The Goldfish Wheelchair and Other Aquatic Veterinary Procedures

Chelsea Hester on chameleon surgery. September 27, 2019

Chelsea Hester, a doctoral candidate for Veterinary Medicine at the University of Tennessee, spoke about aquatic veterinary medicine at the UT Science forum on Friday. Her talk focused on how to become a certified aquatic veterinarian and on examples of what someone in that field would work on.

Her first aquatic patient she spoke about was a goldfish that could not swim. Hester explained that because goldfish are oftentimes very inbred, they have issues with their swim bladders. These bladders are what allow fish to stay buoyant in the water and help them stay afloat.

When the bladders of these fish are too small then they get stuck laying on the bottom of the tank and cannot swim as they should be able to.

The solution to this is a piece of packing peanut that is sewn onto the fish through the dorsal fin on the top of the fish to allow it to float more easily. This technique is called by some a “goldfish wheelchair”.

Goldfish using the “wheelchair” to help it swim. The Dodo 2018

Hester said that the purpose of this procedure is to see if the fish can adjust to being upright, and eventually be able to grow into their swim bladder over time.

When the goldfish can stay upright in the water and is gaining back their mobility, the “wheelchair” is removed. Hester said that this is to teach the fish to not rely on the device too much so that eventually it to be able to swim without assistance.

Hester said that this technique is still new in aquatic medicine and is not widely used, but can be effective in the right cases.

According to Jessie Sanders, a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine from Aquatic Veterinary Services, “For goldfish, 90% of our “swim bladder” cases are lethargy secondary to poor water quality. Most of our actual swim bladder cases are fancy goldfish with most likely structural deficiencies.”

Many at home diagnoses are incorrectly thought to be “swim bladder disease” says Sanders. Often times there are more simple solutions to these issues like a change in diet or correction of water quality.

For more information about this procedure and the symptoms that may require a wheelchair, visit cafishvet.

Aquatic Veterinary Services 2017

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