A veterinarian who is knowledgeable about pond fish care is an important part of pond care success. How do you find such a person, and how do you evaluate his or her qualifications to care for your fish?
The first step in locating a veterinarian for your pond may be as simple as asking for recommendations at pond club meetings or at your pond supply store. You can also consult your telephone directory for veterinarians who advertise their pond care services, or you can conduct an online search for “pond fish veterinarian [your city and state]” or “koi veterinarian [your city and state].” Ponds USA and Water Gardens also maintains a list of aquatic veterinarians (PondsMagazine.com/KoiVets).
Finding a vet who can visit your pond will ensure better treatment of your fish.
Brad Krohn, DVM, department chair of veterinary technology and lecturer in aquatic medicine at Portland Community College in Portland, Oregon, says that after collecting veterinary recommendations, a pond owner must then identify which veterinarian has the experience and willingness to treat fish. Look at qualifications like what training the vet has. “A select group of veterinary schools, such as U.C. Davis, the University of Florida, Mississippi State, the University of Georgia, and University of Prince Edward Island, offer special training in aquatic medicine,” he said, adding that veterinarians can also attend post-doctoral aquatic and fish medicine training programs. One program called Aquavet is a month-long program that is co-sponsored by Cornell University and the University of Pennsylvania, and offers veterinarians the opportunity to learn about water quality, the tropical fish industry and the latest advances in medical treatments for pet fish.
In addition to being qualified to treat fish, a veterinarian who treats pond-dwellers must also be mobile — with fish it is easier to bring the doctor to the patient instead of the patient to the doctor. “Nothing is better than a vet who can visit the actual pond and perform a complete assessment of the environment,” said Krohn. “A vet who has both the time for onsite house-calls, and has access to routine hospital diagnostic equipment is ideal.”
To complete the package, Krohn added that an aquatic veterinarian should have a good working relationship with a diagnostic laboratory, and that lab should have experience with fish pathology to provide accurate results on blood and tissue tests and cultures.
When you’ve identified some potential veterinarians in your area, call their offices to gather more information. Here are some questions you may want to ask:
- How many fish does your practice see in a month? In a year?
- Does anyone in the practice belong to any aquatic veterinary associations, such as the International Association for Aquatic Animal Medicine or the World Aquatic Veterinary Medical Association?
- Does anyone in the practice have a pond?
- Does anyone in the practice belong to a pond club?
- What are the costs of a pond call?
- What procedures are in place for after-hours or emergency situations?
Be a Proactive Pond Owner
A few simple steps of preventative care can help prevent problems and ensure the health of your pond. “Preventative medicine is the foundation of fish health, and it hinges on consistently assessing and limiting environmental and husbandry problems before they cause mortality in your fish,” said Krohn. “Aquatic vets love to see pond owners who appreciate the importance of environment and water quality to fish health.”
He added that both the pond owner and the veterinarian should view the pond as a closed life-support system akin to a space capsule. “Pond fish are a lot like astronauts in a space capsule where temperature, oxygen, nutrition and waste management are key to the survival of the system,” he said. If one of the fish becomes sick, then a “herd health” concept similar to those used by large animal veterinarians has to be considered — the group must be evaluated as a whole for factors such as environmental stress and disease transmission.
According to Jena Questen, DVM, who may be better known to pondkeepers as Dr. Koi, the most common problems associated with pond health result from either poor water quality or improper quarantine procedures. “If I could say one thing to all fishkeepers, it’s quarantine,” said Questen, who added that 80 percent of the problems she sees in her practice in Colorado result from poor quarantine protocols.
Questen recommends that all pondkeepers regularly check and correct water quality, and establish and follow a quarantine plan when adding fish to the pond.
Establish a Schedule
The number of times a veterinarian will need to visit your pond each year depends on several factors, including the amount of time you’ve been involved in pondkeeping, the size of your pond, the complexity of its design, your experience in assessing water quality, your knowledge of fish behavior and the types of fish you keep.
“A veterinarian’s ongoing input can be crucial for a novice starting up a new pond,” said Krohn. A veterinarian can provide design advice that can incorporate information about the natural history of the fish being kept in it, which can enrich the captive environment and elicit more natural behaviors in the fish.
Another important aspect of pond design that a veterinarian might bring to an owner’s attention is the need for an isolation area in which sick fish can be kept prior to being seen by a veterinarian.
“For experienced owners with established systems, annual or six-month health maintenance visits could suffice as with other veterinary patients,” he said. “And then there is always the inevitable trauma, infection or water quality emergency that needs immediate care.”
Krohn has observed that more and more pond owners are seeking veterinary care for their fish. “Good aquatic veterinarians are aware of the significant human-animal bond that can exist between owners and their fish, and we strive to provide them the level of care that is available for other pets,” Krohn said. Caring for your fish not only includes ensuring the correct environment and nutrition, it also includes a fish veterinarian.
Signs of Illness in Pond Fish
Here are some common signs of illness in koi and other pond fish. If you see any of these signs in your pond residents, contact a qualified veterinarian for treatment recommendations.
- Behavioral changes (irritation, restlessness, rubbing against objects in pond, remaining on pond bottom)
- Cottony skin growths
- Pineconelike appearance (flared scales and swollen body)
- Skin inflammation or ulcers
- White spots on gills and skin
- Breathing difficulties (gasping, mouth rapidly opening and closing)
- Discharge or significant mucus around the gills
- Bloody or frayed fins or tail
- Threadlike growths under gills
A Growing Field
Aquatic animal medicine did not see much growth for years, though it was a recognized specialty since 1968. Find out about this growing area of specialization at FishChannel.com/AquaticMedicine.
Koi Health Advisor Program
Koikeepers have an additional health-related resource that they can call upon: The Koi Health Advisor Program, which is sponsored by the Associated Koi Clubs of America (AKCA). The program provides support from experienced hobbyists for new pondkeepers, and it also offers referrals to local veterinarians who have an interest in ponds and pondkeeping.
To qualify as a koi health advisor, a hobbyist must complete a seven-unit course that includes information on pond design, water quality and filtration, disease prevention and a wet lab. Advisors must also be members of an AKCA-affiliated koi club and be considered a hobbyist, rather than a professional who earns some or all of his or her income from koikeeping.
Visit akca.org for more information on the Koi Health Advisor Program.
Looking for a Koi Vet?
Take a look at our aquatic vet listings! To find a koi vet for your fish, just go to PondsMagazine.com/KoiVets.
Julie Mancini writes about pondkeeping and other animal-related topics from her family’s acreage in Iowa. She has
written for Ponds magazine, Reptiles, Critters USA and Rabbits USA, along with19 books about pet care and wild birds.