Animal Health Update: Catfish Surgery

by Leigh Clayton, Director of Animal Health

Published June 25, 2014

Did you know that our Animal Health team routinely perform surgery on fish here at the National Aquarium?!

Here's an update on a particularly interesting recent case:

Catfish are accomplished at finding food that other fish have missed and Mr. Bojangles is especially known to help clean up after the other fish are fed.

redtail catfish

In Mr. Bojangles’ case, this was leading to excessive weight gain. In recent months, Katie, the aquarist caring for Mr. Bojangles, had been focusing on a weight loss program for the catfish. It was progressing well.

In mid-May, Katie noted red tissue protruding from the genital pore and the Veterinary team was called in to take a look. Upon initial observation, it was agreed that, despite general and appropriate weight loss, the caudal part of the body appeared abnormally distended and the prolapsed tissue was certainly not normal!


Our veterinary intern, Dr. Erin Culpepper, had the opportunity to help our Associate Veterinarian, Dr. Kat Hadfield, complete an initial workup on Mr. Bojangles. Physical exams, bloodwork, an ultrasound and radiographs were done under anesthesia and showed that Mr. Bojangles had a large mass in the body cavity. This mass was putting pressure on the tissue and causing a small prolapse of the internal part of the urogenital pore. An aspirate from the mass had abnormal cells consistent with possible infection. The white blood cell count was elevated on bloodwork, also supportive of infection or inflammation. Overall however, Mr. Bojangles still appeared to be in good physical condition and was eating and active.

Based on these findings, we planned to do an exploratory surgery to diagnose the mass and remove it if possible. Four days later, Mr. Bojangles was anesthetized for surgery. Many members of our Animal Health and Fishes Husbandry teams were present to help ensure the anesthesia and surgery went well.

Dr. Culpepper found that Mr. Bojangles was - instead - Ms. Bojangles! The ovaries were very large and there was evidence of significant inflammation developing around them. Dr. Culpepper was able to successfully remove the ovaries and Ms. Bojangles recovered from the procedure very well. Within a few days, she was even eating!

While we still have a ways to go until she is completely recovered, we're happy to report that Ms. Bojangles is doing well and back on exhibit!

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