Swimming Upside Down

Dr. John Kaya
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Wednesday - September 02, 2009
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I am an exotic veterinarian. Just to be clear, I, myself, am not exotic, but the animals I treat belong to the category of exotic animals.

In veterinary school, many of my fellow students had specific goals in mind. Some wanted to practice equine medicine in Kentucky, others wanted to work on pigs in Minnesota (home of our beloved Spam), and still others wished to take care of zoo inhabitants. By the time graduation rolled around, I decided to concentrate on companion animals. Little did I know that companion animals could encompass a vast array of critters.

On my first day on the job, I saw two dogs, two cats, a cockatiel, a turtle, a rabbit and a chinchilla. Whew! The learning curve during my first two years was steep - Kilimanjaro steep. Soon, however, I got into a groove and all was well. That is, until I had the bright idea of venturing into the world of fish.


When will I learn?

The following story is true, but the names and scaly faces have been changed to protect the innocent.

It was a quiet day at the hospital, no emergencies rushing through our doors and all the patients were healthy. Shortly after lunch, our receptionist Janet approached me with a curious look on her face. I couldn’t help but wonder if she had eaten a bad batch of kim chee.

Nope, it turns out she received a phone call from a person wanting to bring in his sick goldfish. Janet knew I had taken a koi medicine course in Georgia, attended aquatic disease lectures in Las Vegas and took two fish medicine courses online. She asked if I was ready for my first fish patient. “Ready?” I whispered. “I was born ready.”

Yeah, not very convincing, I know. I jumped on the phone and spoke to Mr. Smith about his goldfish. The problem: “Goldie” was swimming upside down. This was a peculiar condition indeed. After further discussion, we agreed that a home visitation would be best, since transporting fish can be very stressful to the patient.

When I arrived at Mr. Smith’s house, I noticed something very unusual. Goldie was swimming upside down. It was definitely cute, but a bit perplexing.

I proceeded to go through the steps I learned from the long hours spent in fish class.

Step 1: Test the water quality in the aquarium. No abnormal readings.

Step 2: Review husbandry and diet. Everything seemed fine.

Step 3: Perform a physical exam on Goldie. Not a scale was out of place.

It was at this point that Mr. Smith gave me a concerned look.

You see, he’s cared for his scaly friend for more than two years and, as he put it, they had a connection.

After much deliberation, I took a deep breath and made a presumptive diagnosis of Tempuku disease, a rare disease that plagues a handful of goldfish. Goldie happened to be one of these fish. The treatment involved adding a specific amount of salt to the aquarium and offering Goldie a heavy dose of peas.

Yes, peas that you get from the grocery store. Why peas?

Actually I’m not sure. But it did the trick for Goldie.

One month later, Mr. Smith reported that Goldie was normal again with just an occasional bout of swimming upside down. He thinks it’s because Goldie started to fancy the peas and wanted the green morsels every now and then.

Since Goldie, I’ve had several other calls to help fish in distress. Some of them were goldfish that swam upside down; others had concerns of a different nature.

Am I a fish expert? No way, but I do my best. Such is the plight of an exotic veterinarian. As I tread through life on the Wild Side, sometimes I myself feel like swimming upside down.

Peas seem to help.

Oh, and of course an occasional glass of wine.

Pet Tips:

Fish, like other pets have medical problems. Consult with your local pet store or contact your veterinarian. You owe it to your scaly family member.

Water quality is the No. 1 reason why pet fish have medical health issues.

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