When dealing with fish, early disease and injury detection is vital so that we can provide prompt treatment to save the fish. In addition, we need to protect collections of fish from a disease spread to it by one of its members. Treating fish is a challenge, due to the non-specific nature of most clinical signs. It requires special training to understand normal fish appearance and behavior in order to recognize signs of illness.
Our veterinary practice is somewhat unusual in that we work with fish, as individual pets as well as larger collections. As a matter of fact, we appear on several databases of fish vets. We have special equipment to treat fish, allowing us to provide anesthesia before performing surgery. As a matter of fact, we recently removed a sizable tumor from a client’s large goldfish, and we have performed surgery on some of the large fish at the Liberty Science Center.
Yes, fish need vets too, and there are many issues relating to fish management. We counsel our clients on correct fish husbandry practices in addition to diagnosing and treating fish. It’s not unusual to do laboratory testing on fish to help with diagnosis, as physical exams can be challenging. We recognize the emotional attachment our clients have to their fish, whether it’s a valuable collection of Koi or your average goldfish. Our practice has the resources to treat individual fish and collections. When we medicate individual fish, we often use injections, whereas larger numbers may be treated by medication in the water or medicated feed.
One of the most important parts of a fish’s physiology is to maintain the proper concentration of salt in its internal tissues, a process known as osmotic regulation. Physical damage to the skin threatens the fish’s ability to regulate salt concentration. Injured freshwater fish must protect from absorbing water, which can cause them to swell up like sponges. Conversely, if a saltwater fish experiences broken skin, it will leak water and dehydrate. Damage to the gills is even more dire, and requires immediate veterinary care. The wrong treatment can threaten the health and life of the fish. Also, prompt treatment can help protect other inhabitants of the fish tank from disease.
Symptoms of Problems
Fish can exhibit several types of symptoms beyond broken skin to indicate health problems. These include changes in color or appearance, lethargy, depression, stuck fins, inactivity, mucus production, labored breathing and loss of appetite. The causes can vary from unclean water to bacterial infection, parasites, fungal infection, improper food/feeding, tumors, heavy metals in the water, old age and so forth. Treatments vary considerably, and may require medications or even surgery. Therefore, choosing a vet experienced in caring for fish is very important. Do-it-yourself diagnosis is very risky and likely to be wrong, putting your fish in mortal danger.
Bringing Your Fish to the Vet
If you suspect your fish needs veterinary care, here’s how to transport it properly:
Prepare a carrying container that has never held toxic chemicals, with about two-thirds air and one-third water. Pick a container with a secure lid. In a pinch, you can use a strong, clear plastic bag that you can seal with duct tape or rubber bands.
Handle the fish minimally. You can remove a fish from its habitat with a fine mesh net or plastic bag. Transfer to the carrying container.
Pack a few extra gallons of the fish’s habitat water, which will come in handy if the vet has to anesthetize the fish. The water will be used during the fish’s recovery and for the trip back home.
Also pack a separate pint of habitat water for testing by the vet. It’s necessary because the transport water may have elevated ammonia levels.
Bring with you the food you feed your fish, whether it be flakes, pellets, sticks, freeze-dried worms or whatever. This way, the veterinarian can evaluate whether the fish is getting the optimal diet. Explain to the vet how you feed your fish – frequency, amount, variety, etc.
Prompt veterinary care is the surest way to help preserve the health of your pet fish. Follow your vet’s suggestions for the care and feeding of your fish, and purchase fish food from your vet if it is sold in the office.
Dr. Paul has a strong interest in avian and exotic animal medicine and surgery, as well as small animal internal medicine and surgery.
He has provided services for numerous breeders, kennels, aviaries, and mini zoos.