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How to Find a Fish Veterinarian

By: Dr. Amy Wolff

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Keeping an aquarium is America's Number Two hobby (gardening is Number One). Sophisticated equipment, filtration, lighting and other advances in water quality let hobbyists keep larger numbers of fish from a wide range of species. Like any pet, aquatic animals and invertebrates can contract diseases and parasites or can become injured. If your wet friends need medical attention, here are a few suggestions to help you find a veterinarian experienced in diagnosing and treating diseases of aquatic animals, and how you can help your doctor diagnose the problem.

Start With Your Regular Veterinarian

The same doctor that cares for your cat, dog, bird or other pet may be able to help you. Courses in aquatic animal medicine are often included in veterinary curriculum as the demand for this type of medicine increases. Your veterinarian may be a hobbyist, too. Many veterinarians like the challenge of raising saltwater fish or invertebrates and have gained practical knowledge through their own experience. It's often necessary to make a house call to examine an aquarium or pond, so a veterinarian who's close may be able to provide prompt service.

Yellow Pages

Check out the yellow pages. Veterinarians that are experienced with fish medicine will often advertise.

Search the Web

Searching the web may reveal qualified veterinarians in your area. Several search engines also have vet locators to help you find a veterinarian. If you cannot find a veterinarian in your area, search for local fish organizations. Often, these will have lists of veterinarians in your area experienced in the care of fish.

Local Zoos

Most zoos maintain aquatic collections, and zoo veterinarians and technical staff have an amazing range of knowledge on most aquatic species. Be prepared to leave a phone message, these talented people are working from sun up to sun down taking care of everything from anteaters to zebras. A call back may take a day or two, but it's worth the wait for the advice of these experienced professionals.

City Aquariums

If you live in an area large enough to support a city aquarium, there is usually staff available to handle questions for hobbyists and suggest solutions. These people are great resources for the more exotic species, saltwater fish and invertebrates. Once again, be prepared to call and leave a message.

Aquarium Stores/Hobby Clubs

The personnel working in your local fish store often know as much about fish as anyone. They have learned to recognize and treat many common diseases. They may also use the services of a veterinarian to treat sick animals and can direct you to the doctor they use. Local hobbyists and aquarium clubs often know doctors in the area that work with aquatic species.

How to Help the Vet

Once you've found a doctor able to help you with your fish, there are things you can do to help obtain a proper diagnosis. You will most likely be asked to bring smaller fish to the clinic. Bring the sick fish in a container large enough so that it can swim comfortably. Bring an additional water sample for water quality testing.

It is best if the doctor sees the fish before you've attempted any treatments. About 99 percent of hobbyists have tried up to three over-the-counter cures before attempting to contact a veterinarian. These chemicals often do more harm than good or can make a diagnosis difficult by masking the symptoms. To help the vet, you should:

  • Be able to describe accurately your tank and its inhabitants. Know how many gallons of water it holds, what filtration system is in use and how the temperature is maintained.

  • Be able to tell your veterinarian what other types of fish are in the tank and if any of the other fish are affected.

  • Monitor the appetites of your fish, their swimming postures, respirations and eye positions.

    All of these observations will help your doctor diagnose the problem.

    An Inexact Science

    Despite best efforts, the diagnosis and treatment of aquatic animal diseases is often very difficult. Often times, the only sign of a problem is a dead fish in your aquarium. Natural decay takes place very quickly in the water. A necropsy may be able to diagnose the problem and prevent more losses. Take any deceased fish to your vet as quickly as possible for the best chance of diagnosis. Don't attempt to treat your fish without advice from a veterinarian experienced in fish medicine. It is a good idea to remove any ill fish from the aquarium as soon as possible and place them in a quarantine tank until you can contact your vet. Treating your fish without an accurate diagnosis can lead to devastating problems. Remember, an aquarium is an intricate environment with a delicate balance of microorganisms. Haphazardly adding chemicals in an attempt to treat an unknown disease disturbs this balance and often creates larger problems.

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