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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Calls That Make Us Cringe

Did you know our veterinary hospital takes in calls from all over the country? Although our veterinarian is only licensed in California and Nevada, we work with dozens of other veterinarians to make sure your fish can get the help they deserve. Most of the time, our calls are straightforward and simple, but other times, they can make us cringe. What are our all time cringe-worthiest stories?

5. “My bass has a piece of salami stuck in its throat.”

‘Am I being punked?’ was my first thought. Second, it’s a pet bass, not a wild one. And third, why is he eating salami? Bass are more carnivorous, and probably don’t have to worry about heart failure, true. Thankfully, fish can’t asphyxiate from food stuck in their esophagus or mouth. The operculum can still pump water through the gills regardless of what’s going on in the mouth. The fish did manage to spit out the large salami.

4. “My betta lives in a bowl, has no heater and I do 100% water changes. Now he’s sick.”

I can hear my hospital manager’s head hitting the desk right now. This is one of the most common calls we get, which is why we have a dedicated webpage and webinar. By keeping your betta in a stagnant bowl with no heater, I guarantee it will get sick. Yes, bettas have adapted to taking in oxygen through their specialized labyrinth organ, but this is not a long-term survival option. When the rains wash out in their natural habitat, this adaptation allows them to survive in tiny puddles until the water comes back. We cure almost 100% of our surrendered bettas by putting them in a warm tank with a filter.

3. “So, this just happened: my fish was attacked about 3 months ago. He stopped eating a week ago.”

If your fish is sick, do not hesitate to get help! We are happy to talk you through situations on the phone before proceeding with veterinary care. Our hospital staff is expertly trained to talk clients through all sorts of fish health issues, even if the veterinarian is off helping someone else.

2. “I read on the internet that _______ can be treated with ________ drug. Can I come pick some up?”

Yeah… no. Veterinarians cannot prescribe any medications to any client without establishing a valid Veterinarian-Client-Patient Relationship. Here in California, it requires a yearly exam to keep this valid. And of course, if it was on the internet, it must be true. There is some great fish info available on the free interweb, but there is considerably more terrible information. If you have questions about therapy for diseases or possible diagnoses, talk to your veterinarian first. Yes, we charge money. But you’ll end up paying more to fix for your experiments. By using a professional the first time, you will save time, money and LIVES.

1. “I just put a new fish in a few days ago, now they’re all acting funny.”

Quarantine. Quarantine. QUARANTINE. I’ll never stop saying it. Fish transmit diseases to their tank/pondmates exponentially faster than any terrestrial pet. Why is this? Because a lot of diseases can be spread through the WATER. Fish swimming around in a tank or pond will bump into each other, transmitting pathogens with direct contact. We have lost dozens of koi this year to Koi Herpesvirus (KHV) because owners do not quarantine. A “reputable dealer” is no guarantee. Protect the lives of your pets. QUARANTINE! Still not convinced? Watch this webinar.

Our Mission

Our Mission

In the evolution of any business, the business model may bend and reform, but the mission remains the same. Sometimes, after getting bogged down by disease outbreaks, the day-to-day dealings with two businesses and trying to have a life outside of work, we forget why we started to do this in the first place. I hate to admit that I have forgotten why I work so hard to carve out a tiny niche that seems to be almost invisible sometimes. Today, I remember why I do what I do.

My job is to make your life easier.

Yes, I treat sick fish, but I mainly educate fish owners to help them understand how fish work. I have loaded my website with tons of free educational material, offered a monthly webinar series and helpful YouTube videos with the sole purpose of making fish owners lives easier. Fish require just as much work as a cat or dog, just in different ways. True, you don’t have to take them on daily walks or clean their litter boxes, but maintaining a healthy environment goes a long way to keeping fish healthy. As we always say, water quality is the #1 influence owners can have on their fish. Once you understand how everything works, it becomes significantly easier to maintain your system.

We are here for all things fishy. Even if you think it’s a stupid question, I guarantee we’ve heard it before. Yes, we are significantly more expensive than the free help on the internet, but by experimenting with your fishes’ health, you are likely making the problem worse. There is a reason no veterinarian can diagnose disease over the phone or email. There are just too many variables that go into figuring out what is wrong with your fish. It will save you time, money and LIVES in the long run to get experienced help the first time.

My only job is to make your life easier.

Try me.

Fish Eyeball Removal Surgery

Yes, fish need surgery at times. Ever wonder what happens when a fish needs to have an eye removed? Check out this video!

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 hospital@cafishvet.com.

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

The Nitrogen Cycle

The Nitrogen Cycle

As you may well know, water quality is a significant aspect of pet fish health. Like the air we breathe, the water a fish swims in is directly linked to their overall health. As a fish veterinarian, we routinely test the water our patients swim in for various parameters. We discussed pH and kH previous, so today, let’s look at the nitrogen cycle.

As you may notice, the traditional nitrobacter and nitrosomas bacteria species have been omitted from this diagram. This is due to the fact that there are just SO MANY different bacteria species involved in nitrogen-fixation, that we cannot simply define them in these two genuses.

In a fish tank, a fish’s primary waste is ammonia. Ammonia is produced by the breakdown of protein, the main staple of most fishes’ diets. Ammonia is excreted out through the urinary tract and gills. Ammonia is highly toxic to fish, causing death and increased secondary illness, so it is converted, through nitrogen-fixing bacteria, into nitrite. Now, nitrite can be just as bad as ammonia. Methemoglobinemia, or “Brown Blood Disease,” is caused by a build-up of nitrite. Nitrite can bind to hemoglobin in the blood and outcompete oxygen. This causes a brown coloration and the fish will asphyxiate from lack of oxygen. Thankfully, more nitrogen-fixing bacteria convert nitrite into the final nitrate. Nitrate is safe for fish at low levels, but at higher levels, and depending on the fish species’ tolerance, can cause the same issues as high ammonia. Nitrate is removed from the system by aquatic plants or water changes.

In established systems (over 2 months old with no new fish or equipment), your ammonia should be ZERO. Most low readings indicate your filtration capacity is inadequate or secondary to overfeeding. The highest reading acceptable on our test kit is 0.1 mg/L. The traditional API freshwater master test kit ranges between 0-0.25, so attaining a 0.1 reading will not occur. Due to the broad range of values, a 0.25 reading may be a false positive (reporting a higher value than what is actually present).

There are many commercial additives for removing ammonia from your tank prior to the nitrogen cycle. Some can cause ammonia test kits to read falsely high. These additives are short-term solutions that should only be used with significant health issues. They are not a long term maintenance solution. You MUST establish your biological filtration (good bacteria) for long-term fish health. If you have persistent ammonia in your tank, consider the following solutions:

  • Is your filtration adequate? Tanks with higher bioloads (size and number of fish) will require more than standard filtration. When in doubt, always filter more than you should.
  • Are you feeding appropriately? Remember, ammonia is produced from breakdown of protein in a fish’s diet. More food = more ammonia. Check your protein levels! For more information on fish diets, read this.
  • Are you doing lots of water changes? If you are constantly removing ammonia, your nitrogen-fixing bacteria will never become established.
  • Is there ammonia in your source water? Check the level coming out of your tap or well to make sure! You may need to consider another water source.

There are also commercial additives that will “quick start” your nitrogen cycle. Sorry folks, but these are a complete scam. With the exception of one product that slightly shortened the establishment of your nitrogen cycle, it will take 4-6 weeks MINIMUM to get your tank properly cycled. By “cycled,” we mean the establishment of a complete nitrogen cycle with ammonia being converted all the way to nitrate. We recommend starting with very few fish and monitor your ammonia, nitrite and nitrate levels carefully!

If you have any more questions about fish and nitrogen cycles, please comment below.

How to Treat Disease in Fish

How to Treat Disease in Fish

If you’ve ever read our other posts or watched our webinars, you may have noticed that we never tell you how to treat certain diseases. Although it’s one of the most common questions our staff is asked, treating disease is never as straightforward as a fish owner may think. As one of my colleagues put it recently, “I no longer treat disease; I treat systems.” When your fish gets sick, do you think of treating the fish or the environment in which it lives?

When comparing disease in a fish vs. a dog, your veterinarian will rarely ever ask, “what is the air quality in your house?” For fluffy pets, it is always assumed that they have suitable air to breathe. Veterinarians will rarely ever question this parameter unless you are talking about a fish. The watery environment in which a fish lives has a significantly increased impact than the air we breathe. (You’ve watched our water quality webinar, yes?) The increased density of water and the physiology of fish gill-water interaction can directly influence fish health. Fish live in a toilet, and there’s no avoiding that. Keeping your fish’s watery home within appropriate water quality parameters is the #1 thing you can do as a pet fish owner to keep your fish healthy.

And a big part of your fishes’ environment are the commensal bacteria living in your filtration. These magic beings don’t need any instructions or directions to do their part in keeping your fish healthy. By converting ammonia into its less toxic nitrate, they turn a watery death trap into a fish-safe home. However, any treatment you add to your tank, be it prescribed or over-the-counter, can affect those contributing bacteria. This is part of why treating disease in fish is very tricky. If you dump in a bunch of treatments that may or may not help your fish, you can wipe out all of the bacteria working in your favor. A lot of the over-the-counter medications are not validated by any third parties, and can do more harm than good.

Overall, treating diseases in any species is sometimes a straightforward process, provided that you can make the right diagnosis. Veterinarians train for years to make correct diagnoses and corresponding treatments. We are taught to be detectives and make sure to get the whole story rather than make assumptions based on simple physical appearances. Since aquatic medicine is an emerging field, many fish owners do not know that there are veterinarians who can help them. Asking Dr. Google a simple fish question can take owners down a rabbit hole of possibilities that very often lead them astray. Going to ask your local pet store can result in a bag full of home remedies that treat symptoms, not disease. Although there are many great fish stores and websites with loads of helpful information, knowing what is legitimate and woefully misleading can be hard to negotiate. By asking a veterinarian to assist you, you have a great guide to lead you to the right information and correct diagnosis, leading to treating your fish correctly the first time.

Find a fish veterinarian to assist you:

American Association of Fish Veterinarians

World Aquatic Veterinary Medical Association