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

Q & A with Fish Veterinarian

Q & A with Fish Veterinarian

Q & A with a Fish Veterinarian

Jessie Sanders, DVM, CertAqV
Jessie Sanders, DVM, CertAqV

We had a chance to sit down with Dr. Jessie Sanders, chief veterinarian at Aquatic Veterinary Services of Northern California, to ask her a little about her job and career.

Q: Why did you want to be a fish veterinarian?

JS: I have always had a deep love of water and animals. I knew from when I was very young that I wanted to be a veterinarian. I did my undergraduate degree in Marine Biology and was fascinated with the animals that lived underwater. During my college years, I had the amazing opportunity to volunteer for Mystic Aquarium’s fish and invertebrate department. I had so much fun helping take care of the animals in their collection and always wanted to learn more. I followed their veterinary team closely and always wanted to be more involved in advanced animal care. From those volunteer hours, I figured out that I wanted to be an aquatic veterinarian.

Q: Where did you learn how to be a fish veterinarian?

JS: I attended Tufts University for my veterinary degree. Their exotic program was limited and they only had 2 lecture hours on fish medicine, so I was forced to create my own curriculum. I attended AQUAVET, a summer program for veterinary students on aquatic medicine offered through the University of Pennsylvania and Cornell University, and MARVET, another summer program offered through St. Matthew’s on Grand Cayman. During my senior year of veterinary school, students are encouraged to take externships off campus with other veterinary organizations. I had the privilege of working with the veterinary staff at SeaWorld Orlando, the Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito, CA, back at Mystic Aquarium and with Aquatic Veterinary Services of Western New York.

Q: How did you get your job?

JS: After veterinary school, I moved from Massachusetts out to California. I looked around for a “normal” veterinary job in a small or large animal general practice and came up empty after 6 months of searching. Seeing that there was a very large aquatic community in the central California coast area, I started my own mobile practice.

Q: How did you start your practice?

Our mobile unit
Our mobile unit

JS: With the mobile practice, it did not take much to get up and running. My mentor, Dr. Helen Sweeney, of Aquatic Veterinary Services of Western New York, gave me a detailed list of all the equipment I would need and a great database of fish medicine resources. Once I collected my equipment and filed for a business license, I was up and running in March of 2013.

Q: What type of fish do you treat?

JS: I treat everything that swims, including frogs and turtles! My main client base are koi and goldfish owners. Koi and goldfish are very hardy species and a very common pet in this area.

Q: How do you treat fish?

JS: We treat fish just as you would a cat or a dog, but with a few differences. Most of our exams start with catching the fish out of the tank or pond and putting them in a separate tub with some sedation. I am an excellent fish catcher thanks to years of practice. With the sedation, it is much less stressful for the fish to be handled since they are not used to it like a cat or dog. Once they are relaxed and sleepy, I can examine their outsides for any signs of disease and take samples of their skin and gills. These samples go under a microscope that I bring on the road with me.

Q: What about advanced treatment, like surgery?

Our in-house surgical setup
Our in-house surgical setup

JS: Fish can undergo surgery like any other animal. We mix the anesthetic into the water instead of aerosolizing it. My surgical assistant holds a tube in the fish’s mouth that pumps the water over its gills, keeping it asleep while I do the surgery. From a simple bump removal to invasive abdominal surgery, we’re equipped to handle it all.

Q: Why would you need to open a fish’s abdomen?

JS: My main species, koi, are prone to large tumors in their abdomens (coeloms). The only way to get them out is surgical removal. These tumors can be quite large, sometimes half the weight of the entire fish!

Q: What is a typical appointment like for a home visit?

Water testing while patient looks on
Water testing while patient looks on

JS: Like any other veterinary appointment, we start with getting a history on the current issue. Sometimes, it is just a simple health screening, where there are no current issues, but the owner wants to prevent them down the line. Other times, I will get called in to look at a particular fish or a few. We go over how the fish has been behaving, the duration, any past health issues, diet and water quality. I will commonly do water quality screenings during every visit, to make sure that whatever is going on with the fish is not augmented by poor water quality. Then, I will catch the affected fish and put them in the sedation tub for their exam. Small fish, such as bettas and goldfish, I can hold in one hand, so they usually do not require anesthesia. Affected fish will receive a full physical and any immediate treatment they require. Sometimes, we will take an unaffected fish out of the pond to compare to the sick fish. After the exams, we discuss the course of treatment with the owner and any improvements to their system that need to be made.

Welcome New Staff!

Please extend a warm welcome to our newest staff members! Aquatic Veterinary Services has grown from a one person operation to three!

Sara Spear, Hospital Manager

Jessie & Sarah April 5 2014

Sara joins us in our hospital and will be managing all of our in-house patients. After spending two years with us as a volunteer assistant, Sara will be moving up to manage phones, fish and interns. Welcome Sara!

Leslie Cole, Retail Manager


Leslie brings exceptional experience to our new koi retail store, Santa Cruz Koi. Leslie will be managing all of its inventory and staff. Thank you Leslie for sharing in this new endeavor. Welcome Leslie!

In a few weeks, we will be posting positions for our retail sales staff. If you are interested and would like to learn more, please email Leslie at

Reminder this Weekend: UC Davis Pre-professional/pre-health Conference

Dr. Sanders as an undergraduate student
Dr. Sanders as an undergraduate student

Interested in learning more about pre-health and pre-professional programs? Well, you’re in luck! This weekend, the University of California Davis is putting on a great program for all students interested in all medical fields. There will be panels on different specialties within each field in addition to talks on admissions and interviews.

Our very own, Dr. Jessie Sanders, will be speaking at two different panels during the conference:

1) Saturday 10/11, 2:00pm-2:45pm – Uncommon Veterinarians Panel (Shalm)

2) Saturday 10/11, 4:00pm-4:45pm – Aquatic Vet Med (Valley Hall 1020)

For more information, check out their website. Click here for the full conference program.

Hope to see you there!

Central CA Koi Society Meeting TODAY!

Dr. Jessie Sanders will be presenting at the Central California Koi Society in Fresno, CA at 2pm this afternoon. If you are in the area, we hope you can join us! For more information, please visit the Central CA Koi Society webpage.

Pond Tour TODAY!

Pond Tour TODAY!

Koi Abdominal Surgery

Please join us from 9am-4pm today for the Santa Clara Valley Koi & Water Garden Club Pond tour! There are 6 great ponds for you to check out and explore. Our very own, Dr. Jessie Sanders, will be stationed at Pond F on Mojave Dr to showcase one of our surgical patients. Last March, one of the fish in this pond underwent surgical removal of a gonadal sarcoma. We were able to get the whole thing on video. Click here to check it out and then come see him today! For more information, check out the Santa Clara Koi & Water Garden Club home page.

Article in KOI USA – The World of a Fish Vet

Article in KOI USA – The World of a Fish Vet

So, for those of you who do not receive KOI USA magazine, they have given me permission to post it here on our website. If you are not subscribed to KOI USA, I highly suggest doing so. Not only do they have lots of fun fish articles, other interest areas surrounding the hobby, such as landscaping and travel, are also highlighted.

KOI USA 1 KOI USA 2 KOI USA 3Thanks again to the great folks at KOI USA for letting me contribute! I hope to do this many more times in the future, so subscribe today!

The World of A Fish Vet in KOI USA

The World of A Fish Vet in KOI USA

Check out Dr. Jessie Sanders’s article in the Nov/Dec issue of KOI USA!

KOI USA Article

Unfortunately, there will be no fish of the week this week, but if you need something to read, check out this month’s newsletter: