Can Fish Survive Ich Without Treatment?

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Ich, also known as “white spot disease,” is a common and highly-infective disease affecting fresh and saltwater fish. This disease is caused by a parasitic protozoan called “Ichthyophthirius multifiliis.”

Ich can be present in the aquarium for a while before it causes noticeable symptoms in fish.

This parasite has three life stages, and only one of them is infective. The ich parasite starts as a reproductive tomont living in the substrate.

After the tomont is done multiplying, it bursts and releases thousands of infective theronts that attack vulnerable fish.

Once they’ve found a host, the theronts become parasitic trophonts that feed off a fish’s skin and gill tissue.

Do you think your fish might be suffering from ich? Keep an eye out for the following symptoms:

If one of your fish exhibits the above symptoms, you’re dealing with an ich infestation. But don’t worry! Ich has a high survival rate if treated early.

Keep reading to learn more about ich treatment and prevention options.

Can You Cure Fish from Ich Without Treatment?

Medicine is the quickest and most effective way to get rid of ich. If you don’t have access to ich medication, home remedies are available. Heat and sea salt are also tested and potent treatments for ich.

In any case, you need to take action to cure your fish. It’s almost guaranteed your fish will succumb to the parasites without proper care.

Ich will weaken a fish’s immune system, making it vulnerable to other infections. Repeated gill injuries create excess scar tissue, restricting or blocking your fish’s breathing.

Suffocation is the most common cause of death in ich-infected fish. Ich may also damage the inside of the mouth, preventing your fish from eating properly.

Some believe that ich can go away on its own, but this is a misconception. The Ich parasite has three life stages. Only one of these stages is infective and likely to cause symptoms in fish.

When the parasite enters its trophont stage, it falls off the fish but continues reproducing in the substrate.

Even if the fish appear to get better, the ich is still lurking in the tank, ready to reinfect your pets. Left untreated, the parasite can spread and infect other species in the aquarium.

It’s worth noting that even previously infected fish don’t develop full immunity to ich, so they’re still susceptible to the parasite.

How Long Can Fish Survive Ich Without Treatment?

The survival rate of infected fish depends a lot. However, if left untreated, most fish typically die within one to two weeks of active infection. Ich is a critical threat when it infects the gills.

A gill infection or injury can kill your fish rapidly because it leads to suffocation. There’s no telling when the ich will attack the gills, but when that happens, you must begin the treatment asap.

Theoretically, if the ich doesn’t attack the gills, the fish can live much longer with the parasite. Ich will still cause skin injury and leech nutrients from the fish, but not enough to be an immediate concern.

However, the fish will still suffer from lowered immunity and stress.

Home Remedies for Treating Ich in Fish Tank

Ich is no joke. This parasite has a short lifespan, so it multiplies very rapidly. It’s also highly infectious and aggressive.

It’s only a matter of time before other fish in the tank get ill. So, once you see the first symptoms, it’s time to take action.

Normally, a few rounds of targeted medication will solve the problem. But if you don’t have any on hand, you can also use home remedies.

Here are the two best alternative treatments for ich:

– Using Sea Salt

Salt is an effective treatment against ich. It also helps fish with other infections and wound healing.

So, if you have any aquarium or iodine-free sea salt lying around, this method’s worth a try. But before I explain more, know that not all freshwater fish species will tolerate this method!

Do not use the salt method for scaleless fish! Such fish lack the protective layer, and even low salt concentrations can interfere with their osmosis regulation.

Catfish and freshwater Sharks are two common species that won’t tolerate salt well. Do some research about your fish species first before trying this method!

Now that we’ve got that out of the way, here’s how to do it:

  1. Prepare the water. Take some water out of the main aquarium and mix in the salt. The ideal ratio for treating ich is one tablespoon salt per 5 gallons. So, if you have a 20-gallon tank, add four tablespoons of salt to the water.
  2. Dose the salt water slowly. A sudden bump in salinity can shock the fish. You should add the salt water bit by bit to prevent that. Pour the water back into the tank gradually throughout the day. Give the fish time to adjust between the doses.
  3. Monitor the fish throughout the day. If your fish appear uncomfortable, you should cease the salt treatment immediately. Stop the salt treatment if your fish exhibit any of the following symptoms:
  • Agitation, disoriented and frantic swimming
  • Lack of appetite
  • Gasping for air at the surface
  • Excessive mucus on the body
  1. Replenish the salt with every water change. You should use the salt treatment for up to 10 days. If you do any water changes in the meantime, remember to dissolve one tablespoon of aquarium salt for every 5 gallons of new aquarium water. After the 10-day mark, you’ll do water changes with freshwater to dilute the leftover salt in the tank.

If your fish tolerate salt well, you can use this remedy alone or together with the next method.

– Increasing Water Temperature

Water temperature can help you treat ich in both freshwater and saltwater aquariums. Of course, not all fish might tolerate higher temperatures, so remember to review your fish’s species profile before trying this.

Higher temperature speeds up the ich’s life cycle, making the trophont leave the fish’s body faster.

Warmer water will also weaken and kill tomonts and theronts, especially when used in tandem with other treatments.

If you know your fish can tolerate this method, here are the steps:

  1. Install an air stone or bubbler in the aquarium. If you don’t have one already, you’ll need a device to help you oxygenate the water. Warm water loses oxygen faster. This could lead to fish suffocation in small or crowded aquariums.
  2. Slowly increase the aquarium temperature. The ideal temperature for treating ich is 85°F. This is pretty warm for most fish species, so you’ll need to increase the temperature slowly. A sudden fluctuation could otherwise shock the fish. You shouldn’t bump the temperature by more than 1°F every day.
  3. Keep up the treatment for a maximum of two weeks. There’s nothing much left to do now. Just monitor your fish and ensure they’re comfortable. The life cycle of ich lasts up to 6-7 days at 77°F. The higher temperature will speed things up, but you still need to keep going for one extra week. This ensures that all the trophonts have left the fish and all the tomonts are dead.

Once the treatment time is up, follow the same 1°F per day rule. Bring the water temperature down gradually each day until your fish get comfortable with the lower heat.

What is the Best Medication for Curing Ich?

If you want a more aggressive but fish-safe treatment, you might want to try targeted medication.

There are many products available, and most of them are highly effective. I personally recommend Seachem ParaGuard to anyone struggling with an ich infestation.

Seachem is a reputable company that uses state-of-the-art formulas for all its products. Their entire line is fantastic, but ParaGuard, in particular, has been a lifesaver for my fish.

This product is specifically formulated to provide a safe yet effective alternative to formalin. This formula contains no methanol or formaldehyde, so it won’t alter the pH of your aquarium.

The best part is that ParaGuard works as a universal treatment. You can use it to treat a multitude of parasitic, fungal, and bacterial infections. It works against ich, but also velvet, flukes, fin rot, and much more! It’s also equally safe for freshwater and marine aquariums.

Whatever infection you got in your tank, ParaGuard is good to have on hand.

The recommended dose for treating ich is 5 ml per 10 gallons. The duration of treatment is 14 days for freshwater and up to 28 days for saltwater aquariums.

You’ll have to repeat the dose once per day. For a medium-sized freshwater tank, just two bottles of ParaGuard will do the job.

How Does Ich Get into Your Tank?

Unlike bacteria, ich is not a natural part of the aquarium ecosystem. Ich is strictly parasitic and will die without a host. It serves no purpose and only injures and kills the fish in the tank.

Because it’s a living organism, ich can’t sprout out of thin air. It needs a “root” to propagate and infect the tank. If you have an ich infestation in your aquarium, it is always the result of accidental contamination.

It’s very common for aquarists to introduce foreign organisms like parasites, snails, and so on into the tank.

Contamination typically happens when ich is in its tomont stage— too small to notice and not yet infective.

The most common parasite carriers that can introduce disease to the tank are:

  • Other fish
  • Aquatic plants
  • Driftwood and other natural decorations
  • Used aquarium substrates and other décor
  • Unsensitized aquarium equipment used between multiple tanks
  • Used filter media transferred between tanks

All of the above can carry ich tomonts and other infective diseases. You might not notice it right away. But within 3-7 days of contamination, the fish will begin to show symptoms of ich.

It takes a bit of time for the infection to spread, especially if the ich is still not in the infective stage yet.

How to Prevent Ich in Fish Tank?

There are a few things you can do to prevent an ich outbreak. The best course of action is to boost your fish’s immune system and avoid accidental contaminations in the tank.

Consider the following tips:

  • Quarantine new plants, driftwood, and decorations for up to two weeks

Ich can lurk everywhere, including on inanimate objects! Only one of the ich’s three life stages is infective. Ich can live outside of a fish’s body for days at a time.

However, when the ich enters its theront stage, it starts looking for a host.

With no fish available, the ich parasite will starve and die within a couple of weeks. Once the ich is dead, the plants and decorations become safe for your fish tank.

  • Quarantine new fish for at least one month

Fish, unsurprisingly, can already be infected with ich, and they’ll spread the parasite in the new tank. Even asymptomatic fish might carry ich trophonts.

It’s best to keep all fish isolated for a while to monitor any developing symptoms. If the fish become symptomatic, begin treatment immediately.

  • Quarantine new invertebrates like snails and shrimp for 2-4 weeks

Invertebrates might sometimes carry ich even if the parasite doesn’t affect them. These aquatic pets will never show symptoms but can still contaminate your tank.

Because ich doesn’t feed off invertebrates, a prolonged quarantine period should starve and kill the parasite in a few weeks.

  • Maintain a clean tank with good water quality

Finally, maintaining ideal aquarium conditions can help your fish fight infection in case of accidental contamination. Ich attacks fish with a lowered immune system. If your fish are in tip-top shape, they can resist parasites better.

The best way to ensure your fish are healthy is by maintaining tank hygiene and proper water parameters. Don’t forget, fish need monthly water changes. You should also do some thorough cleaning at least once per month.

This includes siphoning the substrate, wiping aquarium walls and decorations, and rinsing physical filter media like sponges.

Ensure that the water ammonia and nitrite levels are 0 ppm. The water hardness, pH, and temperature should also be closest to your fish species’ ideal requirements.


Ich is a highly infective parasitic disease. It’s often insidious because the parasite is only symptomatic for one stage of its life cycle.

It takes days for the disease to become apparent in fish. Even if the fish appear to get better, the parasite is still lurking and ready to re-emerge.

If left untreated, it’s almost guaranteed that your fish will die within one to two weeks of active infection. Fortunately, ich is very easy to treat. Heat and salt treatments will kill the parasite within one to two weeks.

There are also many effective medications you can use. ParaGuard is gentle for fish but highly aggressive against ich, velvet, fin rot, and other infective diseases.

I highly recommend this treatment, especially if your fish don’t tolerate salt or higher temperatures well.

Whichever treatment option you choose, you must monitor your fish closely throughout the following weeks. If your fish appear uncomfortable, that’s a sign the treatment might be unsuitable.

Always be careful to dose medications according to label instructions.

Author Image Fabian
I’m Fabian, aquarium fish breeder and founder of this website. I’ve been keeping fish, since I was a kid. On this blog, I share a lot of information about the aquarium hobby and various fish species that I like. Please leave a comment if you have any question.
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