Information about natural treatments for aquarium fish diseases and parasites is tough to find due to a lack of scientific study (although this is improving with the demand for organically farmed fish). It’s also more complicated than it is with other pets because tolerance levels can vary between the many species. However, there are some natural methods of prevention and treatment for both internal and external parasites that have been proven safe for several species.
As it is with all animals, our best defense from fish illness and parasites is prevention through the nurturing of a strong immune system, and providing a healthy environment. Parasites are opportunistic and they target unhealthy or stressed fish.
PREVENT FISH PARASITES
- Quarantine new fish and observe closely for signs of illness
- Feed a high quality diet and avoid heavily processed foods
- Keep the aquarium clean with frequent water changes and good filtration
- Avoid stressing fish by providing a suitable environment (tank size, temperature, habitat, etc.)
Natural Cleansing of the Fish Digestive System
A healthy digestive system can tackle pathogens without treatment. In an unhealthy digestive system, parasites thrive on toxins, high-processed food, undigested proteins, and unnatural mucus. It can also tax the immune system and other organs, such as the liver.
Nurture a healthy digestive system: Feed a high quality, low-processed, whole food diet that is based on your species’ wild feeding habits. Foods that are high in starch, carbohydrates and sugars are difficult to digest and are a parasite’s dream buffet. Foods such as corn, sweet potato, parsnips, bananas & oranges should be avoided or fed very sparingly.
Cleanse for health and immunity: Calcium Montmorillonite Clay (Bentonite) is a proven cleanser that expels parasites, while also cleaning the digestive system to make it less inviting to parasites. It also increases alkalinity (parasites and diseases thrive in an acidic internal environment), provides digestible minerals, and soothes a parasite-ravaged digestive system. Foods high in roughage/fiber, such as pealed peas, daphnia and krill, will also help expel parasites during treatment and cleanses the digestive system.
NATURAL TREATMENT OF INTERNAL FISH PARASITES
The most effective parasite treatments combine several ingredients because most only kill some types of parasites or their eggs. You can make a gelatin-bound anti-parasite fish food that helps repel and expel parasites from fish, while also providing immunity support to prevent secondary infections. As an added bonus, many anti-parasite foods are also anti-fungal and anti-bacterial. Combine anti-parasite foods with nutrient-dense, easily digested, whole foods that are your fish’s favorites to increase palatability. Check out our Homemade Gelatin Fish Food article for all you need to know about making gelatin fish food. Feed your anti-parasite fish food exclusively for three consecutive days per week for three weeks.
For long term prevention, you can mix up a fish food recipe that includes the more gentle anti-parasite foods (in smaller, therapeutic doses) and immunity enhancing foods, combined with a balanced blend of foods based on the species’ wild diet. The Bottom Bites blends that we feed, for example, include a broad array of anti-microbial ingredients. Their inclusion allows us to easily incorporate them into an appropriate diet plan for all of our aquarium species.
Notes of Caution: It’s important to remember that fish are tiny creatures by comparison to us giant humans. They need a small fraction of what a larger animal would require and more could cause harm. Also be aware that you are using these treatments on your particular fish species at your own risk – begin with small amounts and do not feed antiparasite recipes over the long term.
Natural Anti-parasite Foods for Fish Food Recipes:
Raw, crushed garlic – Crushing activates allicin, the main active component in garlic used to treat parasites. Allicin is heat sensitive, rendering garlic and allicin supplements virtually useless in heat processed fish food. A little goes a long way – too much garlic can irritate mucous membranes and if it’s over-supplemented for too long, it can cause anemia due to iron-binding.
Pineapple – The enzyme bromelain is the anti-parasite component in Pineapple. Other fruit commonly recommended includes papaya, pomegranate and blackberries
Extra virgin coconut oil – The high lauric acid content in coconut oil reportedly kills parasites.
Raw or dehydrated raw carrots, pumpkin and other vegetables high in Vitamin A are said to increase resistance to parasite larvae. It’s important not to over-supplement Vitamin A, however, so make sure it’s only a part of a balanced diet and avoid high-carbohydrate sources.
Cruciferous vegetables – Thiols sulfur-bearing chemicals, such as those found in cabbage, are recommended in anti-parasite diets.
Seaweed – All species have anti-parasite properties and kelp is often recommended. Again, heavy processing deactivates most of these components so stick to gently-dried options. Seaweed will also help to reestablish electrolyte alkaline reserves.
There are several herbs that are reputed to kill parasites or their eggs, or soothe & regenerate the digestive system. Several anti-parasite herbs are quite harsh (such as wormwood) and may be dangerous so we avoid them, but there are a few that you may wish to try in small amounts for a limited time. They can have a strong taste, which is another reason to use them sparingly. Combine them with foods reputed to improve palatability and attractants (such as garlic and krill) to increase the chances of them eating it. Herb freshness is key to effectiveness.
Anti-parasite Herbs for Fish Food Recipes:
Neem Leaf (Leaves are also used in aquaculture ponds for the natural treatment of external parasites)
Eclipta alba leaf
Ginger – Contains zingibain, which has demonstrated ability to dissolve parasites and their eggs
Olive leaf – Active ingredient is oleuropein.
Berberine (found in Goldenseal)
Other Natural Anti-Parasite Treatments for Fish Food Recipes:
Pumpkin seed – Offers curcurbitin, a noted anti-parasite compound.
Papaya seed – Carpain is the active anti-parasite component. Also contains enzymes to improve protein digestion.
Poplar, Baccharis and Cuba Propolis
Pomegranate stems and roots – Contain the anti-parasite compound pseudopelletierine.
Sea Cucumber – Anti-parasite properties have been proven effective even on malaria.
Probiotics – Recent research into the use of probiotics on fish has been very promising.
It should be noted that sometimes we have to use pharmaceutical medications to eliminate stubborn, resistant or otherwise strong parasitic infestations. Preventative measures are crucial to avoiding these infections, but sometimes it happens anyway. For particularly brutal parasites such as Camallanus worms (requires Levamisole) or heavy infestations that are posing a risk of quick death, we recommend trying medication. You can still formulate an anti-parasite recipe that nurtures the digestive system and supports immune function to provide a more complete treatment.
Have you had success with the natural prevention and treatment of parasites in fish? Please share your experience in the comments below. With a lack of scientific studies, your experiences are that much more valuable!
Julie Desrivot et al. Ethno-pharmacology Antiparasitic activity of some New Caledonian medicinal plants. 2007.
Man-Chul Kim. Ramasamy Harikrishnan. Moon-Soo Heo. The effect of probiotics and herbal supplemented diets on growth, blood biochemistry, and innate immune response of olive flounder and parrot fish. The Israeli Journal of Aquaculture – Bamidgeh. 2008.
D.Q. Bai. R. Li. K.Z. Xing. Y.J. Guo. C.X. Chen. X.T. Qiao. H.T. Mao. G.X. Zhu. In vitro Antibacterial Activity of Herbal Medicines and Combinations of Herbal Medicines and Antibiotics against Edwardsiella tarda. The Israeli Journal of Aquaculture-Bamidgeh 61(1)
AquacultureHub.org – Accessed 01/31/12.
Halver, J.E., Hardy, R.W. Fish Nutrition. Second ed. Academic Press, San Diego, CA, USA. 1989.
Robert, Helen E. Fundamentals of Ornamental Fish Health. 2009.
Dr. Chris Andrews, Adrian Exell, Dr. Neville Carrington. Handbook of Fish Diseases
Larry Trivieri. John W. Anderson. Alternative Medicine: The Definitive Guide 2nd Ed. 2002.
The Healing Power of Rainforest Herbs: A Guide to Understanding and Using Herbal Medicinals 2004.
Propolis: Composition, Health, Medicine: A Review. Bee Product Science. April 2011.
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