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Fish Welfare

Clinician's Brief (Capsule)

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Ornamental fish health and welfare are often taken for granted or ignored, possibly because of poor training on the part of retailers and hobbyists as well as a lack of involvement by the veterinary community in providing education and awareness.

Overbreeding and selective breeding for desired physical characteristics (eg, long fins, bubble eyes, round bellies) have created unhealthy, disease-prone fish. Because of a lack of adequate husbandry, many fish live in undersized, unsuitable, or improperly prepared tanks. Hobbyists may fail to seek professional veterinary help because they feel such help is unavailable or unwarranted. Concern for the welfare of pet fish may not extend past their perceived economic value.

Overbreeding and selective breeding for desired physical characteristics (eg, long fins, bubble eyes, round bellies) have created unhealthy, disease-prone fish.

There is a lack of guidance from the veterinary profession; veterinarians themselves may refer clients to pet retailers for advice. Pharmaceutical companies have not kept pace with advances for fish as for other companion species, and a proliferation of inexpensive over-the-counter treatments, how-to articles, and general misinformation leads to sick fish often being treated (or mistreated) with chemicals and even invasive home surgeries without a proper diagnosis. Protracted and unnecessary suffering often results. Prejudices and misconceptions may suggest that fish-welfare issues are grossly underreported.

More research is needed into the needs of ornamental fish, as is better education for retailers and hobbyists. Veterinary schools should devote more coursework to fish medicine. Finally, public perception of ornamental fish as disposable pets needs to change.


Ornamental fish are common pets in the United States, yet awareness of their welfare is crucially lacking among fish owners as well as veterinary professionals. Fish, which feel pain like any other vertebrate and have the same basic needs, should be treated ethically. Increasing veterinary education about ornamental fish health and ensuring that the entire veterinary team is a reliable source of sound advice will hopefully improve the way ornamental fish are maintained and treated.—Christoph Mans, DMV, DACZM

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