Yes, fish need surgery at times. Ever wonder what happens when a fish needs to have an eye removed? Check out this video!
One of the most common questions we get asked is how do fish undergo surgery? Yes, even surgical treatment is available to fish. It can be a simple lump removal all the way through to a full open abdomen procedure. It is simply amazing how well a fish improve from a simple corrective surgery.
Are they awake for the procedure?
Absolutely not! Just like people, cats and dogs are sedated for surgery, so are fish. Rather than using an aerosolized anesthetic, fish are sedated using a water-based anesthetic. Our office uses a compound called MS-222 or Tricaine-S (tricaine methanesulfonate). Other fish vets may use eugenol or clove oil. These compounds produce a safe plane of anesthesia to operate with the fish happily in dreamland. Recovery using clean water usually occurs within 10-30 minutes.
Are the fish underwater when you operate?
No again. For simple external procedures, the fish will lie on one side with the surgical site up in the air. Usually we have an assistant or net hold the fish partially submerged. For open abdomen procedures, we have a specially crafted, acrylic V-shape that fits over a 10-gallon aquarium. An aquarium pump moves water from the reservoir below, through a tube to the fish’s mouth, which then flows over their gills and back down. It is a very simple closed circulation system that works extremely well. (Modified through the amazing work of Drs. Harms & Lewbart). There is one person assigned to this job for the entire surgery and monitors the fish’s anesthetic depth through gill movement and heart rate.
What is the craziest surgery you have ever done?
Well, we do a lot of procedures that are very odd for the general veterinary practitioner. Given the specialty of our service, we see nothing but “odd” cases. Some of our favorites include our fish friends Rocky, Lemon and Sparky. Read all about their cases here.
Have more questions? Check out our Fish Surgery FAQ
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!
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.
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.
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!
For those of you who missed our post this weekend, our little goldfish friend, Lemon, who underwent oral surgery two weeks ago to fish a semi-prolapsed mouth, got her stitches out this Saturday. Here she is:
Congratulations to Lemon, her family and the veterinary staff at Aquatic Veterinary Services!
For those of you who have seen pictures of our little buddy, Lemon, here is some more about his story:
Lemon was rescued by his current owners from a poorly maintained system that was overcrowded with fancy goldfish. He has always had a slight malformation of his mouth.
Since he has grown bigger, his mouth has become quite problematic, ultimately resulting in a collapse of his mouth on the right side:
In order to correct this problem, so Lemon could eat normally, surgical intervention was required. Lemon was brought into Aquatic Veterinary Services for surgery to correct his collapsed lips.
Dr. Sanders was able to correct the mouth deformity by placing two tiny sutures in the corner of his mouth.
Lemon stayed in the hospital for 4 days in order to monitor his recovery. By the end of his stay, he was eating very well and able to close his mouth for the first time in a very long time.
His sutures will stay in for two weeks and then be removed. We hope to give you an update when they he is all set!
Get well soon, Lemon!