7 Incisive Cases of Fish Surgery

Toll Barn Veterinary Centre Limited via Facebook
Toll Barn Veterinary Centre Limited via Facebook / Toll Barn Veterinary Centre Limited via Facebook

People find a lot of pleasure in taking care of their pets—including fish. They may not snuggle with us, but fish do interact with their owners. When an injury or illness might require a trip to the vet, many fish owners do what they can to get their fish help—even surgery if need be. It's a delicate task to operate on a patient that requires constant water and a coat of protective slime. Here are seven surgeries in which vets came through for their finned patients.    


A man took his ailing goldfish to Toll Barn Veterinary Centre in North Walsham, Norwich, UK. The goldfish was threatened by a dangerous case of constipation, and the only way to save its life was by surgery to remove the impaction.

At first the owner balked at the £300 cost, but then he changed his mind and decided to go for it. Veterinarian Faye Bethell anesthetized the fish and carefully removed a lump from its rectum, and another from its dorsal fin. The surgery on the three-inch fish took 50 minutes and was completely successful. Bethell had performed the operation once before on a carp, but the goldfish's small size required a more delicate touch. Bethell said the tricky part was the anesthetic. She carefully calculated the amount of anesthetic to add to the fish’s water. Once it took effect, she removed the fish from the water for surgery. During the procedure, water laced with anesthetic was washed through the fish’s mouth and gills.   


Vancouver Aquarium via YouTube

A prosthetic eye for people is usually for cosmetic purposes. Outside of some high-tech experimental gadgetry, a glass eye will not restore sight. So why would you give a fish a prosthetic eye?

A yellowtail rockfish at the Vancouver Aquarium was being bullied by other fish because it has only one eye. The other fish apparently recognized this as a sign of a weakness, because the one-eyed fish wouldn't be able to see an attack coming from that direction. The vet thought a prosthetic eye might trick the other fish into thinking the rockfish had both eyes. Martin Haulena, head veterinarian at the Vancouver Aquarium, teamed up with Lesanna Lahner, staff veterinarian of Seattle Aquarium, to stitch a bright yellow fake eye onto the rockfish. You can watch that surgery on YouTube.


A story about fish surgery was the top story in our 2014 Weird News roundup. Veterinarian Tristan Rich at Lort Smith Animal Hospital in North Melbourne, Australia, performed surgery to remove a tumor from a 10-year-old goldfish named George. The size of the tumor meant that George required four stitches and surgical glue to close up the hole left behind. After the surgery, the fish was placed in a clean bucket of oxygenated water to recover from the anesthetic. He was also given injections of antibiotics and pain reliever. George recovered from the surgery nicely and went home with his owner.


Rich was confronted with another brain tumor in a goldfish in January 2016. The patient was a nine-year-old goldfish named Bubbles. Rich used the same “three bucket” method for administering anesthesia as he had for George: He put the fish in a bucket of water laced with anesthetic, used a second bucket of anesthesia water to wash the gills during surgery, and then placed the fish in a third bucket of water with no anesthetic to recover. The brain tumor was successfully extracted, and Bubbles’ owners were relieved and happy.  


Inglis Veterinary Hospital in Dunfermline, Fife, Scotland, had a client with two goldfish suffering from cancer. Star had one eye that was massively swelled with a tumor. Exotic animal expert Brigitte Lord removed the eye with the assistance of a vet and an animal nurse. The other goldfish, named Nemo, had a cancerous lump removed on the same day, so the two fish were able to recover in the same tub of water. Janie Gordon, who keeps the fish together in her kitchen, paid £500 for the double surgery and was glad to take both fish home.


A goldfish named Mr. Hot Wing was born without a lower jaw. This meant he couldn’t keep his mouth constantly open like a normal goldfish, and he struggled to breathe and eat. He was taken to Lehigh Valley Veterinary Dermatology in Allentown, Pennsylvania, for help. Brian Palmeiro, known as “the fish doctor,” figured he could make some sort of prosthetic to help Mr. Hot Wing. He fashioned a tiny plastic brace out of an old credit card and stitched the brace to the bottom of the goldfish’s mouth. It wasn’t the first time Palmeiro used credit card plastic to help a fish; he’s previously fashioned both splints and prosthetics from them for fish patients.