My First Fish Vet Client

The first client I saw as a fully-fledged fish veterinarian was on May 7th, 2013. Our business had be officially “open” for two months and I was mostly busy with behind-the-scenes work: getting bank accounts squared away, figuring out phones, buying equipment and writing basic articles for our main website. But then, the phone rang! A local koi breeder was having significant problems with a fish die-off. Off I drove in my old Nissan Altima hybrid with no trunk space and everything I thought I could need, including all the fish health textbooks I had.

Arriving at my client, I introduced myself, probably by my first name. All new doctor grads know the pain that comes from trying to learn your new “Doctor” title. Many of my long-term clients still call me by my first name, and some newer ones as well. I’ve only had one insist on calling me by my first name because “titles weren’t important to her.” I am happy to say, she is no longer a client. I got out my woefully misaligned appointment sheet and started to ask questions. When I first started this business, I figured indoor tanks were going to be my #1 client. Boy, was I wrong. I had never dealt with a koi before and my “Tank Assessment Sheet” had to be heavily edited to make it fit the current issues.

So, we started with water chemistry and although it was clear something was wrong, I still had to check my stashed textbooks a few times to clear my mind. Using my brand new test kit that I had only used once before in a test run at my aunt’s house, I couldn’t find any values that were off. However, I was missing one critical test: nitrate, the final step of the nitrogen cycle. Thankfully, my client had one and it lit up like Christmas. My first thought should have been, “this guy is a breeder and somehow got his water chemistry this screwed up?” The things you learn later as you build up client base is that no successful breeder should have THIS problem. He ended up catching a few small fish for me that I sedated and did skin and gill biopsies on. I actually pulled out my ancient notes on this appointment and what I wrote down even I don’t understand now:

In addition to the healthy fish, two were suffering and euthanized for further examination. I found some clear parasites on this one (again, using all the books I had – I pretended I was getting something from my car) and was able to process enough to get him on salt treatment. This is still our go-to for many parasite infestations. It is safe and effective.

So, after traveling 35 miles, two sets of water quality testing, 5 fish physicals and 2 quick necropsies, what do you think his bill was? $238.45 OUCH! That’s about 1/4 of what I should have been charging back in the day. It’s one of the things I struggle with personally, but then I remind myself that I am a specialty, mobile service that does everything for you. I even catch all the fish myself and have my own nitrate test kit now.

Have we seen this client since? Nope. I don’t think he’s in business anymore.

What did I learn from this experience?

  • I can be an amazing private practice aquatic veterinarian.
  • I love fish.
  • I am not just a student anymore.
  • I need to be ready for ponds.
  • I need better forms for this service.
  • This is only the beginning.

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