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Small Puffer Dentistry


By Jeni Tyrell (aka Pufferpunk)

Trim job time!

Is your puffer becoming a little long in the tooth? Is it starting to resemble Bucky the Beaver? Then it is time to trim your puffer's teeth!

Puffer's Diet

All puffers need hard-shelled, meaty foods to keep their teeth trimmed. Like rabbits, their teeth grow constantly and can overgrow enough to cause starvation in the fish. Puffers eat crustaceans in the wild. Foods for smaller puffers are frozen/freeze-dried krill/plankton, gut-loaded ghost shrimp, glass worms, crickets, worms and small snails (the size of their eye). Snails are an essential food to a puffer's diet, especially when small. Many serious puffer keepers breed their own snails. The easiest way to start your snail "nursery" is to gather them from live plants at your local fish store. Most folks won't mind your taking them, since they are considered pests. Do not feed your puffers the ice cream coned shaped snails called Malaysian trumpet snails! MTS's shells are too hard for puffer's teeth and have been known to crack them, making it difficult for them eat correctly.

For larger puffers, there are many more crunchy foods to eat. Large puffers will eat scallops, shrimp, crab legs, mussels, clams, oysters, squid, lobster and crayfish. Mine love to chase live crayfish, fiddler crabs and gut-loaded ghost shrimp. I gut-load (pre-feed) my live food with algae wafers, so my puffers get their veggies. You should be able to buy most of these foods at the fish department of your grocery or produce store, freeze and later thaw in warm vitamin water as needed.

Improper Diet

Lack of the proper diet will result in overgrown teeth. Once they are long, they will not be able to open their mouth's to eat and will starve to death. Sometimes the puffers will try to eat but just spit back their food. At that point, no amount of crunchy foods can help and the puffer's teeth must be trimmed by hand. Two species of freshwater puffers that need a constant daily supply of snails are the South American puffer (Colomesus asellus) and the less common bronze or golden puffer (Auriglobus modestus). Without enough snails offered to them, they would need their teeth trimmed every 4-6 months. I have both species and do trim their teeth often.

A. modestus

Trimming Procedure

For puffers under 4", fill two, one-quart containers with 3 cups of tank water. Put 3 drops of clove oil in 1 container.

Clove Oil & Cuticle Nippers

 Add the fish. Within 1 minute the fish will roll on it's side and then lay on its back. It will seem dead. This will look scary to you, but your fish will be fine.

Tranquilized Puffer

 Take the fish out with a net, (as to not harm it's skin with the oils of your hand) & hold it through the net. Peel back the net, until the puffer's head and teeth are exposed. Quickly but carefully clip its teeth with cuticle nippers, being sure not to cut its mouth. Their teeth are different than you'd think. It's more like clipping a fingernail. Try clipping straight across and as short as feasible. Make sure to pull down the lower lip and check those teeth too.

The Trimming

 Place the puffer in the container of fresh tank water. You should see it breathing. After 1 minute it will right itself, and within 2 minutes it will be swimming around. After your puffer seems calm and is swimming normally around the container, you may place it back in the tank. Keep an eye on it for a while; it should be swimming as if nothing has happened.

Trimming Accomplished!

This all needs to be done as quickly as possible, as clove oil can also be used for painless euthanasia of fish. The first time I attempted this procedure, I didn't use clove oil. The fish squirmed so much I cut the poor things upper lip off and it never grew back. Also, once the fish is tranquilized, you may remove it out of the water, without the worry of it puffing with air. A puffer puffing with air can become a deadly proposition, if the air can't be removed. I do not recommend tranquilizing your fish if it is sickly or has been weakened due to starvation--it may not recover!

Recovery Room

Please note, puffers needing dentistry, have been as small as ¾" and as large as 2-3". This process can also be used on larger puffers. You will need a much larger container and a Dremel tool for trimming. I also suggest a 2nd pair of hands for handling the big guys.

Good luck, stay calm and happy trimming!

Colomesus asellus, upper fish, before and lower fish, after clipping.

Good for opening pic.

2) Cuticle nippers-caption

Cuticle nippers are best to use for smaller puffers, as they are very sharp, curved and have a nice point to them.

3) Clove oil-caption Clove oil can be found at a health food store or at your local drug store in the toothpaste isle, by the toothache remedies. It is made by Red Cross; the active ingredient is--Eugenol.

4) Tranquilized puffer-caption

After 60 seconds, your puffer should roll over on its back and be ready for trimming.

5) The Trimming-caption

Peel back the net to expose the puffer's head and teeth. Clip straight across and as short as feasible.

6) Caption-Puffer's dentistry accomplished!

7) Caption-Recovery room

You can Jen's website at: www.thepufferforum.com


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