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Behind Our Children’s Series

Go to any book store and look at the pet section. There are a ton of books on how to make a good home for dogs, cats and horses, but what about fish? Many of us start our careers in fish by having a pet fish when we are very young. Usually, our parents buy us a fish as a “trial” pet, before moving onto cats and dogs. But, there are no good reference books for kids and families to get started in fish. Enter, Boo & Bubbles! In seeing this lack of reference, I went ahead and wrote a complete series for any family looking to get started in fish keeping.

Boo & Bubbles: In the first installment of our series, Boo and her pet cat, George, want to have an underwater friend to play with, so she and her mom are off to the fish store. Boo and her mom load up with all the equipment that they need to take care of their new fish, and safely bring him home. Once the tank is ready and the new fish acclimated, newly christened Bubbles can enjoy his new home! Important topics include all of the equipment required for new fish, how to set up a tank and how to acclimate a fish to a new environment.


Boo & Bubbles: A Visit From the Fish Vet
: In part two, Bubbles is sick! Enter the fish vet to deduce why Bubbles doesn’t want to eat or play. In reviewing maintenance protocols, water quality and finally a physical exam, Bubbles is diagnosed and receives treatment. This vital part of the series illustrates the role aquatic veterinarians can have in the care of wet pets.

 

 

Boo & Bubbles: Meet Goldie: Bubbles needs a friend, so Boo and her dad are back to the pet store. This story covers the important role of quarantine in order to protect new and old fish from illness. Bubbles and his new friend, Goldie, have to be separated for the full 4-6 week quarantine in order to make sure they are healthy! If we can teach this to children, hopefully our older clients will also understand.

 

The complete Boo & Bubbles series is available for purchase. All multiple book purchases come with a Bubbles & George plush! They make a great gift for any inspiring fish keepers!

 

See the Boo & Bubbles website for more information.

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Our Mission

In the evolution of any business, the business model may bend and reform, but the mission remains the same. Sometimes, after getting bogged down by disease outbreaks, the day-to-day dealings with two businesses and trying to have a life outside of work, we forget why we started to do this in the first place. I hate to admit that I have forgotten why I work so hard to carve out a tiny niche that seems to be almost invisible sometimes. Today, I remember why I do what I do.

My job is to make your life easier.

Yes, I treat sick fish, but I mainly educate fish owners to help them understand how fish work. I have loaded my website with tons of free educational material, offered a monthly webinar series and helpful YouTube videos with the sole purpose of making fish owners lives easier. Fish require just as much work as a cat or dog, just in different ways. True, you don’t have to take them on daily walks or clean their litter boxes, but maintaining a healthy environment goes a long way to keeping fish healthy. As we always say, water quality is the #1 influence owners can have on their fish. Once you understand how everything works, it becomes significantly easier to maintain your system.

We are here for all things fishy. Even if you think it’s a stupid question, I guarantee we’ve heard it before. Yes, we are significantly more expensive than the free help on the internet, but by experimenting with your fishes’ health, you are likely making the problem worse. There is a reason no veterinarian can diagnose disease over the phone or email. There are just too many variables that go into figuring out what is wrong with your fish. It will save you time, money and LIVES in the long run to get experienced help the first time.

My only job is to make your life easier.

Try me.

All ONLINE Fish Health Masterclass

Due to the overwhelming success of our Wet Vet Weekend, we have modified our curriculum to make it available to ANYONE, ANYWHERE. We hope you can join us for our new Fish Health MASTERCLASS October 27 with separate lab program on November 3. Please see our class page for more information. Click here to register.

A Guide to Buying New Fish

Looking to add some new fish to your system? Here’s a helpful checklist to help you through!

  1. Do you have room for more fish? The standard 1 gallon of water per 1″ of fish is a terrible standard. Fish vary too much in their build and nutritional conversion for this standard to hold true. Be sure to read this article to make sure you have room for more!
  2. Will the new fish get along with your current fish? Species tolerances and pecking order need to be taken into consideration when selecting new fish. If you have a tank, make sure that each fish has enough room for their own territory without overlap. Here is a good website to get an idea for different species space requirements.
  3. Where are you purchasing the fish from? There a numerous “reputable dealers” that claim all their fish are healthy. Be sure to ask about their specific quarantine protocols and see evidence of when the fish were delivered to their facility. A “reputable dealer” does NOT guarantee healthy fish!!!
  4. How will you be transporting them? How long will the transport be? Most fish are sold and packed with pure oxygen in bags containing some water. These bags are either shipped or hand carried to their new homes. Try to minimize any temperature swings or extremes during transport. Do NOT hold the bag on your lap. Prop them upright in a sturdy box and keep them out of the sun.
  5. The capture, handling and transport will cause your fish stress and subsequently their immune system will drop, allowing pathogens to replicate rapidly. Fish are not sterile critters and have bacteria and parasites on them at all times, but their immune systems keep them in check. During the stressful transport process, all the pathogens (bacteria, fungus, parasites, etc) will replicate, REGARDLESS OF WHERE YOUR FISH IS COMING FROM. So when they get home to your tank, they will pass on everything to your current fish. How do you prevent this? QUARANTINE! QUARANTINE! QUARANTINE!
  6. Quarantine all new additions for 4-6 weeks, REGARDLESS of where they come from. This is non-negotiable. You will potentially save the lives of all of your fish by doing this. See our Quarantine Webinar for more information.

By following this checklist, you will ensure that you have healthy fish coming into your system. Most of the health issues in tanks arise secondary to new fish additions. Protect your fish.

Fish Eyeball Removal Surgery

Yes, fish need surgery at times. Ever wonder what happens when a fish needs to have an eye removed? Check out this video!

The Green Pea Myth

Constipated goldfish is the most widely over diagnosed case on the internet. There is not ONE peer-reviewed published paper about goldfish constipation and its treatments. Most commonly, goldfish “constipation” is misdiagnosed as a cure all for a sick fish. And in comes the main treatment… shelled green peas!

What is it about these tiny green globes of goodness that make most fish rise up from the almost dead?

One: They have almost no protein whatsoever, decreasing the amount of ammonia waste from your fish, decreasing the strain on your nitrogen cycle. Decreasing the ammonia waste from your system will make ANY fish better. Every 100 grams of green peas contains 5.4g of protein. Compare that to 100g of commercial fish flake and pellets having between 32-45g of protein.

Two: Green peas sink in water, therefore making fish dive to the bottom of their tank to eat, preventing excess air from ending up in their GI and swim bladder. Goldfish are physostomous, with a duct connecting their esophagus to their swim bladder. Considering the anatomy of some fancy goldfish varieties, these ducts are extremely short and therefore more air is able to get into the swim bladder, causing positive buoyancy issues. When fish eat at the surface, slurping food down like pigs, they can take in a lot of extra air. By feeding sinking peas, they don’t suck in as much air.

Three: Goldfish “indigestion” can be caused by an inappropriate diet. Goldfish, like all other carp, are omnivores, eating plants, bugs and almost anything tasty that fits in their mouths. In feeding them a flake or pelleted diet, you are aiming for a balanced diet. There are sooooo many fish foods out there, and a lot of them are based on educated guesses rather than actual research. As a fish owner, it is up to you to evaluate your fishes’ food to make sure it is appropriate. We have our most watched webinar on this very subject of reading fish food labels. Many of these “constipation” problems are from feeding very old food. After 6 months, your fish food has lost enough of the water-soluble vitamins, including vitamin C, that you are essentially feeding your fish cardboard. Getting a fresh bag of food, or switching the diet to our green peas (full of vitamins!), fixes almost all of the fish “indigestion” cases we see.

But what about all that fiber? 100g of peas contains 4.8g of fiber and most fish foods contain 3-5g of fiber, so it’s not really all that more fibrous.

All in all, peas are a low calorie treat that fish can enjoy. But are they magical, cure all tablets of greeny goodness? Sorry, but no.

Preventing Disease in Fish Tanks and Ponds

Everyone always wants to know how to keep their fish system from becoming infested with some horrible disease that puts all their fish at risk. Well, it’s a lot simpler than you think!

  1. Quarantine. Quarantine. Quarantine. This includes plants and ALL NEW FISH. The stress of handling and transport is enough to make even the healthiest of fish turn on your tanks inhabitants. Fish cannot be sterilized and always have pathogens on them, including parasites, bacteria and fungi. Most problems occur when new fish, invertebrates or plants are added to an established system. Set up a separate hospital tank and have it at the ready whenever new fish are on their way in. 4-6 weeks is the MINIMUM requirement for all new additions. For more information, be sure to watch our Quarantine Practices webinar!
  2. Maintain your water quality through consistent maintenance, proper feeding and adequate filtration. Water quality is the #1 thing owners can do to keep their fish healthy. Get a test kit, know how to use it and what normal parameters look like. Not all fish systems will be identical! Keep up with your maintenance. If everything is a bit discombobulated, use these handy checklists for tanks and ponds.
  3. Feed your fish a good quality diet that is species appropriate. Look for a food with appropriate levels of protein, fat and carbohydrates. We are happy to give consults on diet for FREE. If you want to learn more about fish diets, watch our webinar.
  4. Note any signs of disease early and take precautionary measures. You set up that hospital tank, right? Learn the physical and behavioral signs of disease in fish through our free webinar.
  5. If you think something is wrong, ASK NOW! Don’t wait until a small problem becomes big and hard to manage. Our job is to help you take care of your fish, plain and simple. We can work within your budget to make sure your fish get the care they need. Call us at (831) 346-6151 or email hospital@cafishvet.com.

Follow those rules and your fish will thank you! Being healthy and disease free is the way to be, no matter what your species!

The Truth About Aquatic Plants

To plant or not to plant? As is the dilemma facing most freshwater tank and pond owners. Live plants can add beauty and filtration, but come with their own set of issues. If you are interested in pursing adding live plants to your system, be sure to read through the following points.

WAIT! I was told you can’t have plants in koi ponds! No matter what the purists say, you can absolutely have plants and koi together. You can also mix koi and goldfish, but that’s another article.

  • Your system needs to be producing nitrate in order for plants to thrive. If you constantly use an ammonia-binding additive or have a brand new tank, hold off on adding any plant life. Buy yourself a test kit and make sure your nitrogen cycle is established prior to getting those plants in there.
  • Plants can carry pathogens, especially if they were previously housed with fish. That means they need to be quarantined too! Set them up in your quarantine with a few fish to signal if there are any issues. You can also do a hydrogen peroxide dip that will take care of most bugs.
  • You will need to trim your plants regularly as parts die off. If you leave the rotting bits in your tank, you’re only making your ammonia levels worse. Make trimming your plants a regular part of your weekly maintenance and your system will thank you.
  • Fish will try to eat your plants. It doesn’t matter if you feed them the most awesome food on the planet, they will harass your plants if they’re simply bored. Don’t get too attached. You can try to create a buffer zone between plants and fish using mesh or netting. But, be prepared for some losses.
  • If you’re expecting a few plants to significantly decrease your nitrate levels, you will be sadly mistaken. The amount of plants you need to make a dent in your water quality is immense. If you want to use plants for filtration, consider adding a bog filter for ponds or an aquaponic system. Don’t expect those three fronds of anacharis to do the trick.
  • Any medications or treatments you add to the tank or pond will affect the plants. Salt treatments in particular can kill plants. However, if there is a disease in your system, the plants could be harboring pathogens. If you have a disease that could be hiding in your plants, make sure you treat the entire system appropriately. With some diseases, replacing the plants entirely may be the best option.

If you have any interest in adding plants to your system, but aren’t quite sure what to add, please call The Fish Vet Store at 831-728-7003

The Nitrogen Cycle

As you may well know, water quality is a significant aspect of pet fish health. Like the air we breathe, the water a fish swims in is directly linked to their overall health. As a fish veterinarian, we routinely test the water our patients swim in for various parameters. We discussed pH and kH previous, so today, let’s look at the nitrogen cycle.

 

As you may notice, the traditional nitrobacter and nitrosomas bacteria species have been omitted from this diagram. This is due to the fact that there are just SO MANY different bacteria species involved in nitrogen-fixation, that we cannot simply define them in these two genuses.

In a fish tank, a fish’s primary waste is ammonia. Ammonia is produced by the breakdown of protein, the main staple of most fishes’ diets. Ammonia is excreted out through the urinary tract and gills. Ammonia is highly toxic to fish, causing death and increased secondary illness, so it is converted, through nitrogen-fixing bacteria, into nitrite. Now, nitrite can be just as bad as ammonia. Methemoglobinemia, or “Brown Blood Disease,” is caused by a build-up of nitrite. Nitrite can bind to hemoglobin in the blood and outcompete oxygen. This causes a brown coloration and the fish will asphyxiate from lack of oxygen. Thankfully, more nitrogen-fixing bacteria convert nitrite into the final nitrate. Nitrate is safe for fish at low levels, but at higher levels, and depending on the fish species’ tolerance, can cause the same issues as high ammonia. Nitrate is removed from the system by aquatic plants or water changes.

In established systems (over 2 months old with no new fish or equipment), your ammonia should be ZERO. Most low readings indicate your filtration capacity is inadequate or secondary to overfeeding. The highest reading acceptable on our test kit is 0.1 mg/L. The traditional API freshwater master test kit ranges between 0-0.25, so attaining a 0.1 reading will not occur. Due to the broad range of values, a 0.25 reading may be a false positive (reporting a higher value than what is actually present).

There are many commercial additives for removing ammonia from your tank prior to the nitrogen cycle. Some can cause ammonia test kits to read falsely high. These additives are short-term solutions that should only be used with significant health issues. They are not a long term maintenance solution. You MUST establish your biological filtration (good bacteria) for long-term fish health. If you have persistent ammonia in your tank, consider the following solutions:

  • Is your filtration adequate? Tanks with higher bioloads (size and number of fish) will require more than standard filtration. When in doubt, always filter more than you should.
  • Are you feeding appropriately? Remember, ammonia is produced from breakdown of protein in a fish’s diet. More food = more ammonia. Check your protein levels! For more information on fish diets, read this.
  • Are you doing lots of water changes? If you are constantly removing ammonia, your nitrogen-fixing bacteria will never become established.
  • Is there ammonia in your source water? Check the level coming out of your tap or well to make sure! You may need to consider another water source.

There are also commercial additives that will “quick start” your nitrogen cycle. Sorry folks, but these are a complete scam. With the exception of one product that slightly shortened the establishment of your nitrogen cycle, it will take 4-6 weeks MINIMUM to get your tank properly cycled. By “cycled,” we mean the establishment of a complete nitrogen cycle with ammonia being converted all the way to nitrate. We recommend starting with very few fish and monitor your ammonia, nitrite and nitrate levels carefully!

If you have any more questions about fish and nitrogen cycles, please comment below.

How to Treat Disease in Fish

If you’ve ever read our other posts or watched our webinars, you may have noticed that we never tell you how to treat certain diseases. Although it’s one of the most common questions our staff is asked, treating disease is never as straightforward as a fish owner may think. As one of my colleagues put it recently, “I no longer treat disease; I treat systems.” When your fish gets sick, do you think of treating the fish or the environment in which it lives?

When comparing disease in a fish vs. a dog, your veterinarian will rarely ever ask, “what is the air quality in your house?” For fluffy pets, it is always assumed that they have suitable air to breathe. Veterinarians will rarely ever question this parameter unless you are talking about a fish. The watery environment in which a fish lives has a significantly increased impact than the air we breathe. (You’ve watched our water quality webinar, yes?) The increased density of water and the physiology of fish gill-water interaction can directly influence fish health. Fish live in a toilet, and there’s no avoiding that. Keeping your fish’s watery home within appropriate water quality parameters is the #1 thing you can do as a pet fish owner to keep your fish healthy.

And a big part of your fishes’ environment are the commensal bacteria living in your filtration. These magic beings don’t need any instructions or directions to do their part in keeping your fish healthy. By converting ammonia into its less toxic nitrate, they turn a watery death trap into a fish-safe home. However, any treatment you add to your tank, be it prescribed or over-the-counter, can affect those contributing bacteria. This is part of why treating disease in fish is very tricky. If you dump in a bunch of treatments that may or may not help your fish, you can wipe out all of the bacteria working in your favor. A lot of the over-the-counter medications are not validated by any third parties, and can do more harm than good.

Overall, treating diseases in any species is sometimes a straightforward process, provided that you can make the right diagnosis. Veterinarians train for years to make correct diagnoses and corresponding treatments. We are taught to be detectives and make sure to get the whole story rather than make assumptions based on simple physical appearances. Since aquatic medicine is an emerging field, many fish owners do not know that there are veterinarians who can help them. Asking Dr. Google a simple fish question can take owners down a rabbit hole of possibilities that very often lead them astray. Going to ask your local pet store can result in a bag full of home remedies that treat symptoms, not disease. Although there are many great fish stores and websites with loads of helpful information, knowing what is legitimate and woefully misleading can be hard to negotiate. By asking a veterinarian to assist you, you have a great guide to lead you to the right information and correct diagnosis, leading to treating your fish correctly the first time.

Find a fish veterinarian to assist you:

American Association of Fish Veterinarians

World Aquatic Veterinary Medical Association

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