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Respect Your Betta

There is no fish that lacks respect in the fish kingdom than the amazing betta. Goldfish are a close second, but most people see betta fish as the easiest pet to care for. Just drop it in a vase and poof! Instant fish tank.

Our office gets a lot of calls about betta fish. I do a fair amount of work treating them for various illnesses, most often the misdiagnosed “fin rot.” “Fin rot” is nothing more than your betta is stressed out from dozens of potential causes. Guess what is #1? If you didn’t say “water quality,” read this and get back to me.

A happy betta in his tank

Let me tell you a secret. 95% of my betta calls can save their money by implementing the following changes:

  1. Add a heater.
  2. Add a filter.

Tah dah!

That is seriously how we fix 95% of our betta calls. We can tell you this on the phone for FREE. Well, actually we’ll tell you to visit this page on our website that outlines the exact same plan. If you don’t believe me, I can come to your house and tell you, but I’ll have to charge you.

Here’s how this magic fix works…

Most bettas are NOT kept in standard fish tanks. Everyone believes that what they see on Pinterest and Instagram with bettas in anything that can hold water is gospel. Yes, bettas have that specialized labyrinth organ that essentially acts as a primitive lung, allowing them to breathe air. HOWEVER, this is a short-term survival mechanism! It is not intended to be a way of life. It is the human equivalent of living in a spacious one-bedroom apartment with central air, heat and garbage disposal compared with living in a sealed elevator shaft. Sure, you’ll survive, but you won’t thrive.

And bettas are tropical fish, and therefore, need a heater. That’s about as simple as it is. 80-82F (26-28C) if you please!

Fish bowls are horrible homes for any fish. Get your pet a nice, filtered tank and use your bowl for something else. I recommend tropical beverages.

Proper use of fish bowl to hold fruity cocktail

Regarding betta fish as disposable pets starts now. If you are taking in a living, breathing (WATER) pet, you are responsible for giving it the best life possible. If you can’t get your betta a tank with a heater, feed it properly or take care of it, get a pet rock instead. You can paint it like a betta if you like.

Side note: bettas will eat enough pellets to stuff them end to end in one sitting. Keep in mind that their “stomach” is only as big as their eyeball. Only a few pellets per feeding. And no amount of green peas will save you once the big poo ball forms.

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How Not To Kill Your First Fish

How Not To Kill Your First Fish

It all starts out the same. Kid X begs for a puppy. Kid Y wants a kitty. You barter a fish to “see how it goes.” Tank gets set up, fish gets plunked in, and everything goes swimmingly… for about 2 weeks. Then all hell breaks loose and your fish dies. The tank is tossed and the fish forgotten.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

Follow these 4 simple steps and I guarantee that your fish will have a fighting chance!

1. The fish you bought at the pet store are probably already sick.

How do I know this? Given the rapid turn-over at the pet store, most commonly less than 48 hours, stores never know what fun diseases their fish are already carrying! White spot disease in particular is the most common. Only ONE of these little spots can spawn 1,000 babies! At warm temperatures, this can spiral into a pit of death and despair within days. If you see ANY fish in the store with suspicious white spots, dead or listless fish in the tank, go somewhere else or order online. Ask when then fish came in. If they have been there over a week, they are probably healthier. probably… THERE IS NO WHERE YOU CAN GO THAT WILL GUARANTEE HEALTHY FISH. It’s just not profitable; yes, I tried.

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2. Quarantine your new fish.

Yes, it’s a pain in the @$$. Yes, it takes away the instant gratification. But quarantining fish from different stores/batches/yard sales will keep disease from spreading. Ever watched one of those zombie movies where the virus spreads so quickly no one can do anything? It’s the same thing with your fish. You may have gotten lucky with the first batch of fish, but you’ll play Russian Roulette with any new additions. Get another tank, keep it far away from the first tank and USE SEPARATE EQUIPMENT! At least 4-6 weeks (shorter for warmer water). For full rules and restrictions, read this.

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3. New Tank Syndrome is the #1 cause of new fish death.

We are all obsessed with instant gratification. When you first get your tank, you want it full NOW! Well, sorry to say that this is just asking for a disaster. Newbie fish keepers are most likely unfamiliar with the NITROGEN CYCLE. This cycle keeps your fish ALIVE. There is no product you can buy to “short cut” this cycle. Our office tried a dozen products and ONLY ONE shortened the cycle by 1 week. 4-6 weeks MINIMUM are necessary to make your new fish home inhabitable. Starting with just a few fish will get your cycle up and running without sending your toxic ammonia on a mission to kill all your fish. Read this, memorize it and tell everyone you see about it. And you know that 1″ of fish per gallon is bull, yes?

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4. WATER CHEMISTRY

Dedicated followers have heard this before… many times. It’s the most popular topic on our website. Good water quality = happy, healthy fish. I can’t make it easier than that. Get a test kit and use it regularly. In the beginning, this will be DAILY. After your NITROGEN CYCLE is established, scale back to WEEKLY. If your system has remained unchanged in maintenance practices, equipment and fish for 3 months, you can maybe get away with MONTHLY.

Alright, rant over. Please value your fishes’ lives. It pains our service when these calls come in and it’s too late to help.

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Pet Expo – April 26-28

Need something fishy to do this weekend? Join us at America’s Family Pet Expo at the Orange County Fairgrounds this weekend! Fun for all the family, including pets of all types!

We’ll be showcasing all of our surgery videos and readings from our children’s series, Boo & Bubbles.

Hope to see you there!

Salt in Fish Systems

Salt is a normal component of many fish systems. Saltwater and brackish systems require salt on a continual basis. But what about freshwater systems? Some internet pages recommend keeping salt in koi/goldfish ponds/tanks at all times. Others say don’t bother. What are the effects of salt on an all-freshwater species?

In a freshwater environment, a fish’s body is more dense than the surrounding water. As a result, water is constantly trying to enter the fish’s body and achieve osmotic homeostasis. A fish’s gills, kidneys and urinary systems are responsible for removing the excess water. When these mechanisms are compromised, the clinical manifestation of “dropsy” can occur. By adding salt to the water, you are changing the osmolality of the environment surrounding the fish, thereby decreasing the amount of water diffusing into the fish. Some people figure this is less stressful for a fish, but after millions of years of evolution, it really isn’t necessary. A fish’s body can handle the metabolic demands of freshwater. It’s the human equivalent to drinking less water so your kidneys don’t have to work as hard.

Most salt-avid fish keepers will keep their fish in very low salinities: 1-1.5%. This level can be very hard to test accurately for and will often vary between 0-3%. This level will not hurt your fish. If you feel like you NEED to have salt in there, that’s fine, but you should not strive for levels greater than 2%. You do NOT HAVE to add salt to your freshwater fish system. Always add non-iodonized salt (not table salt)!

For some parasites, depending on the species and water temperature, higher therapeutic levels of salt can be used to treat the infestation. Salt works by first increasing, then depleting the mucus coat, which many parasites use as a food source and for protection. Once the mucus coat is gone, the single-celled parasites rupture from the changing osmotic gradient. But if you are slowly bringing your salt levels up without realizing it, some parasites have been found to become resistant to therapeutic salt levels, requiring treatment at even higher doses. The higher the salt dose, the harsher the treatment for the fish.

All in all, a little salt is fine, but don’t obsess over it. Your fish will do just fine without it. The only time we recommend salt is for recovery from trauma or surgery. Don’t forget that salt can kill aquatic plants!

How do you know if a fish is sick?

We’ve already established that fish get sick, so how can you recognize when something is wrong? Signs of illness can be broken down into two categories: physical and behavioral.

Physical

These indicators of illness can be very easy to spot. Physical signs of disease include:

  • Changes in coloration
  • Bumps/lumps
  • Asymmetrical body shape
  • Misshapen fins
  • Wounds
  • Ulcers
  • Etc, etc etc

Most of the times, these changes are fairly obvious, but especially in the case of coelomic tumors, subtle changes can be very hard to spot. Here are some examples of physical signs of disease:

Behavioral

Behavioral signs of disease are harder to spot. If you don’t check your fish out every day, these signs can be very difficult to spot. A 5-minute fish viewing session twice a day is recommended at bare minimum. Behavioral signs of disease include:

  • Incorrect body position
  • Negative/positive buoyancy
  • Avoiding areas of tank/pond
  • Hiding/unsocial (species-specific)
  • Swimming behavior
  • Flashing
  • Non-seasonal change in appetite/feeding behavior
  • Etc

In order to recognize “normal” behavior, you may need to look outside your home pond/tank. What may be “normal” in your pond may be very obviously not normal if you watch other fish of the same species in a different environment. Call up the neighbors and arrange a pond/tank social hour at a different home each week/month!

If you have a behavior that you cannot identify as normal or abnormal, CALL A PROFESSIONAL. Our office number is (831) 278-1081. It is better to be certain than let a unknown behavior slide for too long.

For more information on spotting sick fish, including some behavioral indicators, watch our webinar:

Top Surgery Cases

Read along with us as we share our exceptional surgery cases!

Lemon

Lemon is a ranchu goldfish who was adopted with a slight oral deformity. Once day, when going after a large pellet, one side of her mouth luxated and obstructed her oral cavity. Dr. Sanders was able to correct the injury with a few well-placed sutures and Lemon was able to recover. Read more about her story here.

Rocky

We don’t know why he did it, but Rocky, a shovelnose catfish, decided that the rocks at the bottom of his tank looked particularly tasty. He ended up eating almost a pound of them and they got stuck in his stomach. Dr. Sanders performed surgery to open the stomach and remove the rocks. Read more about Rocky here.

Sparky

Our buddy Sparky presented with a HUGE tumor on his eye. Rather than trying to cut the tumor away from the delicate cornea, Dr. Sanders elected to remove the eye. Sparky healed up great and you can never even tell an eye was there to begin with. Read his full story here.

Want to watch some fun surgery videos? Check out our YouTube channel.

This koi had a coelomic tumor that required invasive surgery to remove.

Fish Surgery Diagnostics

How do fish veterinarians decide when it’s time for a fish to go under the knife? Surgery can be very beneficial for fish when it is warranted.

Water Quality Testing

Prior to any surgery, a veterinarian MUST test the water quality. If the water quality is off in any way, recovery after surgery will be hindered. Corrections to water quality must be made prior to any procedure.

Radiographs

In dealing with structures including and next to bones and the swim bladder, radiographs, commonly called “x-rays,” provide great diagnostic info. These are very handy to see if there is any air where it shouldn’t be and if any structures are not in the correct place. For soft tissue, we need…

Ultrasound

This tool is one of the most beneficial to evaluate internal structures in fish. For koi, it is how we are able to see gonadal sarcomas and how extensive they are. A small tumor is much easier to operate on that a large one.

Bloodwork

Unlike many other pet species, bloodwork is not very useful in many species of pet fish. Reference ranges have been established, but some are too wide, and vary based on water quality and genetics. For surgical procedures, a PCV (packed cell volume) is helpful to understand how much blood a fish loses during a procedure.

Swim Bladder Disease

Other than constipated goldfish, “swim bladder disease” is a very common home diagnosis. Or the more common vernacular, “My fish has swim bladder.”

Well, all fish have swim bladders, so that fact is correct, but it is not a disease. “Swim bladder disease” is most common in goldfish and koi, with a high percentage in fancy varieties of goldfish. For 99% of koi, swim bladder disease is caused by poor water quality. I have had one case of actual swim bladder disease in ONE case, shown below.

For this koi, her swim bladder is full of an sterile, non-cellular fluid. We don’t know why this happened, but it causes her to scoot around on her belly. But this is our ONE case of an actual swim bladder issue in a koi. We have had two instances of koi with tertiary swim bladders, but not causing any clinical signs.

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For goldfish, 90% of our “swim bladder” cases are lethargy secondary to poor water quality. Most of our actual swim bladder cases are fancy goldfish with most likely structural deficiencies. We’ve illustrated this point previously with our case on red moor, Huxley. Compare this comet x-ray below…

To these fancy goldfish…

Goldfish are supposed to have a two chambered swim bladder, but due to their anatomy, these fancy varieties have limited space in their coelomic cavities. This sets them up for buoyancy issues from birth.

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Goldfish and koi are also physostomous fish, meaning that they inflate their swim bladders by having a pneumatic duct between their esophagus and swim bladder. When they eat at the surface, it encourages air to enter the swim bladder. This is the main reason we see swim bladder issues. Goldfish are voracious eaters and if too much air gets sucked in, they can have positive buoyancy issues.

Fish with negative buoyancy may not have enough room in their body to support a larger swim bladder. However, being negatively buoyant is much safer than positively buoyant. Fish stuck at the surface are prone to air ulcerations where the skin starts to break down by being exposed to long periods of air.

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External floats, such as those praised on YouTube, must be designed with the fish’s external surface in mind. Anything that rubs up against the skin will disrupt the protective mucus coat and cause secondary infection. Any float attachment will be TEMPORARY. We only apply them to get fish the surface to naturally inflate their swim bladder. We can take air out surgically, but we cannot add it in case the swim bladder ruptures.

If your fish is showing signs of negative or positive buoyancy, CHECK YOUR WATER QUALITY FIRST. Only 10% of our goldfish cases are primarily caused by the swim bladder. The other 90% are water quality, diet, maintenance or bullying/trauma. Do NOT add a float without proper surgical prep in order to minimize infection.

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Pond Bottom Cleaning – Best Practices

Now that we’ve covered all your potential options for pond substrates, how is the best way to go about cleaning the bottom of your pond? Here’s the full checklist of tasks for all ponds to keep up with on a daily/weekly/monthly/yearly basis.

If you have rocks on the bottom of your pond:

To prevent the buildup of dangerous anaerobic bacteria, stir your substrate weekly. If the rocks are larger, use a pond vacuum to suck the muck out from the bottom. To make the job easier, start to scoop out the rocks.

If you have a concrete bottom or liner:

Gently sweep any debris and algae towards your bottom drain a few times a week. If you do not have a bottom drain, use a pond vacuum to suck up all the debris after it settles post-sweep. Be careful with liners not to scrub too vigorously or else you may rip a hole!

If you don’t ever clean the bottom of your pond:

Time to start! If you think there is more than a few inches of mud at the bottom of your pond, get your fish out of the pond and in a temporary holding tub just in case you have pockets of hydrogen sulfide. Dig down until you hit the liner or concrete bottom. Try to keep up with cleaning on a weekly or at least monthly basis to keep it from being such a chore!

If you do not have a bottom drain:

Never fear! Even if you didn’t add a bottom drain when you put in the pond, one can be retrofitted. Bottom drains make cleaning ponds so much easier! Contact your local pond professional to get one added to your pond today!

Fish Bowl Syndrome

A common problem we see, especially in betta fish, is known as Fish Bowl Syndrome. Essentially, it can be broken down into one main issue:

Your fish is in a bowl.

Problem #1: Your fish has no filtration for processing of dangerous ammonia waste. Without a place for bacteria to grow and filter the water, your nitrogen cycle can never be established. Some may argue that betta fish get pushed around by filters, but if you chose the right one and slow the flow, it is perfectly suited to bettas.

Problem #2: You fish has no oxygen circulation. Fish tank filters are great at adding in oxygen, even in slow-flow mode. In a stagnant bowl, your fish is limited to what air diffuses from the surface. Yes, betta fish have a specialized labyrinth organ used to squeeze oxygen from the air. This is a short-term adaptation mechanism used to survive in drought conditions. It is NOT a long-term survival technique.

Problem #3: Your fish has no temperature stability. We’ll pick on betta fish again. Bettas are tropical and need heat. The small volume of a bowl causes temperatures to fluctuate dramatically. Watch the difference in ambient room temperatures on a 1-gallon fish bowl and a 10-gallon fish tank. It’s the same as you stepping out into freezing temperatures wearing a t-shirt or a coat.

Problem #4: When doing bowl water changes, most often, you will take your fish out of the bowl and put them in a tiny container while you empty all the water out of the bowl and scrub it clean. Since you have no filtration or oxygenation, you can swing the water chemistry parameters, including pH and temperature, very rapidly, causing your fish to stress and possibly die.

Fish bowls are ancient technology invented before there was electricity. With all the modern updates to fish-keeping, isn’t it time to let the fish bowls go? Unless, perhaps, you use them for this purpose:

#BANTHEBOWL