Fish Medication Ban in Canada

Author: Ted Tai

It started back in 2017 when Health Canada ordered a temporary removal on a number of fish medications in Canada. These included API products such as General Cure, Tetracycline and Erythromycin due to a ‘permitting issue’.  Later in December 2017, Health Canada issued a notice of intent to advise all stakeholders on the requirement of all animal & fish medications for sale to be done pursuant to a prescription (this included animal feed).  These changes would be enforced with new legislation as of December 1, 2018. I still remember being in shock and disbelief on not being able to find any fish medication at a number of retail pet stores in the Greater Toronto Area during the spring of 2019.

This new ruling titled ‘Responsible Use of Medically important Antimicrobials in Animals’ requires individuals to obtain a prescription from a veterinarian in order to purchase medically important antibiotics (category I, II and III antimicrobials) for all animals & fish. This means that over-counter medications are no longer available for purchase at any retail or online store in Canada.

In addition, as of November 13, 2017, these medications can no longer be imported or personally brought into Canada for ‘own use’. They are only available with a veterinary prescription from a veterinarian and/or pharmacist in Canada. 

Why is all this happening? Health Canada is trying to strengthen Canada’s regulatory framework for veterinary antimicrobials. This ruling is to prevent the emergence and spread of antimicrobial-resistant infections caused by the over usage of antimicrobials in veterinary medicine. We can all agree that there has been no formal regulations on recommended dosage and duration of treatment for these medications except from the guidelines that are provided by the manufacturer. Meanwhile, almost all other medications require involvement from either Heath Canada or the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. 

Prior to December 2018, I would surmise that a large number of animal & fish medications used in Canada are non-prescribed by a veterinarian or pharmacist and have potentially caused our animal & fish to become immune to illness and disease through the over usage of these medications.

By now (February 2020), we have all been to many retail and online pet stores in Canada where there is no animal or fish medication available for sale. This has been the intent of Health Canada. However, if you look hard enough (Google is your friend), there are still a number of online retailers that have various medications available for sale (until their inventory is depleted).

While I do understand that by allowing the sale of over counter animal & fish medications as it was previously without restriction, can be deemed as not responsible and potentially create antimicrobial-resistant infections due to the lack of regulatory guidelines. However, there are many responsible fish owners in Canada that would purchase the necessary medications to treat diseases that show up to help mitigate their losses or even lessen the suffering of their aquatic pets. The current requirement for the animal & fish hobbyist to spend $50-$100 to bring their pet to the veterinarian so they can get prescribed medication (+$10 or above medication) is also unrealistic, especially if the animal or fish cost was under $10.00. As a hobbyist, do we need to modify our way of thinking on how we use medications to treat our animals & fish?  Possibly. Unfortunately, most veterinarians in Canada are not knowledgeable on various fish diseases nor would they carry the necessary medications to treat them.

I am hoping that this article doesn’t dissuade new people from getting into the hobby as it is intended to raise awareness as to why animal & fish medications can no longer be purchased in Canada. Through proper quarantine, purchasing through a reputable store/person and having the right equipment and supplies (UV sterilizer, heater, salt, potassium permanganate etc.), fish hobbyists may hopefully never have to resort to veterinary prescribed medications.