Flush It or Fix It? Ask Fish Vets
Five year old Monty had cancerous tumours behind his left eye. Testing revealed that cancerous cells had metastasized to Monty’s back. The forty-five minute surgery to save Monty’s life was nail-bitingly tense, but Monty made it through. In fact, he recovered swimmingly and it doesn’t get better than that for a pet goldfish. Or for Monty’s human family who loved him so much they were willing to pay £200 to the fish vets who saved him.
How Fish Vets Came to Be
Veterinarians used to treat livestock almost exclusively. Then in the 1950’s, Lassie and Rin Tin Tin started the world’s love affair with dogs and, by the 1970’s, it was possible to get first-rate medical care for your pooch. Cats got attention around the same time as dogs. Then, in the 1980’s, birds got their due.
The economic theory behind the development of veterinary medicine is really quite simple. Where there’s a need, someone’s going to fill it. A review of the numbers would therefore suggest that fish vets should be commonplace and far from Wow Note worthy. There are 151 million pet fish in the United States and 8.35 million in Canada. In the United Kingdom, 8% of the pet-owning population own indoor fish and 5% own pond fish. And some of those fish are expensive! A single award-winning Koi fish can start at $30,000 and live for fifty years.
In addition to owners of pet fish, there are others who need help such as fish farmers (of ornamental fish or food fish), wholesalers and retailers, and staff of public aquariums.
So why haven’t fish vets hit the mainstream yet? My theory is that the human-fish bond isn’t as strong as our bond with just about any other creature, although members of this Betta fish center chat room would disagree. (I’m not sure how to take the comment of one person who said that bath time was an especially important bonding opportunity.)
Others, like the American Association of Fish Veterinarians, believe it is just a matter of time.
How to Tell if Your Fish is Sick
I am ashamed to admit that I have a history of flushed fish on my conscience. So, in an effort to make amends, I offer this comprehensive list of signs that your fish might be sick.
No one can feel as helpless as the owner of a sick goldfish.Kim Hubbard
|Rapid breathing–gill covers moving really fast||Abnormal swimming–upside down or on its side|
|Loss of appetite||Stays by itself; won’t swim with its fish buddies|
|Hanging just below the water surface||Skin lesions such as white spots or cotton wool growths|
|Clamped fins||Colour changes–darkened or pale|
|Flashing–rapidly turning to side so flash of scales shows||Scratching–rubbing against rocks|
When You Need a Tank Call
Fish get sick for three reasons:
- Bad Environment–You might have the incorrect pH level or the wrong water temperature for your particular species of fish. Although many fish vets will allow you to bring your fish into a clinic, there’s a fish vet in Australia who brings his mobile fish hospital to your home because he believes that environment plays such a big role in fish health and wellbeing.
- Infectious Diseases–bacterial, viral, or parasitic. The most common source of an infectious disease outbreak is the introduction of a new fish to the tank. New fish should always be kept in a separate tank for the first month.
- Physical Ailments–This category includes congenital abnormalities, injuries, and even constipation. (Honestly, I had no idea!) Stressed fish, like stressed people, are more prone to disease.
Treatment for Sick Fish
Apparently, veterinarians are legally prohibited from making a diagnosis without seeing the patient. Again, like people, dogs and cats, symptoms are usually not specific to one disease.
If you decide to take your fish to a vet, they will use a combination of clinical examination, water analysis, and microscopy to determine the source of your pet’s problem.
Next steps can then be anything from home remedies to surgery. For example, when fish are floating upside down, it’s because of an infection or obstruction in their swim bladder. The surgical solution is to insert a tiny stone in the fish’s abdomen to weigh it down. The home remedy is to feed it a single green pea (canned or cooked, lightly crushed) once a day.
If you go the surgical route for anything fish-related you might wonder, as I did, how a fish stays alive out of water. The answer is that oxygenated water, with anaesthetic, is flushed continuously through their gills and eyes.
Between home remedies and surgery, there’s a range of treatment options available. Here’s a 1 and a half minute video of a Koi fish getting an ultrasound.
Well, what do you think? Would you take your fish to a vet?