The Secret to Getting More Fish Clients

The Secret to Getting More Fish Clients

Hello fellow Veterinarians.

I know a lot of you out there are interested in seeing fish patients, but don’t know where to start. Getting training can be a little daunting, but check out our Aquatic Education Resources page. Once you have the skills, it’s super easy to start seeing clients. Aside from some drugs, nets and buckets, you have everything else you need already! Here’s the secret to increasing your fish clients:

Put a fish tank in your waiting room.

Yes, that is it. I suggest you keep it simple. A basic 10 gallon tank with a few tropical fish or 1-2 goldfish and some decor is all you need. Since most pet fish are kept in multi-pet households with dogs and cats, you already know who your clients are. When anyone asks about the tank, have your staff tell them you see pet fish.

Tah dah!

Don’t think fish are worth your time? Well, let’s look at the numbers:

Total Number of Pets Owned in the U.S. (millions)

Bird                               20.3
Cat                                94.2
Dog                               89.7
Horse                            7.6
Freshwater Fish        139.3
Saltwater Fish           18.8
Reptile                         9.4
Small Animal             14.0

Although only 12.5 million households own fish compared to 94 and 90 million households for cats and dogs, respectively, the total number of potential fish patients is significantly more than any other pet. And most pet fish are IN households with cats and dogs!

Why not add fish? It’s certainly worth your time.

Find your best resources below:

American Association of Fish Veterinarians

World Aquatic Veterinary Medical Association

AQUAVET

Wet Vet Weekend

Aquatic Veterinary Education Resources

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How to Be a Fish Vet

How to Be a Fish Vet

One of the most common questions I get as an aquatic veterinarian is, “how did you end up in this field?” Well, I got my start very early. I was one of those annoying kids who always knew I wanted to be a veterinarian. (For more info on my background, check out our “Why a Fish Vet” post). To be a veterinarian, you have a very stringent list of events that must occur.

One of our very first patients
  1. You MUST get good grades in undergrad.
  2. You MUST go to veterinary school.
  3. You MUST find a job as a vet.

And that’s it. That’s how you become a veterinarian.

But what about an aquatic veterinarian? Is there a protocol for that? Well, if you want to be an aquarium veterinarian or work with mammals, there are a few extra steps.

4. Intern for 1 year in small or large animal medicine and surgery.

5. Intern for 1 year in an aquarium or zoo.

6. Receive one of the rare residencies in aquarium/zoo medicine and spend 3 years working.

7. Sit for and PASS the board certification in zoological veterinary medicine.

Again, a very straight forward process, but you MUST stand out among numerous applicants. If not, you’ll miss a step and then be out of luck.

At our first official office

And then there’s my little niche: private practice. Any veterinarian can go into private practice the day after they graduate veterinary school. This is very different from medical school where all students must specialize in some field. My sister went from medical school to a general surgery residency and is almost to her 5th and final year. But veterinarians can go straight to seeing patients without any additional training. Most students will do at least a one year internship to build up their confidence, and a majority of my veterinary class did just that. I, however, did not. I moved to California to get a taste of something other than New England living and started looking for a “normal” veterinary job. I figured I could build up someone else’s practice by adding my fish services to their own. Well, 6 months later after a few interviews and one very sad job offer, I started considering what to do next. I knew there was a lot of fish in the area and I had potentially unlimited clients since NO ONE saw fish unless you drove them to Davis. So, I found a bank, lawyer, accountant, applied for the proper licenses and started figuring out what to do. In doing basically what no other veterinarian had successfully done before, I am hopefully making it significantly easier for the next person to follow my lead. Learn from my mistakes!! I’ve made many in the last 5 years and will continue to do so. I know that in following a career path with no blueprint, I will stumble, I will fail spectacularly, and I will learn what not to do.

So here are the steps to becoming a fish vet:

  1. Get good grades in undergrad. Maybe try a major other than veterinary science or biology. (I had a B.S. in Marine Biology and minors in Computer Science and General Business. A GPA of
    Dr. Sanders working on her senior honors thesis at URI. Fun with vats of sea monkeys.
  2. 3.59 and graduated with honors magna cum laude.)
  3. Go to veterinary school. (I still think the only reason I got into Tufts is because I was the one weird fish kid. Diversity is your friend! Don’t be afraid to be weird!)
  4. Learn something about fish before you graduate. (A lot of veterinary programs do not teach much about fish. Tufts had two afternoon lectures, the second of which I skipped because I was so BORED!! You can get more fish learning in summer programs like AQUAVET and MARVET. Or just go to a school with an awesome fish program.)
  5. Start working with animals. (When you interview, tell your potential employer that you can bring in more clients by adding fish! It only takes a few extra supplies.)
  6. If no one wants to hire you, go to work anyway. (Don’t let your education go to waste! There are lots of fishy positions open in education, regulatory and government agencies. Be creative! Start your own private veterinary practice like I did. It is scary but worth it.)
  7. DON’T EVER GIVE UP.
My bright orange fish car, that has yet to cause an accident, and my AQUAVET mug.

Mycobacteria in Fish

Over the last few months, our office has seen several cases of mycobacteria. Never heard of it before? Well, here’s everything you need to know:

Mycobacteria in Fish

Depending on your fish experience, you may have heard a lot or very little about the potential dangers of mycobacterial infections. This disease can be very hard to diagnose without proper pathology processing and can persist in seemingly healthy systems for years. Clinical signs are very vague and can be augmented by other problems with your tank. Of all the diseases fish can potentially contract, this one can be passed onto HUMANS. Due to the severity of this disease, we’re here to set the record straight and make sure all fish owners know the ins and outs of this disease.

What is mycobacteria?

Mycobacteria is most commonly associated with tuberculous. It persists in almost all aquatic environments as a non-harmful environmental contaminant. Some species, however, can infect fish, including M. marinum, M. fortuitum and M. chelonae. M. marinum can be found in both freshwater and marine environments. It is spread through direct contact and release from the internal organs post-death.

What are the clinical signs of infection with mycobacteria?

Unfortunately, the clinical signs of a mycobacteria infection are very vague. It is most commonly associated with wasting, loss of body condition, lethargy and anorexia. Other signs include scale loss, skin ulcers, a dropsy-like appearance, reproductive problems and a host of secondary infections.

How is a mycobacterial infection diagnosed?

Mycobacteria is diagnosed in fish through a biopsy of internal organs sent to an aquatic pathologist. There are no tests that can confirm mycobacteria in live fish at this time. The presence of mycobacteria is confirmed using an acid-fast stain.

What treatments are available for mycobacteria?

The saddest part of this infection is that no treatments are available for a mycobacteria infection. Fish can persist with this bacteria in low stress environments with good water quality, but will eventually succumb to the disease. It is recommended the entire system be decontaminated with a carefully selected disinfectant that will penetrate the mycobacteria. Not all disinfectants will work with mycobacteria. Prevention is key through proper quarantine and possibly sacrificing some individuals for histopathology screening.

Is mycobacteria dangerous to humans?

Yes. This is one of the fish diseases that can be passed onto humans. Although the disease is rarely life-threatening, the bacteria can easily enter any open cuts or sores that are placed in tank water. Take proper precautions and avoid contact with tank water and do not allow other pets to drink the water.

What do I do if I think my fish may be infected?

It is extremely important that mycobacterial infections be diagnosed as early as possible. Contact your local aquatic veterinarian or aquatic pathologist to get your fish tested. (https://aquavetmed.info or https://fishvets.org) Remember, there is no testing available for live fish, so you may need to sacrifice a sick individual to confirm.

References

Francis-Floyd, R. 2011. Mycobacterial Infections of Fish. Southern Regional Aquaculture Center.

Francis-Floyd, R & R Yanong. 1999. Mycobacteriosis in Fish. University of Florida IFAS Extension.

Five Years of Fish Fun

Five Years of Fish Fun

Five years to the day, something that has never been done before got started. The FIRST veterinarian to pursue an all-aquatic veterinary practice, not on the side or part of a previously established veterinary practice, opened her clinic doors. No one had ever heard of this specialty before. Not in California or many other states. And not only a veterinarian, but a traveling one that could show up and take care of things pond or tank-side. We didn’t have a single client for over 2 months. Our first year, we had 53 appointments for 29 clients. We now have over 350 clients and almost 50 appointments in our first two months, even with our chief vet being out for 3 weeks. Our range started with Santa Cruz and Santa Clara counties. We now cover 22 counties and have traveled as far north as Roseville and south as Torrance. That’s 420 miles of 800 miles total for California! We never mind the far drives. We know how important our services are to fish owners everywhere!

Our staff has grown from a one-person operation to a two business hospital/store with 5 total employees. Expertly trained by our veterinary leader, this staff is a wealth of fish knowledge and can solve most common husbandry problems without veterinary intervention. Our hospital manager, Sara, is started on her vet tech degree, and can triage most callers issues before the vet even knows about them. Our answering service is an amazing addition to our team. They talk to our callers and can send us a detailed summary of all the calls coming into the hospital. It allows us to filter these through and decide which calls get priority. When we started, we got a call or two per week. Now, there are days when our phones don’t stop ringing. We just can’t get to everyone at once, so the answering service helps us out immeasurably.

And don’t forget our publications! Our children’s book series, Boo & Bubbles, was started to make sure that families had all the correct information regarding adopting a pet fish. We see countless instances where some prior knowledge or general help with basic husbandry issues could have solved problems swiftly. Our first book, Boo & Bubbles, addresses tank setup, bringing your fish home from the store and acclimation. The second, Boo & Bubbles: A Visit from the Fish Vet, covers maintenance and what to do when your fish gets sick. It is the first appearance of a fish veterinarian in literature. The third, to be available this coming April, will cover quarantine and adding fish to the same system. This is a very accessible children’s series that needs to be a part of any new fish family’s library. Our koi book, Healthy Koi Made Easy, just came out with its second publication, updated with new pictures and chapters. This highly accessible koi manual covers all topics new and seasoned fish owners should know, including water quality, signs of disease and quarantine. It is available in softcover, PDF and on Kindle.

It has been a very challenging five years since our inception. We are attempting a business model with no plans or blueprint. Other veterinarians have tried aquatic medicine and settled on making it a side profession. We are modifying that plan and paving the way for future veterinarians to bring aquatic practice into their hospitals in any way possible. All fish deserve high quality veterinary care, and we will make sure it happens. In the last five years, our company his made a lasting impact on the veterinary profession, and we will continue to do so for the next 5, 10, 20, 50, 100 years and on.

Thank you for your support.

Dr. Sanders at the 2014 ZNA NorCal koi show meeting all the wonderful fellow koi enthusiasts