White spot: a very common aquarium disease

If you are a fish lover, you have surely heard of the disease known as “white spot”. With this post we want to help you learn more about this common disease in fish, so you can learn to identify it as soon as possible and take the necessary measures.

What is whitehead disease?

White spot is a fish disease caused by a protozoan known as Ichthyophthirius multifilis. It is one of the most common pathologies in aquariums, so knowledge of it is crucial to prevent infection or treat the symptoms. The microorganisms that cause this disease are so widespread that all aquarium fish have come into contact with them at least once in their lives. However, the only fish that get sick in contact with Ichthyophthirius multifilis are those that do not have good defenses due to poor feeding, stress, overcrowding or poor water quality.

What are the symptoms of whitehead?

The symptoms are very characteristic, since at first sight small white spots are observed on the body of the fish, especially on the gills. In addition, infected fish are nervous and swim rapidly trying to get rid of the discomfort on their bodies. As the disease progresses, the fish become increasingly irritated and may start rubbing against objects, walls or gravel in the aquarium to relieve the itching. Eventually, breathing difficulties, lack of appetite and even death may occur.

How does whitehead disease evolve?

A minimal knowledge of the parasite’s cycle is recommended in order to initiate effective treatment. The protozoan attaches to the skin of the fish, which forms a thick inflammatory layer around it in an attempt to isolate it. This encapsulation means that drugs do not reach the parasite well at this stage. The protozoan then matures, breaks loose and falls to the bottom of the aquarium, where it multiplies by the hundreds within a cyst (trophozoite). This multiplication is much faster in the presence of high temperatures (around 23°C), but becomes slower if the water cools down. When the trophont is ready, it opens and lets out hundreds of new parasites, which actively swim around looking for a fish to attach to. These young parasites only survive for 48 hours if they fail to attach to the skin of a fish. This stage is the most sensitive to treatment. Depending on the water temperature, the entire cycle can last from 4 days to several weeks.

White spot treatment

The most logical procedure is to raise the aquarium temperature to about 27°C to accelerate the parasite’s life cycle. Next, you can apply the appropriate medications to eliminate the protozoa. The most commonly used are formalin and malachite green for about 7 days, but there are many others equally effective. Follow the instructions of each product carefully to avoid intoxication and give good quality food to the fish to strengthen them. When using medications, remove the charcoal from the filter and turn off UV filters. Also remember to increase the oxygen supply when raising the water temperature.

Another option is to remove all fish from the aquarium, raise the temperature to 30°C and allow about 4 days to ensure that all protozoa have died. In this case, you should apply the treatment or completely change the water after 2 days in the tank where the fish have been moved to avoid reintroducing the disease.

Remember that in the market there are a wide variety of medications that you should have at home to prevent this type of disease from spreading easily.

How to prevent white spots?

The most effective way to avoid white spot is prevention, taking extreme precautions when introducing new fish into the aquarium. All new inhabitants should be placed in a quarantine tank at a high temperature (25°C) for at least 2 weeks. Avoid plants coming from an aquarium with fish without a 4-day quarantine. If the disease does not manifest itself, you can introduce the fish into your aquarium. Take special care of the water quality, do not make sudden changes in temperature, pH or ammonia levels. Always use a good quality fish food, with feed, frozen or dry food and vitamins.

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