These “Throwaway” Pets Rarely Get Special Treatments Like This


Story at-a-glance -

  • A very fortunate goldfish in England has a new lease on life after surgery to resolve a fatal case of constipation. The goldfish’s owner paid several hundred dollars to insure the 2 year-old fish could live out his normal lifespan
  • Another lucky goldfish named George, who lives in a pond in Australia with dozens of his mates, also underwent successful surgery to remove a huge tumor from the top of his head

By Dr. Becker

Late last year, a very dedicated pet guardian in Norfolk, England opted to pay for life-saving surgery for his goldfish. It seems the fish had a fatal case of constipation. He was so stopped up that toxins would soon overwhelm his body, resulting in his death.

When the fish’s owner learned the cost of the procedure (around 500 U.S. dollars), he first said no. But he shortly reconsidered and agreed to the surgery.

English Goldfish Sails Through Surgery

Dr. Faye Bethell of the Toll Barn Veterinary Centre in North Walsham, England performed the procedure. Dr. Bethell was assisted by two veterinary nurses. One nurse was tasked with bubbling anesthetic gas through a tube that went into the goldfish’s mouth and over his gills. The job of the second nurse was to monitor the 3-inch patient’s heart rate with a special probe.

According to Dr. Bethell, "[The goldfish] was constipated because he had a lump blocking his bottom, rather than because of his diet or any other reason.”1 She also pointed out that delivering the anesthesia, not the surgery itself, was the tricky part.

First the anesthetic agent had to be carefully measured and put into the goldfish's water. The fish was then removed from the water and placed on a waterproof drape, and anesthetic water was introduced into his mouth with the tube and also bubbled over his gills.

Next Dr. Bethell used a tiny heart-rate monitor to insure the goldfish was fully anesthetized, then she removed the blockages near his anus with a small scalpel, plus another lump from his dorsal fin. She sewed each incision with a few stitches and applied a special substance to cover and waterproof the scales before gradually waking up the patient.

I’m happy to report that Mr. Goldfish made a full recovery after the 50-minute procedure. Since some species of goldfish can live 30 years in captivity and this little guy was only about 2, he has a nice long life ahead of him!

Aussie Goldfish Doing Swimmingly After Massive Tumor Removal

To those who believe the owner in the above story is nuts and a goldfish just isn’t “worth” an expensive surgery, Dr. Bethell has this to say: "At the end of the day they're all pets and everybody does have a commitment to their pet.”

This was certainly the case for another goldfish, an Aussie named George. George, a beloved 10 year-old pet, developed an enormous tumor on the top of his head that was destroying his quality of life. According to his veterinarian, Dr. Tristan Rich, "The fish was having trouble eating, getting around and he was getting bullied by other fish.”

Very much like what happened with the goldfish in the first story, prior to his surgery, George was placed in a bucket of water that contained enough anesthetic to put him to sleep. He was then moved to a second container of water to which a maintenance level of anesthetic had been added to keep him asleep during the procedure.

Once moved to the “operating room,” George received oxygenated water from the maintenance bucket into his mouth and over his gills.

After the surgery, George went to the “recovery room” – a third bucket containing clean water. He also received pain meds and antibiotics. Not long after he was placed in his recovery bucket, George started breathing on his own and swimming around.

The tumor on George's head was so large the incision was difficult to close. Dr. Rich used 4 sutures and tissue glue.

George’s surgery cost his owners roughly 200 AUD (around 160 U.S. dollars), but they are very grateful he’s healthy again. He’s back in his pond with all his mates, including 38 other goldfish.

"They're not just things in the water,” says George’s human. “They're characters."