Read along with us as we share our exceptional surgery cases!
Lemon is a ranchu goldfish who was adopted with a slight oral deformity. Once day, when going after a large pellet, one side of her mouth luxated and obstructed her oral cavity. Dr. Sanders was able to correct the injury with a few well-placed sutures and Lemon was able to recover. Read more about her story here.
We don’t know why he did it, but Rocky, a shovelnose catfish, decided that the rocks at the bottom of his tank looked particularly tasty. He ended up eating almost a pound of them and they got stuck in his stomach. Dr. Sanders performed surgery to open the stomach and remove the rocks. Read more about Rocky here.
Our buddy Sparky presented with a HUGE tumor on his eye. Rather than trying to cut the tumor away from the delicate cornea, Dr. Sanders elected to remove the eye. Sparky healed up great and you can never even tell an eye was there to begin with. Read his full story here.
Other than constipated goldfish, “swim bladder disease” is a very common home diagnosis. Or the more common vernacular, “My fish has swim bladder.”
Well, all fish have swim bladders, so that fact is correct, but it is not a disease. “Swim bladder disease” is most common in goldfish and koi, with a high percentage in fancy varieties of goldfish. For 99% of koi, swim bladder disease is caused by poor water quality. I have had one case of actual swim bladder disease in ONE case, shown below.
For this koi, her swim bladder is full of an sterile, non-cellular fluid. We don’t know why this happened, but it causes her to scoot around on her belly. But this is our ONE case of an actual swim bladder issue in a koi. We have had two instances of koi with tertiary swim bladders, but not causing any clinical signs.
For goldfish, 90% of our “swim bladder” cases are lethargy secondary to poor water quality. Most of our actual swim bladder cases are fancy goldfish with most likely structural deficiencies. We’ve illustrated this point previously with our case on red moor, Huxley. Compare this comet x-ray below…
To these fancy goldfish…
Goldfish are supposed to have a two chambered swim bladder, but due to their anatomy, these fancy varieties have limited space in their coelomic cavities. This sets them up for buoyancy issues from birth.
Goldfish and koi are also physostomous fish, meaning that they inflate their swim bladders by having a pneumatic duct between their esophagus and swim bladder. When they eat at the surface, it encourages air to enter the swim bladder. This is the main reason we see swim bladder issues. Goldfish are voracious eaters and if too much air gets sucked in, they can have positive buoyancy issues.
Fish with negative buoyancy may not have enough room in their body to support a larger swim bladder. However, being negatively buoyant is much safer than positively buoyant. Fish stuck at the surface are prone to air ulcerations where the skin starts to break down by being exposed to long periods of air.
External floats, such as those praised on YouTube, must be designed with the fish’s external surface in mind. Anything that rubs up against the skin will disrupt the protective mucus coat and cause secondary infection. Any float attachment will be TEMPORARY. We only apply them to get fish the surface to naturally inflate their swim bladder. We can take air out surgically, but we cannot add it in case the swim bladder ruptures.
If your fish is showing signs of negative or positive buoyancy, CHECK YOUR WATER QUALITY FIRST. Only 10% of our goldfish cases are primarily caused by the swim bladder. The other 90% are water quality, diet, maintenance or bullying/trauma. Do NOT add a float without proper surgical prep in order to minimize infection.
Keeping fish couldn’t be simpler! Get tank, add water and then add fish, right? Well, I’m sorry to say it just isn’t that easy. Here are the 10 top mistakes that all new fish owners make.
Not learning about fish prior to getting them.
You wouldn’t get a dog or a cat without some prior knowledge about what to expect, would you? Well, maybe you would, but it is not recommended. Just like adding a furry member to the family, do your research about your fish way before you purchase a tank. Once you know what kind of fish you want and how much maintenance you’re willing to do on a regular basis, you’ll know what size tank to get and what features you’ll need. Read up on what your fish will need to eat, how often and if all the fish you want will even get along in the same system.
Adding fish too early.
When you first start your system, it’s a clean slate. Brand new from the pet store, you excitedly want to fill it to the brim with fish. Do this, and your fish are guaranteed to die. New tanks need to cycle for a few days without anything in them to make sure that all the decor has been rinsed. Then, it’s time to start culturing your biologic filtration. Your biologic filtration is made up of millions of tiny bacteria living on your filter media pads, substrate and many other nooks and crevices. Best part is, they’re free! Your fish bring them with you when you add them; the trick is to start with a very low load of fish to get things started first. You can try adding bacterial starter, but with few exceptions, these are just a waste of money. Unless you are starting with pre-started media from another system, it will take 4-6 weeks to establish your filters.
Feeding too much.
All pet owners feed their pets their love. Cats, dogs and even fish can become obese very easily. It is harder for fish, since they use energy constantly to swim, but can happen all the same. If you are concerned about the amount of food your fish are getting, you can try to estimate the total weight of your fish and calculate an exact dose, or just feed slowly over a few minutes until they stop eating. Unlike your Labrador retriever, they will stop when they’re full.
Not testing your water.
Especially in the beginning, testing your water can be a frightening experience. Your ammonia will shoot up and keep climbing until your biologic filters are established. Regular water changes will help this from getting out of hand. Even if your tank is established, testing your water regularly will be a good indicator of how well you are maintaining your system. You should be testing the following parameters regularly: ammonia, nitrite, nitrate, pH, kH and temperature. Salinity is a must for any marine or brackish system. If you’d like more information about water quality, check out this quick reference sheet or our recorded webinar.
Not doing regular tank maintenance.
You didn’t think a fish tank would be any work? Sorry to tell you, but it’s just as much work as a fluffy pet. You need to take care of your system regularly by vacuuming up poop and debris, rinsing your filters to achieve adequate flow and changing out a percentage of the water. Here’s a helpful checklist of everything you need to do on a daily, weekly, monthly and yearly schedule.
Not storing your food properly.
Fish food loses a significant amount of nutritional value if stored improperly. Keep it in an airtight container out of the sun at room temperature. Toss any remaining food after 6 months, since after that time, most of the good water-soluble vitamins are gone. It does notmake sense to buy food in bulk unless you are able to repackage it in a vacuum bag. Learn more about fish food in our awesome webinar.
Not understanding filtration.
In the fish world, some bacteria are good. The nitrogen-fixing bacteria that live in your biological filtration (sponges/matting) help your fish live happy lives. So why would you throw out your filter media every month? The box told you to? Well, ignore the box. By tossing your filter media every month, you are only causing more problems and making more profit for filtration companies. Yes, they may look dirty, but it’s OKAY!! By making your filters pristine once a month, you are doing more harm than good.
Worrying too much about algae.
Fish tank = algae. Sorry, but there’s just no better home for algae than in a fish tank. Over time, your algae colonies will change depending on what your system behaves. As long as your tank doesn’t look like a giant hairball, your fish are probably fine. A quick, daily scrub will take care of most of it, but without a UV filter, it will just settle somewhere else. If you have a LOT of algae, try to cut down on its food source by feeding your fish less (see point above) or doing more water changes. Maybe try some aquatic plants to put those nutrients somewhere else? Algae will use the light to breathe during the day, but at night, it can suck the oxygen out of your water! Make sure to have adequate aeration so your fish don’t have to compete.
Rely too much on internet searches.
If it’s on the internet, it must be true, right? Well, sorry to tell all those two-headed alien babies that not everything you read on the internet is true. I’m sure everyone is looking out for your best interests, but a lot of these “home remedies” are untested with only one subject. Even in the same species, not all fish act the same and “normal” can vary widely across the 30,000+ species in the fish kingdom. Many of these quick fixes will help with the visual issue, but do not treat anything underlying that cannot be seen, such as husbandry and water quality. Always approach “miracle” cures on the internet with some skepticism.
Not asking for help when you’re in over your head.
No matter where you live, there is a professional who can help. Be they an expert hobbyist, maintenance company or veterinarian, there is someone who can help you! Don’t give up and throw in the towel! Our office covers California and Nevada, but there are fish veterinarians all over the world, ready to help you! If you think it’s a stupid question, I guarantee we’ve heard it before. We are just here to help! Call now! (831) 728-7000
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!
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!
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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Follow those rules and your fish will thank you! Being healthy and disease free is the way to be, no matter what your species!
A few months ago, we first met Huxley and Darwin. They are both moor goldfish with big, bulging eyes and short, stubby bodies. Huxley is red and Darwin is black. When they first presented, Darwin had a growth on his dorsal fin and Huxley was on his belly at the bottom of the tank. A quick water test reveled that their water had a low pH, high ammonia and very low kH (alkalinity). This is commonly referred to as Old Tank Syndrome. Usually caused by a lack of maintenance, this case was compounded by the source water with a low kH as well. Darwin had the mass along his fin removed and changes to the maintenance procedure were made.
A few months later, Huxley (red moor) presented for lying on his side, a change from his belly-sitting behavior previously. Knowing the issues fancy goldfish can suffer with their anatomy, Huxley’s owner brought him to Westside Animal Hospital in Santa Cruz, CA who we partner with to perform radiographs, also known as x-rays. To perform radiographs on fish, they are sedated using a water-soluble drug, then picked up out of the water and positioned on a plastic sheet on the radiograph table. We use plastic bags and bubble wrap to make little slings to keep them straight up and down. They are only out of the water for approximately 20-30 seconds and then returned to the sedation water while the radiographs process. Here is what we found for little Huxley…
There’s a lot going on in these radiographs, and can be very confusing for those of us who have never seen an animal radiograph before, let alone one of a fish. Here are some more fancy goldfish for reference…
And here’s a comet goldfish for comparison…
All fancy varieties of goldfish originally descended from the standard comet goldfish. Can you see how their anatomy has changed to suit their external appearance? Most notable is the swim bladder. Fish have internal air balloons called a swim bladder that helps them maintain neutral buoyancy. Most carp species, including koi and goldfish, have a cranial and caudal air sac. You may note in the fancy radiographs, they only have one or in Rusty’s case, one almost on top of the other. It is completely normal for fancy goldfish to only have one air bladder, and it may even appear over-inflated. This over-inflation is an adaptation to limited tail movement. These goldfish have been bred for beautiful external features, not room for normal internal anatomy and swimming behavior.
What is most apparent on Huxley’s radiographs is the shape of his spine. Not only does it take an odd “W”-shape appearance, but two vertebrae have luxated (red arrow) or possibly fractured.
Before presenting, although negatively buoyant, Huxley was able to maintain an upright position by using his tail as a kickstand. However, following these radiographs and a neurological exam, Huxley has lost function of his tail and therefore is resigned to stay on his side. His owner is very diligent and has switched his substrate for smooth glass beads that do not irritate Huxley’s skin or grow bacteria. Huxley still has a ravenous appetite and likes hanging out with Darwin.
These cases are always hard for our staff and clients. Huxley will never swim like a normal fish. He will be on his side at the bottom of his tank for the rest of his life. His owner is aware of this and understands his limitations. The decisions concerning these cases are ultimately the owner’s paired with veterinary recommendations.
Fancy goldfish may be very beautiful, but their internal anatomy often causes secondary issues with buoyancy and visual disorders. Many of these bubble eye varieties will scar down from tiny tears. Internal anatomy limitations from external body features can cause swim bladder issues and affect buoyancy. When considering your next fish to adopt, remember that these fancy fish may be hiding a secret inside that may affect their livelihood as they grow bigger.
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.