Are fish pedicures cruel to the fish?

Fish pedicure photo courtesy of

Fish pedicure photo courtesy of

Despite producing some of the most heartless, insensitive and tacky advertising campaigns, I’m glad that the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) group is around. In a world where baby seals are still clubbed to death and rabbits are injected in the eyeballs, PETA’s radicalism keeps animal abuse issues in the public eye.

So I’m wondering, was I in any way exploiting dozens of lovable chin chins when I recently plunged my feet in their tank for a fish pedicure?

Nope, says Scott Dowd, a freshwater biologist at Boston’s New England Aquarium. These kind of fish would normally eat dead skin (of other fish) in the wild and are not in any danger of overeating.

“They’re pretty much on an all-protein Atkins Diet,” he told me during an interview for a Boston Herald story. “Fish bellies can expand quite a bit. Their digestive systems process the best stuff first. If new food comes along, they poop out the partially digested food to make room for the new food.”

Dowd maintains “there is nothing cruel or inhumane about using these fish in this way.”

“These fish are only limited by the amount of people willing to let themselves be grazed,” he says. “And it’s fair to say that if these fish are the lifeblood of a spa operation, then the owners will do everything they can to take care of them.”

I once experienced a similar revelation while on an extended dogsledding expedition with the Voyageur Outward Bound School in Minnesota.

My initial instincts told me that chaining dogs to hundreds of pounds of camping equipment was pretty heartless stuff. Until I met these dogs. They are like triathletes who feel unfulfilled if they are not pulling 15 times their weight. Trying to walk them on a leash posed significant challenges to avoid being dragged around like a rag doll.

And the law of the dogsledders is that the dogs always eat first.

PETA, of course, remains unconvinced. They’re not fans of leashes — and it’s only a matter of time before they start harnessing leather straps on random pedestrians to make their point (followed by the typical post-media buzz PETA apology).

The organization also considers fish tanks and aquariums to be a “death sentence” for the fish. That’s whether or not the fish are working as pedicurists or just hanging out.

ANIMAL RIGHTS POSTSCRIPT:The fact that the Rev. Al Sharpton, the shameless racial riot inciter, is endorsing PETA’s “Kentucky Fried Cruelty” campaign does not boost its credibility. They should stick with Pamela Anderson and Elizabeth Berkley’s lettuce bras.



Like heartwarming stories about animals who don’t consider dead skin to be a delicacy? Experience our “Dramatic sloth rescue in parking lot paradise.”

Love to contemplate the political clout of the nail care industry? Scrutinize our investigative report, “Did pro-Obama manicures sway the 2008 election?” or review the foreign impact: “The mysterious connection between Soviet spies and nail polish.”

What’s it like to be lunch? Read the gripping first-person account, “My First Fish Pedicure,” a story that may force you to re-evaluate your relationship with your feet — and the people you love the most.



Filed under Animal Rights, Fashion, fish pedicures

10 responses to “Are fish pedicures cruel to the fish?

  1. I read about these fish pedicures a while ago and am intrigued. I would so try it out but would it be sanitary for people to stick their feet in the same tank of water? I would worry about fungus floating around in there, unless the fish eat that too.

    I am not a PETA supporter in the least, I feel like they are uneducated and hypocritical. No offense to those who do support them of course.

  2. Thanks for answering an oft-pondered question! I can’t wait to drop the bombshell about fish expelling partially digested food in some classy barroom setting.

    Also I have an inexplicable newfound interest in dogsledding.

  3. cultureschlock

    Karla, I don’t know if it snows where you live, but you MUST try dogsledding at least once in life. Minnesota’s Boundary Waters Reservation on the Canadian border is highly recommended!

  4. cultureschlock

    Dami — You definitely do NOT want to share a fish tank with anyone else. Insist on a private tank for your feet!

    Some of the states that have banned fish pedicures (Texas, Washington) have done so out of concern for hygiene. But beyond health codes, mingling your dead foot skin with a stranger’s dead foot skin is super yucky.

    Although the fish probably would see it as more options at the buffet table!

  5. I do not think this is cruel to the fish. I mean what’s next? Will they say it is cruel to use leeches for blood filtering [or whatever they are used for]? Of course not. It seems like the process if fine for the fish. What concerns me is the hygiene factor, so no, I personally would not do a fish manicure.

  6. Delores at Kim's Spa & Nails, Derry, NH


    I work at the spa where they offer the fish pedicures. Everyone gets their own tub. I know some spa’s have a pool where everyone puts in there feet. We are different. We have a little tub, fill it up with water, put in 100 fish. Once the pedidure is complete, we then dispose the used water and clean the tub with bleach and hot water. Completely sanitary:) hope this helps.

    • Emelie

      and what do you do with the fish? are they also disposed of? or are they kept all their life?

      • cultureschlock

        Well, the practice is now banned locally, so a lot of fish are out of work. But at Kim’s Spa, they let the group of fish rest for the day after one set of feet. The idea is to keep them for life.

  7. Em

    What happens to the fish when they are no longer needed (like they get ill or something)? Are they thrown away? Also, where do they come from? Where and how are they caught or are they bred specifically for the spa?

    • cultureschlock

      Hi Em — The garra rufa fish live in the wild, but are also raised for spas around the world. What happens to the fish if they become unemployed? I guess that depends on the kindness of the owner. Some live out retirement in luxury, while others get flushed down the toilet.

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