George’s tumour and other big little things

JINOY JOSE P | Updated on March 12, 2018 Published on September 24, 2014


I don’t know who George is, but I wish him well. What happened?

Thank you. Ten-year-old George is recovering now after a big operation that removed a life-threatening tumour from his little body’s little head. Doctors at the Lort Smith Animal Hospital in Melbourne, Australia, hope he will be back in action in his home pond very soon.


Well, George is a goldfish. He made headlines a few days ago after a complex one-hour micro-surgery was performed on him. Over the past year, he has been suffering from myriad difficulties owing to the cancer in his head and that prompted his caring owners to take him to a hospital and get the tumour removed.

How did they spot he was having trouble?

According to Dr Tristan Rich who heads the Melbourne hospital’s exotic and wildlife vet team, George was having trouble eating and swimming around. Worse, he was even getting bullied by other fish in the pond, which his owners found quite unusual. The doctors examined him and found the tumour to be very large, requiring a complex surgery.

But how do you perform such surgery on a goldfish? It’s so tiny.

Micro-surgeries are designed to take care of body parts, in humans or animals, that are tiny, and remove cancerous growths that are troublesomely small.

Still, a tough job.

And risky too. Given the huge size of the tumour, the surgeon had to use a gelatin sponge to control the bleeding. The doctor put in four sutures (immovable joints) and then sealed the rest of the wound with tissue glue, says a statement from Lort Smith hospital. Once the surgery was over, George was moved into the recovery bucket and given antibiotics and painkillers.

Phew! So George is a pioneer?

No. Similar surgeries have been done on pets, including fish, in the past. But the current event illustrates the finesse animal healthcare has achieved in the past decade, especially in fish medicine. Like the development in bird medicines in the 1980s, fish healthcare is now seeing impressive developments.

Fish medicine actually dates to the 1800s, but it didn’t start to catch on until the 1970s and 1980s, when scientists started publishing research articles on everything from fish hormones and nutrition to pondside operating tables, wrote Rebecca Skloot in her 2004 New York Times piece ‘Fixing Nemo’ .

Skloot was one of the few science writers to spot the surge in fish medicine which, as the success and popularity of George’s case shows, has come of age. Micro-surgeries are a godsend to many pet owners, mainly to those who own expensive pets. One estimate shows in the US and some other markets the price of ornamental fish even went up to $50,000.

Such a delicate investment!

Indeed. These advancements can help the animal care industry in a big way. Mind you, animal medicines and vaccines are estimated to represent a global market of $22 billion within the over $102 billion animal health industry.

Industry observers say such surgeries will prompt more people to come forward to get their pets treated, enhancing the petcare industry.

Ornamental fish trade itself is a multi-billion dollar industry globally, according to a 2013 paper in Indian Journal of Fisheries. The industry has an annual turnover of more than $6 billion.

What about India?

India, however, is still swimming very slowly, with a contribution of less than 1 per cent of the global ornamental fish trade. Industry watchers say people are not coming forward to invest in pet fish-keeping because of heavy upfront costs and the risks of diseases.

Maybe, George’s story will inspire people to take that risk.

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Published on September 24, 2014
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