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January 23, 2014

Here’s a fishy question: How intelligent are goldfish?

NORMAN — Dear Dr. Fox: We recently brought into our home a pair of goldfish. They seem to be happy together in a large aquarium with rocks and weeds, and we’ve added an aerator and filter to help keep the water clean and clear. Our two children enjoy watching and feeding them, and the fish seem to know when they are there.

How intelligent are goldfish, and do fish have feelings?

— K.L.C., Washington, D.C.

Dear K.L.C.: I have written before about the fact that goldfish and most other fish species do not thrive when living alone with no contact with their own kind. I am glad you have two.

Have your children ring a little bell or flash a light before feeding time and condition the fish to be fed in one corner of the tank. They should soon learn with the food-is-coming signal to go to the feeding corner, where you might secure against the inside of the tank a small floating wooden or rubber ring into which a few pinches of dry fish food is placed.

For details about fish having feelings and why we all need to be more concerned and involved with the fate of these species in the wild, go to fishfeel.org.

Most of us take seafood for granted and have no awareness about the intelligence, sentience and complex social lives of fish or of the critical state of their marine and freshwater environments.

All who eat seafood and feed it to their cats and dogs should become more aware and involved from the perspectives of food safety, animal suffering and natural resource depletion and pollution.

‘Decoding your dog’: This is the appropriate title for a book I highly recommend for dog caregivers, trainers and all veterinary students entering the companion animal field. Chapters cover most, but not all, areas of normal and abnormal canine behavior and how to prevent and treat various problems from separation anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorders to old-dog dementia and cognitive impairment.

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