I decided to create this series of articles to address the top questions I’ve been asked as a veterinary technician. I’m a CVDT (Certified Veterinary Dental Technician), have been in the field for over ten years and have noticed a trend in the most commonly asked questions by pet owners. The answers found in these articles will reflect how things have been done in my experience only; keep in mind that all veterinarians and veterinary hospitals have varying policies and techniques.
I’d like to address a problem that many people are unaware of until it becomes too advanced to deal with; growing puffer teeth. For those of you who don’t know, puffers are those funny looking fish with the big eyes and oddly shaped body. They are the ones that can puff up into a ball when stressed or excited. One thing that may come as a surprise is that when a puffer does puff, it can be fatal so try to provide your fish with a stress free environment.
If you’ve ever looked closely at a puffer fish, you can see that they have teeth. These teeth are constantly growing. Without a proper diet and appropriate habitat, these teeth can become overgrown causing issues that are more easily prevented rather that dealt with. I’ll discuss here some things that can be done to keep a puffer’s teeth nice and trimmed and what needs to be done should they become overgrown.
Puffer fish eat a wide variety of invertebrates, particularly those with hard shells. Marine puffers, also known as saltwater puffers, can also be found munching on hard corals and algae. There are also freshwater and brackish puffers which consume a large quantity of invertebrates as well.
A puffer that is kept as a pet should have a staple diet consisting of these invertebrates whether he is a saltwater, freshwater or brackish puffer. Many fish breeders and pet stores can provide a supply of snails and other critters that are suited for the size of fish you have. Frozen food is also readily available. This is a great option for those who prefer not to feed live food and also works for quick and easy feeding.
Check your local grocery store as well. Visit the seafood section and have a look at the variety of mollusks that are particularly useful for the larger saltwater puffers.
Regardless of what kind of puffer you have, he will need to be fed a diet at least once a day that provides these hard, crunchy foods in order to keep his teeth filed down. He may or many not gladly eat other commercially made fish foods, so it is important to offer these types of foods as extras or treats rather than his staple diet.
As I mentioned before, saltwater puffers will chew on corals and hard algae. If you’ve found a coral that you simply love the look of and are attached too, I would advise not housing it with a puffer. They will chew on anything. While this may come as an annoyance to some puffer owners, it is a requirement for them to keep their teeth filed.
Freshwater and brackish puffers love to chew as well and depending on the size of your fish, he may be able to do quite a bit of damage to your aquarium habitat. Because corals are saltwater, it can be difficult to find things for freshwater and brackish puffers to focus their chewing on. Commonly, owners of these types of puffers will add a simple, clean terracotta pot to the tank. Simply, and carefully cut the pot in half and place it into the tank’s substrate with the rough edges buried. This provides a sort of cave and is a great piece of décor for the puffer to gnaw on.
So, we know that we have to feed our puffers a proper diet as well as providing a place for chewing. Typically, this is enough to keep the teeth filed down, however some may still become overgrown. Filing the teeth can be done with a gently hand and extreme care. When attempting to file the teeth, make certain that he isn’t exposed to the air as he may well puff, which as mentioned before can be fatal for the fish.
If you live in an area with an aquatic veterinarian, this may be a better option. They have the skills and know-how to make sure the job is done right. In severe cases, this may actually be your only option.
When a puffer’s teeth become severely overgrown, it becomes uncomfortable and can end up preventing him from being able to eat. Puffers are awesome fish and can have strong personalities, be taught tricks and end up being like little aquatic dogs. Overgrown teeth are one of the most common problems with these guys, yet it can be prevented quite easily. As owners, we need to do what we can to prevent as many ailments as possible. So give your fish the crunchy morsels he needs as well as a place for chewing and gnawing and he should end up being a happy, healthy guy.