Ocean Rider Seahorse Farm and Tours | Kona Hawaii › Forums › Seahorse Life and Care › Slithering on the bottom › Reply To: Slithering on the bottom
I’m sorry to hear about the problems you are having with some of your seahorses. It’s very difficult to determine what is going on with your ponies from afar with so little to go on, but the seahorse that is “playing dead” curled up on the bottom and slithering around with labored breathing and no appetite sounds very much like it could be suffering from ammonia poisoning or nitrite toxicity, so I suggest that you check your water quality parameters immediately to see if there has been a spike in the ammonia or nitrate levels.
The most obvious symptoms of ammonia poisoning/nitrite toxicity are a loss of equilibrium, hyperexcitability, increased respiration and oxygen uptake, and increased heart rate. At extreme ammonia levels, fish may experience convulsions, coma, and death. Seahorses exposed to less extreme ammonia levels will struggle to breathe. They will be lethargic and exhibit rapid respiration. They may appear disoriented, periodically detaching from their hitching posts only to sink to the bottom.
In significant cases, you will often see the affected seahorses lying prone on the bottom unable to right themselves at all for extended periods, blindly bumping into objects on the walls of the aquarium in complete disorientation, and going into actual convulsions, accompanied by severe respiratory distress.
Ammonia poisoning is completely reversible providing the seahorses weren’t exposed to toxic levels for too long, and the best first aid you can provide for ammonia poisoning is to immediately transfer the seahorses into clean, well-aerated saltwater with zero ammonia and zero nitrite aquarium. (In your case, Chris, if the ammonia levels or nitrite levels in the aquarium are elevated, perform a major water change using freshly mixed saltwater that has been detoxified and preadjusted to the same specific gravity and water temperature as your seahorse tank, and then dose the aquarium with SeaChem Stability to boost the biological filtration.)
Exposure to moderate levels of ammonia and nitrite (or excessively high levels of nitrates) can change the normal hemoglobin in the seahorse’s blood stream to a form (i.e., methhemoglobin) that is no longer able to transport oxygen. If this becomes severe enough, it will leave the affected seahorse starved for oxygen, which makes it very weak and fatigued. As a result, the affected seahorses may detach themselves from their hitching posts periodically and rest on the bottom, unable to exert themselves in their weakened condition. As you can imagine, being deprived of oxygen really wipes them out in terms of loss of energy and stamina. And it also results in respiratory distress, and rapid, labored breathing as they try to oxygenate themselves and compensate for the lack of normal hemoglobin.
One of the properties of methylene blue is that it can reverse this process and convert the methhemoglobin in the red blood cells back into normal hemoglobin, which can then pick up and transport oxygen again as usual. That’s why it is so helpful in relieving shipping stress and treating ammonia exposure and nitrite poisoning. For this reason, you may want to pick up some methylene blue at your local fish store and keep it on hand in case it is ever needed (the Kordon brand of methylene blue is best, in my opinion).
The usual criteria for determining whether or not methylene blue is needed to help seahorses recover from exposure to high levels of ammonia is their respiration. If the seahorse has labored breathing — huffing or rapid respiration — then methylene blue is called for. Likewise, if the seahorse is experiencing convulsions or its behavior otherwise indicates it is suffering from more than temporary disorientation and loss of equilibrium, such as lying prostrate on the bottom, unable to right itself again at all after two or three hours have passed, it may benefit from methylene blue to assist its recovery.
When that’s the case, hobbyists may want to consider a quick dip in methylene blue. Commonly known as “meth blue” or simply “blue,” this is a wonderful medication for reversing the toxic effects of ammonia and nitrite poisoning. Methylene blue transports oxygen and aids breathing. It facilitates oxygen transport, helping fish breathe more easily by converting methemoglobin to hemoglobin — the normal oxygen carrying component of fish blood, thus allowing more oxygen to be carried through the bloodstream. This makes it very useful for treating gill infections, low oxygen levels, or anytime your seahorses are breathing rapidly and experiencing respiratory distress. It is the drug of choice for treating hypoxic emergencies of any kind with your fish. However, methylene blue will destroy nitrifying bacteria so it should be used in a hospital tank or as a brief bath or dip only (if used in an established aquarium, it will impair the biological filtration and the tank may need to be cycled all over again).
Here is some more information that may be helpful if you ever need to treat with methylene blue, for any reason:
If you can obtain the Kordon brand of Methylene Blue (available at most well-stocked local fish stores), there are instructions for administering it as a very brief, concentrated dip are as follows:
For use as a dip for treatment of fungus or external parasitic protozoans and cyanide poisoning:
(a) Prepare a nonmetallic container of sufficient size to contain the fish to be treated by adding water similar to the original aquarium.
(b) Add 5 teaspoons (24.65 ml) per 3 gallons of water. This produces a concentration of 50 ppm. It is not recommended that the concentration be increased beyond 50 ppm.
(c) Place fishes to be treated in this solution for no longer than 10 seconds.
(d) Return fish to original aquarium.
When you administer such a dip, hold the seahorse in your hand throughout the procedure and time it closely so that the dip does not exceed 10 seconds.
And here are Kordon’s instructions for administering the methylene blue in a hospital tank if longer-term treatment seems appropriate to reverse more severe cases of nitrite poisoning and ammonia toxicity:
As an aid in reversal of nitrite (NO2-) or cyanide (CN-) poisoning of marine and freshwater aquarium fishes:
(a) Remove carbon filter and continue to operate with mechanical filter media throughout the treatment period.
(b) Add 1 teaspoon of 2.303% Methylene Blue per 10 gallons of water. This produces a concentration of 3 ppm. Continue the treatment for 3 to 5 days.
(c) Make a water change as noted and replace the filter carbon at the conclusion of the treatment.
See the following link for more information on treating with Kordon’s Methylene Blue:
Click here: KPD-28 Methylene Blue
If you obtained a brand of methylene blue other than Kordon, just follow the instructions the medication comes with.
Just be sure that you don’t have the methylene blue to your main tank, since that can have a negative impact on the biological filtration.
If you can provide me with photographs, that could also help be in diagnosing this problem, Chris. You can contact me off list at the following e-mail address and attach any photos that might be helpful to your e-mail:
Good luck in the meantime.
Pete Giwojna, Ocean Rider Tech Support