How much do we need fish doctors?

Recently, I have sparked an interest in our veterinary community over how much we need more veterinarians to service fish owners. I understand completely, the likes of the busy GP veterinarian who do not have the time to dedicate specialised knowledge in the face of having to know about so many species (dogs, cats, rabbits, rodents, the bird groups, horses, camelids, cattle, sheep, goats, etc.), and about the veterinary aspects (radiology, medicine, surgery, dentistry, clinical pathology, pathology, etc.). That’s a lot to handle! Though, I believe there ought to be at least 2-3 (and the more, the merrier) aquatic veterinarians in each capital city to respond to the needs of pet fish owners.

As a veterinary profession, I believe it is our responsibility to provide for the health and welfare of all animals, including fishes. It was not long ago that it was common place for veterinarians to refer cases involving birds, reptiles, rodents and rabbits to the pet store. We have come a long way very quickly.

Every year, I lecture to the veterinary students at Murdoch University on fish welfare (see https://thefishvet.com/2012/10/22/free-lecture-on-fish-welfare/). This debate is much the same as what we had for terrestrial farmed animals just over ten years ago. To summarise, fish are sentient, they do feel pain, they are intelligent (capable of learning), they have complex relationships and social structures and so on and so forth.

There are currently a number of non-veterinarians who practice as “fish doctors”, much to the detriment of our profession. Is it justifiable for a veterinarian to refer to lay people, for the treatment and surgical intervention of animals? It may result in misdiagnoses, treating without a diagnosis and irresponsible use of medicines, especially antibiotics. Two major things wrong with this: It prolongs suffering (and death ensues) and can contribute to antimicrobial resistance. Increased veterinarian oversight and supervision of such drug use will contribute to efforts to control the spread of antimicrobial resistance. It is our responsibility to protect the health of the animals and humans, in the “one-health” concept.

There’s the common argument that veterinary clinics are the last port of call, and perhaps you’ve never had anyone call the clinic about fish. It is true that many search the internet, speak with their peers and perhaps ask the pet shop; long before they contemplate calling the veterinarian. I believe this is true also for any industry from human medicine through to home renovations. But could it be that our colleagues are helping perpetuate the lack of veterinary engagement with fish owners? Maybe not you, but could your colleagues be referring fish owners back to the pet store? We need to either welcome the clients, or at the very least, refer them an aquatic veterinarian. There is a free aquatic veterinarian directory at < http://www.aquavetmed.info/>.

My colleagues and I have been helping fellow veterinarians for over a decade. We also have a very supportive group called the World Aquatic Veterinary Medical Association <http://www.wavma.org> and it has many useful resources including networking for members through the member-only list-serves, as well as WAVMA’s e-News, WAVMA@Work blog, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, a quarterly journal and other media, to help promote the discipline. I especially like the series of webinars (see – http://www.wavma.org/WebCEPD). WAVMA is dedicated to reinvent veterinary science by bringing aquatic veterinary medicine to the forefront, creating new opportunities, positioning ourselves for the future, by building a competitive advantage and harnessing the skills of its members.

I also keep an e-mailing list of interested veterinarians with interesting pointers and opportunities. If you’d like to join it, please fill in your details at <http://thefishvet.com.au/contact_us.html>. So, if you’re a veterinarian, I hope you’ll join with me and my colleagues to provide for our fishes.

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Yours sincerely,

Dr Richmond Loh DipProjMgt, BSc, BVMS, MPhil (Pathology), MANZCVS (Aquatics & Pathobiology), CertAqV, CMAVA, NATA Signatory.
THE FISH VET, Perth, Western Australia, AUSTRALIA.
Mobile Aquatic Veterinary Medical & Diagnostic Services.
http://www.thefishvet.com.au
Ph: +61 (0)421 822 383
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Skype: thefishvet

President WAVMA 2014

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Adjunct Lecturer Murdoch University | Secretary Aquatic Animal Health Chapter – ANZCVS.

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