Reply To: Barbouri may be sick

Pete Giwojna

Dear Eric:

I am very sorry to hear that you lost the female, sir. All of my condolences on your loss, Eric.

It sounds like the male is suffering from whatever affliction caused the demise of your female. Unfortunately, we still don’t have a good idea as to what problem you are dealing with, sir.

Under the circumstances, the best I can come up with is to try force feeding the male in order to keep its strength up and then treating with a wide-spectrum medication such as Instant Ocean Lifeguard.

Before you resort to the more invasive tube feeding, Eric, I suggest that you try force feeding your male seahorse 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 his open mouth far enough, his feeding instincts will kick in and take over so that he 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, Eric. 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:

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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?

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!

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
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All things considered, Eric, I think I would concentrate on hand feeding your male seahorse with individual Mysis as described above to provide him with nutritional support. If force feeding your stallion by hand proves to be impractical, then tube feeding is probably the next best option at this point. Let me know if the tube feeding becomes necessary, and I can provide you with some additional instructions to help guide you through the procedure.

One medication that is readily available to home hobbyists and that might be helpful for treating this unknown ailment is Lifeguard by Instant Ocean. The active ingredient in the Lifeguard is not an antibiotic, but it is very wide-spectrum in its efficacy, and can effectively treat bacterial, fungal, viral, and parasitic infections alike. That makes it a very useful medication for home hobbyists who are unable to rely on laboratory tests and sensitivity tests to determine the best medication to use for any particular problem.

Instant Ocean Lifeguard is easy to use, inexpensive, and often available at local fish stores, including Petco and Petsmart retail stores so it is easy to obtain, allowing you to begin treatment promptly, which is very important for obtaining good results. The product may have a variety of different names depending on where you purchase it, including Instant Ocean Lifeguard, Instant Ocean Lifeguard Saltwater, or Instant Ocean Lifeguard All-in-One Marine Remedy (there is also a version of Lifeguard for freshwater, so just make sure you obtain the Lifeguard that’s intended for use in marine aquariums).

Here is some more information explaining the type of problems Instant Ocean Lifeguard is often effective in treating and how to use the medication:

Instant Ocean Lifeguard

Instant Ocean Lifeguard Saltwater tablets with HaloShield® attack a broad range of external fish diseases in saltwater aquariums including bacterial, fungal, viral, and parasitic. It’s HaloShield®, a revolutionary non-antibiotic agent, that makes LIFEGUARD pre-measured tablets so tough on harmful disease-causing microorganisms.

It is made by Instant Ocean, it is specifically for marine use and treats the following: ick, oodinium, fungus, milky or shedding slime, bacterial gill disease, mouth and fin/tail rot, clamped or torn fins, and ulcers.

Safeguard tanks with LIFEGUARD! One tablet treats 10 gallons of water, recommended treatment is for five days.

Keep your aquatic pets healthy and fit with Instant Ocean LIFEGUARD All-In-One Marine Remedy. This therapeutic treatment is ideal for marine fish and treats clinical signs of diseases in its earliest stages. HaloShield® eliminates disease-causing microorganisms, and each tablet is premeasured for precise dosage and dissolves easily in water. Instant Ocean Lifeguard Saltwater is effective against marine Ick & Oodinium.

Ideal for use with marine fish
Treats a range of diseases, including bacterial, fungal, viral and parasitic conditions
HaloShield destroys disease-causing microorganisms
Effective against marine ick and oodinium
Tablets are premeasured and dissolve easily
Add 1 tablet per day to each 10 gal. of water
Made in the USA

Active ingredients: 1-chloro-2,2,5,5-tetramethyl-4-imidazolidinone.

Before treatment, remove filter carbon and turn off UV sterilizer. Add one tablet per day to each 10 US gallons of aquarium water using the enclosed treatment apparatus. Use treatment for 5 consecutive days, at 24-hour intervals. For best results, after 5-day treatment is complete, wait 24 hours (day 6), then return activated carbon and turn on UV sterilizer. Perform a 25% water change using a dechlorinator and a bacteria-enzyme to condition aquarium water. To treat smaller aquariums, break tablet along score lines. Each 1/4 tablet treats 2-1/2 US gallons.

Keep out of reach of children. For aquarium use only. Not for use on food fish. Not suitable for invertebrates or newly set up aquariums. Some macroalgae may show sensitivity. Use only as directed. Do not overdose. If overdose occurs, add carbon or dechlorinator as directed for immediate neutralization.

Available in a 16 pack
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Okay, Eric, that’s the rundown on the Instant Ocean Lifeguard, which I’m hoping may be helpful in that case.

Best of luck getting good nutrition into your male seahorse to help keep his strength up until this problem is resolved.

Pete Giwojna, Ocean Rider Tech Support

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