Build goodwill and the bottom line at your veterinary practice by sharpening up your aquatic animal skills.
One of the fastest-growing segments of veterinary medicine is the treatment of fish and other aquatic animals. Potential clients run the gamut, from pet owners with fish tanks or ponds to local food producers struggling to find qualified personnel to write health certificates. There is a serious need—and revenue to be made—in aquatic veterinary medicine.
My interest in aquatic animals started when my husband, a pond builder, told me the advice he gave to clients when their fish got sick: "When they die, we'll help you get new ones." As a veterinarian, I couldn't tolerate an answer like that. After a lot of aquatic continuing education, I now work with my husband as "Dr. Koi" and do more for his clients than recommend new places to buy fish.
I first began offering my services through word-of-mouth via my husband's clients. Other veterinarians who take up aquatic medicine in their brick-and-mortar practice often advertise with a fish tank in their waiting area.
It didn't take long for word to spread through the fish enthusiast community that professional help was available in my area—through me. Aquatic pet owners were no longer at the mercy of whoever was working the counter at the pet store when their expensive fish developed health problems.
I don't ask clients to bring the aquatic animals to me; I make house calls. My fees are comparable to mobile small-animal or exotic veterinarians in our area. I charge for mileage, an extended consultation, a water quality evaluation, a physical exam, sedation (if necessary), and microscopic evaluation of the skin, gills, and fins. I also charge to net the fish. (Some fish doctors have a no-net policy; clients must catch the fish before the visit because netting can take up most of an appointment).
Regardless of how you handle fees, all of those procedures are part of a routine fish appointment, whether you're making a house call or seeing a fish in your office.
Most outdoor ponds are dormant in the winter in Denver, so I see the bulk of koi fish clients in the summer. Aquarium clients' fish are fewer in number, but I see them year-round. The number of fish owners I see increases significantly each year, and summer is the high point.
The equipment needed to start seeing fish in your practice is relatively inexpensive. In addition to your existing equipment, you'll need nets, an aquarium, a holding tank, an air stone with a line and air pump, a water dechlorinator, a water testing kit, and reference materials. You'll have paid for all this after a few aquatic-pet appointments.
In the beginning, I focused on aquatic veterinary medicine more as a way to help underserved animals. But now I embrace fish and fish enthusiasts for their own sake. Fish are not only pretty to look at but also fascinating to observe. The unexpected bond clients form with their waterborne animals is amazing. Adding aquatic medicine to a practice expands veterinarians' clinical skills, adds new ways to market and grow, and offers good publicity.
Dr. Jena Questen owns East West Veterinary Service, a mixed-animal mobile practice serving the south Denver area.