A fish with buoyancy issues for Yorkshire vet Julian Norton

I don’t get to treat many fish. This is not a bad thing, because they are not very easy to examine, diagnostic tests are limited and there are only a few treatment options available.

Jeff the goldfish was one of the latest patients through the doors at Julian Norton's surgery.
Jeff the goldfish was one of the latest patients through the doors at Julian Norton's surgery.

Yorkshire vet Julian Norton reflects on challenging but enjoyable first year in Boroughbridge in new bookJulian teams up with wife Anne for one of his most challenging operations in surgeryJulian Norton draws straws after night fighting colicLuckily for me, the fish I saw this week had a very obvious problem. Jeff the Fancy Goldfish (I presume named Jeff Goldfish after the American actor Jeff Goldblum) was swimming on his side. This is a classic sign of swim bladder disease.

Fancy Goldfish are, compared with other fish, not brilliant at swimming. This is partly because of their short, fat body shape and partly because of the arrangement of their fins, which are more suited to aesthetics than function – the equivalent to knee-length Bermuda shorts versus Speedos.

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The swim bladder is an internal structure, which aids buoyancy. In short, fat goldfish this is squashed and sometimes bent, so it doesn’t work as well as it would in a more streamlined fish. It is an accident waiting to happen.

Yorkshire vet Julian Norton writes a column in The Yorkshire Post every Saturday. Picture by Gary Longbottom.

Jeff’s owner lifted the tea towel off the large, glass jug in which Jeff had been transported to the surgery. The little fish was definitely very lop-sided and certainly it was his distorted and swollen swim bladder that was causing him to list.

I didn’t need to do any diagnostic tests – the condition could be handled by management of Jeff’s diet. Firstly, he was to have nothing to eat for a day, then he needed a change of diet to reduce the amount of air ingested and to promote proper bowel function. Bloodworms and brine shrimp were on the menu.

I hoped Jeff would perk up and right himself after a suitable dietary change.

One of my next patients had an equally obvious problem but one that required a bit more intervention. Barney was a springer spaniel. His happy face and furiously wagging tail told me those two parts of his body were fine, but as he hopped into the consulting room on three legs, it was clear his right hind foot was not.

“He was playing in the garden yesterday,” explained his worried owner, “charging round as usual with his friend. There was suddenly a yelp and the next thing he was holding his leg off the ground. He touches it to the floor occasionally, but it’s mainly in the air.”

I knelt on the floor and made my acquaintance, before starting to make my examin-ation. When examining a lame leg, I always start at the bottom and work up. I wiggle each toe, squeeze each pad and feel between each digit, checking for nail injuries, thorns stuck in the foot or interdigital cysts. Then I check the bones of the toes and up to the hock, the equivalent of our ankle, where I also assess the lateral stability and the integrity of the ligaments.

The popliteal lymph node, behind the stifle is next. If this is enlarged it usually indicates infection lower down the limb. Then it is on to stifle manipulation – checking for cranial drawer and tibial thrust that might indicate ligament damage.

At this point, Barney winced and turned around to look at his leg. There was a noticeable laxity in his joint. The cranial cruciate ligament appeared to have been ruptured, or at least seriously frayed – a classic injury for football players and active dogs alike. Poor Barney would need X-rays, painkillers and possibly surgery to correct this injury. There was so much more I could do to help Barney – medicine and tests rather than blood-worms and brine shrimp!

Julian Norton’s new book On Call with a Yorkshire Vet is available for £11.99 at www.ypbookoffer.co.uk or call 01274 735056.