10 Things You Didn’t Know About Fish Veterinarians

how to find a fish vet

Want to learn more about fish veterinarians? Being a fish veterinarian is what I was put on this planet to do, so here are some things you may not know about fish vets:

1. Yes, we go to veterinary school

Anyone who denotes themselves as a “veterinarian” has completed veterinary school. There are many veterinary schools throughout the world, but few that specialize or offer fish courses. When I went to Tufts, I only had 2 HOURS of fish medicine! In order to gain more experience, I attended various externships and summer programs with a full fish focus, such as AQUAVET and MARVET. Learn more about my journey into aquatic veterinary medicine.

2. There is more than one of us

Many times, I may be the only fish veterinarian that my clients will ever see or know about, but I am definitely not the only one! I am a member of the American Association of Fish Veterinarians, the International Association of Aquatic Animal Medicine and the World Aquatic Veterinary Medical Association. All of these groups are many up of hundreds of aquatic veterinarians, spread across the world in our various disciplines. 

3. Fish veterinarians specialize across multiple aquatic fields

As to my point above, I am a minority field within the aquatic specialty. I handle pet fish, while other fish veterinarians work in aquariums, aquaculture, research, regulatory agencies, or teaching, to name a few. Learn more about various aquatic career paths in our Careers in Aquatic Veterinary Medicine series.

3. If you can do it to a dog/cat, I can do it to a fish

Fish have most of the same parts as our typical terrestrial pets, but with some minor modifications. The biggest different: gills! This means our drug delivery methods and evaluation of their water quality is an essential part to their care. Fish can undergo surgery, receive many different treatments (injections, orals, topicals) and physical exams with just some slight “outside the box” thinking.

4. I’m happy to knock out all my patients

When it comes to examining a fish, there are a few things to consider. Number 1 concern: most fish are prey animals and are stressed out by any handling. Number 2 concern: fish are muscly, slippery torpedoes that are difficult to restrain. Where does that leave us? Sedation! We use a powder called Syncaine (MS-222) that can be added to the fishes’ tank/pond water with a buffer. Low doses provide easy sedation for physical exams, where heavier doses can maintain surgical anesthesia.

5. I work hard to be better at my job

Continuing education is required for all veterinarians to maintain their licenses. There are many different types of CE credits that veterinarians can take, such as in-person training, conferences, online programs, reading articles and more. This continuing education sets veterinarians apart from other individuals who “treat fish.” We are constantly learning all sorts of new things about our patients and available treatments for your fish.

6. Veterinarians can specialize in fish medicine

As of starting to write this post, the American Board of Veterinary Practitioners JUST approved a specialty in Fish Medicine! There is also the Certified Aquatic Veterinarian program run by the World Aquatic Veterinary Medical association. 

7. Catching my patients can be the most amazing part

When it comes to working with most pets, they are pre-caught in a carrier or on a leash (but not always). What amazes many of our clients, is simply my ability to catch their fish. And it’s not just any fish! It’s the one that’s sick. 

8. We are not the first to have an all-aquatic fish practice

But, we are the most successful and profitable serving ONLY pet fish. Thankfully, I have many colleagues who have helped guide me and my practice over the years. This really wouldn’t be possible without the inspiration of Dr. Helen Sweeney, who I met at AQUAVET I and got to shadow in my senior year of veterinary school. Watching how she ran her practice, interacted with clients, staff and patients put me on the path to private practice and, ultimately, opening my own practice. 

9. Yes, we eat fish.

Well, not all of us might, but most of us do eat fish. We have many colleagues in the industry who can share their knowledge of both wild and aquaculture populations in order to make the best decisions about where we get our fish from. Obviously, I am not eating any of the species I work with, including any of my patients!

10. Our main goal is to make fish owners better fish parents.

Look, we understand how much misinformation is out there. It’s why I’ve written a book, a children’s book series, try to keep this blog fresh and share our cases online. There is no way we can remove all the silly things out there on the internet (have you read our most common myths?), so please be careful when it comes to “home remedies” for your fish. We want to give you the tools to keep your fish happy and healthy, just like your other pets. But don’t forget: that’s just pet fish vets! There are many other fish veterinarians out there dedicated to keeping aquarium fish as healthy ambassadors, maintaining wild fish populations, providing safe aquaculture products and teaching others all about our amazing fish patients. 

about fish veterinarians
Dr. Sanders (lower right) with some of her fish vet colleagues at Aquaculture America 2023

How to Learn More About Fish Veterinarians

Still looking for answers? I recommend you contact your local aquatic veterinarian and build a relationship with them in order to make sure your fish receive the best care possible! Visit the American Association of Fish Veterinarians or the World Aquatic Veterinary Medical Association to find a fish vet near you. 


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