Reply To: Sick Pony

Pete Giwojna

Dear Samira:

Well, if you purchased your female H. erectus when it was an adult, and you have had it for an additional year, then it’s possible that may have reached the end of its natural lifespan, since there’s no way of knowing how old your female may have been when you first got it…

But if you obtained your female when it was a youngster or subadult, and you have only had it for one year, it should still have several good years ahead of it, if cared for properly…

in my experience, cultured seahorses such as Mustangs and Sunbursts (Hippocampus erectus) have a life expectancy of 8-10 years in captivity, it provided with good care, but a life span of 3-4 years is more typical in the home aquarium. (I personally know of one old war horse raised by a colleague of mine that reached the ripe old age of 7 years and 3 months.) At the Ocean Rider facility, I believe some of their original broodstock are considerably older still (10+ years old), but of course the ideal conditions there are far different from the small, closed-system aquaria and artificial saltwater we hobbyists must rely on.

Certainly, the aging process is always associated with increased morbidity and mortality, Samira, and seahorses are no exception to be sure. As seahorses age, they become increasingly vulnerable to certain conditions that did not trouble them when they were younger. This often manifests itself as an increased incidence of gas bubble disease (particularly pouch emphysema and subcutaneous emphysema), chronic wasting, and certain types of cancers.

For example, I know of several older seahorses that developed malignant neoplasms, including tumors of the small intestine with liver metastasis and a case of a fibrosarcoma of the pouch. Specimens with anorexia and chronic wasting often have distended gall bladders, fatty livers, and sunken eyes. These types of age-related conditions don’t kill suddenly; rather, they debilitate the seahorse over time and it eventually succumbs to disease in its weakened condition.

Hepatic lipidosis in the most common of these age-related conditions. Of all the necropsies Dr. Martin Belli has performed on hobbyist’s seahorses, fully 38% of them had fatty livers (Belli, per. com.).

Because of their lazy lifestyle, our pampered pets are susceptible to a debilitating affliction commonly known as “fatty liver disease” or hepatic lipidosis when they are given a diet that’s excessively rich in HUFA (highly unsaturated fatty acids) and other lipids. Mature seahorses that are no longer breeding are at greatest risk from hepatic lipidosis. Young seahorses need a high-fat diet to sustain their rapid growth and development, and breeding pairs that are churning out brood after brood of fry likewise need all the energy they can get. But once they reach sexual maturity, their growth rate slows markedly, and nonbreeding adults that receive a high-fat diet will begin to store excess fat in specialized cells called adipose tissue (Tamaru, Sep. 2001). Eventually these fatty deposits will begin to infiltrate the liver cells, hence the name fatty liver disease (Tamaru, Sep. 2001).

In severe cases, adipose tissue can become so thick that it can literally hides the internal organs, cloaking them within a cocoon of fat, and distending the abdomen (Tamaru, Sep. 2001). When the seahorse’s liver or hepatopancreas becomes badly infiltrated with fatty deposits, it interferes with the organ’s ability to perform its vital role in digestion, food absorption, and detoxification of the blood, which has dire consequences for the affected seahorse.

As I mentioned earlier, hepatic lipidosis normally does not kill seahorses quickly without any symptoms of a problem. Ironically, due to the impairment of digestion and food absorption it causes, fatty liver disease is typically associated with chronic wasting and emaciation. Most often, the affected seahorses literally waste away and eventually succumb to some opportunistic disease in their weakened state.

Freshwater dips are only helpful if the seahorses infected with external parasites, but that doesn’t seem to be the case with your female based on the types of symptoms you describe, so I wouldn’t put her through the added stress of any more dips.

You might consider tube feeding your female as a last resort, Samira. If that’s something that you might want to try, just let me know, and I will be happy to provide some detailed instructions explaining how to do so…

Good luck.

Pete Giwojna, Ocean Rider Tech Support

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