Symptoms and Signs of Surgeonfish Cuts

Medical Author:
Medically Reviewed on 10/14/2021

Doctor's Notes on Surgeonfish Cuts

Surgeonfish (also known as doctorfish and tang) have blade-like spines or "knives" near their tail that can cause deep cuts. Unlike other marine animals with spines, no toxin is in the spines. The signs and symptoms of surgeonfish cuts are deep lacerations that are immediately painful, deep, and bloody. There can be associated nausea, muscle aches, and anxiety. The deep laceration should be examined by a medical caregiver. It may contain sand or dirt that should be cleaned out and may require additional care.

Normally, the fish tries to avoid divers but will use the spines for defense if threatened.

What Are the Treatments of Surgeonfish Cuts?

The spines of the surgeonfish can cause deep lacerations that are painful and bleed actively. The treatments are as follows:

  • Apply pressure to stop bleeding.
  • Clean the cut with soap and water.
  • Soak the cut in fresh water heated to about 110 F (43.3 C) for 30-90 minutes to treat pain.
  • Scrub the cut to remove any foreign material (mud, sand, small shell particles, for example).
  • Consider the need for a tetanus shot.
  • Antibiotics: This is a controversial topic. Some medical professionals choose antibiotics based on the size, depth, and location of the cut.
  • Stitches: This is a controversial topic as stitches may increase the chances for infection, but they may be needed. You and your doctor can discuss the risks.


Kasper, D.L., et al., eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th Ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.