Amazing Fish Surgery Procedures

a group of doctors performing surgery on a small animal.

One of the most common questions we get asked is how do fish undergo surgery? Yes, fish surgery can be performed just as easily as in a cat or dog. Fish surgery can be a simple lump removal all the way through to a full open coelom procedure. It is simply amazing how well a fish improve from a simple corrective surgery.

Are they awake for the procedure?

Absolutely not! Just like people, cats and dogs are anesthetized for surgery, so are fish. Rather than using an aerosolized anesthetic, fish are anesthetized using a water-based medication. Our office uses a compound called MS-222 or Tricaine-S (tricaine methanesulfonate). Other fish vets may use eugenol or clove oil. These compounds produce a safe plane of anesthesia to operate with the fish happily in dreamland. Recovery using clean water usually occurs within 10-30 minutes. We use smaller doses for routine physical exams and basic diagnostics, such as radiographs and ultrasounds.

fish surgery to remove rocks from inside a catfish stomach
Surgery on the stomach of a shovelnose catfish

Does fish surgery happen underwater?

No again. For simple external procedures, the fish will lie on one side with the surgical site up in the air. Usually we have an assistant or net hold the fish partially submerged. For open abdomen procedures, we have a specially crafted, acrylic V-shape that fits over a 10-gallon aquarium. An aquarium pump moves water from the reservoir below, through a tube to the fish’s mouth, which then flows over their gills and back down. It is a very simple closed circulation system that works extremely well. (Modified through the amazing work of Drs. Harms & Lewbart). There is one person assigned to this job for the entire surgery and monitors the fish’s anesthetic depth through gill movement and heart rate.

Our specialized surgical rig

What is the craziest surgery you have ever done?

Well, we do a lot of procedures that are very odd for the general veterinary practitioner. Given the specialty of our service, we see nothing but “odd” cases. Some of our favorites include our fish friends Rocky, Lemon and Sparky. Read all about their cases here.

Watch some of our procedures on our YouTube site: Eyeball Removal, Abdominal Tumor Removal

Have more questions? Check out our Fish Surgery FAQ

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4 thoughts on “Amazing Fish Surgery Procedures”

  1. Pingback: Friday finds #2 – Barreleye Zoology

  2. Pingback: FishSens Magazine | How Fish Surgery Leads Research and Saves Pets - FishSens Magazine

  3. I’m a retired veterinarian who has a sick Comet goldfish with what I think is a swim bladder problem. He’s been at the bottom of the tank for a month. We are feeding him peeled pears. It’s not helped. Would surgery help him? He’s 12 years old and has been such a good friend.
    Marilyn Thompson,, DVM
    Georgia 1975

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