CAN YOU TAKE FISH TO THE VET?
When you think about veterinarians, you may not think about doctors who treat your pet goldfish. In fact, you’re probably scratching your head, thinking “people take their fish to the vet?” It’s true, many people do take their pet fish to see a veterinarian and there are many things a veterinarian can do to help keep your fish happy and healthy for longer.
Aquatic veterinarians are licensed animal health professionals who are qualified to diagnose and treat a wide variety of marine species that may include fish, marine mammals, sea turtles, and other wildlife.
ROUTINE EXAMS BY AN AQUATIC ANIMAL VET
Did you know there are more than 34,000 species of fish? And each species has its own needs. One of the most common causes of illness in fish is the quality of the water. Different species can need different amounts of salt in the water, different pH levels, different temperatures, and many other factors that may need to be accounted for. Bacterial, viral, or parasitic infections are also a common cause of sickness in fish.
A full exam on a fish includes gaining information on the fish’s environment and food sources, as well as observing the fish while he’s swimming. A veterinarian will look for evidence of infectious disease through a fecal test, scraping of the scales, and performing a gill and fin biopsy. The fish may also be anesthetized, via a powder that’s added to his tank, so the veterinarian can more closely check his eyes, gills, and mouth. The fish may be kept out of water for brief periods while this takes place.
FISH VET SURGERY
Veterinarians may need to perform surgery on fish for many of the same reasons they perform surgeries on other animals. Yes, you heard that right, fish can undergo surgery just like your beloved cat or dog. A few of the reasons for surgery are the removal of external and internal masses, repair of skin lacerations, removal of a severely damaged eye, and swim bladder repair for buoyancy problems.
Fish are first put under anesthesia. Depending on the surgery, fish are then stitched up following the procedure. A fish veterinarian may need to remove the scales along the suture site to get to the skin and then can use absorbable or non-absorbable sutures for fish. It can take fish up to 15 minutes to wake up from anesthesia. And typically, recovery from fish surgery can take 10 to 14 days in warm water if they are recovering from an incision.
WHEN SHOULD I TAKE MY FISH TO THE VET?
It’s important to watch for signs of sickness such as a swollen or enlarged belly, changes in eating habits or buoyancy, lesions, or discoloration on the skin. Other signs that your fish may need veterinary care include Signs that your fish may require veterinary care could include hiding or avoiding tank areas, rubbing against objects, or clamping fins against the body.
HELPFUL TIPS FOR PET FISH OWNERS
- Different types of fish and aquatic life require different water conditions. When you bring home your fish, it’s important to note the size of the aquarium or tank it will need and whether it will need saltwater or freshwater.
- Be sure to maintain proper pH levels in your water. There are simple tests you can purchase that, when used regularly, can help detect fluctuations and allow you to recalibrate before your fish is stressed.
- Note the temperature of the water. It’s best to keep tanks and aquariums out of direct sunlight or near vents.
- Monitor your fish and its living environment. Watch for changes in appearance, behavior, and appetite and reach out to your fish doctor as soon as you think something is amiss.
The American Association of Fish Veterinarians maintains a Find a Fish Vet locator to help you locate a doctor near you.
IS A CAREER AS A FISH VET RIGHT FOR YOU?
There are different specialty areas a “fish doctor” can pursue. Your career path may include:
- veterinary fish pathologist
- pet fish veterinarian
- aquaculture veterinarian
- veterinary researcher
- policy writing
- wildlife veterinarian
If you are interested in working with fish, you may want to keep fish as a pet first. This is a great way to learn more about the proper handling and keeping. Volunteering or working at a fish shop or public aquarium are other ways to gain more exposure and experience.
You’ll then need to complete your Doctor Veterinary Medicine (DVM). However, vet school is not all about fish. You will spend a lot of time learning more about land mammals. Don’t despair, all the knowledge and skills you learn provide you with a strong foundation to work with a variety of species. While you’re in school, take advantage of opportunities to gain exposure and experience working with fish. Perhaps participate in your school’s aquatic medicine club or search out externship opportunities with other fish vets.
After you earn your DVM, continue to pursue training opportunities or join networking groups such as the World Aquatic Veterinary Medical Association or the American Association of Fish Veterinarians.
Want to learn more about fish vets? Watch Ross Vet’s Fascinating Fish Cases webinar with alumnus Dr. Chad Harris ‘12.
See our list of virtual events and livestreams coming soon. Each one is hosted live, so you’ll get the opportunity to have your questions answered by our hosts in real-time. Secure your spot today!
Start your Journey
Pursue your passion for veterinary medicine working with fish. Learn more about a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree today.