ICH!!! Why the aquarium hobby is dying! LISTEN PetCo and Petsmart!

9 Mar

All hobbies peak and then ebb in popularity. The aquarium hobby was most popular in the 1970’s. There were a number of tropical fish stores in our town. Now, only three. A PetCo, a Petsmart, and one family -owned store.

I propose two main reasons for the decline of fish-keeping as a hobby.

The main reason is the same one that kids don’t ride bikes, play “Army” or go explore the local creek.

Computers. Simple as that. Computers, cell-phones that do everything, gigantic TV’s with fantastic game systems. Here’s a picture of my son playing a basketball game on our new TV:

No competition I'm afraid.

No competition I’m afraid.

The second reason is ICH! The disease, the little white spots all over your fish. The parasite.

Most stores do not quarantine their fish before sale. Most stores do not have employees who can quickly recognize sick fish. Many stores keep these sick fish in tanks that are inter-connected with the healthy fish.

You just can’t win. I have bought Ich-infested fish 3 times in the past 18 months. A single Angelfish purchased at Petsmart infected all the Angelfish I had at the time. A group of four Tiger Barbs purchased at PetCo caused a mass die-off in my most populated community tank. I had quarantined them for two weeks.

Healthy Red Swordtails.

Healthy Red Swordtails.

Most recently, I bought 4 Black Phantom Tetras at Petsmart. I put them in a 10-gallon tank with some Corydoras and Red Swordtails. The tetras quickly became covered in Ich. After treatment all four were dead. The fish I owned all survived.

Red Swords with Photo-shopped Ich.

Red Swords with Photo-shopped Ich.

So, imagine a new fish owner. He or she is all excited about this new hobby. Buys a brand-new tank, socks a few hundred dollars into filters and food and water-testing supplies. Eventually spends another 50 dollars on fish.

The odds are some of those fish are diseased, and the most likely culprit is Ich. The fishkeeper buys medication, most of the fish die anyway, the enthusiasm is gone, and the tank goes in the garage or up for sale on Craigslist.

I just can’t believe that, in 2013, the fish we buy can’t be entirely rid of Ich. I’m telling you, Petsmart and PetCo, you might be making money selling a few replacement fish and the medication to cure Ich, but you are ruining potential life-long hobbyists by the THOUSANDS. Figure it out!


37 Responses to “ICH!!! Why the aquarium hobby is dying! LISTEN PetCo and Petsmart!”

  1. TurtleAndRobot March 9, 2013 at 2:14 pm #

    one good tip: never put the store’s water in your tank. pour your new fish into a net and dispose of the store’s water. this could help cut down on parasites coming home from the fish store.

  2. sakthi March 9, 2013 at 4:42 pm #

    I’ve just been treating our tetras for ich this week. They seem to be doing ok, perhaps because we’ve had them for some time now and they’ve been pretty robust. It’s odd, I’m not sure where the ich came from – the newest addition came in several weeks ago – but it seems to be going away, hopefully for good…

    I have to say I think computers/Internet can also be seen as a benefit to new fish keepers. The Internet has been very helpful to me and my partner, from getting a good deal on a tank, understanding what fish can go together (or not!), understanding problems, and just learning about good fish keeping in general. All the sort of things you can learn from books as well, but particularly useful for looking into specific issues (and getting book recommendations) and also hearing about other people’s direct experiences. Having said that, we’ve also had to be careful to identify more experienced sources, and sort of ‘average’ out the wide range of opinions on any issue. I guess it’s just about having patience and making the effort to research and learn about any new hobby, more so when it involves animals.

    As for pet stores and ich, well, this is our first experience with ich, and will certainly bear in mind turtleandrobot’s good tip for any new additions!

    • fishtanx2011 March 9, 2013 at 7:22 pm #

      Yes, the Internet is like having every fish book ever written at your fingertips. I’m not really pining for “the good old days”. The amount of good knowledge is staggering, and it’s just a matter of sorting it out like you do. It’s just a faster world and I think a strong effort on the part of fish retailers to eliminate Ich is something that would really help this hobby. The fact that young people are so busy with technology is not going to change.

  3. vecinana March 9, 2013 at 7:45 pm #

    I agree, especially with your last point. Pet stores, like all the other stores, are in the business of selling things. In their book, whether the merchandise they’re selling is good or bad is not relevant to them as long as they sell it and make profits. As pet hobbyists, we can do our best to try to prevent our tanks from being infected with it. For example, never mixing pet store water and your aquarium water and setting up a temporary quarantine tank for new fish.

    • fishtanx2011 March 9, 2013 at 7:50 pm #

      It seems like a self-destructive way to do business. That would be like a grocery store selling contaminated chicken and we, as the consumer, are responsible to wash it and scrub it and cook the hell out of it so we don’t get sick. Oh wait, that IS what we do. Crazy world.

  4. becomingcliche March 10, 2013 at 12:43 pm #

    We do it to ourselves. When we expect to buy fish for $1 or less, we are opening the doors to big chains who buy in enormous quantities and sell cheap. I remember back in the 80’s when people would choke at the price tag of a $3 fish. Things haven’t gotten a lot better. Customers at the last store I worked in balked at a beautiful, hardy naturally colored fish priced $4 but happily plunked down $6 each for man-manipulated glo-fish.

    I don’t know the answer, but I know I won’t buy my fish at a big-box store.

    Two weeks may be inadequate quarantine. Aim for at least a month and treat the tanks with a bit of salt.

    • fishtanx2011 March 21, 2013 at 10:55 pm #

      I am a sucker for the one dollar fish sales but that last episode with the Phantom Tetras has stopped me for now. When those $1 fish die I never go back and try to get my money back. When I buy them I know the odds are high that they are diseased. Dumb, huh?

      • becomingcliche March 22, 2013 at 4:37 am #

        Not dumb. Hopeful. I used to quarantine for a full 4 weeks, and that ended my plight with illness in my community tank back then.

        I am a sucker for a bargain, too. But you and I understand that sometimes we’re going to pay more for quality fish. Not everyone gets that and expects them to ALWAYS be $1. You know what I mean?

  5. Tony April 26, 2013 at 5:38 am #

    An other good way, is do what you would do to Marine Fish prior to entering a quarantine and then again prior to entering your show/room tank. Dip them or put your fish in fresh tape cool tape water for at least 20min. I have never had Itch and do this with all my fish. It help with Itch and other fungi bugs.

  6. hadrian66 July 19, 2013 at 4:28 pm #

    I agree with this article…with one qualifier. I think video games is (by far) the culprit, when it comes to technology. I’ve seen the same dynamic happen with the nursery industry. There used to be people who took the time and effort to grow specialty plants like Camellias, Azaleas, or Rhododendrons. Some people became so devoted to whatever plant they chose to grow, that they ultimately became propagators & hybridizers. Sadly, that culture of amateur plantsman is dying away, and with it, innovation in the nursery industry. Now, new varieties of plants are created in a corporate environment by people whose main focus is mass market sales…which results in plants like Knockout Roses, and Encore Azales. We live in a graceless age.

    • sozesoze December 24, 2013 at 9:17 pm #

      It is Dec. 24th 2013 and I too have experienced the Ich breakout for the first time within the last month and I have literally been through a total of at least 10 fish, I believe for 2014 I’m going to say goodbye to the PetSmart industry and just deal with the stores that specialize in nothing but the aquatic life, may be more expensive, but I’m sure it’ll be worth it. As the editor of this article mentioned, for some us, fish are a hobby as well as relaxation, therefore I take it personal when I have to flush a fish or fishes.

      • fishtanx2011 January 12, 2014 at 10:06 pm #

        I hope you can find healthy fish from now on. A local fish club often has people who raise fish and are looking to sell them somewhere.

      • Love4mine December 31, 2016 at 10:18 pm #

        Angry & sad. I am teed off. Second major die off in my tank after purchasing fish from Petsmart. I agree with you whole heartedly.

        After the ich infection was fully realized I went to a local aquarium shop. Felt like I was at a Beverly Hills fish doctors office. The owner gave me a prescription and even provided a vitamin formula from her personal supply at no cost. She obviously loves her fish and takes it personal as well. This is the kind of person and business I will be going to for all my fish needs.

        The big box stores have no conscience as far as obtaining & selling fish from the wild or bred, healthy or at deaths door. Its a win-win for the fish enthusiast, local wild fish populations, and to the local ma-n-pa store buying fish from a responsible source that gives a damn about all the above. Boycott the big box stores.

  7. Lisa March 5, 2014 at 12:34 pm #

    I just purchased a brand new tank and some black mollies Sunday and they are already covered in ich. Not happy. I emailed them in hopes that they will provide me with the medicine or at the very least new fish If these don’t make it. I just hope I can get to the store in time to pick up some medicine for them. :/

    • fishtanx2011 March 8, 2014 at 11:31 am #

      Salt my be the answer. In a previous post I wrote about Mollies doing MUCH better with salt in their water. But this only works if the other fish are salt-tolerant as well. For example if you have have Guppies and Platies and Swordtails some salt will be good for the Mollies and not harm the others. But NO SALT if you have Tetras.
      Marine salt is best, that’s the salt that is used to make a saltwater aquarium, but you don’t need much so non-iodized salt will work. Please Google “Mollies Salt” and see what you think. A spoonful of salt per gallon will keep your Mollies happy.

  8. Anonymous March 18, 2014 at 3:08 pm #

    First let me begin by expressing how much I agree with this article. I think you have pointed out two really big struggles that the aquatic hobby is facing in this modern day. I will however, only address the later of the two issues you pointed out as I have a great deal to say about both of them. Next I should mention that I work as the primary aquatic employee at a particular large name pet store that may or may not have been mentioned in this article (hint). For obvious reasons I can’t identify which one or where I am located, but I can assure you that everything in this comment is not pure conjecture, but fact. When I first started with the company I was encouraged in my first few days of training that included a few solid hours of learning how to recognize and treat certain aquatic diseases. The training was old news to me however as I have been an aquatic hobbyist for about sixteen years now, but I was happy to see the attempt to train others who might not be as familiar with different fish diseases. But my hopes were quickly shattered when I first experienced a visit from one of our district management staff. After introducing himself he asked me one question. “What is Ich.” A big smile stretched across my face as I entered into a long description of the parasite, it’s different life stages, and treatment options. Needless to say he was impressed. What discouraged me though was what I heard next, that about 90% of the employees that are asked that same question have no answer including my direct supervisor. Although there are procedures in the store for isolating tanks and treating the disease the ignorance of some of the in-store staff prevents proper procedure from being observed. Before I arrived in the store a proper isolation kit wasn’t even on hand. You were right on in pointing out how the interconnected systems contribute to the mass spread of Ich and other infections. Another issue is how large name pet stores procure their fish. We order our stock from vendors who supply fish in mass quantities. Every week we take in large quantities of fish that are held in environments that promote poor health and disease. They are not delivered by services that pay special attention to the needs of pet delivery. Our fish deliveries are handled by Ontrac, FedEx, or UPS that take about three days or more to get them into our store. My point is you are correct that large name pet stores have created a perfect storm for unhealthy fish and stressful aquarium keeping, and at least one of us is listening.

    • Anonymous March 18, 2014 at 3:19 pm #

      Also, I usually steer people away from using Ich medicines, but instead treating with Aquarium salt, water changes, and temperature increase. The basic method is to treat your tank with salt perform water changes focus on vacuuming the gravel to remove the two stages of the Ich parasite that can’t be treated with any medicine and raise the temperature to 82-84 degrees Fahrenheit. The increased temperature will increase the speed of the parasites life cycle giving it less time to find a host.

    • fishtanx2011 March 20, 2014 at 9:56 am #

      Thank you so much for taking the time to explain the Ich situation at these stores. When I worked at a local fish store in my teens the owners kept about 20 tanks in the backroom for quarantine purposes. It wasn’t a perfect system but at least they tried.
      From the information you just gave us it looks like nothing is going to change for a long time.

      • Anonymous March 22, 2014 at 3:43 am #

        Quarantine is necessary. Whether you can treat the fish successfully or not you can at least keep it from infecting other fish. And you are probably right, things will most likely not change for a long time. I think, however, if we can bring the problem to the attention of store owners and hobbyists alike perhaps we can make an improvement. So keep up the good work!

      • fishtanx2011 March 22, 2014 at 7:12 am #

        Fishkeepers of the World UNITE!!! No more Ich! No more Ich!

  9. Stephanie March 20, 2014 at 4:47 am #

    I never knew what ich was until this past weekend when I went to petsmart. There WHOLE goldfish tank was covered in it. EVERY goldfish they had had the ich all over them! So I googled while I was there since I was looking to get another goldfish and decided I shouldn’t. Anyways we ended up getting 2 different fish and now I think the goldfish I have has the ich!! I just saw it this morning on his gills 😦 I hope I can get it treated without him dying or infecting my other fish.

    • fishtanx2011 March 20, 2014 at 10:05 am #

      Let’s hope it’s not Ich. Male goldfish do develop white spots on their gills as a sign of breeding age. Please Google “goldfish white spots gills” and look at some pictures and read a few articles and let me know what you find out. Good luck to you and your fish!

      • Stephanie March 20, 2014 at 5:52 pm #

        That is interesting!! I never heard that’s one of the ways you can tell but thanks!! I’ll definitely keep an eye on them. I’ve had him for about 3 months now and I’m just noticing the spots! He grew very fast from when I got them. But that’s really cool!!

      • fishtanx2011 March 22, 2014 at 5:08 am #

        You’ve probably found out by now that the white bumps are called Tubercles. Googling “goldfish tubercles” should settle the issue for you. Is it Ich or Tubercles. Inquiring minds want to know!

      • Stephanie March 20, 2014 at 5:55 pm #

        Do you think it could try to mate with the fancy goldfish I have if it is female? Or do goldfish stick to what type they are?

      • fishtanx2011 March 22, 2014 at 5:14 am #

        Goldfish are all one species Carassius auratus. Therfore one goldfish can mate with any other goldfish,of the opposite sex of course. But if they have a choice do they tend to mate with others that resemble themselves? I don’t Know. Maybe a goldfish breeder will chime in here. I had a black moor goldfish in with some comets recently and when the comets started getting rambunctious it almost killed the moor. I had to get her out fast. She was shredded pretty badly.

  10. ronsaquatics April 19, 2014 at 6:42 am #

    I do not blame Petco for this, I blame the Fish Farms that raise them and sell them to Petco for not raising disease free fish. The wholesalers like Seagrest and 5d’s Tropical s here in Florida, buy fish from all kinds of fish farmers who treat the fish with copper sulfate to keep the disease under control, but not eliminate it. the wholesales get the fish in vast quantities that you wouldn’t believe, cram then into close quarters, pack and ship them out and that stresses the latent infected fish so that by the time the retailer get them they have started on a downward spiral with an infection whether ICH or some other fungus disease.

    • fishtanx2011 April 19, 2014 at 6:55 am #

      I appreciate your comment. I still blame Petco and Petsmart for not pressuring their suppliers to provide disease-free fish. If we get sick eating McDonalds do we blame the cattle rancher?

  11. ronsaquatics April 19, 2014 at 6:42 am #

    I have complained to Petco before. A week later they had a team from the home office there redoing all the fish tanks and setting up new bags of clean fish! Supposedly! I only go there every time they have a dollar gallon sale, but have seen employees come and go. Right now my Petco has a very dedicated caretaker who does a great job on the fish. They looked so good I bought (6) Lyre-tail Black Mollys. I keep them in species tanks with no other fish. I treat for ICH routinely but increasing the temp to 86 degrees, for three days and using medication to hopefully rid them of potential threats. I had them for a week when some gave birth and I had a whole tank full of babies, which was great. I separated them from the parents like I usually do. Low and behold they started dying one by one over weeks, with in a period of about 4 months I had (1) left! I went to fined the fry and low and behold they seemed to disappear on me, I couldn’t find one. So I invested in mollys that I never got anything out of except to care for them for 5 months and ?

    • fishtanx2011 April 19, 2014 at 7:06 am #

      Our local Petco and Petsmart have knowledgeable employees also, in most cases. I’ll never blame them for the position their corporation puts them in. Interesting tale about your Mollies. I have very hard water and they do pretty good but I still believe in salt.

  12. Heather July 27, 2014 at 1:51 am #

    I will no longer purchase anything at all from Petsmart. My husband and I have a 40 gallon tank that we put together for 3 Roseline sharks, 3Clown Loaches, and 4 coolies. We tried Rams but we could only keep 1 at a time because whenever we bought mates for him, he’d kill and eat them. So when he died I wasn’t that sad. We have nurtured and love the sharks and loaches for over 6 years. They survived in buckets of aquarium water in the car when we moved to another town 3 hours away. We didn’t lose a single fish. They have thrived and grown very large in size and I have grown VERY attached to them. I even named them. I could tell them apart even though they looked exactly alike. That is how much I cared for them and watched them. Then, about 2 weeks ago, my husband decided to buy some tetras and 2 baby clown loaches to add to the tank. We were assured the fish were healthy. We even went to the Petsmart in the “rich” area of town, where they supposedly take better care of their fish and other animals. Well, guess what? Today we saw our precious Roselines with a white substance on them. The new baby loaches were covered in white dots too. So my husband quickly setup a smaller tank with some kind of treatment that’s supposed to aid the fish in surviving the ich, and we also treated the big aquarium and set it to heat to 80 degrees, which is supposed to speed up the life cycle of the mature ich and kill it quicker. Well, here’s what happened. About 15 minutes after evacuating the fish to the quarantine tank, one of the sharks died. We took him out and flushed him. Even though we were pretty sure he was dead, we left him in the tank for over an hour, to see if he’d “snap” out of it. But he did not. About 5 minutes after removing the dead shark, a second shark started struggling and ended up on his back, barely moving. He was dead in a matter of minutes. Now we have 1 shark left and so far he seems ok but I’m skeptical. One of the contaminated baby loaches died, but i did not shed a single tear for that diseased fish who is basically destroying my tank. The adult loaches seem ok for now, but we also have an algae eater (can’t remember the name of the fish but he looks like a 4″ long twig with a long pointy nose). He is acting weird so now I’m worried that he won’t survive the night. I’m not sure that any of the fish will survive. I can only pray that they can fight this plague called ich and we won’t lose anymore of our babies. If the 3 adult loaches die, I will cry for days. They mean the world to me. They are so playful and energetic. They also dance for me when they are hungry. It’s adorable. But, they might not make it. I just can’t believe that Petsmart sells fish that are diseased and will lie to your face that they are “just fine” only because they didn’t have symptoms -yet-. It takes about 2 weeks to show and that’s exactly how long we’ve had the new fish.
    The moral of the story is: either buy your fish from a trusted and established aquarium store that ONLY sells fish and aquarium supplies, or if you are going to roll the dice with the cheap fish from chain pet stores, if possible, set up a small quarantine tank and put the new fish in there for at least a month before putting them in with your main tank. I had to learn this lesson the hard way. I never thought I had grown so attached to my fish that i cried when the 2 sharks died. Now I’m watching the quarantine tank like a hawk to see if any of the others show signs of dying but it’s very depressing. I can’t tell if I’m watching my fish fight this disease successfully or if I’m watching them suffering and slowly dying from this disgusting disease.
    Sorry this was so long but I had to put this story out there. Hopefully someone will read it and think twice about buying cheap fish from Petsmart and other chain pet stores. It’s worth paying extra at the locally owned shops that specialize in fish and aquariums. They know how to treat their fish and we’ve never gotten a sick fish from them.
    Thank you for letting me vent. I’m very sad right now.

    • fishtanx2011 January 2, 2015 at 8:14 pm #

      Thank you for taking the time to write. I apologize for this belated reply. I think that your experience will help alert others to the problem of buying sick fish. In the short term we need to quarantine. In the long term, the tropical fish industry needs to improve their ways or the hobby will die. Did you restock your tank or give up? I wouldn’t blame you if you put the tank away but I hope you tried again and are having success. The best way I know to get healthy fish is to buy from local hobbyists. Either fish-club members or just people who have fish they have raised or simply don’t want anymore. Again, I truly appreciate your comments and the information you have added to this blog. As the blog grows over time, more and more people will read your comments and we can be sure that you have helped both people and fish at the same time.

  13. Nichole October 17, 2014 at 10:41 pm #

    I got a tank a few months back and have had mollies, tetras, guppies, chiclids…they all got that stupid ich crap. I went and spent money to save the fish I had left and quarantined them. Put salt I’m the tank, medicated the water and adjusted the temp and niw all my fish are dead within hours. I am beyond uoset. I do not know what I did wrong. It does not make any sense. They were all fine at first and they were all swimming and slowly one by one died. They did however swim weird and float sideways and jump out the water for sone reason. Please any tips….

    • ronsaquatics October 18, 2014 at 7:18 am #

      Ick is a common fish parasite that effects all fish at some time. The trick is to keep it under control. You have to break the life cycle of the parasite other wise its hard to get rid of. Al;l fish carry it but usually are only effected under stress. The easiest way to break the life cycle is to bring the temperature of your tank up to 86 degrees Fahrenheit. Use a product like Rid ICH as a medication and vacuum the tank everyday for 3 to 5 days. This should break the life cycle. Also you must quaranteen every fish you buy to add to the tank and treat them as above. Quarantine them for two weeks before introducing them into the tank. If you have no fish left do a complete water change after vacuuming your tank. Treat the water and let the tank run at *6 degrees for a week. You still have to treat new fish as soon as they come in. Buy them from your LFS and ask about ICK, they will probably tell you the same thing I have. ins fish are usually pond raised and are exposed to ICK before you get them then the stress of transport usually does them in. Good Luck!

  14. Tj January 23, 2016 at 11:04 pm #

    This is me. Trying to not be disappointed but I have bought 3sets of fish now from petco. A couple are going to die within the first few days then after a week they all get spots. I don’t want to quit but damn.

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