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


Wet Vet Weekend

Aquatic Veterinary Education Resources


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.

A “Typical” Day in the Life of a Fish Vet

A “Typical” Day in the Life of a Fish Vet

One of the most common questions our veterinary gets asked is, “what does the typical day of the aquatic veterinarian look like?” Even in the traditional small animal practice, cases and patients vary daily, but for a traveling all-fish veterinarian, the variety increases exponentially. Our chief veterinarian’s day varies widely, taking into account different species, setups, cases, driving and the tasks involved. Since we know professional help for fish is so scattered with questionable quality, our staff strives to help as many fish owners as we can. Let’s take an example of two days our veterinarian had a few weeks ago.

Day 1:

  • Starting at 7am, our vet drove from our home office to a property in Carmel to administer parasite medication to two 5,000 gallon koi ponds. The veterinarian had been at the property a few days before for their annual spring check up and found a severe Trichodina infestation. The owners were away, however, and the fish needed immediate treatment since there had already been some deaths. A third pond on the property was not infected and therefore did not require mediation. When the owners returned in a few days, they would start flushing the medication out of their system. (Total miles: 42)
  • After a quick stop over at the office to check in with our hospital manager, the vet was off to Moraga in order to check a pond of koi in a 6,000 gallon pond. This pond has a tricky layout and requires the use of a seine net to catch any fish. Unfortunately, this pond has had a rough bout of disease over the past year and a half. A few fish have developed thick, ulcerated growths around their mouths and many have died. The newest fish showing signs was cleaned and medicated. And although a few parasites were noted, the owner elected to have the fish not be treated at this time. When ponds are coming through the spring, the fishes’s immune system can lag behind the fast-reproducing parasites and bacteria. As the weather warms, their immune system usually can catch up, but only if parasite loads are not too high. With this particular pond, the vet felt comfortable leaving the fish to be medicated at the discretion of the owner. (Total miles: 127)
  • From there, and through early afternoon Bay Bridge traffic, the vet continued on to Montara to deliver medication for a saltwater tank she had seen the previous day. After diagnosing marine Ich (Cryptocaryon) and working with the owner to craft a treatment protocol, it was necessary to move the fish out of their tank, away from the corals and invertebrates, and treat them separately. In addition to dropping off the medication, the vet was responsible for catching the fish and moving them to their new hospital tank. The clownfish from the previous day was the easiest to catch and probably the most heavily infested. Over 2 hours, the wrasse, tang, foxface, damsel and cardinal fish joined their friend in the new hospital tank. However, the hawkfish was able to elude the vet with assistance from both owners. Rather than stress this fish out more, and considering the parasite was already affecting his gill function, the owners decided to lure the fish out and catch him later that evening. 6 out of 7 fish with two large coral inserts would be the best the vet could do. Unfortunately, not everything goes to plan some times. Ending the day, the vet headed home to type up notes and prep for the next day. (Total miles: 97)

Day 2:

  • The vet’s day starts in Santa Cruz with a Spring Pond Health Check. This is a typical appointment where the pond or tank is given a regular check up, including water quality testing and a few fish physicals under sedation. With this pond, two of the koi were sporting unique bulges. One grey koi had a large bulge over her middle, while another white koi had one on his underside just cranial to his anus. With the rest of the pond checking out healthy, our vet employed an ultrasound to check out the inner workings of the two koi. It was discovered
    Dr. Sanders performing surgery on a koi

    that the grey koi had a large pocket of air right next to his skin, causing the bulge. Unfortunately, ultrasound does not work well on air, so a radiograph or x-ray was discussed. The owner declined. The white koi ended up with a pocket of irregular tissue and fluid indicating a tumor. Tumors of this nature are common in koi. The owner elected not to do surgery. As long as the fish is swimming, eating and acting like a normal fish, we can leave them in the pond to enjoy the most of their life. (Total miles: 5)

  • From there, the vet journeyed over route 17 to San Jose to see a fancy goldfish with a BIG anchor worm infestation. (Did you know we travel over 17 almost every day?) While bent over the family dinner table, the vet removed over 60 worms from the fish’s body and oral cavity. A plan was made with the owner to clean out his tank to get all the juveniles with medication to be sent later. Unfortunately, for this little fish, he passed away a few days later. Anchor worms, especially those big enough to see, reproduce extremely quickly and this fish had been fighting them since he arrived at the home 3 months prior. We are very sad to hear about his passing. (Total miles: 33)
  • On the way back to the office, the vet stopped off at a home in Ben Lomond to see a tank of 19-year-old goldfish. About 2 years prior, one of the fish developed neurologic issues due to severe ammonia levels. His spine was bent and he was unable to swim. Through lots of careful care, this fish recovered fully and has been able to swim about his tank like a normal fish. He has some neurologic issues remaining, but he is a remarkable little fish. Now, it’s his friend that is sick. His tankmate, who showed no signs secondary to the ammonia event, has developed skin edema, commonly called dropsy. As discussed in previous posts, dropsy is a physical manifestation of kidney disease. Finding nothing wrong with the water, the fish was started on antimicrobial therapy. We found that the owner had been feeding a can of flakes that were very old. As fish flakes are exposed to air, they lose their water-soluble vitamins, including vitamin C. Without adequate vitamin support, fish can get sick much easier, which is probably what happened in this case. A week later, the fish completed the antimicrobial therapy and is looking forward to a new diet. (Total miles: 35)
  • In between our first and second appointments, we were contacted by one of our clients that he had found a fish dead in his pond that morning. Worried about the safety of the rest of the fish in his pond, he saved the body and was able to get it to our hospital. On the way to the hospital to check out the dead fish, the vet stopped off at his pond to check the rest of the fish. After the water and all fish checked out okay, the vet made it back to the office for the necropsy. The poor, dead koi had suffered from a severe infection in his swim bladder. The swim bladder itself had ruptured and leaked pus all throughout the coelomic cavity. This bacteria the attacked the other organs and the fish passed away. Although sad for the loss of the fish, it does not suggest that this fish passed his disease on to any other fish in the pond. There were likely no clinical signs other than possibly a slight negative buoyancy. Since the pond is only 3 feet deep at the center, the owner may to have noticed anything amiss. (Total miles: 26)

And so concludes two days on the road with our veterinarian. In a total of 365 miles, our vet had the variety of fish issues and therapies. Working in the veterinary field is a variety in itself, but adding fish creates a whole new dimension. We will continue to work hard to serve all fish owners and enthusiasts anywhere we can.

Upcoming Webinar: Medical School vs. Veterinary School – What You Should Know Before You Apply

Medical School vs. Veterinary School – What You Should Know Before You Apply

Tue, Aug 15, 2017 2:00 PM – 3:00 PM PDT

Can’t make the decision between a career in human medicine or veterinary medicine? Want to know more about the schooling process before you get started? What is required of medical schools before you even begin to apply? Just want to know more about what medical or veterinary school is all about? All of these questions and more will be answered by two sister doctors, Dr. Jessie Sanders, DVM and Dr. Bailey Sanders, MD.

Jessie Sanders, DVM, CertAqV
Bailey Sanders, MD

Both Sanders sisters grew up in rural Connecticut, the daughters of two engineers (one civil, one chemical). Dr. Jessie Sanders attended the University of Rhode Island and graduated magna cum laude with a B.S. in Marine Biology. From there, she went on to veterinary school at the Cummings School for Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University in North Grafton, MA. Following her graduation, Dr. Jessie Sanders opened her own aquatic specialty private veterinary practice in Santa Cruz, CA.

Dr. Bailey Sanders attended the University of Massachusetts on a full Division I softball scholarship and graduate summa cum laude with a B.S. in Kinesiology. She went on to Pennsylvania State for medical school and then to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill for a 5-year residency program in general surgery. She is currently there as a 4th year resident.

Click Here to Register


Questions to be answered by our panel:

  • What did you want to be when you were growing up?
  • What was your greatest inspiration to becoming a doctor?
  • What are the requirements for admission?
  • How many schools did you apply to?
  • How many years of classes vs rotations?
  • Most challenging class/rotation?
  • What was your favorite class/rotation?
  • How did you deal with the stress of school? What was your support system?
  • Difference after graduating – internship + residency
  • How do you get into different specialties?
  • How do you take the next steps after graduation?
  • What would you have changed looking back now?

Click Here to Register

The Princess and the Pond

The Princess and the Pond

In every veterinarian’s career, there will come cases that try us mentally, physically and emotionally. For us here at Aquatic Veterinary Services, we have been tested by a case that we battled for almost 6 months. What started as a simple lesion steamrolled into a serious bacteria problem for multiple large koi.

Princess, a 28″ kohaku koi, had been moved with 5 of her pondmates from Redding last fall down to Carmel. Early in their acclimation, one of the koi got sucked up into the filtration and was killed. The fish were moved temporarily to another pond for a few weeks before the problem could be fixed and the fish returned. One of Princess’s cohorts, Whitey, started to have a small red spot on her nose. In addition, Princess started to have a red mark next to her left pectoral fin. Physical exams showed a penetrating pectoral ulcer on Princess’s left pectoral muscle. Princess received an antibiotic injection and would receive a re-check in a few weeks.

Princess (left) & Whitey (right)

A few weeks later, Princess’s wound had not improved and now Whitey also had signs of a nasty ulcer on her right pectoral muscle. A culture was taken from Whitey’s wound and the owner elected to treat with an aggressive 8-hour dose of potassium permanganate. Due to the high algae load in the pond, the first PP treatment required two smaller, follow up doses in order to keep the pond purple for the full treatment. Even with the treatment, the fishes’ wounds did not start to improve. In fact, two other fish in the pond were starting to show signs of a persistent infection. One had fractured a fin ray that caused a massive hole and the other’s eyes started bulging out.

Well, when the culture results arrived, we found out why the fish were not responding. Two drugs, out of the dozen processed, would be able to kill the Aeromonas spp. present. Two, out of a panel of twelve. One of the drugs would cause kidney failure if used at too high a dose. The other was only available as a powder for oral dosing. We were able to make up a medicated feed with the powder, but unfortunately, the fish decided that it was not to their liking. Some drugs are very noxious and fish will not eat them, even when we try to hide them with flavorings. So, that left us with one drug, but only one dose taking careful weight measurements so as not to incite kidney failure. All 5 fish in the pond received injectable medications.

Did it work? Not really. Many of these drugs require repeat doses in order to be truly effective. At this point, we were left with very, very few options. This is the part where I stay awake at night thinking, ‘what else can I do?’ Thankfully, when we were trying to come up with some sort of alternative plan, the powder antibiotic was finally available as an injectable! We bought as many vials as we could and we managed three rounds of injectable meds.

Keep in mind that all of these injections were done in the pond without sedation. We also had to give all of these fish physical exams every visit, without sedation. You try holding a 25 lbs slippery rocket made of pure muscle and see how long you get to stab it with a needle. I am so proud of myself that I was able to give these fish the care that they needed with the limited options we had available.

Long story short: every fish is now on the mend. Are they healed entirely? No, not yet, but all of the wounds are showing great signs of proper healing. Thanks to their very patient owner and our unwillingness to give up. These cases don’t come around very often, but when they do, we are so glad to report a happy ending for this pond.