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The Garra Rufa doctor fish are a Royal Spa attraction in Tenerife resorts

Updated on October 4, 2014

Fish that clean human feet are a new attraction

Yes, you read that title correctly - a new craze is sweeping the world of getting your feet cleaned by living fish known as Doctor Fish or Garra rufa , to use the scientific name.

Already there are places in Tenerife's tourist resorts where customers are happy to pay to experience having their feet cleaned this way. It is thought to be a very healthy thing to do too because the tiny fish eat the dead human skin they find.

This unusual behaviour has earned them the name Doctor Fish, and being cleaned by them is being hailed as a way of treating psoriasis, eczema and other skin diseases.

More about the Garra rufa fish

Garra rufa fish are in the carp family and originally come from Turkey but are also found in the wild in Syria, Iraq and Iran in the river basin areas of these countries.

This species of fish is also known as the Kangal Fish and the Reddish Log Sucker. There is actually another species of freshwater fish, known to science as Cyprinion macrostomu, that will also eat dead skin from the feet of people but this is not the type that is generally being used.

These Doctor Fish can be kept in an aquarium but they only manifest the foot-cleaning behaviour when other food is scarce. Kept in large tanks and in spa pools to provide a pedicure service for people they will feed this way.

The craze for using these Garra rufa fish to clean the feet of people is really sweeping the world fast and Wikipedia tells us: "In 2006, doctor fish spa resorts opened in Hakone, Japan, and in Umag, Croatia, where the fish are used to clean the bathers at the spa. There are also spas in resorts in Hainan, China, as well as Belgium, the Netherlands, South Korea, Singapore, Hungary from 2010, Slovakia, India, Thailand,Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines,Hong Kong and Bucharest, Romania."

The UK now has a spa where foot cleaning by Doctor Fish is on offer and, not surprisingly, the fish are also used in the US and Canada, although the practice has been banned in some parts of both countries.

Not everyone is convinced that the practice is a healthy one. Some people are worried that infections can be spread from one person to another who are using the same spas and tanks with these fish in them. As usual there are two sides to the debate with those for the Doctor Fish as a remedy for skin diseases and others against it.

Searching on line turns up loads of entries for the Doctor Fish and the YouTube site has plenty of videos of these fish in action.

In the UK, and in many parts of Europe, there are fishes called Tench (Tinca tinca ), which are also referred to as the Doctor Fish. The Tench is in the Cyprinidae or Carp family like the Garra rufa but unlike its distant relative it doesn't eat dead skin but gets its name because of its own slimy skin which is thought to have healing properties.

Photo of doctor fishes

Garra rufa Doctor Fish by yamada kazuyuki from Higashi-betsuin, Japan
Garra rufa Doctor Fish by yamada kazuyuki from Higashi-betsuin, Japan

Doctor Fish in Tenerife

So far in Tenerife the foot-cleaning service performed by the Doctor Fish is available in the resort of Los Cristianos. The Royal Fish Spa is situated by the tunnel section going into the resort on the sea front.

Apparently there are "Fish spas" in Puerto Colón and Playa de las Américas too. I wonder whether this new attraction will be a permanent addition to Tenerife's wealth of delights for the tourist and whether these Doctor Fish foot-cleaning spas will be set up in the north of the island too?

© 2010 Steve Andrews


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    • profile image

      Fred 7 years ago


      it s not a Garra s chin chin!!!!


    • Tenerife Islander profile image

      Steve Andrews 7 years ago from Tenerife

      Thank you for posting, Lilly!

    • LillyGrillzit profile image

      Lori J Latimer 7 years ago from The River Valley, Arkansas

      I have heard of this, but not in such interesting detail! Thank you for sharing.