Do fish get sick? You bet they do! Fish illness can present itself in many ways. Most problems can be divided into two categories: physical and behavioral. Physical problems are the easiest to diagnose and involve physical changes in a fish’s appearance. This category can include open wounds, ulcers, lumps and bumps, color changes and changes in body shape, such as with dropsy or egg-laying females. Behavioral issues are changes in a fish’s everyday routine. This can include loss or decrease in appetite, odd swimming posture, changes in buoyancy or lethargy. Some of these subtler changes can only be noted with daily observations.
Fish owners are very attuned to their fish’s day to day routine, usually observed at feeding times. They note who is first to the food, who lingers behind or waits their turn and how all the fish swim around their tank or pond. If a fish is starting to become ill, an owner may notice a change in their physical appearance, or perhaps the fish that used to eat everything all the time has started to hang out at the bottom during feeding times, noting a behavioral change. Usually, a one-day slump is normal for a fish to have every once in a while. Just like people, fish can have off days where they return to normal the following day.
If a fish’s behavior has been altered for three or more days, it’s time to do some problem solving. We recommend checking your water quality to start and usually doing a water change regardless of the values. Most issues with fish that we encounter in our veterinary practice are actually secondary to poor water quality. Investing in a drop-based water test kit and testing weekly is a great tool for any fish owner. If the water checks out okay and the fish is not improved, it’s time for a deeper look. There are reference books available for those looking to educate themselves on fish health.
Here are some good reads, all written by fish veterinarians!
Fish veterinarians are a growing veterinary specialty and are happy to help educate fish owners on best practices and help out when there is a fish in distress. To find a fish veterinarian near you, check out the following two databases:
We here at Aquatic Veterinary Services are happy to help with any fish questions even if you do not live in our immediate area. We are happy to help answer any fish questions that any fish owners need assistance with. We would much rather you turn to us than try to scour the internet and lose yourself off in a dark corner. Come to us and get the right answers the first time!