Salt is a normal component of many fish systems. Saltwater and brackish systems require salt on a continual basis. But what about freshwater systems? Some internet pages recommend keeping salt in koi/goldfish ponds/tanks at all times. Others say don’t bother. What are the effects of salt on an all-freshwater species?
In a freshwater environment, a fish’s body is more dense than the surrounding water. As a result, water is constantly trying to enter the fish’s body and achieve osmotic homeostasis. A fish’s gills, kidneys and urinary systems are responsible for removing the excess water. When these mechanisms are compromised, the clinical manifestation of “dropsy” can occur. By adding salt to the water, you are changing the osmolality of the environment surrounding the fish, thereby decreasing the amount of water diffusing into the fish. Some people figure this is less stressful for a fish, but after millions of years of evolution, it really isn’t necessary. A fish’s body can handle the metabolic demands of freshwater. It’s the human equivalent to drinking less water so your kidneys don’t have to work as hard.
Most salt-avid fish keepers will keep their fish in very low salinities: 1-1.5%. This level can be very hard to test accurately for and will often vary between 0-3%. This level will not hurt your fish. If you feel like you NEED to have salt in there, that’s fine, but you should not strive for levels greater than 2%.You do NOT HAVE to add salt to your freshwater fish system. Always add non-iodonized salt (not table salt)!
For some parasites, depending on the species and water temperature, higher therapeutic levels of salt can be used to treat the infestation. Salt works by first increasing, then depleting the mucus coat, which many parasites use as a food source and for protection. Once the mucus coat is gone, the single-celled parasites rupture from the changing osmotic gradient. But if you are slowly bringing your salt levels up without realizing it, some parasites have been found to become resistant to therapeutic salt levels, requiring treatment at even higher doses. The higher the salt dose, the harsher the treatment for the fish.
All in all, a little salt is fine, but don’t obsess over it. Your fish will do just fine without it. The only time we recommend salt is for recovery from trauma or surgery. Don’t forget that salt can kill aquatic plants!
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.
How do fish veterinarians decide when it’s time for a fish to go under the knife? Surgery can be very beneficial for fish when it is warranted.
Water Quality Testing
Prior to any surgery, a veterinarian MUST test the water quality. If the water quality is off in any way, recovery after surgery will be hindered. Corrections to water quality must be made prior to any procedure.
In dealing with structures including and next to bones and the swim bladder, radiographs, commonly called “x-rays,” provide great diagnostic info. These are very handy to see if there is any air where it shouldn’t be and if any structures are not in the correct place. For soft tissue, we need…
This tool is one of the most beneficial to evaluate internal structures in fish. For koi, it is how we are able to see gonadal sarcomas and how extensive they are. A small tumor is much easier to operate on that a large one.
Unlike many other pet species, bloodwork is not very useful in many species of pet fish. Reference ranges have been established, but some are too wide, and vary based on water quality and genetics. For surgical procedures, a PCV (packed cell volume) is helpful to understand how much blood a fish loses during a procedure.
There are many ways to build a koi pond, and some methods can affect your maintenance regimen. Your pond bottom, also known as your substrate, can dramatically change how much time and effort you spend cleaning your pond. We’ll cover some of the most common bottom covers and the pros and cons of each
Pros: This substrate is the most eye appealing of them all. It breaks up the industrial look of a synthetic fish environment and can provide hold for and uncontained plants.
Cons: You will need to stir the gravel/small rocks frequently to keep them from cementing together. A pond vacuum will be of little use and will keep collecting all these small stones. This substrate collects lots of debris and is hard to clean. If the substrate is deeper than 3″, you run the risk of anaerobic bacteria production once they are cut off from the oxygen in the water. This can create pockets of hydrogen sulfide that can kill fish if mixed into the water supply.
Pros: Another aesthetically appealing bottom substrate. Larger rocks are more suitable to a “river” appearance.
Cons: Your pond vacuum will work slightly better if the substrate is too large to fit up the hose. If the stones are too heavy, you will have a very hard time cleaning between them. Multiple layers of stones will be more likely to collect debris than only one layer of rocks. This layering effect can contribute to cementing of rocks together and formation of hydrogen sulfide producing anaerobic bacteria.
Pros: A liner bottom is one of the easiest substrates to keep clean. They work well with a bottom drain.
Cons: Pay special attention to the thickness of your liner. Thinner liners may be more economical, but they will not last as long as thicker liners. They are prone to tears from rocks, root growth and boots. They are not as aesthetically pleasing and deep folds can potentially trap fish.
Pros: Concrete bottoms with a spray-applied liner are very easy to keep clean. They are more durable than simple liner ponds. Leaks from tears are not an issue as this type of bottom stands up well to abuse from rocks and boots.
Cons: This is one of the most expensive substrate options for fish ponds. If your concrete is not mixed properly, you will lose chunks of your bottom, leading to leaks. They are susceptible to earthquake damage if this is an environmental concern. Be sure both your concrete mix and spray liner are appropriate for usage with fish. You cannot change the shape of your pond or add any underwater features later with this substrate.
Cons: Your lack of cleaning effort creates a dangerous health hazard to your fish. Dense planting and layers of debris and fish waste create layers of bacteria that lose contact with oxygen in the water. These anaerobic bacteria use sulfur as a food source. If you mess around in the muck or your fish try to flash on this surface, you will release hydrogen sulfide and kill all your fish.
It is impossible to recreate a native environment in a synthetic fish system. “All natural” systems in wild environments use multiple species working together to balance waste management. In a man-made pond, you are missing many of these critical elements. Do your regular maintenance!
Just like your cats and dogs, your pet fish can benefit from a yearly wellness exam. By bringing your vet in before you notice any issues, health problems can be caught earlier and treated more effectively. The spring months are the most common times of year when problems with koi occur. Save yourself the stress of trying to guess your koi issues and get it straight from the best trained source in California & Nevada.
Our Spring Pond Package for 2019 will have some new benefits for all pond owners. To schedule, call (831) 728-7000.
Tumor Screenings for Female Koi
With the increased incidence of gonadal sarcomas, we usually do not catch them in time, given their sneaky, lack-of-external, appearance. By implementing regular screening, we can find these tumors much earlier and fish can undergo life-saving surgery.
Recommended Products for Koi Owners
With the closing of our store, the Fish Vet Store, we want to be able to provide our clients with all our best product recommendations. All Spring Pond Package clients will receive a 20oz bag of UltraBalance Maintenance koi food, an API Freshwater Master Test Kit + kH test kit, an infrared thermometer and a signed copy of Dr. Sanders’ book, Healthy Koi Made Easy.
Water Quality Screening
Fish health is directly linked to water quality. Our spring pond checks include full assessment of fish water quality parameters. If there’s an issue, our veterinarian will make recommendations to correct them quickly and easily.
Call (831) 728-7000 to schedule your Spring Pond Checkup today.
It’s almost koi season at Aquatic Veterinary Services! Here are our most common diseases we can expect to see and the signs you should be aware of if any of these diseases are present in your pond.
5. Carp Pox
Although not THE koi herpes virus, carp pox is also known as cyprinid herpesvirus-1. It causes lesions within the skin that can look like “candlewax drippings” and “frosting” along the leading edges of the lips and fins. In cooler water temps, the lesions can be severe, but as the water warms, the fishes’ immune system and skin replacement can make the lesions almost vanish. Only in severe cases will a fish start to be compromised to secondary infections.
Since this is a herpes virus, there is no treatment or cure. If you have one fish in your pond that is showing these clinical signs, all of your fish have already been exposed. Only immune-compromised or stressed individuals will show clinical signs.
This is a very common disease for us to diagnose. Unless the case is severe, the fish will have good health, but will not be very pretty.
4. Monogenean Treamatodes (aka ‘flukes’)
These irritating little worms are most commonly gyrodactylus or dactylogyrus species. They can infiltrate the skin or gills and cause severe irritation for any fish. You will most commonly see signs of skin irritation, with increased redness on paler fish, bruises or missing scales.
Since fish cannot itch themselves like a cat or dog, they exhibit a behavior known as “flashing.” Usually, you will see your fish throw themselves sideways along the sides or bottom of their pond in an attempt to dislodge these irritable invaders.
Severe infestations can cause the gills to shut down and death to occur. There are many over-the-counter medications that will claim to take out these bugs. Please keep in mind that these medications are not controlled or overseen by any government checks. A veterinarian can prescribe a prescription-strength medication to take care of your problem safely and easily.
3. Gondal Sarcomas
Unfortunately, we often do not catch these tumors in time for surgery. Females between 8-12 years of age seem particularly more susceptible. Our Spring Pond Package for 2019 will include ultrasound screenings for all females since we are trying to catch this disease early.
These space-occupying tumors most likely start from female gonadal tissue. By the time they are visible externally, most of the internal organs are failing. These masses are very hard to catch, which is why our new screening system will be started this year. If caught early, the tumor can be removed via surgery.
This aggressive “scrubbing bubble” is often aided by our #1 disease in koi. We tend to see this parasite most commonly, often displaying the same “flashing” behavior as our monogenean friends.
This parasite is easily treated by our prescription-strength medication. Over-the-counter medications do not work well against this parasite for some reason.
1. Water Quality
I know it is not a “disease,” but poor water quality is the #1 diagnosis for disease I make. Having poor water quality makes all diseases WORSE, including bacteria, fungi, parasites and other pathogens.
Water quality is directly linked to fish health. Like the air we breathe, the water a fish swims in has a direct effect on their overall immune function. Before the spring diseases come, get your maintenance routine overhauled and test your water chemistry regularly to make sure your fish have their best chance for a healthy spring.
Tomorrow, March 13th, 2019 will mark Aquatic Veterinary Service’s 6 year anniversary. It has been quite a year for us, moving out of a bad location into a new facility and getting ready for some new changes and challenges. We’ll be sharing those new updates with you later this week.
In a business where there is no framework, no forecast, no front runner to look at and play off of, you make a lot of mistakes. I have no regrets from any of the mistakes I made along the last 6 years. I only hope I can pass on what I have learned to the next generation of aquatic veterinarians.
In the veterinary community, veterinarians who are able to practice on fish are exceedingly rare. In most veterinary schools, aquatic topics are barely covered, if at all. When I went to Tufts, we had 2 lecture hours on fish. We had 4 on marine mammals for comparison. But most veterinarians out practicing may have no exposure to fish. Of all the veterinarians who see fish, most are involved in mixed private practice, aquarium/zoo work or aquaculture. Those private practices seeing only fish – 2. Myself and a colleague in Texas are the only two veterinarians in the country dedicated to solely helping pet fish.
As our yearly reflection goes, I will answer the most common questions I have been answering on a regular basis.
Question #1: Do you make any money doing this?
Our first few years? Not really. Our last few years as we continue to grow and word gets out. Absolutely, yes. If this job path didn’t show at least minimal feasibility after the first few years, I wouldn’t be here today. In growing a business that has NEVER been attempted before, one has to be aware that it will take considerable more time. We’re in the business of changing how people think about veterinary care, which is a slow process. The general population knows to take a sick cat, dog, horse, bunny or snake to the vet. It is still not common knowledge to take your fish to the vet.
In conclusion, I am making money. It’s not comparable to a small animal vet at this point, but if our trends continue as they have over the next few years, we will surpass them. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.
Question #2: Why are you doing this?
I got into aquatics when I was in undergraduate school at URI. I had time to complete >1,500 volunteer hours at Mystic Aquarium, where I learned all about the fascinating world of fish. I always wanted to learn more about their care and keeping. I entered veterinary school figuring I’d end up at an aquarium, but I was hesitant to be a part of a bureaucratic system. In private practice, one of the best parts is I get to call the shots. From what I have seen over the last 6 years, there is a great need for fish veterinarians. The biggest hurdle is linking sick fish with veterinary care, not the internet. For more on my background, read our famous article, “Why A Fish Vet?”
Question #3: What is the biggest challenge in your field of veterinary medicine?
Dr. Google has never received a medical degree of any kind. Still, owners trust the internet more than a veterinarian’s perspective. Why? Because it costs real money. Sorry, but you get what you pay for. Free advice without any education or expertise ends up in a lot of dead fish. New fish owners are the worst offenders and will often drop out of the hobby entirely after the first big disaster. Now, many of these people simply don’t know that fish veterinarians exist. We have tried to build up our website to catch these people before they fall down the internet rabbit hole, and after 6 years and 200 fish articles, it’s starting to gain speed. For those of you regular readers, we rely on you to share your knowledge of fish veterinarians with your friends, family and neighbors. Our specialty will continue to struggle because no one knows we exist.
Question #4: What is the best thing fish owners can do to keep their fish healthy?
“Maintain your water quality” will likely be my catchphrase for life. Maintaining your aquatic environment for your fish is the most significant contribution to your fishes’ overall health. It comes down to keeping up with your regular maintenance. Most problems occur when people get lazy and skip a cleaning, or two, or all of them. We recommend you put it on the calendar and make it a priority. For everything you’d ever want to know about water quality, check out this free webinar.
So as we cross into our 7th year of service, we thank all of you for your continued interest. We strive to help all fish owners, no matter what the species or where you are. If you have any topics you would like discussed, please let us know. We thank you for your dedication to fish health.
Sincerely, Jessie Sanders, DVM, CertAqV
Interested to see how veterinary and human medicine education measure up? Watch Dr. Jessie Sanders and her sister, human surgeon, Dr. Bailey Sanders, compare their experiences.
Koi make up the majority of our veterinary practice, and in seeing so many cases, some common themes occur. Don’t make the same mistakes with your fish!
Not Checking Your Fish Daily – We know in the winter, when metabolisms are quiet, your fish are not very entertaining. However, even in the slower, winter months, small problems can start to grow very quickly, especially when the weather starts to warm. Even though you may not be feeding your fish daily, it is critical to check on all the fish DAILY to make sure they are doing okay.
Not Testing Your Water Quality – This rule does not apply to fish tanks alone. Koi ponds can suffer the same New Pond and Old Pond syndromes and a whole host of other issues. Water quality is the #1 important factor in fish health and is the leading cause of secondary disease. Buy a test kit, learn how to use it, and keep track of how your pond changes with the seasons. Learn more about water quality here.
Adding New Fish without Quarantine – This year will have a significant increase in Koi Herpes Virus cases. Protect your fish by quarantiningALL NEW FISH for at least 4-6 weeks. DO NOT expect your dealer/vendor to do this for you. Most parasite outbreaks come from new fish being added to a pond without quarantining first. Watch our Koi Herpes Virus webinar here.
Keeping Up with Your Maintenance – In winter, we know things slow down and maintenance routines can relax. However, this is not an excuse to completely ignore your pond! You should at MINIMUM keep up with your backwashes to keep your pressurized bead filters functioning properly and keep your skimmer and matting free of debris. Click here for a complete checklist of pond tasks.
If you have ANY concerns about your koi at ANY time, contact your local aquatic veterinarian. If you are in California or Nevada, call us at (831) 278-1081. We will have our Spring Pond Package ready to roll as soon as spring hits. Schedule your visit today!!
We’ve made it all the way to our #1 mistake new fish owners make: not asking for help when you’re over your head. A new hobby can be very challenging and there’s no shame in getting assistance if you’re overwhelmed.
But, as we covered with mistake #3, not all sources of help should be treated equally. Just because somebody wrote it on the internet, does NOT make it true. Cause and effect can be misinterpreted and hobbyists are known for corroborating evidence that is not connected. Here is a common example:
Owner A buys medication from store B, which claims it can cure their fish of disease C. The medication, be it anti-parasitic, anti-bacterial or anti-fungal, requires multiple doses with multiple water changes in between. Owner A uses medication as prescribed and the fish gets better. Since 90% of our clinical cases are secondary to poor water quality, it is more likely the increased water changes cured the fish, NOT THE “MEDICATION.”
But, you see this on the internet and think it must work for your fish with the same issue. But your water might be different with a different species of fish and a different pathogen (bacterial, parasite, fungus). All that you can see is how your fish is behaving, which sounds similar to Owner A.
Too many owners reach straight for the treatment without a diagnosis. You just want to make your fish healthy – NOW. Your water looks fine, so it can’t be the water. And this is where many fish owners fall out of the hobby. They try X number of medications, read all they can on the internet, but without a diagnosis, the fish will eventually perish.
What about calling your aquatic veterinarian?
We understand it is a foreign concept for many. One of our colleagues starts many of his professional talks by asking the following question:
If you walk up to 100 random people on the street and ask them, “my fish is sick. What do I do?” What are the top 3 responses?
A. David Scarfe PhD, DVM, MRSSAf, CertAqV
The pet store
No where in that list is “call your veterinarian.” Well, it’s time to not only add it to the list, but make it the ONLY response. If you need help with your fish, CALL AN AQUATIC VETERINARIAN. (Click link for a vet near you.) If you have a veterinarian for your cat/dog/horse/etc, see if they are interested in helping. They can directly consult with an out-of-state aquatic veterinarian to help your fish. Have them call us! If you are in California or Nevada, CALL US and we will help you! If you want to pay for our veterinarian’s license in a state we do not cover, CALL US. If you are not in your state and need help, CALL US. We cannot guarantee we’ll be able to give you more than basic husbandry help, but WE WILL HELP YOU AS BEST WE CAN.
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.