Reply To: Swollen Discolored Snout with Hole on the Side

Pete Giwojna

I am very sorry to hear about the snout problem one of your seahorses has developed. The enlarged tip of the snout, discoloration, and the hole that has developed in the barrel of the seahorse’s snout makes it clear that you are dealing with snout rot, which is a serious condition that requires immediate treatment because a seahorse that is unable to feed normally will quickly lose condition and become susceptible to a variety of disease problems. Unfortunately, once snout rot has developed to the point where holes have been eaten away in the snout of the seahorse, the condition is irreversible and it is my unpleasant duty to inform you that in my experience it is extremely unlikely that you will be able to save Nacho. I will provide you with instructions explaining the best way to euthanize a seahorse with a fatal health problem at the end of this email, mar’viedo, but first I want to explain the recommended treatments for seahorses that develop such snout problems and are not already too far gone so that they may still respond to immediate treatment. If the affected seahorse has stopped feeding, which is often the case when dealing with snout rot, then you will need to transfer it to a hospital tank for treatment with powerful antibiotics that would damage the biofilter in the main tank. In that event, mar’viedo, kanamycin sulfate is the best choice because it is one of the few antibiotics that both dissolves well in saltwater and is absorbed readily through the skin and gills of the seahorse. For best results, kanamycin can be combined safely with doxycycline or any other aminoglycoside antibiotics. Here are some suggestions for setting up a makeshift treatment tank if you do not already have a quarantine tank or hospital ward up and running, mar’viedo. A hospital tank is usually pretty spartan because the substrate can sometimes interfere with the medications that are used. So most of the time, hospital tanks are bare bottomed and about a 10 gallon tank is typical for a seahorse hospital tank. This is what I normally advise home hobbyists regarding a suitable hospital tank, mar’viedo: Basic Hospital Tank set up Live sand and live rock are not necessary in a hospital tank. A bare-bottomed aquarium with plenty of hitching posts will suffice for a hospital ward or Quarantine Tank (QT). Ideally, the hospital tank should have one or more foam filters for biofiltration along with a small external filter, which can easily be removed from the tank during treatment but which can hold activated carbon or polyfilter pads when it’s time to pull the meds out. It’s important for the hospital ward to include enough hitching posts so that the seahorse won’t feel vulnerable or exposed during treatment. Aquarium safe, inert plastic plants or homemade hitching posts fashioned from polypropylene rope or twine that has been unraveled and anchored at one end are excellent for a hospital tank. No aquarium reflector is necessary. Ambient room light will suffice. (Bright lights can breakdown and inactivate certain medications and seahorses are more comfortable and feel more secure under relatively dim lighting.) So just a bare tank with hitching posts is all you need for your hospital ward. No heater. No reflector. No lights. No substrate. You can even do without the sponge filters or external filter in your case, just adding a couple of airstones to provide surface agitation and oxygenation. That’s it. In a pinch, a clean 5-gallon plastic bucket (new and unused, NOT an old scrub bucket!) can serve as a makeshift hospital tank. It should be aerated and equipped with hitching posts and perhaps a heater, but nothing else. This makes a useful substitute when the Quarantine Tank is occupied or in use and a seahorse needs treatment. Stay on top of water quality in the hospital tank/bucket with water changes as often as needed during treatment, and and when you are treating the occupants for a health problem, re-dose with the medication(s) according to directions after each water change. As you can see, hospital tank is pretty easy to set up because it’s not intended to house the seahorses long-term, only while they undergo a treatment regimen that usually lasts 10-14 days. For filtration, I keep things really simple in a hospital tank, using only foolproof air-operated sponge filters for my dwarf seahorses. Avoid sponge filters with weighted bottoms or other metal components, however, since they will rust when exposed to saltwater. Sooner or later this will cause problems in a marine aquarium (sooner in the small setups that are most suitable for H. zosterae). Select a sponge filter that has no metal parts and is safe for use in saltwater. The proper units will have suction cups to anchor them in place rather than a weighted bottom. The sponge filters I find that work well are the Oxygen Plus Bio-Filters (models 2, 3, 4, or 5) or the Tetra Brilliant foam filters. They have no metal components, making them completely safe for use in saltwater, and just one of these foam filters will do the job on a tank of 5 gallons or less. They do not have a weighted bottom but are equipped with suction cups instead. Two of the smaller models can be used on larger 25-gallon tank like yours, Lori, but one of the larger models, like the one at the link below, would be sufficient for your 10-gallon aquarium: Click here: Foam Aquarium Filters: Oxygen Plus Bio-Filter 2 Avoid the Oxygen Plus Bio-filter 6, 11, and the Multi sponge, which all have a weighted bottom (metal), that rusts when exposed to saltwater. If you want more filtration, you’re better off going with two of the smaller suction cup sponge filters rather than any of the models with weighted bottoms. For instance, for a 12 -gallon tank, I’d suggest using two well-established foam filters, one at either end of the tank for the biofiltration, just as you are planning, Georgianna. All you need to operate sponge or foam filters is an inexpensive, diaphragm-operated air pump (whatever is available at a reasonable price from your LFS will do just fine), a length of airline tubing to connect the air pump to the foam filter(s), and a set of air valves (gang valves) to regulate the air flow to the filters. That’s all — nothing to it! The inexpensive Apollo 5 air pumps work great for sponge filters, but whatever air pump you have on hand should certainly do the job. Cleaning the foam filters is a snap. Simply immerse them in a bucket of saltwater and gently squeeze out the sponge until it’s clean and releases no more sediment or debris. Run a bottlebrush through the inside of the tube, wipe off the outside of the tube, and you’re done. The filter is ready to go back in the aquarium with no impairment at all of the biofiltration. Takes only a couple minutes. Finally, mar’viedo, here is an excerpt on snout rot from my new book, (Complete Guide to Greater Seahorses in the Aquarium, unpublished), which will explain more about this condition and how it can be treated: SNOUT ROT Snout rot is a dreadful disease that afflicts all Syngnathids. It’s a dangerous disease that requires immediate treatment in order to save the seahorse. Snout rot is most often the result of an infection, which can be either bacterial or fungal in nature (Giwojna, Oct. 2003). 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 don’t let that lead to complacency — you cannot afford to take a “wait-and-see” approach with this affliction! 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 (Giwojna, Oct. 2003). 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 (Giwojna, Oct. 2003). I have seen seahorses with over half their snouts missing, and euthanasia is the only recourse for fish in this pathetic condition. I have also 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 (Giwojna, Oct. 2003). 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 (Giwojna, Oct. 2003). 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 ailments, such as weak snick, trigger lock or “lockjaw (Giwojna, Oct. 2003).” 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 (Giwojna, Oct. 2003). Thus, many hobbyists maintain that if the affected area of the snout looks pinkish, it’s fungus, but if the affected area appears whitish, it’s a bacterial problem (Giwojna, Oct. 2003). This information can help guide you to the appropriate treatment. Medications with powerful antifungal agents such as nifurpirinol (the active ingredient in Furanase) are a good treatment for snout rot when a fungal infection is indicated (Giwojna, Oct. 2003). A wide spectrum antibiotic such as doxycycline hydrochloride combined with kanamycin sulfate or kanamycin plus neomycin are good choices when bacterial snout rot is indicated (Giwojna, Oct. 2003). Treatment with these medications should take place in a hospital ward or quarantine tank to avoid nuking your biofilter. In addition to antibiotic therapy, some hobbyists report that it is also beneficial to treat the affected area of the snout topically using high-dose Sodium Chloride, which has some antimicrobial properties and is not irritating or harmful if it accidentally get into the mouth or gills of the seahorse, but that’s not a treatment I have personally tried, so I cannot say if it is effective or not… Okay, those are the basics regarding snout rot, mar’viedo. It’s important to treat this condition ASAP and I would suggest treating the affected seahorse with potent antibiotics in your hospital tank. Kanamycin sulfate used alone or in combination with doxycycline hydrochloride or other aminoglycoside antibiotics, such as neomycin sulfate, would be a good choice for treating the water in the hospital tank. If you cannot obtain the recommended medications from one of your local fish stores, they can be purchased online from National Fish Pharmaceuticals, a.k.a. the Fishy Farmacy. Just do a web search or Google Fishy Farmacy and you will be directed to the proper website. They will sell to individuals but there medications are sold in bulk quantities which often makes them prohibitively expensive for home hobbyists. As I have already noted, mar’video, it is unfortunately too late to attempt any treatments for Nacho at this point, so I do not recommend that you spend any money for expensive medications unless you want to keep them on hand for the future… In addition to treating such no problems, mar’viedo, it’s also very important to get some badly needed nutrition into the affected seahorse as soon as possible. Many times the key to a successful outcome is keeping the patient eating while the healing takes place. When these feeding difficulties arise, it’s a good idea to try tempting the affected seahorse with live adult brine shrimp. If the hole in the snout of Nacho is quite small, it’s just barely possible that he may still be able to generate sufficient suction to slurp up softbodied adult brine shrimp. Many times seahorses with snout problems or feeding problems will have better luck slurping up smaller, lighter, soft-bodied prey like brine shrimp; if so, that will be enough to keep them going while they heal. You’ll want to enrich the brine shrimp to maximize its nutritional value, and gutloading the shrimp with an enrichment product high in HUFA and vitamins, such as Vibrance, is a good way to fortify it beforehand. Brine shrimp are filter feeders that will ingest whatever is suspended in the water with them, so all you need to do is add a pinch or two (or drop or two) of the enrichment formula to a small container of saltwater swarming with brine shrimp at least 30 minutes before you offer the shrimp to your seahorse. Some hobbyists dealing with snout rot have had good success in coaxing the affected seahorse to feed by transferring the seahorse to a critter keeper or breeder net or similar enclosure that can hang within the main tank itself, and then adding a generous amount of live adult brine shrimp to the container. Within the enclosure, the affected seahorse does not have to compete with its tankmates for the live food, and it is easy to maintain an adequate feeding density within the confined space so that there is always a big juicy brine shrimp passing within striking distance of the hungry seahorse. Add one or two hitching posts within the critter keeper or breeder net so that your male can anchor in place and wait for a tasty brine shrimp to pass within easy reach, and give him an hour or two within the enclosure to eat him fill of the softbodied adult brine shrimp. You can monitor his progress from a nonthreatening distance away from the tank to see how she is doing. In most cases, the seahorse quickly becomes familiar with the routine of being transferred to the special enclosure at feeding time and associates it with tasty live foods and a full belly — positive reinforcements that make it a very nonthreatening, stress-free procedure for the affected seahorse — and, as a result, it may actually come to look forward to it after a few feedings. You can repeat this feeding process two or three times daily in order to fatten him up again, if your schedule allows. If the seahorse with the snout problem is unable to eat even the softbodied adult brine shrimp, mar’viedo, your next best bet is to try force feeding the pony by hand. By handfeeding in this case I mean holding one entire, intact (whole and unbroken) frozen Mysis that you have carefully thawed in your fingertips and then placing the tail of the Mysid directly in the mouth of the seahorse. Many times the seahorse will simply spit it out again, but often if you can insert the Mysis into her open mouth far enough, its feeding instincts will kick in and take over so that it slurps up the frozen Mysis almost reflexively. That’s a much less stressful and less invasive method of force feeding a seahorse that sometimes works well (especially if the seahorse is accustomed to being hand fed and doesn’t shy away from the aquarist). Force feeding the seahorse by hand sounds much more difficult than it actually is, and seahorses will often respond well to this method of feeding, mar’viedo. Even the professional curators at the large public aquariums will use this technique when their highly prized (and very expensive) seadragons are experiencing problems with weak snick, as explained in the discussion thread below: Has anyone had problems with syngnathids having a problem getting food into their mouths? Currently I have a few ribbon pipehorses (seadragons) that have lost the ability to take in food, either live or frozen when attempting to eat. It is as if they have lost the suction power when they attempt to snap up the food. They can see the food and chase it and attempt to eat but don’t have enough snap to create the suction needed to get the piece of food into its mouth. Even when putting the affected animal in a smaller tank with lots of food, it still can’t get the food in. This condition seemed to develop even though the ribbon pipehorses were eating aggressively before the problem started. They were mainly eating frozen mysis and occasionally were fed live mysis. I was thinking that possibly the diet of mainly frozen mysis could not be enough for them nutritionally as they were developing??? Not sure. I have occasionally seen this problem before in weedy and leafy seadragons as well as some seahorses. Has anyone else had this problem? Any ideas of what may cause this problem? Any ideas on how to get them to eat again? Has anyone had luck with force feeding seadragons to get them to eat again? Thanks, Leslee Matsushige Leslee Matsushige (Yasukochi) Assistant Aquarium Curator Birch Aquarium at Scripps Scripps Institution of Oceanography University of California San Diego Hi Leslee, Over the years, we have seen mouth problems develop in some of our dragons. Sometimes it’s attributed to injury. Sometimes we don’t know what causes it, but we are often successful in getting them to recover on their own with just supportive feedings until we observe that they are back to catching food normally. Sometimes this can take a long time…as in a month or two of force feedings before they are back to catching enough on their own to sustain themselves. Although I have not had experience force feeding ribbon dragons, I have both force fed and tube fed leafy and weedy seadragons. Typically, we force feed numerous frozen mysids to a sick dragon up to 3 times a day. By force feeding, I mean that we very gently place a mysid in the mouth of the animal and then lightly hold a finger in front of it so that it can’t easily spit out the food. Usually they learn pretty quickly that they are getting food this way and start to slurp mysids up as soon as they are put in their mouth. I usually try to get 6-10 mysids in per feeding. It takes good eyesight and a steady hand to make sure you don’t injure their mouth with this method. We have also tube fed using a thick slurry of cyclopeeze or pulverized and moistened pelleted food…usually giving around .3cc per feeding…though it’s dependent on the size of the animal. I think we usually use a 2-3mm french catheter cut down to fit on a small syringe. Again we do this 3 x day. We find that the animals do better with the frequent feedings and usually they go right back to searching for food after being released. Teryl Nolan Aquarium Supervisor SeaWorld Florida Hi Teryl, Thanks for your response to my posting. We are currently trying to tube feed one of our leafy seadragons. We have been feeding it 1x/day for now to see how it handles the feedings. I was wondering what was the size of the seadragon that you feed .3cc of the food slurry to? Our leafy is about 10-11 inches in length. I am not sure of the amount to feed. Since we are feeding only 1x/day we are trying .6cc per feeding. Do you find force feeding or tube feeding to be better in certain situations? Our leafy still attempt to get the food but can not snap its jaw with enough force to get the food into its mouth. When you force feed the seadragon do you hold it upsidedown? What do you use to put the mysid in its mouth? If you could give more details about force feeding that you think might be helpful, can you pass this on? Your response has been helpful! Thanks, Leslee In a message dated 7/16/2009 1:20:44 P.M. Central Daylight Time, [email protected] writes: Hi Leslee, We usually feed our full-sized leafies just .3cc at each feeding. I don’t know that you can’t go higher, we just don’t. I try to be conservative and part of my philosophy about having to force feed them is that since they naturally tend to graze on food all day long, I like to feed them smaller amounts more frequently. In our experience, the dragons usually go back to their normal routine after a tube or force feeding. If they were actively looking for food, but just not following through and eating it, that’s what they go back to. If prior to the feeding, they were acting pretty lethargic…maintaining a stationary position on the water, usually facing a wall, and not showing any interest in feeding…then we’ve noticed that after they get a little energy from the force feeding, they often come out, act a little more normally, and even show signs of hunting for food. The reason we started force feeding the sick ones 2-3x a day years ago, is because we see such a dramatic turn around in their behavior after they have gotten some food. If we don’t follow it up with another feeding that day, then they seem to lose steam and go back to their wall-facing behavior. I’ve come to the point that I believe it’s better to force feed than to tube feed (unless I need to tube with an oral medication or the dragon won’t take the force feeding). If you have the very small mysids available because you purchase live or culture your own, that’s what I prefer to use. We freeze our mysids prior to feeding them out. If you lightly restrain the dragon, in an upright position, but completely under the water, I find it’s easier to use latex gloves and very carefully insert a small mysid into the dragon’s mouth tail first using my fingers. We can usually get them to eat 10-20 per feeding. They will usually slurp it up pretty quickly. Sometimes they spit them out the first couple times though. In which case, I lightly hold my finger in front of their mouth until they’ve swallowed the mysid. That keeps them from spitting them out completely…usually. We have a few that we hold under water and pour mysids in front of, then we just move them directly in front of the food and they slurp them up. I think they probably get more from the whole mysids than from the gruel. We don’t even move them off exhibit unless there are other health issues. We just lean over the side of our system and handle the dragons quickly beneath the surface. Then release them. I think it is much less stressful on the animals if you don’t have to move them. They tolerate this extremely well in my experience and we have had numerous that required supplemental feedings for awhile, but then recovered. I hope this helps! Teryl Nolan Aquarium Supervisor SeaWorld Florida In case the affected seahorse is unable to eat even softbodied adult brine shrimp and force feeding by hand is unsuccessful, mar’viedo, I will attach a document to this email that explains other forms of force feeding such as tube feeding that you can try as a last result. Just download the attached document, save it on your computer, and then read through the information at your convenience. Regrettably, it is my belief that Nacho is very likely already too far gone to respond to any treatments, and rather than letting him slowly starve to death, it may be more merciful for you to end his suffering quickly. When it comes time to consider euthanasia, mar’viedo, these are some of the guidelines to keep in mind: Generally speaking, when a seahorse is off its feed and you have had to resort to force feeding and the seahorse STILL does not respond, there is not much more that can be done to save the seahorse and it may be time to consider ending the seahorse’s suffering. Likewise, when the seahorse becomes unresponsive and displays a lack of eye movement, no longer tracking the movements of the aquarist with its eyes, that’s usually an indication that the end is near. When you have an ailing seahorse that develops the “far look,” a distant stare as if focusing on some faraway object, and no longer response to stimuli in its immediate vicinity, that’s a good indication that the seahorse will not recover, and again, it’s merciful to end suffering at that point… If euthanasia should become necessary, mar’viedo, the “clove oil and tank water” technique discussed below is a perfectly painless procedure that can be performed by the home hobbyist: Humane Euthanization Article by Aquatic expert, BuddyHolly Clove Oil and Tank Water Method Buy pure clove oil. You can get it at a health food store. For a larger fish such as a goldfish, you’ll want to make sure you have enough on hand. Two ounces minimum. Put the fish in a medium to large sized mixing bowl (depending on the size of the fish) in his own water from his tank. In a small jar or or something with a lid (I use a cleaned out jelly jar – about 6 ounces) mix the clove oil with tank water. Use ? ounce for bettas, an ounce for larger fish, and have more on hand for really large fish such as goldfish, oscars, pacus, etc. Put the lid on and shake it like crazy over and over until the liquid in it is white. Then pour a little into the mixing bowl with the fish. Swirl it with your hand. The fish might fight it just a little bit and then slow down. Then pour a little more in and swirl again. He should just go to sleep and appear dead. If he doesn’t, try a little more of the clove solution, always shaking very well before an addition to the bowl. When he goes to sleep, leave him in the solution for a good 10 minutes and then put him in a small cup or ziplock baggie and put him in the freezer. Pain free death. Very humane. We should all go so easily. Finally, isolating the affected seahorse as explained above is very important when dealing with the problem like this, since snout rot can be contagious and you need to take precautions to prevent the rest of your ponies from being affected.


Pete Giwojna, Ocean Rider Tech Support

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