Top 10 Mistakes New Fish Owners Make – #3

The #3 Mistake – Relying Too Much on Internet Searches

The internet is a wonderful, magical place. Because if it’s published on the internet, it must be true, right? Sorry to tell you, but Dr. Google does not have any sort of medical degree. Have you read all about the magic of tiny green peas and the dreaded dropsy disease? Sorry to tell you, but these are just internet fabrications. The veterinary community is partly at fault, having ignored the plight of fish owners for far too long.

Enter Aquatic Veterinary Services! **Wearing a cape, if a business could.** Our mission is to give you the straight, well-researched facts about all things fishy. Does it cost you anything? NOPE! We have over 200 articles on different fish species, diseases, physiology, water quality, surgery and beyond in our Fish Health 101 section. We have a YouTube channel dedicated to more in-depth information and monthly free webinars open to all. Need to waste 10-20 minutes and want to learn something about fish? Pick out a topic here.

There is some good help on the internet, but always consider the source. What worked for one fish under certain conditions does not work for every fish. Disease does not progress the same in every situation. Over the counter medications are not always what they say they are. There are NO regulators checking up on fish medications on pet store shelves.

If you need more help than our website can provide, call your local fish veterinarian. NEVER attempt treating or performing surgery on your fish or your friends/family pet fish. Visit the American Association of Fish Veterinarians to find a vet near you. If you are in California or Nevada, we’re here to help you directly. Call us at (831) 728-7000.


Preventing Disease in Fish Tanks and Ponds

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

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

Over-Medicating Fish

We have had several instances over the last month of fish being over treated with a wide array of over the counter fish medications. Please read this if you are unfamiliar with how to treat sick fish or do not have much experience.

Overuse of medication in fish can lead to decimation of your biological filter and loss of the protective slime coat on a fish’s skin. This leads to “burns” that can be pink splotches anywhere on a fish’s body. Usually, you will see secondary fungal growth in spots that can no longer fight off the invasion.

The aquatic veterinary industry is different from the small animal pet industry wherein many treatments are available over the counter at your local pet store. If one treatment doesn’t produce the expected results, owners can grab multiple medications, running them in sequence, or even worse, in combination.

If you have a fish that is sick, it is vital to that fish’s survival that you correctly diagnose the disease the first time. You wouldn’t want your doctor reaching for everything in his medicine box just because your nose itches, would you? If you are a new or inexperienced fish keeper, there are many resources available to help correctly treat your pet. This does not mean consult Dr. Google. There are many fish health experts that work in fish-specific online forums. You can also try your local pet store, provided that they have a well seasoned staff and good turnover of their fish and fish-related products.

Once the problem has been diagnosed, make sure that you know how to use your product correctly. Most fish treatments are water-based, meaning that they are mixed in with the tank water. Never, ever apply medication directly to your fish. You will see the same “burns” from over-medication, except now it is a direct chemical burn. Your fish needs to grow a new layer of skin before they will be able to heal the initial reason you treated in the first place. Again, imagine yourself in their place.

No matter where you are located, you can always contact an aquatic veterinarian for guidance. Even though we are located in California, we are happy to discuss fish issues all over the world. To find a local fish professional you can talk to, visit or

Top 5 Mistakes Fish Owners Make – COMPLETE!

Our seminar on the Top 5 Mistakes Fish Owners Make is complete! Catch up on everything you missed:

Watch the Recorded Seminar

Read Our Articles

  1. Too Many Fish
  2. Disorganized Cleaning
  3. Poor Nutrition
  4. Limited Education
  5. Not Recognizing Problems

If you have any additional questions or concerns, please contact our office at (831) 346-6151

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.