Secrets to A Cleaner Fish System

Proper fish tank or pond maintenance takes patience to learn but is easy to master. Once you find a routine that works for you, your water will always be perfect and your fish will thank you for it.

Not to mention all the money you’ll save on veterinary bills!

Identify the different parts of your system and follow the water flowing through all your components. (**hint: draw a picture!!**)

Know how to safety turn off your system without overflowing or running pumps dry. If your system is maintained by another person or company, have them show you how to do this. If there is ever an emergency, you need to know how to stop everything, just in case.

Identify what maintenance needs to occur daily. For outdoor ponds, this usually includes skimming debris off the surface or emptying your skimmer. For saltwater tanks, you probably need to top off with freshwater daily.

Identify your mechanical and biological filtration components. Mechanical filtration physically removes debris and includes settling tanks, mesh screening, drum filters, floss, etc. Biological filtration are specific media where good bacteria is cultured. This good bacteria is essential to converting your fish’s ammonia waste into safe nitrate. (Don’t remember this? You need to watch our webinar!) When cleaning these components, you DO NOT want them sparkling clean! Cleaning biological filtration too thoroughly can reset your filters to ZERO.

Routinely remove old water from your system and replace with new, fresh, clean water (What you hear us refer to as a WATER CHANGE, or backwash for certain filter types). The size of your system, the amount of fish you have and your filtration capability will determine how often this needs to occur. It is important to watch your water parameters and learn how your system changes daily, weekly, monthly, seasonally, etc.

Learn how to clean up after your fish. In a tank, you will need to master how to use a gravel siphon. Ponds may require the use of a pond vacuum. Many YouTube videos are available on how to operate the many various types of siphons and vacuums available. (Need a gravel siphon? They’re part of our WATER QUALITY TESTING PACKAGES. Available now for a limited time!) Using the siphon or vacuum also counts as a WATER CHANGE!!

It may sound like a lot of steps, but I promise, you CAN DO IT!

If you need assistance, contact a local fish tank/pond cleaning professional and have them teach you the steps. If you want, they can do all the hard work for you, leaving you with the easy job of simply enjoying your fish.

Click Here for a Daily/Weekly/Monthly Tank Cleaning Checklist

Click Here for a Daily/Weekly/Monthly Pond Cleaning Checklist

DIY Fish Surgery: A How-To Guide

Ever watched some videos about how to do fish surgery online? Looks easy, right? Well, we’ve decided to write up a step-by-step guide for you do-it-yourselfers who want to try their hand at fish surgery. No veterinary degree required!




Step 1: Call a veterinarian. There are plenty who specialize in fish, check here and here.

Tah dah! And your surgery is all taken care of by a legitimate professional who put themselves into massive amounts of debt and pain of 4 extra years of school on top of their regular college degree whose sole purpose in life is to take away pain and suffering in your pet. Don’t give me that “it’s just a fish” line. Fish can have pain and discomfort just the same as if your gym trainer decided to try their hand at foot surgery. They’re obviously qualified because they work with the human body? I don’t think so.

Don’t ever attempt surgery on your fish unless you are a trained veterinary professional. It’ll save you from the embarrassing phone call to the vet who told you specifically not to attempt your own surgery when your fish is barely surviving and in a whole lot of extra pain. I wish I was kidding, but we got this phone call yesterday.

Yes, the world of YouTube has certainly opened up the medical profession. Did you see that open heart surgery video? Great. That makes you a qualified professional. Go ahead and open your practice!

I don’t know what else to say other than, “DON’T DO YOUR OWN SURGERY ON YOUR FISH.” Let me do it. Yes, I charge money for it, but you get more than you pay for. Go ahead and ask your trainer to do your coronary bypass next time you want to save money.

How to Help A Sick Fish

“Help! I have a sick fish. What do I do?” is the most common question we get asked. Regardless of the issue, there are some things you should always do:

  1. Check your water chemistry. Low cost, reliable, at home test kits should be included in every new aquarium and pond setup. Make sure you use yours regularly and know how to properly read all the results. In a pinch, many pet fish stores offer free or low cost testing. Many issues that cause sick fish can be related to water quality. At the first sign of illness, test your water quality!
  2. Look at your fishes’ diet. Just like the food we eat affects our overall health, so does your fishes’ food. Most fish foods will start to lose their vitamin content after only 90 days! Flake foods will lose their vitamins faster due to increased surface to mass ratio. If you have some questions about what diet is best for your fish, ask your local fish veterinarian or pet fish store for recommendations.
  3. Check your other fish for signs of disease. There may be one susceptible fish in your tank or several. The number of fish affected will help indicate what illness you are dealing with.
  4. When was the last time you added new fish? Adding a new fish that was under considerable stress from transport and then dropped in an alien environment can bring lots of fun parasites and diseases into an established tank. Just like you bring home lots of new germs from the airplane ride with complete strangers, so does your new fish addition.
  5. Call a professional for assistance. Do not waste time falling into an internet black hole. Many seasoned fish hobbyists can help with general husbandry and diet issues. For disease diagnosis and treatment, you will need to contact your local fish veterinarian. We realize that there are currently many over-the-counter medications available, but keep in mind that these are not regulated products. No one is checking the contents of those little foil packets before you dump it in your tank/pond. Treating a fish that does not need medication can breed resistant strains of bacteria that can affect your fishes’ future health. For a list of veterinarians who see fish, check out the American Association of Fish Veterinarians and the World Aquatic Veterinary Medical Association.

Upcoming Webinar: Medical School vs. Veterinary School – What You Should Know Before You Apply

Medical School vs. Veterinary School – What You Should Know Before You Apply

Tue, Aug 15, 2017 2:00 PM – 3:00 PM PDT

Can’t make the decision between a career in human medicine or veterinary medicine? Want to know more about the schooling process before you get started? What is required of medical schools before you even begin to apply? Just want to know more about what medical or veterinary school is all about? All of these questions and more will be answered by two sister doctors, Dr. Jessie Sanders, DVM and Dr. Bailey Sanders, MD.

Jessie Sanders, DVM, CertAqV

Bailey Sanders, MD

Both Sanders sisters grew up in rural Connecticut, the daughters of two engineers (one civil, one chemical). Dr. Jessie Sanders attended the University of Rhode Island and graduated magna cum laude with a B.S. in Marine Biology. From there, she went on to veterinary school at the Cummings School for Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University in North Grafton, MA. Following her graduation, Dr. Jessie Sanders opened her own aquatic specialty private veterinary practice in Santa Cruz, CA.

Dr. Bailey Sanders attended the University of Massachusetts on a full Division I softball scholarship and graduate summa cum laude with a B.S. in Kinesiology. She went on to Pennsylvania State for medical school and then to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill for a 5-year residency program in general surgery. She is currently there as a 4th year resident.

Click Here to Register


Questions to be answered by our panel:

  • What did you want to be when you were growing up?
  • What was your greatest inspiration to becoming a doctor?
  • What are the requirements for admission?
  • How many schools did you apply to?
  • How many years of classes vs rotations?
  • Most challenging class/rotation?
  • What was your favorite class/rotation?
  • How did you deal with the stress of school? What was your support system?
  • Difference after graduating – internship + residency
  • How do you get into different specialties?
  • How do you take the next steps after graduation?
  • What would you have changed looking back now?

Click Here to Register

7 Things to Know About Busy Season

It’s that time of year when everything in a koi pond is awake and active. Parasites bloom, tumors grow, fish create waste and filters need to handle it. For those of you who do not get an inside look at our hospital, here’s what you need to know about busy season:

  1. Please remember, we have only one veterinarian. We will be making plans to change this as soon as possible. This is not a specialty that many veterinarians can handle even at a basic level at this point.
  2. Our one veterinarian is hardly ever in the office. She’s out seeing ponds and tanks every single day. We have put in place a great staff to handle small questions and appointment scheduling, but they are not veterinarians.
  3. Our one veterinarian cannot take calls from the road. Taking calls means writing things down. Her memory is not that good to remember every thing you said. This cannot be accomplished without getting in a horrible car crash. We like our veterinarian and would like to keep her around a long time. So, no calls while on the road is a hard rule.
  4. If you want help fast, call our office and do not email us. Our phone number is (831) 346-6151. Our answering service will sometimes answer. This is because we are on the phone with someone else. Please answer the questions they ask. If you refuse to answer their questions and just demand a call back, we are not as enthusiastic to respond. Our veterinarian’s email gets checked twice a day, if you’re lucky. Any emails regarding questions or appointments is forwarded to our hospital staff.
  5. We are very sorry we cannot give out free advice. We understand that we are a uniquely specialized veterinary hospital, and we have cheap phone and email consultation options in place. These cannot take the place of a face-to-face visit and we have limited options with these interactions. However, if you are trying to get around the fees of our hospital or another fish veterinarian, we will pass you along to another service. In our area, the next closest fish veterinarian is in Davis, CA or San Diego, CA. That’s pretty much it for all of California and we are the only ones who will come to you. We advise you do not make our jobs any harder. Berating or yelling profanity at our staff will result in immediate cessation of all future services.
  6. Our staff cannot perform magic. We can get you many more answers than your regular veterinarian, but we do not have God-like powers. As much as we wish we did, not all problems can be solved with a simple shot. Sometimes, illnesses and injuries take time and money to make right. If you have questions about a prognosis or procedure, please ask! If you ask the same question again and again, we will not change our answer.
  7. A simple ‘thank you’ and common courtesy go a long way. This applies to all walks of life, but we sure notice when a client is friendly. It makes our days better when we are running about returning calls, following up on lab results and trying to fit in all the pet fish between Santa Rosa and Fresno (234 miles).

We appreciate all of our clients and ask that you please be patient with us! Busy season will not last forever (at least that’s what we tell ourselves daily). Here’s to happy, healthy fish!

The Princess and the Pond

In every veterinarian’s career, there will come cases that try us mentally, physically and emotionally. For us here at Aquatic Veterinary Services, we have been tested by a case that we battled for almost 6 months. What started as a simple lesion steamrolled into a serious bacteria problem for multiple large koi.

Princess, a 28″ kohaku koi, had been moved with 5 of her pondmates from Redding last fall down to Carmel. Early in their acclimation, one of the koi got sucked up into the filtration and was killed. The fish were moved temporarily to another pond for a few weeks before the problem could be fixed and the fish returned. One of Princess’s cohorts, Whitey, started to have a small red spot on her nose. In addition, Princess started to have a red mark next to her left pectoral fin. Physical exams showed a penetrating pectoral ulcer on Princess’s left pectoral muscle. Princess received an antibiotic injection and would receive a re-check in a few weeks.

Princess (left) & Whitey (right)

A few weeks later, Princess’s wound had not improved and now Whitey also had signs of a nasty ulcer on her right pectoral muscle. A culture was taken from Whitey’s wound and the owner elected to treat with an aggressive 8-hour dose of potassium permanganate. Due to the high algae load in the pond, the first PP treatment required two smaller, follow up doses in order to keep the pond purple for the full treatment. Even with the treatment, the fishes’ wounds did not start to improve. In fact, two other fish in the pond were starting to show signs of a persistent infection. One had fractured a fin ray that caused a massive hole and the other’s eyes started bulging out.

Well, when the culture results arrived, we found out why the fish were not responding. Two drugs, out of the dozen processed, would be able to kill the Aeromonas spp. present. Two, out of a panel of twelve. One of the drugs would cause kidney failure if used at too high a dose. The other was only available as a powder for oral dosing. We were able to make up a medicated feed with the powder, but unfortunately, the fish decided that it was not to their liking. Some drugs are very noxious and fish will not eat them, even when we try to hide them with flavorings. So, that left us with one drug, but only one dose taking careful weight measurements so as not to incite kidney failure. All 5 fish in the pond received injectable medications.

Did it work? Not really. Many of these drugs require repeat doses in order to be truly effective. At this point, we were left with very, very few options. This is the part where I stay awake at night thinking, ‘what else can I do?’ Thankfully, when we were trying to come up with some sort of alternative plan, the powder antibiotic was finally available as an injectable! We bought as many vials as we could and we managed three rounds of injectable meds.

Keep in mind that all of these injections were done in the pond without sedation. We also had to give all of these fish physical exams every visit, without sedation. You try holding a 25 lbs slippery rocket made of pure muscle and see how long you get to stab it with a needle. I am so proud of myself that I was able to give these fish the care that they needed with the limited options we had available.

Long story short: every fish is now on the mend. Are they healed entirely? No, not yet, but all of the wounds are showing great signs of proper healing. Thanks to their very patient owner and our unwillingness to give up. These cases don’t come around very often, but when they do, we are so glad to report a happy ending for this pond.

Rocky: The Rock-Eating Catfish

Meet Rocky…

As you can plainly see, Rocky has been a naughty little catfish and decided to eat something he wasn’t supposed to. In this case, the rocky substrate on the bottom of his tank. The only way to get them out? Open our shovelnose catfish friend up and take them out surgically.

Here we have the whole team working together to get the rocks out of Rocky. Sara (at top) was in charge on monitoring Rocky’s anesthetic level. We learned during this surgery that catfish go much deeper than koi or goldfish with our usual anesthetic levels. After a few adjustments with fresh water, Rocky was good for the rest of surgery.

Here, Dr. Sanders sutures closed Rocky’s stomach after all the rocks are removed. A few actually fell out of his mouth while we were manipulating the stomach.

Here’s a small portion of the rocks we removed. Look familiar to you fish tank owners?

And here Rocky is, post-surgery, in his recovery tank. He floats a lot better now! In total we took out 2/3 lbs of rocks. Rocky’s sutures will be in for 10-14 days and then they will be removed.

UPDATE: Unfortunately, Rocky’s home recovery did not go well. His tank mates thought that his sutures looked like tasty treats and tried to nibble his incision open! Rocky returned to our hospital for a re-suturing and will complete his recovery away from his obnoxious tankmates.

Behind the Story: Boo & Bubbles

What does every kid want? A pet! Warm and fluffy or wet and scaly, a childhood pet is an essential tool for developing compassion and personal growth. Not to mention tons of fun! Who among us does not have fond memories of their favorite pet? Personally, I grew up with cats, dogs and fish and it turned into my career! Learning how to properly welcome a new kitten into the family started a spark that grew into a veterinary education. I had a friend for life, even though we had to say good-bye. No matter the pet, children can greatly benefit from being the main caregiver of a dependent animal.

A young Dr. Sanders reading to her best kitty friend, Frisco

A young Dr. Sanders reading to her best kitty friend, Frisco

Here enters Boo & Bubbles. Not all families can accept a fuzzy pet into their homes, so what about a fish? Fish are very smart and personable companions, even if they can never leave their underwater homes. My specialty in the veterinary community is treating pet fish. Owners can be as connected to their underwater pets as those that sleep in their beds next to them. It is my responsibility to my clients to understand this relationship and provide them with the best veterinary care and education available. Very few veterinarians are willing to even examine a fish, so I have tried to make myself as widespread as possible. In writing this book, I hope to inspire children and families to accept a fish into their home like any other pet, with proper planning and consideration.

Dr. Sanders performing surgery on a koi

Dr. Sanders performing surgery on a koi

The first installment of the Boo & Bubbles series touches on how to properly set up a fish tank for the first time. The main character, Boo, loves playing underwater and wants a friend to enjoy the water with her. Her pet cat, George, does not appreciate getting wet, so Boo asks her Mom to help her adopt a pet goldfish. We follow the story of picking her new fish, Bubbles, up from the pet store, transport home and all the assembly of Bubbles’ new home. Following books in this series are already in the works. Book two, planned for production in February 2017, will illustrate how a fish can get sick and what goes into properly caring for a wet pet. Books three and four will educate on how to add another fish to the system and transporting an entire ecosystem to a new, larger tank. This complete series will be a great asset to the entire fish-keeping community and inspire a new generation to appreciate the underwater world. This book is a great gift idea for any child who is a fan of the Finding Nemo & Dory series.


For more information about the Boo & Bubbles book series, please see our website.

Books can be purchased through our sister company, Santa Cruz Koi. Come on down to our store at (4061B Soquel Dr, Soquel, CA 95073) or order online.

Fancy Goldfish Float Backpack

Some fancy goldfish can lead long, healthy, normal lives. Others, like their over-bred cat and dog compatriots, can develop genetic disorders that have no ideal treatment. Meet our little buddy, Rusty (top):


Back when he was little, he had no issues. Swimming and eating normally, being a happy little fish with his tankmates, Cupcake (bottom right) and Zhen Zhen (bottom left). However, a few months ago, we noted that Rusty was having trouble getting to the top of his tank. This progressed to where he started to lie on his side on the bottom for long periods of time. He was able to swim up to the top for meals, and eventually graduated to hand feeding.


In order to better see what was going on inside Rusty, we set up an appointment for x-rays. What we found was that his swim bladder had shifted to one side of his body, and due to his increasing size and girth, made it impossible for the swim bladder to inflate enough.


So, for a long-term solution, we needed to figure out a way to help Rusty swim. We have rigged temporary suspension systems for goldfish before, but never as a potential long-term treatment. The little guy pictured below had undergone neurologic damage secondary to a severe ammonia spike. A couple of weeks on the float, and he was able to recover.


This guy was rigged up using a block of styrofoam and a length of suture through his back. However, this was only a temporary setup. Rusty’s would have to be more long-term. So, our vet team sprung into action!


A small strip of plastic was threaded through Rusty’s dorsal fin and tied behind his pectoral fins. Several attempts had to be made in order to find a place where the strap would stay on and not interfere with his swimming. Then, a small sytrofoam peanut, donated by UPS Store #6455 in the same plaza as Aquatic Veterinary Services, was tied onto the strap.


Obviously, one peanut is much to buoyant for this tiny fish, so the peanut was gradually trimmed down.


For right now, he is still a little too positively buoyant, but our vet staff wanted to give him some time to get used to his new apparatus before learning to swim again. You can come meet Rusty at our Scales & Tails event this Saturday from 5p-9p. For more information, please see our Event Page.

We will keep you updated on his progress!


Scales & Tails: Saturday, December 10th 5pm-9pm



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