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Sudden changes in water temperature can seriously compromise the welfare of the fish, leading to suffering and may even kill the animals. Water quality is of paramount. Oxygen levels and chemicals such as ammonia and nitrite will affect the welfare of the fish. Daily change of water is undertaken for human health reasons, this exposes the fish to more changes in the water quality.
Toxic (to fish) chemicals such as from toiletries or nail-varnish may leach into the water. Chemicals used to clean or disinfect tanks or to clean clients feet prior to treatment may also be toxic to the fish. These factors have a considerable impact on the stability of the water conditions, oxygenation of the water.
Overcrowding fish in a small volume of water will lead to increased concentrations of ammonia, which will affect the health of the fish. Fish should also be provided with adequate shade from bright light and shelter to escape aggression from other fish.
There is also the question of the nutritional state of the fish. Under natural conditions, it is thought that Garra Rufa feeds on human skin because natural food sources are scarce. Questions have been raised as to whether well-fed fish may show no interest in human skin, and may be unlikely to feed on the skin if they had access to appropriate food sources when not being used in treatments. In addition, salon staff may not be properly trained to adequately ensure the welfare of the animals. We would like to remind practitioners that they have a responsibility for the welfare of the fish under the Animals Protection Act no. 71 of 1962, failure to provide the appropriate needs of the fish either deliberately or by omission would be an offence. There is also the question of what happens to the fish once they have become too big to be used for pedicures and of the trade in wild-caught fish is unsustainable. It is further a requirement for practitioners to be in possession of a Performing Animals Protection Act Licence and certificate, Act no. 24 of 1935.
British dermatologists have suggested that the use of fish is inappropriate because it fails to treat the underlying cause of the skin condition. Whilst the use of fish in beauty salons may seem to be a benign eco-friendly alternative therapy there are clearly concerns from both an animal welfare and a human health perspective and it is surprising that a journal such as the Ecologist would not thoroughly research these before recommending the practice to its readers.
Credit – Adapted for S.A. purposed from RSPCA Article