Dr. Jessie Sanders Santa Cruz fish vet
July 2019

She Catches Fish to Save Them: Santa Cruz has its First Fish Veterinarian

By Susan Landry

If you’ve ever wondered about that quirky clownfish car driving around town, you’ll be even more fascinated by the woman inside it. Dr. Jessie Sanders is the first of her kind – a fully trained veterinarian who focuses her practice exclusively on pet fish.

The Soquel-based clinic treats more than 30,000 different species of fish. “If it swims, we’ll see it,” Sanders says, though much of her client base consists of koi and goldfish.

Sanders pioneered her field shortly after graduating veterinary school, when she realized the dearth of care available to aquatic animals. “The amount of pet fish in this country and here in this area are completely underserved,” she said.

Dr. Jessie Sanders Santa Cruz fish vet

Now, Sanders is doing everything she can to change this. Her fully mobile clinic travels to homes from Ventura all the way to Roseville, spanning 22 counties across the West Coast. “I have to be able to catch my patients, so I travel with a lot of nets,” she laughs.

On site, Sanders provides everything from surgeries, to vaccines, to simple diagnostics and even cancer treatments. Recently, she is keeping busy treating an especially pervasive outbreak of koi herpes virus. Don’t worry though, it’s nothing like the human kind.

Even when treating her smallest patients, like beta and goldfish, Sanders takes extreme care to prevent discomfort. Often, she employs numbing creams and even low dose fish tranquilizers to minimize pain or potentially harmful movements by the fish.

Dr. Jessie Sanders Santa Cruz fish vet

“These are essentially muscular, slippery torpedoes, so I don’t want them to hurt themselves while I’m trying to give them an exam,” she says.

Sanders’s dedication to caring for fish extends far beyond the operating tank. She’s even penned a children’s book series, Boo & Bubbles, to help explain to kids and parents all the basics of caring for your new pet fish, and how to maintain a healthy tank.

Sanders is constantly doing outreach, updating her website, blog and Youtube channel with information, care tips, and even live videos of surgical procedures to help get the word out. “A lot of people just don’t know there’s a fish doctor out there that you can call,” she says.

While certain crowds might not understand the value of fish care, Sanders doesn’t give them much thought. “Those people aren’t our clients,” she says. “The people we work with form attachments to these animals, they become a part of their family.”

Sanders began developing her love for fish during her time as a marine biology major at the University of Rhode Island, where she volunteered at Mystic Aquarium’s fish and invertebrate department.

“I loved every single second that I was working with those things and always wanted to learn more about them,” she recalled. Shortly after her time at URI, Sanders went on to veterinary school at Tufts University, where she earned her DVM. 

In the six years since starting her own practice, Sanders began nothing short of an aquatic revolution. She went from not a single client in her first two months, to helping hundreds of fish every year, and creating an online platform that reaches thousands more.

Dr. Jessie Sanders Santa Cruz fish vet

Throughout it all, her motto stayed the same: “We value fish just as much as you would any other pet. We’re here as a resource to anyone who wants to make sure their pet receives the best care, and we’ll help you out any way we can,” she says.     

For more information on Dr. Sanders and her practice, visit www.cafishvet.com.

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