, please. It’s really going to be helpful. 

You can only successfully get to the root of the problem if you understand these terms first.

The 3 stages of freshwater ich are:

  • Trophont 
  • Tomont
  • Thermont or Swarmer 

Trophont

When the parasite is visible to naked eyes, you can assume ich has grown to a fully-developed trophont stage. At this point, the ich will have burrowed under the fish’s mucus coating and is protected from the chemical treatments. 

It will feed on the fish’s body fluid for many days and multiply in size by several folds. Thus, the ich parasite will find food and a conducive environment to grow profoundly in the host’s body. 

This will cause tissue damage and can even lead to the host’s death. 

At average 75-80ºF temperature, this stage will last for a couple of days before the mature trophant falls off the fish and turns into a tomont. 

Tomont 

The free-swimming tomont will swim for many hours before finally settling on and attaching to the sides and bottom of the tank. When swimming, tomont is susceptible to chemicals. Therefore, the treatment will be effective at this point. 

Once attached to a favorable surface, the reproductive stage commences. And once again, they will be immune to the medication. Then, the tomont will encyst and start dividing quickly. Every tomont will go from one cell to two cells and then undergo multiple divisions to create 100 to 1,000 new organisms. 

In a couple of days, those organisms will burst from the cyst, sprout cilia, and actively start swimming in search of a host. 

These new ones are now referred to as thermonts. 

Thermont

Thermonts can usually swim in the water for 2-3 days. And if they don’t find a host within this period, they’ll die. And that’s why we know even a heavily infested tank can get ‘rid’ of ich if you don’t add fish for 1-2 weeks. 

Medication is quite effective at this stage. 

However, suppose the thermonts find the host. In that case, they will burrow into the fish’s epithelium, grow into trophonts, and feed on the host’s tissue until they mature.

So, all in all, the parasite completes its life cycle within a week on average. 

How To Treat Ich On Cichlids? 

There are quite a few ways to treat ich on cichlids. Some like to take the help of chemical treatments, while others swear by all-natural medication. However, note that there are no drugs or chemicals that can destroy ich while it resides in the fish’s skin or gills.

All medications target ich when the parasite is in the water – in its tomont and thermont stage. 

Before you start any treatment, be sure that it’s actually 100% ich. Other health conditions like velvet and stress ich look eerily similar to ich. So, it will be wise to wait at least 24 hours to make a diagnosis. However, if you think you’re running out of time, you can ring up the vet and ask for his recommendation. 

Here’s how I do it. 

Use Aquarium Solutions Ich-X To Treat Ich On Cichlids 

Step 1

Raise the water temperature to around 86°F (30°C) to speed up the ich’s lifecycle. Once the lifecycle is sped up, trophonts will fall off the fish’s body quicker. 

Step 2

Remove the carbon medication as it can absorb the medicine and make it less effective. 

Step 3

Dose Aquarium Solution’s Ich-X as instructed, 5ml of the liquid medication for every 10 gallons of aquarium water. Next, wait for 24 hours. 

Step 4 

The next day, change about one-third of the tank’s water and add the dosage again, just like yesterday. Don’t be confused – you are supposed to add medication for the total volume of the water – not just the volume removed. 

Step 5

Repeat step 4 in the next few days until you last see ich on the fish. Then, use the treatment for one more day after you last see the ich on the fish – just to be sure. 

Step 6 

Leave the last medication dosage in the water and let it be. You can gradually remove it over the next few weeks with regular water changes. 

Step 7 

Your cichlid probably has numerous wounds and tissue damage. Treat them accordingly, so they aren’t susceptible to further fungal and bacterial pathogens. 

Note: If the treatment doesn’t seem to have worked even after 5 days of dosing, you have most probably misdiagnosed the fish. You can now stop with Ich-X treatment and immediately reevaluate the diagnosis with the help of a professional. 

You Can Also Use Weco Nox-Ich Treatment 

Although I haven’t used the product myself, I know a few people who do and swear by it. And since Quebec Cichlids have also recommended using this, I’m sure this will be just as effective. 

The main ingredient in this one is malachite green

Directions

Once you elevate the temperature to 86°F (30°F), add just 1 drop per gallon of water for 3 consecutive days. 

If the problem doesn’t go away, skip one day and again dose the water as instructed for another 3 days. 

Recommended Readings

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Don’t Use Methylene Blue 

Methylene blue is a super helpful chemical but can be life-threatening if you use it to treat ich. This product will also kill good bacteria colonies in your filter. And honestly, at this point, you just can’t afford an ammonia spike. 

Will Just Raising The Temperature Work?

Basically, there are two schools of thought on increasing the temperature of the water to treat ich. One believes that it speeds up the ich’s lifecycle and kills it, while the other claims it destroys the parasite with heat. 

However, at Urban Fishkeeping, we believe that increasing the temperature without using any treatment is not the right treatment. Just because you don’t see ich with your naked eyes doesn’t mean it has vanished. 

If you don’t stop the cycle, ich will continue to reproduce and multiply continuously. 

Signs Of Ich On Cichlids 

  • Small, white dots across the body like salt grains
  • Flashing 
  • Rubbing body against different surfaces to soothe the itch
  • Bruising
  • Loss of scales 
  • Heavy breathing 
  • Lethargy 
  • Lack of appetite 

Remember, most fish will look okay and will not act sick until the parasite has already completed a few life cycles, which can sometimes take a few weeks, depending on the water’s temperature. 

If not treated in time, ich is almost always fatal. The infected cichlid will be severely weakened by the ever-growing number of parasites feeding on it. What’s worse is that your fish now all of a sudden be susceptible to other secondary fungi and bacteria attacks as well. 

When trophonts feed on the gills, they restrict the oxygen inflow and suffocate the fish. And before you know it, the ailing fish will succumb to ich or other illness it triggered. 

However, sometimes, other less harmful illnesses are mistaken for ich. For instance, the fractures to the fin’s cartilage appear the same way as ich but are not dangerous. 

Similarly, lymphocytes, a viral disease, can produce similar symptoms as tiny white bumps. 

That’s why it’s always best to first ask for a vet’s opinion. 

What Causes Ich In Cichlids?

  • You Didn’t Quarantine The New Fish
  • Your Cichlid is Stressed
  • Your Tank’s Water Is Dirty 

You Didn’t Quarantine The New Fish 

This is the most common reason behind ich outbreak in the tank. After all, it only takes one infectious parasite to reproduce and infect the entire tank. 

Most pet shops have an aquarium system where all of the water is connected. Thus, even though minuscule, there’s always a chance that your new fish carries ich. 

So, we recommend quarantining the new fish for at least 3 weeks. This enables extended observation. And any parasite that may be present in the tank will have completed its life cycle. 

Your Cichlid Is Stressed 

A stressed cichlid is most susceptible to ich infestation. When stressed, the fish’s immune system is compromised. And this is the best time for opportunist parasites to attack the poor fish. 

Now cichlids are notorious for their aggression and heads-on nature. However, they do have a timid side, too, and can get easily stressed out. 

It could be territorial aggression, animosity with fellow inhabitants, lack of space, mating frustration, sudden temperature changes, and travel fatigue. 

Just make sure there’s no stress factor in the tank, and you’ll rarely be typing phrases like “ich on cichlids.” 

Some honorary mentions include:

  • Moving infected water between two systems
  • Exchanging infected decor or filter media between tanks 
  • Using infected equipment between tanks sans sanitation

Your Tank Is Dirty 

I always say this – a dirty tank is a recipe for diseased fish. And it couldn’t be any truer in ich’s case. Foul water conditions can cause ich outbreak even when you haven’t added new fish. 

Getting the master kit offers more value for money than buying individual strips. 

Here’s what the parameters should be like for cichlids:

Ammonia0
Nitrite0
Nitratebelow 20 ppm

Can Ich Affect Humans?

Fortunately, no. Ich can transfer to humans, but it won’t survive in our bodies. If you’re a healthy person, your body’s temperature will be around 98°F. And ich gets killed at temperatures above 86°F. So, there’s no chance it can affect humans. 

However, you still need to be careful if any of your fish has contracted ich. 

Don’t forget to wash your hands thoroughly every time you handle the infected fish or water so that you don’t accidentally transmit it to other fish. 

And don’t share any equipment like nets and siphons between fish tanks. If you must, meticulously disinfect them using hot water and chlorine. And make sure to let items dry before reusing. 

Remember, ich is super contagious and can even transfer from one fish to another without a host. 

Can Ich Go Away On Its Own? 

Not really. Instead, it will fall off and reproduce prolifically. And before you know it, the rest of your aquarium fish will contract it. Those with solid immunity may fight it off, but the weaker ones can easily fall prey to this deadly disease. 

On a fish forum, I read a hobbyist share that he removes the ich from the fish using tweezers. Have any of you tried that? Sounds super scary to me. Also, I’m sure just because you don’t see it doesn’t mean it isn’t present in the tank, right? I bet the parasite is a lot harder to remove than using a pair of tweezers. 

Is Ich Always Present In The Tank?

I’m really inclined to believe ich is always present in the tank. The minute something goes wrong, it makes an appearance, doesn’t it? However, no, ich isn’t always there in the tank. 

It is a parasite – a deadly one -, and once removed, it does not reappear in the tank unless it is added back in. 

I studied several scientific journals, and most credible sources stated that there’s no long-term dormant stage this organism can exist in. 

The parasite’s life cycle is comparatively longer at a lower temperature. However, the parasite will complete its life cycle at an average tank temperature in less than a week. 

I also skimmed through so many forums and came across so many aquarists who haven’t had to deal with ich in years! I wonder what it’s like to be god’s favorite. 

How Long Does Ich Stay On A Fish? 

Ich (in the trophont stage) stays on a fish’s skin and feeds on it for 3-4 days. However, the entire lifecycle – from when you first see it as tiny white specks on the fish to when it multiplies and becomes infectious once again- lasts about a week at an average tank temperature of 78F. 

If you fail to stop the cycle, ich will continue to multiply and reinfect your fish. 

Lastly, before you go, here’s how you can prevent ich infestation in the future.

How To Prevent Ich In A Cichlid Tank?

  • Only buy from reputable breeders, and don’t buy the fish if it appears diseased or weak. 

  • Quarantine new fish for at least 3 weeks so that the parasite (if there’s any) can complete its lifecycle. 

  • Quarantine all new plants for at least 2 weeks before adding them to the tank. 

  • Don’t ever add water from the travel bag to your aquarium. 

  • Use separate vacuums and nets for each tank. If not possible, sanitize them before reusing them. 

  • Maintain clean water parameters at all times and test them weekly. 

  • Buy plants only from tanks that don’t house fish.

Final Words: Ich On Cichlid?

We’ve all been there. Don’t worry. Prevention is always better than cure, but thankfully, you can treat your fish and eradicate ich completely from your tank quite easily. 

Here’s a quick summary of all the essential bits in bullet points: 

  • Ich is caused by a single-cell parasite called ichthyophthirius multifiliis.

  • Currently, there are no drugs or chemicals available to treat ich while it’s infesting a cichlid’s skin or gills.

  • All the treatments available target the parasite in its free-swimming stage

  • Based on our own experience, we recommend using Ich-X by Aquarium Solutions to treat ich – it’s highly effective.

  • Another great product to treat ich is Weco Nox-Ich Treatment. 

  • Only raising the temperature may not annihilate the ich completely.

Relevant Readings

How Many Cichlids In A 75-Gallon Tank? Mbunas, Peacocks And South American

Why Is My Oscar Fish Lying On Its Side? 7 Possible Reasons Why!

Will Cichlid Fry Survive In A Community Tank? Try These 5 Tricks!

rohit gurung author at urbanfishkeeping

About Rohit Gurung

My never-ending love and fascination with Aquascaping started when I received a red-eared turtle for my 10th birthday.

Apart from researching and writing, I spend hours gazing at my 3 turtles. And yeah, I bask alongside them too.