Fish as Pets podcast: An interview with Dr. Helen Roberts, DVM

More veterinarians than ever before are treating not just valuable koi, but also goldfish won at county fairs and many tropical fish species.

Dr. Helen Roberts, a practicing veterinarian in Orchard Park, N.Y., and vice chair of the AVMA’s Aquatic Veterinarian Medical Committee, talks about aquatic veterinary medicine and the increasing number of veterinarians involved in the care of pet fish.

Listen to the MP3 podcast

Some upcoming educational opportunities in ornamental fish health

I wanted to make you all aware of two upcoming continuing education opportunities, the Aquatic Ecology and Koi Health Academy and the Aquatic section of the American Veterinary Medical Association Annual meeting.

This will be the third year that Oregon Sea Grant Extension and the College of Veterinary Medicine has partnered with Rail City Garden Center to coordinate the speakers, seminar and wet lab for the Aquatic Ecology and Koi Health Academy. The program has been well received by past participants. Here is some more information from the press release:

In an effort to preserve the knowledge and awareness of Koi health and water ecology, Rail City Garden Center is pleased to announce the 3rd Annual “Greater Nevada Aquatic Ecology & Koi Health Academy.”

A one of a kind event in North America, we have in place an event scheduled for February 28th and March 1st, 2009. This event will be held at the University of Nevada, College of Agriculture building, located in beautiful downtown Reno Nevada. Two tracks available: Pond Professional and Veterinarian track.

Some of the featured speakers include: Dr. Tim Miller-Morgan, DVM – Oregon State University, College of Veterinary Medicine, Oregon Sea Grant Extension; Dr. Scott Weber, VMD, MS – University of California, College of Veterinary Medicine; Dr. Richard Strange, PhD – University of Tennessee, Department of Fisheries and Wildlife; Dr. Allen Riggs, DVM – Hawaii Department of Agriculture, Aquaculture Development Program and Dr. David S. Thain, DVM – University of Nevada, State Extension Veterinarian.

Rail City Garden Center is looking forward to seeing you at the 2009 event. Please call

(775) 355-1551, visit our website at, or email us directly at

Downloadable .pdfs:

Please feel free to pass these along to anyone you feel might be interested in the program.

Also, for the veterinarians, keep July, 18-22, 2009 open. This is the AVMA annual meeting which will be in Seattle. We will be offering 4 days of aquatic medicine training with a focus on pet fish. Additionally we will be offering a seminar and wet lab on shellfish medicine. I will make more detailed information available in the near future.

Some rules of thumb for keeping healthy fish and invertebrates

Let’s start with something I hope you will find fun.

About 15 years ago I attended a program called AQUAVET at the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. This was an intensive program in Aquatic Animal Medicine. Dr. Bob Bullis, one of the instructors and the MBL veterinarian at the time, gave a lecture entitled Principles of Health Management For Marine Laboratory Animals. From his lecture and notes came some some important considerations for keeping healthy fish an invertebrates. This gave me the idea to develop some “rules of thumb” for the aquarist or budding aquatic veterinarian. Often it is these little tips and pearls of wisdom that aren’t covered in the books or formal classes. Over the years through my own and others experiences (good and bad) I have modified these into some general rules of thumb for the freshwater and marine aquarium keeping. This is certainly not the final word on this matter, I’m constantly tinkering with the list and, as always, open to suggestions. Without further ado here in slightly modified and expanded form are the sage words of Dr. Bob Bullis, MS, DVM.

Now comes the interactive portion. I imagine you have also have developed your own rules of thumb for keeping your animals healthy. Send them to me or post them in the comments section and include your name and state or country. If I add them to the list you will get full credit. TMM


  • Water quality is almost always the central or contributing factor in disease outbreaks.
  • Bacterial and parasitic diseases account for the vast majority of ornamental fish disease problems.
  • Prevention is ALWAYS cheaper than treatment.


  • Excessive accumulation of debris, uneaten food, feces, and other muck in the aquarium or pond.
  • Sudden changes in water quality parameters (ammonia, nitrite, pH, turbidity, alkalinity, dissolved oxygen, cloudy water, unusual amount of foam in system, etc.)
  • A dead animal or an unusual amount of deaths among animals that traditionally do very well in aquariums or pond environments.
  • Distressed animals in the system. This is usually indicated by unusual amounts of activity, inactivity, or unusual behavior. More on specific signs in fish and invertebrates in the next issue.
  • It’s 4:30 on a Friday afternoon and you are planning on going away for the weekend.


  • Failure to know your animal (its biology and husbandry requirements).
  • Failure to quarantine new animals.
  • Failure to allow your aquarium or pond to cycle before adding all your fish an/or invertebrates.
  • Overcrowding the system. This will tax the oxygen supply and the filtration systems, increase traumatic injury, territorialism, and cannibalism.
  • Overfeeding
  • Failure to adequately rinse recently cleaned and disinfected tanks, totes and equipment.
  • Failure to quarantine newly arrived animals or to isolate those undergoing treatment.
  • Initiating a disease treatment without a proper diagnosis.
  • Failure to rinse the dust from activated carbon, dolomite or crushed shell before adding it to filters.
  • Failure to provide large aquariums with well supported stands.
  • Failure to build in bypass and overflow pipes and screened drains.
  • Use of copper, brass, or bronze valves and/or pipes. These can corrode, slough or leach toxic copper salts. Copper is especially toxic to invertebrates. Zinc is also quite toxic.
  • Failure to provide proper substrates, shelter, or life support for commensal invertebrates.
  • Failure to provide proper water flow and current for sessile invertebrates.
  • Using plastics or sealers impregnated with insecticides or fungicides. Always read the label and when in doubt use food grade containers.
  • Using toxins or solvents in or around aquariums and ponds (insecticides, herbicides, floor strippers, cleaners, even smoke)
  • Failure to keep certain species separate (predators with prey species, aggressive species with timid species, introducing parasites with host species).
  • Failure to identify the individuals responsible for care and maintenance of the animals and systems. Miscommunication can leave important husbandry tasks undone.
  • Failure to check the water quality parameters regularly.
  • Failure to observe and respond to declining water quality conditions.
  • Inadequate nutrition do to underfeeding or an unbalanced or inappropriate diet. varied diet is always best. Monodiets are never balanced.
  • Failure to keep adequate husbandry records (water quality, feeding, mortalities, disease, and other significant events) and failure to review those records on a regular basis.
  • Failure to recognize or anticipate the onset or duration of reproductive activity. Misinterpreting reproductive activity as abnormal behavior.
  • Improperly installed/maintained electrical equipment and outlets not protected by ground fault interruption.
  • Failure to check pipes, fittings and equipment on the suction side of pumps for air leaks. Air supersaturated water can kill animals quickly.
  • Believing that antibiotics will solve all your problems.

Welcome to Words from a Wet Vet

The Ornamental Fish Industry is global and extremely diverse. Participants in this industry include:

  • collectors
  • breeders/farmers
  • exporters
  • importers
  • transhippers
  • wholesalers
  • retailers
  • aquarium and pond maintenance professionals
  • and, of course, the end users — ornamental fish hobbyists.

The number of fish and invertebrate species collected and cultured for this industry exceeds 3000 species, with the ornamental trade touching every continent except Antarctica.

While the diversity and scope is tremendous, there is one common factor: the importance of quality animal health management. Increased knowledge of health management principles can have dramatic impacts on the industry. These include:

  • reduced pressure on ecosystems
  • reduced stress and disease among our aquatic charges
  • increased profits
  • and an increased understanding of the animal needs and husbandry requirements throughout each aspect of this large industry.

This blog is my attempt to shed some light on what I consider to be important issues of aquatic animal health management within the industry, discuss ways we all may be able to work together to address these emerging issues, and inform readers about upcoming events and educational opportunities in order to increase our awareness and proficiency as it relates to aquatic animal health management.