Do fish sneeze? How about headaches, high blood pressure and heart attacks? And how many fish get to see an analyst to help relieve their anxieties?
Did you know fish even have a disease similar to cirrhosis of the liver?
And how can fish get medical treatment? Did you ever see a fish, tongue depresser in mouth, groaning, "Ah?" Must sick fish endure shots, take pills and have their temperature taken? Who would give them gill to mouth resuscitation?
All these questions and more hopefully will be answered by a new group of crusading veterinarians, promoted by a three-year-old program started by the Commerce Department.
The practitioners, called Aquavets, are scaling the depths of the oceans, hatcheries and aquariums to isolate and treat the problems of fish.
With the exception of fin flick stars such as Flipper, the average fish has been hot under the gills because of lack of medical treatment, malnutrition and no psycological help. Unfortunately for the fish, however, the program is meant to fatten them up for people to eat.
How can one tell when a fish is sick? "If they die" said Dr. Charles G. Rickard, associate director of the Aquavet program at the New York College of Veterinary Medicine. "A large number have abnormal motion, abnormal attitudes, like swimming sideways or as the saying goes, belly up."
Some fish even stop eating and may become hyperactive or lethargic, Rickard said. Fish even get cancer, Rickard said.
"They don't have the flu, per se," Rickard said, "but the same class of viruses that cause flu in mammals." They get blood vessel changes, but it's not like hardening of the arteries in people, Rickard said. They probably don't have heart attacks or strokes, either.
When a treatment for some disease is known, medicine is usually administered in their water, Rickard said.
The aquavet program was started about three years ago to help head off epidemics such as the ones that killed off chicken flocks about 30 to 40 years ago, Rickard said. When veterinarians became intnerested in poultry, millions of healthy chickens flew the coop onto the household plates. Rickard said he hopes the same can happen to the fish industry.
During the last three years, the Commerce Department has paid $109,760 to develop Aquavet programs. So far there are two, a Commerce Department spokesman said. In addition, the program has received $45,690 in matching private grants, the spokesman said.
This year, the Aquavet budget is $30,000 with no matching funds. This is included in the department's $35 million National Sea Grant College program which has had successes such as the study which found that pregnant women probably should not deep sea dive as well as efforts to improve shrimp mating and salmon spawning.
The primary emphasis of the aquavet program, however, is the "growing of fish for meat purposes," Rickard said.
"Veterinary medicine has not paid much attention to aquatic forms," Rickard continued. "Primate medicine has developed. We use the same technique to look at health problems of aquatic forms."
A large number of fish in the same place often trade viruses, bacteria and parasites, some of which may have migrated from terrestrial animals, Rickard said. Some disease-carrying bodies pass through gills or through waste material. Sick fish often exhibit lesions on the scales or the eyes and have internal changes.