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Horse Forum - October 2003

by Pete Giwojna and Carol Cozzi-Schmarr
from the October 2003 issue of FAMA

Dear Pete:

I need some advice. I am concerned about a suspicious spot on the snout of a new Brazilian Seahorse I recently brought home from my LFS. It began as a darkish oval around 2mm near the tip of his snout and at first I thought it was just a natural marking. He is yellow with numerous such dark spots all over his body, demolishing ghost shrimp with a vengeance, and courting the female I brought home with him nonstop.

But yesterday I noticed a change in the spot on his snout. There is now a tiny white spot in the center, slightly upraised, almost like a baby “pimple” for lack of a better word. The spot appears to be growing and has a pinkish tinge all around the edges. None of his other spots or markings look at all like this.

Should this be treated? If I puncture the raised spot, will it disappear like a pimple? If so, should I apply a medication afterwards? Or should I just leave it alone and let it heal on its own? It has not affected his behavior in the least: he is very active, eats like a horse, lol, and dances with the female all the time. He seems perfectly healthy otherwise.

Please respond. These are my first seahorses that seem interested in courtship and breeding. If they are pairing up, I sure don’t want to lose the male.

Michael M.

Dear Michael:

First of all, I’d just like to say congratulations on your courting couple! Brazilian seahorses (Hippocampus reidi) are regular breeding machines, well known for churning out brood after brood every couple weeks with clockwork regularity. They produce huge broods of small, pelagic fry after a gestation period of about 14 days, and hold the world record for the largest brood ever recorded – over 2800 fry! Wild reidi are said to be monogamous and to form lasting pair bonds, and your newcomers certainly seem like they’re compatible. Very likely they are indeed in the process of pair formation, so let’s see what we can do to safeguard this budding romance.

First and foremost, Michael, I strongly suggest you do NOT puncture the pimplelike lesion. Nor should you just leave it be and hope it will go away. It sounds very much like your beautiful Brazilian is in the early stages of snout rot, a dangerous disease that requires immediate treatment.

Snout rot is the result of an infection, which can be either bacterial or fungal in nature. The initial symptoms are discoloration and slight swelling in the affected area of the snout. At this early stage, the seahorse is often not bothered by its affliction and eats and feeds normally. But as the disease progresses, the infection will begin to eat away the underlying tissue, and if left untreated, snout rot is both disfiguring and deadly. The tip of the snout is often the first area affected, becoming inflamed and eroding away, and once its mouthparts are involved, the seahorse can no longer be saved. It is unable to feed, its jaws disintegrate, and the tip of the snout is progressively eaten away. I have seen seahorses with over half their snouts missing, and euthanasia is the only recourse for fish in this pathetic condition.

I have seen several cases of snout rot as a secondary infection in seahorses recovering from protozoan parasites that attack the gills, and in those cases the progression of the disease was somewhat different. The barrel of the snout was often affected rather than the tip, and instead of the end of the snout eroding away, one or more holes were eaten through the snout elsewhere. Although its jaws and mouthparts are intact when this happens, the seahorse’s ability to feed is still impaired because it can’t generate adequate suction through its suddenly “leaky” snout. In such cases, the snout rot may be preceded or accompanied by other unusual afflictions, such as weak snick, trigger lock or “lockjaw.”

There is considerable anecdotal evidence suggesting that bacterial snout rot can be differentiated from the fungal form of the disease by a close visual inspection (a hand lens or magnifying glass may be required for this). If the snout rot is due to a fungal infection, the affected area of the snout is often pinkish and may appear lumpy or raised, whereas when bacterial infection is at work, white tissue is exposed upon flaking or sloughing of the skin. Thus, many hobbyists maintain if the affected area of the snout looks pinkish, it’s fungus, but if the affected area appears whitish, it’s a bacterial problem. This information can help guide you to the appropriate treatment.

Medications with powerful antifungal agents such as Nifurpirinol (Furanace) are a good treatment for snout rot when a fungal infection is indicated. A wide spectrum antibiotic such as Kanamycin, Spectrogram, or Neomycin is a good choice when bacterial snout rot is indicated.

If you are unsure whether bacteria or fungus is involved, combining Furanace with Neomycin is an excellent option, as is treating with a good combination drug such as Paragon II. Treatment should take place in a hospital ward or quarantine tank to avoid nuking your biofilter.

Some success has also been reported using topical solutions of Betadine or Iodine combined with Formalin, or even a concentrated solution of Sodium Chloride to treat the affected area of the snout. The high-dose sodium chloride treatment is milder but safer, as great care must be taken not to get these topical solutions in the gills, eyes, or mouth of the seahorse, which is difficult to prevent when treating the snout.

In your case, Michael, you describe the lesion on the snout of your reidi as being white in the center and pinkish around the circumference, which makes it difficult to be certain whether the underlying infection is bacterial or fungal or perhaps both. I would therefore recommend treating your seahorse in isolation using Paragon II, which is effective against both bacteria and fungus. Paragon II is a powerful combination drug that's effective against protozoans, fungus, and many kinds of bacteria. It consists of Nitrofurazone, Sodium Chloride, Isoniazide, Neomycin, and Kanamycin. The Nitrofurazone is an excellent antiprotozoan agent, while Sodium Chloride has antifungal properties and the remaining three ingredients are all antibiotics. This combination of ingredients is thus effective in eliminating fungus as well as gram+ and gram- bacteria. If you can’t obtain Paragon II, using Furanace in conjunction with Neomycin would be a good alternative that should prove equally effective.

Those are all commercial products that should be available at any well-stock fish store; just follow the directions on the package and be sure to use the dosage for saltwater.

If you don't have a hospital tank or quarantine tank setup, a clean (new and unused--not an old scrub bucket) plastic bucket or any inert container will do as long as it can hold at least a gallon of water. Your QT tank or bucket will need to be heated and aerated and have a hitching post, but that's all.

Stay on top of water quality in the QT tank/bucket with water changes as often as needed, and redose with the medication according to directions after each water change.

You did a very good job detecting this problem while it’s in its earliest stages, Michael, and there’s every reason to hope your Brazilian will respond very well to prompt treatment. Prevention is always the best cure, however, and I would be remiss if I didn’t remind you that it’s always a good idea to quarantine wild seahorses before releasing them into your display tank. By the time they reach the hobbyist, wild-caught seahorses have run the gauntlet from collector-to-wholesaler-to-retailer, which means they have been exposed to all manner of parasites and pathogens at every stop along the way. That makes wild-caught sea horses potential disease vectors for everything you can imagine, and when you introduce them into to your seahorse setup, you are introducing your entire herd to whatever the wild caughts have been exposed to as well. It’s far better to give wild seahorses a freshwater dip and/or formalin bath to eliminate ectoparasites, and then quarantine them for a few weeks before they go into your display tank.

Best of luck with your Brazilians, Michael!

Happy Trails!

Pete Giwojna

Hi Pete,

Thanks for your reply. Couple days ago I start noticing the tail of the

male seahorse has peeling skin. The tail is slowing turning white starting

from the tip of the tail. Is this illness? What can be done with it?

Thanks,

Peter

Dear Peter:

Yes, sir, those are classic symptoms of a tail infection. The tip of the tail typically turns white and, as the infection spreads, the whiteness moves progressively up the tail and ulcers or open sores begin to form where the skin peels away. This is probably related to the heat stress from that temperature spike we discussed earlier. Stress impairs the immune system and lowers resistance to disease, opening the way for infections.

Hobbyists usually refer to this problem as Tail Rot or White Tail Disease, but the disease is already well advanced by the time whitening or tissue erosion occurs. Early detection makes it much easier to get these infections under control. Here are some of the early indicators of a tail infection to watch for:

The disease begins with a loss of prehensility in the very tip of the tail. At this stage, the seahorses can grasp large objects just fine, but cannot take hold of slender objects with a small diameter. Next the loss of prehensility spreads further up the tail and the seahorses begin to act as if their tails are very tender and sensitive. They will drape their tails over objects rather than grasping onto them and begin to drag their tails behind themselves, often arching the end of their tail upward in the shape of "U" (rather than the usual "J" or tight coil) as if to lift it off the ground and keep it from touching anything. This is usually when the tip of the tail becomes white and the loss of coloration starts advancing further and further up the tail. At this point, the discolored skin begins to flake or lift up and open wounds and ulcers develop on the most distal portions of the tail. The infection attacks the underlying tissues, and the tail is gradually eaten away, often all the way to the bone, exposing the vertebrae (hence the name Tail Rot). Survivors may end up missing the last few segments of their tail.

In any event, Peter, you will need to treat your seahorse with antibiotics in a hospital tank (otherwise the antibiotics may harm the biofilter in your main tank, creating more problems). You have a few treatment options to consider. Prolonged immersion in Oxytetracycline at 100 ppm has worked well for some of these tail infections. So has feeding the seahorses with live shrimp that have been gut-loaded with Minocycline (Saltwater Maracyn 2).

But the treatment I recommend is using Wound Control (Aquatronics) topically once a day while treating the seahorse in the hospital tank with a complete regimen of Neosulfex. The active ingredient in the wound control is a dark red Mercurochrome compound that stains the infected tissue red as it disinfects. Besides helping external bacterial infections to heal, this makes it easier to track the progress of the infection. Neosulfex consists of neomycin sulfate combined with various Sulfa drugs, making it a potent broad-spectrum antibiotic. Together they can be very effective in combating tail rot as well as white patch disease in seahorses.

Liisa Coit has used this combination of medications to treat tail infections with great success on a number of occasions. Her recommended treatment regimen is listed below, including all the necessary supplies

Equipment needed.

1) Sterilized hospital tank: 5 or 10 gallon (10 gallon preferred).

2) An additional 5 gallon bucket or another tank

3) 2 or 3 packets of "Neosulfex" by Aquatronics.

4) Bottle of "Wound Control" by Aquatronics.

5) Dedicated siphon for water changes.

6) AquaClear 100 Filter or other small sponge filter, minus carbon for hospital tank.

7) Methylene Blue for optional pre-dip (strongly recommended).

DAY ONE:

1) Begin with a 20-minute Methylene Blue bath at a dosage of 1/2 teaspoon per gallon of saltwater. Add a hitching post and an airline for water movement.

2) Fill a small custard dish or similar receptacle with clean saltwater. Holding the patient upside down, place the head of the seahorse into the container of saltwater so it can breathe freely, and wait until the seahorse relaxes and lowers his tail over the edge of the dish. Dribble on Wound Control and let it drip down the tail, being very careful not to let any of it get into the container of water or otherwise come in contact with the fish’s gills or eyes.

If the seahorse refuses to relax, then quickly upright him and dribble Wound Control onto the tail, allowing it to run down the entire length of the tail and cover the tail tip. If the seahorse is also infected on its body, hold the horse upright and dribble or gently apply Wound Control to the affected area with a new or sterilized artist's soft bristle brush. The Mercurochrome will soak in immediately and stain the infected tissue dark red.

Wound Control only needs to be applied once a day.

3) After applying Wound Control, release the seahorse into the hospital tank, which you’ve dosed with the required amount of Neosulfex.

The dosage for Neosulfex is one capsule per 10 gallons. Pull the capsule apart and dissolve the contents in the hospital tank. Discard the plastic covering.

4) Mix up new saltwater in the extra 5-gallon bucket or tank, and dissolve in the proper amount of Neosulfex according to the water volume.

This extra, clean, pre-medicated water will be held in reserve and used to replace water in the hospital tank and maintain good water quality on DAY TWO.

DAY TWO:

1) Dribble on Wound Control exactly as before. Siphon out 30-50% of the water from the hospital tank, “vacuuming” the bottom in the process, and replace it with the reserved water you prepared on DAY ONE, which has already been medicated.

DAY THREE:

1) Apply Wound Control to affected areas, dribbling it on generously as before.

2) Siphon out 30-50% of the hospital tank water and replace it with clean, freshly mixed saltwater.

3) Add a new dose of Neosulfex to the hospital tank. Make more "reserved" medicated water in your extra container.

DAY FOUR:

Repeat as in Day 2.

DAY FIVE:

Repeat as in Day 3.

DAY SIX:

1) Dribble tail with Wound Control. By now, the affected areas should show signs of healing. This will be evident as less and less of the tail absorbs the Mercurochrome and is stained red. If the tissue is still staining red from the medication, then continue using it. If there is no longer any infected tissue staining red, discontinue the Wound Control and carry out the remaining treatments with Neosulfex alone.

DAY SEVEN:

1) Do another large water change (50% or more) and repeat the entire treatment regimen (days one through seven, as directed above) for another week if any signs of infection still remain.

For best results, most Bacterial/Fungal infections should be treated for two consecutive weeks. In severe cases, the infected seahorse often requires a third round of treatments (repeat days one through seven for a third consecutive week), thus completing a 21-day treatment regimen.

When the seahorse has completely recovered, whether that’s after 7, 14, or 21 days of Neosulfex/Wound Control treatments, I conclude his hospital stay with a 3-day period of rest and recuperation in Melafix before finally returning the seahorse to the display tank.

That is the treatment regimen I suggest you follow, Peter. Tail rot, aka White Tail Disease, is a very dangerous type of infection, so I would begin treating right away. There are a couple of other things I’d like to note, however. First of all, Liisa believes her success in treating such tail infections is due in part to the reserve of clean, pre-medicated, freshly mixed saltwater she prepares, because it allows her to keep the hospital tank as clean as possible and maintain good water quality throughout the treatments. Equally important, she points out that this extra medicated water decreases in strength at the same rate as the hospital tank, since it was made and medicated at the same time the hospital tank was dosed, thereby maintaining the correct dosage despite the water changes. So be sure you don’t skip that step in her treatment protocol or skimp on the water changes.

Secondly, I would like to suggest dropping the water temperature in the hospital tank during the treatment regimen. It makes a lot of sense to reduce the aquarium temps while

trying to get an infection such as this under control. Cooling down the microbes and slowing their metabolism and rate of reproduction accordingly can slow any bacterial infection. A temperature spike, for example, often triggers Columnaris (flexibacter) infections, and their virulence is dramatically reduced at lower temps.

A simple way to drop the water temp in your hospital tank is to position a small fan so it blows across the surface of the water continually. This will lower the water temperature a few degrees via evaporative cooling (just be sure to top of the tank regularly to replace the water lost to evaporation). Leaving the light off on your hospital tank in conjunction with evaporative cooling can make a big difference and help you knock out this tail infection. Your seahorses will be perfectly happy at 68-72 F if you can possibly drop the hospital tank temp that far.

Start your seahorse on Liisa’s Neosulfex/Wound Control treatment regimen as soon as possible, Peter, and reduce the temperature in your hospital tank as much as you can, and you should be on the right track. Tail rot is a stubborn infection and you may need three courses or 21 days of treatment to heal it completely.

Best of luck with your patient, Peter!

Happy Trails!

Pete Giwojna

Hey, Pete! What’s the story on Spikey Seahorses? I really like the spikey option, but I notice it’s only available on certain seahorses. What I’d really like is a pair of Brazileros with lots of spikes! I would be happy to pay extra for them and I’m willing to order them well in advance, but I don’t see that option for the Brazileros. Are there any "Spiky" Brazileros available?

Thanks.

Keith in California

Dear Keith:

The “spikes” you like so much are actually cirri -- fleshy extensions of the skin designed to break up the seahorse's outline and allow it blend into its weedy habitat all the better, a sort of natural camouflage. You’re not alone – the spiky specimens are VERY popular. Many hobbyists want them because they feel it dresses up their seahorses and gives them a fancy appearance, almost as if they had a shaggy mane or were wearing an Indian war bonnet. A seahorse with extravagant, well-developed cirri can indeed be very exotic looking, but sometimes it has the opposite effect, lending them a comical appearance instead. Voila – a punk rock pony, going through its rebellious teenage phase! Either way, they give the seahorses a little something extra, and that’s what makes seahorse keeping so much fun!

The problem is that not all seahorses have such appendages. The presence of cirri is a highly variable trait and some species never have them. They are very rare or nonexistent in many seahorses, while in other species they are relatively common. For example, Hippocampus guttulatus are famous for their cirri and many male Pot Bellies (H. abdominalis/H. bleekeri) also sport fancy headdresses.

But even in seahorses were cirri are not uncommon, such as Hippocampus zosterae and H. erectus, the presence of cirri varies greatly from individual to individual. Most dwarf seahorses have no cirri, but some of them are regular little fuzz balls. That’s the case with ‘stangs and ’bursts, too. Most Mustangs and Sunbursts lack these appendages altogether, some have just a few, and the individuals with really extravagant cirri are relatively rare.

Because so many hobbyists want them, yet the spiky specimens are fairly uncommon, there are never enough Mustangs and Sunbursts with fancy, fringelike cirri to go around. That is why Ocean Rider must charge extra for the spiky option, Keith, and it also means hobbyists that want them must sometimes wait for more to become available.

I’ve gotta agree, Keith -- brightly colored Brazileros abundantly adorned with showy cirri would be truly spectacular specimens! Unfortunately, Hippocampus reidi is one of the species that never seems to have ANY cirri at all. Consider them cue balls. The Kojaks of seahorses.

Sorry to say, sir, if you want spiky seahorses you’ll have to settle for Mustangs or Sunbursts. Or maybe get lucky with a shaggy Pixie.

Best of luck with your seahorses, Keith!

Happy Trails!

Pete Giwojna

Dear Carol

My male Mustang seems to be always pregnant but I never see any babies? Is this normal? Is there something wrong with him? What is the normal gestation period? How many fry should I expect?

Thanks, Jerry

Dear Jerry,

Normal gestation for male Mustangs is about 28 days but it will vary depending on age, temperature, tank conditions and diet. Smaller and younger Mustang males often spawn more frequently sometimes as often as every 20 days and with very few fry ranging from 10 or so to maybe a hundred. Larger and older males sometimes spawn every 30 to 60 days which is much less frequently but when they do spawn watch out as they can really deliver a large group of fry. If you look at the picture of “Forever” one of our Mustang males you can see that he is very very large. He usually takes about 60 days to spawn and has set several records often over 900 fry in one single spawn! The amazing thing is that for these 60 days you can see him getting fatter and fatter every day and you keep thinking today is the day……..but it isn’t! This is why we nicknamed him forever!!

Temperature will greatly affect the time and number of fry too. Mustangs kept in cooler tank conditions will often spawn less frequently and deliver very small broods of fry. Mustangs kept in warmer tanks usually mature much quicker and tend to on the average deliver larger broods.

Tank conditions are equally important. If your tank is very short and crowded without sufficient vertical and horizontal space the pair may never mate and when they do the male may just not be comfortable enough to carry the brood to term and may abort prematurely.

Similarly diet has a huge effect on the male as well as the female. If the diet does not consist of the proper types of and levels of long chain fatty acids they will never mate and when they do the male may never spawn due to poor egg quality or he may abort his brood.

Because so many factors can affect the physical and behavioral health of the males (and females!) you will see a wide ranger of brood times and brood sizes. More than likely your male is just fine and what you are seeing is very normal but then again he may be suffering from something as simple as a poor diet. In order to determine the problem I will need a lot more information on your tank set up and tank management routine including exact feeding regime (type of feed and frequency), tank mates and temperature fluctuations.

I hope this helps!

Aloha, Carol

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