Dr Richmond Loh…he’s no fish out of water!

It’s hard to explain how impressive this week’s featured veterinarian is. Generous beyond explanation, talented and accomplished like you wouldn’t believe. He’s a pioneer in the world of aquatic medicine, and seriously, such a nice person. This week, we caught up with Dr Richmond Loh, but you may know him as The Fish Vet. 

How did you become The Fish Vet? 

I was and remain passionate about fish. When I was young, I wanted to study marine biology. However, there was so much competition in this field and I really wanted to study medicine as well,  so I ended up combining my two passions and viola…The Fish Vet was born. Upon graduation, I went straight into fish pathology, which no-one was really doing at the time (15 years ago). I was based at Mt Pleasant Laboratories, Tasmania as there is a large aquaculture industry there. Early in my career, I decided to sit my Australian & New Zealand College of Veterinary Scientists (ANZCVS) Membership exams in both ‘Aquatic Animal Health’ and ‘Pathobiology’ concurrently (ED NOTE: who does that, right?! Amazing) and was the youngest Member to successfully pass the Aquatic stream. 

Do you have a favourite aquatic species to work with?

Not really. I am unique among fish vets as I work with both ornamental fish and in aquaculture. Because I am also trained in pathology, it really helps to gel these two fields together. On any day, I could work with pet koi and also in a public aquaria with sharks or in an educational institution that keeps fish for research. I could be treating an individual fish one minute and then helping a commercial operation diagnose and treat entire populations the next.

What have you found challenging about running your own business?

I am based in Perth and have large client base in Melbourne, which used to involve a lot of travel on a monthly basis. However, this was really difficult with a young family. I even used to try and get over there and back in 24 hours (red eye overnight Friday, and return to Perth Saturday night).  Now I am lucky to have representatives in a few locations on the east coast, which reduces the amount of travel for me. My team are incredibly talented and experienced in their fields and it’s great that they can be on the ground with our clients on the east coast. 

I also encounter the challenge of helping people understand what a fish vet is, and does – you know, that I am a ‘real vet’ and can perform acts of veterinary science. I’ve somewhat succumbed to being also known as “The Fish Doctor”.

How has fish medicine changed since you started? 

When I started, there was really no such thing as a fish vet. If a pet fish got sick, oftentimes it got flushed down the toilet. Nowadays, most fish vets are members of the World Aquatic Veterinary Medical Association. This means that there is much more sharing of information and standardisation of practices in aquatic medicine. We are now advancing veterinary medicine, rather than wasting time reinventing the wheel. WAVMA is very active in training vets and providing continuing education on a monthly basis. I spend a lot of late nights and early mornings helping with preparation for webinars that are streamed through WAVMA around the world, but it’s a labour of love, and so valuable for the profession. 

What about your greatest successes?

I was elected WAVMA president in 2012. This is a real source of pride for me as it was a big deal to have an Australian leading the profession worldwide, when we have such a small population (especially of fish vets!). I am also happy to be able to help fellow veterinarians worldwide with their aquatic endeavours.

Tell us about your decision to write a textbook. Was writing something you had always had an interest in? 

Initially, I started putting material together as part of my studies for memberships. I realised then how useful if was to have all this practical information in the one place. I started giving it away to vets and veterinary nurses as reference material to save them working out what is fact from fiction on the Internet. But eventually, the momentum grew and the decision was made to make it commercially available. The first is called ‘Fish Vetting Essentials’ and contains everything a GP vet would need in private or zoo practice. It is sometimes also called the ‘Red Book’ (because it’s red :)). More recently, I produced the ‘Black Book’ (aka ‘Fish Vetting Medicines – Formulary of Fish Treatments’). This is a formulary for aquatics. It includes information about drugs, doses and indications for use. I have also produced an instructional DVD (‘Fish Vetting Techniques and Practical Tips’) covering everything a vet would need to do with a fish; how to treat a pond, injections, weighing right through to lab testing, necropsies and sample collection. It can also be used as a client teaching tool, especially for the aquaculture industry.

Please also tell us about your new pathology service

When it comes to reading histology slides, it’s not just what’s on the slide that gives the diagnosis. The sampling technique, history and the correct positioning of organs in right orientation on the slide, that makes a difference. As a team of pure aquatic practitioners, we are able to work together to help our clients work through problems from start to finish. We offer more than just a diagnosis.

You sound very busy! How do you get it all done? 

I have a very supportive wife who indulges my passion and a family of supporters. I didn’t get here on my own. I have had a lot of colleagues help me, so I am trying to pay it forward – I want to support the fraternity and in turn, have the fraternity be supportive of fish veterinarians.

Can you please share your 3 top tips for a GP vet who might get asked a fish question?

– don’t refer the client to the pet shop

– treat the fish like a ‘normal’ pet and collect a thorough medical history and do as much of an examination as possible

– give me a call! I also offer free youtube videos about fish procedures or you can join WAVMA – it’s like VIN for fish vets!

What advice would you have for vets who are interested in working with fish as a career?

If you get offered a job, take it. You can do the continuing education later. Experience is hard to come by. Take the job, learn on the job and do the continuing education while you work. And of course, join WAVMA.