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sad day for me...

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sad day for me...

Well, I would be remiss in my posts if I didn\'t post my losses as well as my few successes, and here\'s a major loss for me:

My little female H. erectus died yesterday.

Yesterday morning I woke up and did the usual tank inspection. The H. reidis are doing well now that the babies are in the breeder tank, they\'re interacting together as usual and...in fact, I think I may have missed it again, but the male\'s pouch looks mildly swollen with eggs. AGAIN! However, my little erectus was acting lethargic, not swimming to the feeding tube like she usually likes to do, and her coloration was a little pale.

I wasn\'t sure what I could do other than observation at the time, I didn\'t see any physical abnormalities other than the skin discoloration and lethargy. I went to work as usual. When I got back yesterday evening, she had taken a major turn for the worse: her skin was now looking like pale-yellow lesions (she\'s a black erectus) and the skin on her tail and back was sloughing off. She wasn\'t hitching now either -- just laying in the leaves of the faux kelp. I immediately pulled out my in-tank isolation chamber for closer observation while I prepped my hospital tank, but it was too late. She literally died in my hand while I was guiding her to the isolation tank. She kicked once, then stopped breathing alltogether and stiffened up. :(

Water tests showed Amm at 0, trites 0, trates at 10 (down from 20 after the skimmer addition from earlier posts) and temp at a solid 74. I didn\'t test pH; I need a new test bottle for that. As we\'ve discussed from past posts, the tank is 37 gallon tall, HOB filtration, and a new skimmer.

I should have taken a picture of her body before I disposed of it, but I wasn\'t thinking about it at the time (yes, I was quite upset over the loss of a seahorse. Sue me.) :) But before she died I was pretty sure from the skin erosion that I was dealing with a bacterial infection, possibly some vibrio bacterium. She had the pale blotches all over her torso and tail. Her snout looked fine, no rot there, and her fins appeared normal at time of death. Her dorsal fin was a little rough, but that area was affected by the lesion-like appearance. I do not believe this was a secondary from ich. Although ich is highly difficult to diagnose in horses, I have other fish in the tank who show no signs whatsoever. I believe that she may have been more stressed than I originally thought with the nitrates and breathing difficulties Pete helped me with earlier, and that stress may have induced an immune deficiency enough to let a pathogen take hold. Right now that\'s my only guess.

Now, finally, we come to the question: should I be concerned about my other horses? I\'m watching them VERY closely today. Is it ever a good idea to treat prophylactically with something like paragon II or furan II if a bacterial disease is suspected? I only ask because of the shocking speed my poor little H. erectus degenerated. Even including the possibility of lethargy 12 hours before I noticed it, that would put the disease progression at about 30-36 hours between healthy and dead. At a speed like that, I don\'t have much time to treat my reidis if they succumb to any bacteria. Of course, I removed the dead horse as soon as it passed away, so there was little chance of the body contaminating the water supply.

As upset as I was over the loss of the first seahorse I ever owned, I want to make sure this doesn\'t become a huge issue for the other two seahorses in the tank. Any thoughts you might have would, as usual, be greatly appreciated.

Pete Giwojna
Re:sad day for me...

Dear Nova:

I\'m very sorry to hear that you lost the little Hippocampus erectus.

I think you are correct -- the discoloration and subsequent tissue erosion and sloughing of the skin indicate a bacterial infection, and the rapid progression of the disease suggests an acute or systemic Vibrio infection resulting in septacemia.

As you know, disease-causing (pathogenic) bacteria are opportunistic invaders that are normally present in low numbers but don\'t cause problems until the fish is injured, stressed, infested with parasites or otherwise weakened (Indiviglio, 2002). They will then take advantage of the overtaxed seahorse\'s impaired immune system and reproduce extremely quickly, causing a variety of illnesses and problems (Basleer, 2000). Some of these are specific to seahorses, such as snout rot and white tail disease, and others are common to all fishes, such as Mycobacteriosis or popeye.

A bacterial infection almost always indicates that there is another problem that is stressing the fishes and weakening their immune response (Indiviglio, 2002). It\'s very difficult to say what the source of the stress may have been that caused your little H. erectus to succumb to such an infection. Your water quality parameters all appear to be excellent. Perhaps she was just a little undersized and not getting all that she needed to eat.

The chances are good that your Hippocampus reidi were also exposed to the same pathogen (most likely Vibrio) that killed your H. erectus, but as long as they are unstressed and their immune systems are uncompromised, they may well remain healthy and unaffected.

But it may be a wise precaution to treat them prophylactically to be on the safe side (you never want to take chances when you may be dealing with a virulent infection such as Vibrio). I would not recommend treating your main tank with antibiotics in this case. Any of the broad-spectrum antibiotics that are effective against vibriosis would also destroy the beneficial nitrifying bacteria that carry out the nitrogen cycle and provide the biological filtration for the aquarium. Disrupting your biological filtration would mean that you would have to cycle the aquarium all over again, which would lead to a dangerous ammonia and nitrite spikes in the meantime, and the elevated level of ammonia and nitrite would be very stressful to the inhabitants of the tank. That would be counterproductive, to say the least.

Another option would be to isolate the seahorses and treat them with a good broad-spectrum antibiotic in your hospital tank. Paragon II is no longer available but Furan2 is a good medication for treating such skin infections when they are mild. However, handling the seahorses and uprooting them from their happy home and transferring them to the unfamiliar surroundings of your hospital tank would also be stressful for the seahorses, and that\'s not what we want because right now the lack of stress is helping to protect them.

Under the circumstances, I would recommend treating your H. reidi prophylactically in the main tank by administering tetracycline orally via gutloaded adult brine shrimp. This would be a very stress-free method of medicating them because they can be treated in the main tank where they are the most comfortable without handling them or disturbing them, and they will be treated with live food for a welcome change of pace. Tetracycline is effective when administered orally and I find that adult brine shrimp (Artemia spp.) work best for gutloading or bioencapsulating the antibiotic for a number of reasons.

Both the adult brine shrimp and the tetracycline are readily available to most home hobbyists from their local fish stores and at very reasonable costs. For now, suffice it to say that the tetracycline cannot be used in saltwater, and adult brine shrimp are pretty much the only feeder shrimp that tolerate freshwater long enough to be effectively gutloaded with the medication.

Tetracycline is a good broad-spectrum antibiotic but it is only useful for treating marine fish when it is administered orally by adding it to their food. Adding tetracycline to saltwater is useless because it binds to calcium and magnesium in the water and is deactivated. The best way to administer the tetracycline would be to bioencapsulate it in live adult brine shrimp and then to feed the medicated shrimp to your seahorses.

Many times the most effective way to administer antibiotics orally is by bioencapsulating or gutloading them in live shrimp, which are then fed to the seahorses. The easiest way to gutload antibiotics is to bioencapsulate them in live adult brine shrimp (Artemia spp.), as described below. The recommended dosage of antibiotic for this varies between 100-250 mg per liter or about 400-1000 mg per gallon of water. Stay within that range and you should be all right.

In the case of tetracycline, I recommend using 500 mg per gallon of freshwater for bioencapsulating the antibiotic in adult brine shrimp. Tetracycline is a photosensitive drug, so keep the container of freshwater covered to shield it from the light or in a relatively dark area of the room while you are gutloading the brine shrimp.

If the antibiotic you are using comes in tablet form, crush it into a very fine powder (you may have to use a household blender to get it fine enough) and dissolve it in freshwater at the dosage suggested above. Soak the adult shrimp in freshwater treated with the antibiotic for 15-30 minutes and then feed the medicated shrimp to your seahorses immediately. (Don\'t let your pumps and filters \"eat\" all the brine shrimp!)

The brine shrimp are soaked in freshwater, not saltwater, because in theory the increased osmotic pressure of the freshwater helps the antibiotic solution move into their bodies via osmosis. But in fact nobody knows for sure whether the antibiotic is diffusing into the brine shrimp or they are ingesting it in very fine particles (brine shrimp are filter feeders and will take in whatever is suspended in the water with them) or whether the brine shrimp merely become coated with the antibiotic while they are soaking in it. But that\'s not important -- all that really matters is that gut-loading adult brine shrimp with medications this way is effective.

The antibiotics I would recommend for gutloading in your case are tetracycline or oxytetracycline. Tetracycline is widely available for aquarium use, so you should easily be able to get a product at your LFS in which the primary ingredient is tetracycline, such as Maracyn-TC by Mardel Labs or Tetracycline MS by Fishvet. These products generally include 250 mg capsules or tablets of tetracycline, or packets of 500 mg tetracycline powder, which would make it easy for you to determine the right amount to add to 1 gallon of freshwater in which to soak your brine shrimp to gutload them with the antibiotic. (Just add two of the 250 mg capsules or crushed up tablets -- i.e., 500 mg worth -- of the tetracycline to a gallon of water.) Or in the case of the Tetracycline MS, use one 500 mg packet per gallon of freshwater.

Although tetracycline and oxytetracycline generally work very well when administered orally, they are all but useless when used as bath treatments for marine fish. This is because the calcium and magnesium in hard water or saltwater bind to tetracycline and oxytetracycline, rendering them inactive (Yanong, US Dept. of Agriculture). In addition, tetracycline and oxytetracycline are photosensitive drugs and will decompose when exposed to light. So these drugs are very useful for seahorses when they are administered via bioencapsulation, but they are utterly ineffective when added to the water in a saltwater aquarium are hospital tank (Yanong, USDA). This is another reason why you must soak the live adult brine shrimp in freshwater when gutloading them with tetracycline or oxytetracycline.

Gutloading the adult brine shrimp in freshwater has several advantages. First of all, it disinfects the brine shrimp (the osmotic shock in going from concentrated saltwater to freshwater will kill off any protozoan parasites the brine shrimp may have been carrying). Secondly, the freshwater increases the effectiveness of the gutloading process by allowing some of the medication to enter the body of the brine shrimp via osmosis. And gutloading the adult brine shrimp in freshwater saves the hobbyist from having to mix up fresh saltwater every day in order to medicate the adult Artemia. Just use dechlorinated/detoxified freshwater as described above, and everything should go smoothly. But the most important reason that you gutload the adult brine shrimp in freshwater when you are using tetracycline or oxytetracycline is that these medications will be deactivated in saltwater and rendered useless if you attempted to bioencapsulate the medication in adult brine shrimp that are in saltwater.

I would feed your seahorses their fill of adult brine shrimp gutloaded with tetracycline once a day for 7-10 days. Gutload a new portion of the adult brine shrimp each day for the seahorses\' first feeding of the day when they are the most hungry. So that would be a total of 7-10 feedings, one per day, using adult brine shrimp gutloaded with the tetracycline. Give the seahorses a second feeding of frozen Mysis enriched with Vibrance later in the day. The Vibrance includes beta glucan as an active ingredient, which is in an immune stimulant that will help the seahorses to fight off any infections.

It is impossible to determine precisely what dosage of medication each individual fish ingests when gutloading, but the tetracycline antibiotics are very safe and you really cannot overdose a seahorse using this method of treatment. Feeding each seahorse its fill of shrimp gut-loaded with tetracycline for 7-10 days assures that they receive an effective dose of the medication. As long as each seahorse is getting its share of the medicated brine shrimp every day during the treatment period, you needn\'t be concerned if one of the ponies is eating more than the others.

In short, Nova, the feeder shrimp I find that work best for gutloading or bioencapsulating medications are adult brine shrimp (Artemia species). As you know, I prefer adult brine shrimp (Artemia spp.) for gutloading for a number of reasons. For one thing, adult Artemia are inexpensive and readily available to the home hobbyist. Secondly, soaking live adult brine shrimp in a solution of the medication in freshwater is by far the simplest and most convenient way to bioencapsulate meds, as we have discussed previously. Thirdly, a much wider range of medicines are effective when bio-encapsulated in live brine shrimp than can be used effectively as bath treatments for marine fish because they adult brine shrimp tolerate freshwater so well while they are been gutloaded.

Bioencapsulating the adult brine shrimp in freshwater thus greatly increases the range of antibiotics you can use for gutloading. Many antibiotics are ineffective when used as baths in saltwater because they don\'t dissolve well in hard water at a pH > 8.0, or aren\'t absorbed well through the skin and gills of fish, or because they combine with the carbonates in saltwater and are thus rendered inactive (tetracycline, for example), or all of the above. That is why the marine dose for most antibiotics is much stronger than the dosage recommended for use in freshwater, but increasing the dosage only partially counteracts these problems.

Soaking the brine shrimp in freshwater well they are bio-encapsulated with the medication also disinfects the adult brine because the osmotic shock in going from full strength saltwater to the freshwater kills any protozoan parasites the Artemia may have been carrying. And it increases the effectiveness of the gutloading because it allows some of the medication to move into the bodies of the adult brine shrimp via osmosis, assuring that they take up more of the medication.

In addition, while you are treating your H. reidi prophylactically using adult brine shrimp gutloaded with tetracycline, it would also be prudent for you to line up a potent antibiotic that is known to be effective against Vibrio and to keep it on hand so that the seahorses could be treated with it in your hospital tank at the first sign of a problem. Ciprofloxacin (Cipro for short) is the antibiotic I would recommend for this purpose. It is effective against stubborn bacterial infections such as Vibrio and often works wonders where other antibiotics have failed.

Ciprofloxacin can be added to the water and used as a bath. But you will need to increase the dosage to do so, because the high pH and water hardness of the marine aquarium inhibit its activity. The recommended freshwater dose is one 250 mg tablet per 1 gallon of water, and I would recommend at least doubling that for saltwater. The tablet should be crushed into a fine powder (use a blender if necessary) and then added to the water in the hospital tank for a one-hour bath, as described below:


Manufactured by Eaten Laboratories (Vibriosis and columnaris)

Ciprofloxacin is a synthetic broad spectrum antibiotic that is effective against gram-negative and some gram-positive bacterial pathogems of fish, e.g. aeromonads, flexibacteria, vibrios. Use for: Columnaris infections (Fin Rot, Saddleback, and Black Patch Necrosis Syndromes), Freshwater and Saltwater Furuncolosis (skin ulcers, systemic disease). Because it inhibits unique target enzymes needed for bacterial replication and DNA repair, it may be effective against bacteria unresponsive to other antibiotics.

DOSAGE & ADMINISTRATION: Add one tablet per gallon of water in the hospital tank for a 1-hour immersion bath. Add crushed tablet to some water, then add this suspension to the hospital tank. Repeat every day for 5-7 days with daily water changes after each treatment. Ciprofloxacin chelates divalent cations water hardness (increase dose for marine fish) and high divalent cations in diet. Its activity decreases with high pH (>6.9). It can be bacteriostatic or bactericidal depending on the effective concentration at the target site.

Because you would be using the ciprofloxacin in in salt water with a high pH, you should double the dose and add to 250 mg tablets per gallon of water in the hospital tank. After you crush the tablets to a fine powder and dissolve them in a small amount of saltwater, add the resulting solution to your hospital tank for one hour. After the seahorse has been in the medicated water for one hour, change the water in your hospital tank and replace it with freshly mixed saltwater. The next day, crush up two more tablets and dissolve them, and then add them to the hospital tank, change the water after 60 minutes, and repeat this procedure every day for five to seven days.

You can obtain ciprofloxacin for aquarium use online from Vet America at the following URL:

Click here: Aquafish Ciprofloxacin Tablets 250 mg bottle of 30 - 4664

One other precaution you might consider is to add an ultraviolet sterilizer to your seahorse tank, Nova. This is what I normally advise hobbyist regarding ultraviolet sterilizers:

Ultraviolet Sterilization

I\'m generally pro-UV for most conventional seahorse setups. I would say UV sterilization is a must for anyone who\'s keeping delicate wild-caught seahorses or seahorses obtained from your LFS. If you\'re keeping captive-bred-and-raised seahorses obtained directly from the breeder -- particularly a High-Health aquaculture facility such as Ocean Rider -- then an ultraviolet sterilizer becomes an option rather than a prerequisite. If you can afford it and your aquarium system allows for easy installation and maintenance, it\'s still a nice addition to a seahorse tank that can help minimize any potential problems with certain microbes and free-swimming parasites and which does a great job of helping to control nuisance algae. It can be especially helpful for controlling the incidence and spread of disease in crowded nursery tanks and grow-out tanks.

When it comes to disease control and algae control, ultraviolet sterilizers produce best results when they are operated continuously. In an established aquarium, they don\'t have any significant impact whatsoever on the good bacteria, since the beneficial nitrifying bacteria and denitrifying bacteria require attachment sites in order to grow and thrive. They will proliferate within the substrate and the porous interior of live rock for example, or build up a large population within bio-balls or a sponge filter or similar filtration media, where they cannot be affected in the least by ultraviolet sterilization. An ultraviolet sterilizer can only kill free-swimming bacteria and parasites that pass directly under the UV lamp with sufficient contact time to do the job.

Having said that, neither your protein skimmer nor an ultraviolet sterilizer should be operated on a new aquarium that is still in the process of cycling. You want the \"seed\" bacteria to be able to freely colonize any suitable substrates at first, and you don\'t want the sterilizer or skimmer removing any of the nitrogenous wastes that the nitrifying bacteria feed upon (UV radiation in the proper range of 295-400 nanometers is known to help oxidize phosphates, metabolites, organic molecules and nitrogenous compounds through the incidental production of ozone).

Under normal circumstances, however, ultraviolet sterilization should be operated continuously. Ultraviolet radiation can be very effective in reducing free-floating algae, bacteria and microbes in general, certain parasites while in the free-swimming stages of development, and other suspended microscopic organisms (Fenner, 2003a). Seahorses are prone to a number of serious bacterial problems such as Vibriosis and mycobacteriosis, and a properly installed and maintained UV sterilizer can be invaluable in reducing the incidence and spread of such infections. When properly used, UV sterilization can reduce microbial levels in the aquarium to the low levels normally found in the wild or below (Fenner, 2003a).

For best results, the UV sterilizer must be properly sized, operated, and maintained. In order to provide a good kill rate per pass, the effective dwell time (the length of time the water is exposed to UV radiation while passing through the sterilizer) should be maintained at or above roughly twenty gallons per hour flow per watt of UV (Fenner, 2003a). This sounds complicated, but selecting the right sterilizer for your needs is actually very easy. Every manufacturer provides guidelines to help the hobbyist choose a unit and a pump that provide the proper wattage, flow rate and exposure time for any given application.

To assure efficient transmission of the proper wavelengths, sleeves (i.e., the quartz jacket that shields the lamp) must be kept clean and UV bulbs must be replaced at regular intervals. Equally important, the aquarium water should be filtered before it passes through the sterilizer. For maximum efficiency, make the UV sterilizer the final component of an in-line filtration system, so that the water has already passed through your mechanical, biological and chemical filtration media before it flows through the sterilizer (Fenner, 2003a). And, as I mentioned, do not operate your UV sterilizer during the break-in period when a new aquarium is being cycled and the biological filtration is becoming established. It is counterproductive to reduce microbe levels and nutrient levels when the aquarium is cycling.

Reef keepers tend to avoid UV because it reduces the population of microscopic planktonic organisms filter-feeding invertebrates require, but that\'s mainly a consideration for reefers who will be keeping a lot of filter feeders or live corals that need supplemental feedings rather than obtaining most of their food and directly from the zooanthellae in their tissues through the process of photosynthesis. And if your aquarium will employ micron filtration or an ozonizer to help regulate ORP, those will provide many of the same benefits as an ultraviolet sterilizer, reducing the need for UV.

Obviously, ultraviolet sterilization is a bit superfluous in an aquarium system with an ozonizer or ozone generator, but otherwise, it can be a very worthwhile investment for the seahorse keeper. And if you have had an outbreak of disease in your aquarium, installing a sterilizer can help prevent a recurrence of those problems in the future.

Those are just some of the things to keep in mind when deciding whether or not an ultraviolet sterilizer is a good option for your particular needs and aquarium system.

In summation, Nova, a good stress-free way to treat your H. reidi prophylactically would be to feed them their fill of adult brine shrimp gutloaded with tetracycline for one meal a day for the next week or so. Try to obtain some ciprofloxacin to keeping your fish room medicine cabinet in case it\'s ever needed, and consider installing an ultraviolet sterilizer on your seahorse tank.

Best of luck with your prolific ponies and all of their progeny, sir! Here\'s hoping your H. reidi continue to thrive and produce many broods of healthy young for you.

Pete Giwojna

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