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.
The #2 Mistake – Not Doing Your Regular Maintenance
Fish are not maintenance free pets. Many owners think this when they first start, but some fish systems require the same care and cleaning as any other pet. Especially when you are first starting out, it is important to keep up with your regular scheduled cleaning. Maintaining a regular maintenance schedule for your aquarium will be of the most benefit to your fish by keeping your water quality within appropriate parameters.
Our best advice: add your regular maintenance to your TO DO list and make it a priority. Get the whole family involved and take the time to give your fish a happy, healthy home. Here is a helpful checklist for everything you need to do on a daily, weekly, monthly and yearly basis.
If you follow the above checklist, get the family involved and make fish care a priority, your fish will have a long, happy life. If you’re confused or unsure the best way to clean your tank, watch our Best Tank Cleaning Practices video.
One of the more common “healthy” pet issues we see in all of veterinary medicine is obesity, and fish are no exception. They may have better control than your golden retriever, but overfeeding your fish can have more severe consequences than just rounder fish.
Unfortunately, there is no absolute calculation to tell you how much to feed your fish. It depends on their species, temperature, water quality, other stressors, the type of food, formulation and current disease processes. For cats and dogs, it all depends on body size and life stage. If you take any bag of cat or dog food and look at the back, it will tell you what life stage the food is intended for and what amount to feed for body weight. (This assumes that your pet is the correct weight for the body type and structure.) But when was the last time you weighed your pet fish? Fish should be fed based on body size, but we know this is an impossible task for most owners. Thankfully, fish are pretty good at determining when they are full. A bigger problem is what happens when there is too much food in the tank.
So what should I do to ensure my fish are not overfed? We recommend using the 5-Minute Method. It is very simple:
Sprinkle a little bit of food into your tank. We recommend mixing it close to the filter return so all fish can get a fair share.
When all the food is eaten, sprinkle a little bit more. If the food is not completely consumed, WAIT.
Continue for 5 minutes or until the fish stop eating.
NOTE: Some species, like betta fish, are not great at regulating their intake. Keep in mind that their stomachs are about the same size as their eyeballs. Only a few pellets once or twice a day is adequate!
Why does this method work?
The biggest problem with overfeeding a fish tank is not just fat fish, but increased stress on your biological filtration. The breakdown of fish food, since it contains a lot of protein, causes an increase in the ammonia levels in your tank. Using this method makes sure that the food ends up in the fish, not the bottom of their tank. If you’re unfamiliar with ammonia and the nitrogen cycle, read this explanation.
For more information on fish food in general, watch our webinar.
Happy New Year to all you fish lovers! We hope you all had a safe and happy holiday season with your family, friends and fish. To start off our new year, we want to take a closer look at our Top 10 Mistakes. You may have read the shortlist, but there’s a lot more to learn! Read along with us as we count down from #10 to #1.
The #10 Mistake – Lack of Planning
Unlike purchasing a cat or a dog, usually adding a fish tank is a spur of the moment decision. Your kids have been begging you for a puppy or a kitten and you go with a smart compromise – A FISH! Well, I’m very sorry to tell you that fish can be just as much trouble as a cat or dog. Yes, they don’t need regular walks and won’t leave “surprises” in your bed, but they require regular care just like any other pet. BEFORE you go out and buy the new tank, make a plan.
#1: How big of a tank do you think you can manage? The size of the tank you plan on will determine what species of fish you can have. If you can go big – GO BIG! The more water you have and the fewer fish, the less stressful the first few months will be. Once you know how big a tank you want, does the item of furniture you are planning on setting it support the weight of the tank? (Remember: 1 gallon of water = 8.34 lbs or 3.78 kg) This is not the time to show off that antique table. Fish tanks are wet and any item a tank sits on WILL GET WET. Wood is probably not a good idea unless its sealed.
Got your tank size and a place to put it? GREAT! Here’s the rest of the checklist to include on your shopping list:
Check List for New Tank
_____ Fish tank of _______ gallons
_____ Table that can hold ______ gallons fish tank (1 gallon of water = 3.78 kg or 8.34 lbs)
_____ Lid for tank with light
_____ Filter capable of volume 1.5x ______ gallons (canister or hang-on)
_____ If tank is >30 gallons, consider adding aerator or powerhead to improve water flow
______ Substrate (gravel, rocks, sand, etc.)
______ Gravel vacuum
______ Decor items (must be FISH SAFE) – for bettas, stick with items that will not snag fins
______ Fish food (enough for 6 months), you may want to try a variety to start to see what they like
______ Fish, obviously
Notice that we did NOT have bacterial starter, water conditioner other than dechlorinator or additional filter media. YOU DO NOT NEED IT!
Planning your tank in advance takes 90% of the stress out of fish keeping. You are WAY ahead of most novice fish keepers if you make a plan and stick to it. And a lot of stores allow you to shop online and swing by to pick it up!
When you set up a new fish tank for the first time, there are a few things you can expect to happen.
With a brand new filter, your nitrogen cycle has not been established. It will take 4-6 weeks MINIMUM to start cycling your new tank. There are countless products who claim they can instantly start your cycle, but they DO NOT WORK. We tested many products and only one was able to shorten our cycle by one week.
During those sensitive weeks, your tank will undergo the following spikes in ammonia, nitrite and finally, nitrate, as those bacteria colonies are established. You tank’s temperature and filtration capacity will determine how fast your cycle is established.
As your nitrogen cycle is established, your fish can be in danger of toxic levels of ammonia and nitrite. Therefore, it is essential to keep you bioload low in those first few weeks! Rather than fully stocking your tank from the get-go, start with only a few, hardy fish until your cycle is established. Keep a close eye on your parameters with a water quality test kit. Plot your readings and you will match the graph above.
Ammonia-binding products will prevent this cycle from occurring. Your tank will be stuck in perpetual “new tank” standing. We understand that it can be very scary to see your new tank spike with ammonia, but you cannot get to the end stage without the journey in between. Keep a close eye on your parameters and bioload low in the first 4-6 weeks and you’ll be all set from then on! If you’re really worried, or your fish start to act sickly, do a small water change to decrease the spike. And if you decide to replace your filter media every month, your tank will be continually cycling. So, ignore the box, and invest in a sturdy sponge instead.
Constipated goldfish is the most widely over diagnosed case on the internet. There is not ONE peer-reviewed published paper about goldfish constipation and its treatments. Most commonly, goldfish “constipation” is misdiagnosed as a cure all for a sick fish. And in comes the main treatment… shelled green peas!
What is it about these tiny green globes of goodness that make most fish rise up from the almost dead?
One: They have almost no protein whatsoever, decreasing the amount of ammonia waste from your fish, decreasing the strain on your nitrogen cycle. Decreasing the ammonia waste from your system will make ANYfish better. Every 100 grams of green peas contains 5.4g of protein. Compare that to 100g of commercial fish flake and pellets having between 32-45g of protein.
Two: Green peas sink in water, therefore making fish dive to the bottom of their tank to eat, preventing excess air from ending up in their GI and swim bladder. Goldfish are physostomous, with a duct connecting their esophagus to their swim bladder. Considering the anatomy of some fancy goldfish varieties, these ducts are extremely short and therefore more air is able to get into the swim bladder, causing positive buoyancy issues. When fish eat at the surface, slurping food down like pigs, they can take in a lot of extra air. By feeding sinking peas, they don’t suck in as much air.
Three: Goldfish “indigestion” can be caused by an inappropriate diet. Goldfish, like all other carp, are omnivores, eating plants, bugs and almost anything tasty that fits in their mouths. In feeding them a flake or pelleted diet, you are aiming for a balanced diet. There are sooooo many fish foods out there, and a lot of them are based on educated guesses rather than actual research. As a fish owner, it is up to you to evaluate your fishes’ food to make sure it is appropriate. We have our most watched webinar on this very subject of reading fish food labels. Many of these “constipation” problems are from feeding very old food. After 6 months, your fish food has lost enough of the water-soluble vitamins, including vitamin C, that you are essentially feeding your fish cardboard. Getting a fresh bag of food, or switching the diet to our green peas (full of vitamins!), fixes almost all of the fish “indigestion” cases we see.
But what about all that fiber? 100g of peas contains 4.8g of fiber and most fish foods contain 3-5g of fiber, so it’s not really all that more fibrous.
All in all, peas are a low calorie treat that fish can enjoy. But are they magical, cure all tablets of greeny goodness? Sorry, but no.
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!
Many of the fish issues we see at Aquatic Veterinary Service condense down to one thing: ineffective husbandry. Most of the time, it is not the owners fault and they receive false information from many conflicting sources. Well, we’re here to set the record straight and make it easy to take care of your fish. The better care your fish receive, the better their overall health and fewer calls to the veterinarian!
Fish Troubleshoot #1: Test your water.
For those of your loyal followers, you know how important water quality is to fish health. Most of the issue we see would have been avoided completely if the water parameters had been maintained. Test kits are available for cheap and are very easy to run. At the first sign of distress: CHECK YOUR WATER!
Fish Troubleshoot #2: Water changes.
All fish systems need regular water changes. I don’t care what that internet forum told you. If you imagine the wild fish populations, their water is never stagnant or contained. It is constantly flowing in, out, up and around. Fish kept in ponds and tanks are in artificial systems. They require new water every once in awhile to flush out not only nitrogen products, but hormones and other waste that is impossible to see with the naked eye. Never done one before? Well, we’ve created a helpful guide to show you the way.
Fish Troubleshoot #3: Clean your damn tank.
Are fish low maintenance? Well, you don’t need to walk them or potty train them, but they do require regular care and maintenance. If you do a little bit weekly, it will make the whole process easier. A cleaning protocol should include: scrubbing walls, removing waste and excess food, rinsing filter media and cleaning decor. We have handy checklists for both ponds and tanks that you can tweak to create your perfect protocol.
Fish Troubleshoot #4: Temperature.
Fish are ectotherms. This means that unlike your fluffy mammalian pets, they cannot regulate their internal body temperature. Their body temperature, with the exception of larger ocean-dwelling fish, will be the same as the water temperature. Different species of fish have specific tolerances for temperature. Goldfish and koi, can survive in just above freezing temperatures all the way up to 90F! However, some tropical fish can only do 77-83F. Know your species temperature tolerance and make sure you have a good thermometer in the tank at all times. And stick on ones do not count!
Fish Troubleshoot #5: Diet.
Not all fish eat the same things! Commercial diets might seem all-inclusive, but these can be misleading. Some fish can be very picky eaters while others would eat your tires if given the opportunity. Research the diets of your fish and if you can’t find any conclusive information, try to offer variations including pellets, vegetables, fruit, bugs and frozen diets. Flakes are great for small fish, but graduate them to pellets as soon as possible. Pellets have less surface to mass ratio, meaning that all the nutrients won’t be leached out as soon as they hit the water! Many food packages are labeled with an expiration date, but this applies only if you don’t open the bag. As soon as a bag or jar is opened, you must toss the remainder after 6 months. After 6 months, a lot of the vitamin content has broken down, so you’re essentially feeding cardboard.
Fish Troubleshoot #6: Personality clashes.
Just like people, cats and dogs, not all fish will get along with each other. Usually, this comes down to species territoriality, but we see it result in fighting over food, space and mates, often resulting in injury and death. When setting up a tank, always make sure the fish you’d like to home together will get along or have enough room to feel safe. If aggression develops over time, you will need to rehome the bullied or the bullier. Unfortunately, there is no effective behavioral therapy for fish… yet.
Stick to these key points and your fish will be happy and healthy for years to come!
Interested in getting started in the fish hobby? GREAT! Don’t know what to start with? Do we have ideas for you!
The very traditional goldfish is traditional for a reason. These cyprinids are hardy species that can tolerate a lot of beginner mistakes. It is recommended to start with the comet variety of goldfish. Fancy goldfish are very pretty, but they usually have other health issues that come partnered with their pure-bred status. They are better for intermediate fish parents.
These beautiful fish are commonly won at conventions and parties. We see many that have a lot of secondary issues due to poor water quality. Bettas are not meant to be kept in stagnant bowls for long periods of time. They require a tank and filter like any other fish. For more information on bettas, see our betta page.
The wide variety and small size of tetras make them great community fish. They come in lots of colors to match any decor. It is fun to have lots of fish that all school together and will not overload your filters. They also have a wide range of water quality tolerance for those of you not on top of your maintenance just yet.
Very similar to tetras in size and color variations, guppies and mollies are live bearers and will likely overpopulate your tank if you’re not careful. These brightly colored varieties also stay very small and like to be in groups. Learn how to differentiate boys from girls to keep your populations from overrunning your tank.
One of the most common questions I get as an aquatic veterinarian is, “how did you end up in this field?” Well, I got my start very early. I was one of those annoying kids who always knew I wanted to be a veterinarian. (For more info on my background, check out our “Why a Fish Vet” post). To be a veterinarian, you have a very stringent list of events that must occur.
You MUST get good grades in undergrad.
You MUST go to veterinary school.
You MUST find a job as a vet.
And that’s it. That’s how you become a veterinarian.
But what about an aquatic veterinarian? Is there a protocol for that? Well, if you want to be an aquarium veterinarian or work with mammals, there are a few extra steps.
4. Intern for 1 year in small or large animal medicine and surgery.
5. Intern for 1 year in an aquarium or zoo.
6. Receive one of the rare residencies in aquarium/zoo medicine and spend 3 years working.
7. Sit for and PASS the board certification in zoological veterinary medicine.
Again, a very straight forward process, but you MUST stand out among numerous applicants. If not, you’ll miss a step and then be out of luck.
And then there’s my little niche: private practice. Any veterinarian can go into private practice the day after they graduate veterinary school. This is very different from medical school where all students must specialize in some field. My sister went from medical school to a general surgery residency and is almost to her 5th and final year. But veterinarians can go straight to seeing patients without any additional training. Most students will do at least a one year internship to build up their confidence, and a majority of my veterinary class did just that. I, however, did not. I moved to California to get a taste of something other than New England living and started looking for a “normal” veterinary job. I figured I could build up someone else’s practice by adding my fish services to their own. Well, 6 months later after a few interviews and one very sad job offer, I started considering what to do next. I knew there was a lot of fish in the area and I had potentially unlimited clients since NO ONE saw fish unless you drove them to Davis. So, I found a bank, lawyer, accountant, applied for the proper licenses and started figuring out what to do. In doing basically what no other veterinarian had successfully done before, I am hopefully making it significantly easier for the next person to follow my lead. Learn from my mistakes!! I’ve made many in the last 5 years and will continue to do so. I know that in following a career path with no blueprint, I will stumble, I will fail spectacularly, and I will learn what not to do.
So here are the steps to becoming a fish vet:
Get good grades in undergrad. Maybe try a major other than veterinary science or biology. (I had a B.S. in Marine Biology and minors in Computer Science and General Business. A GPA of
3.59 and graduated with honors magna cum laude.)
Go to veterinary school. (I still think the only reason I got into Tufts is because I was the one weird fish kid. Diversity is your friend! Don’t be afraid to be weird!)
Learn something about fish before you graduate. (A lot of veterinary programs do not teach much about fish. Tufts had two afternoon lectures, the second of which I skipped because I was so BORED!! You can get more fish learning in summer programs like AQUAVET and MARVET. Or just go to a school with an awesome fish program.)
Start working with animals. (When you interview, tell your potential employer that you can bring in more clients by adding fish! It only takes a few extra supplies.)
If no one wants to hire you, go to work anyway. (Don’t let your education go to waste! There are lots of fishy positions open in education, regulatory and government agencies. Be creative! Start your own private veterinary practice like I did. It is scary but worth it.)