When a seahorse is eating well but seems to be losing weight, despite a healthy appetite, that could be an indication of internal parasites. In many such cases, these prove to be intestinal flagellates, as discussed below:
Seahorses that are carrying a heavy load of internal parasites (particularly intestinal flagellates or cestodes) may lose condition and drop weight despite a hearty appetite.
Intestinal flagellates are microscopic organisms that move by propelling themselves with long tail-like flagella (Kaptur, 2004). Such flagellates can be found in both the gastrointestinal and reproductive tracts of their hosts. In low numbers they do not present a problem, but they multiply by binary fission, an efficient means of mass infestation when conditions favor them (such as when a seahorse has been weakened by chronic stress), Kaptur, 2004. When they get out of control, these parasites interfere with the seahorse’s normal digestive processes such as vitamin absorption, and it has difficulty obtaining adequate nourishment even though it may be eating well and feeding heavily (Kaptur, 2004). Suspect intestinal parasites are a work when a good eater gradually wastes away despite its hearty appetite (Giwojna, Dec. 2003). Their presence can be confirmed by examining a fecal sample under a microscope, but they can be easily diagnosed according to the more readily observed signs described below (Kaptur, 2004).
The symptoms to look for are a seahorse that is losing weight or not holding its own weightwise even though it feeds well, or alternatively, a lack of appetite accompanied by white stringy feces (Kaptur, 2004). When a seahorse stops eating aggressively and begins producing white, stringy feces instead of fecal pellets, that is a clear indication that it’s suffering from intestinal flagellates (Kaptur, 2004). Treat the affected seahorse(s) with metronidazole at the first sign of either condition (Giwojna, Dec. 2003).
Metronidazole is an antibiotic with antiprotozoal properties that is very effective in eradicating internal parasites in general and intestinal flagellates in particular (Kaptur, 2004). It is ideal for this because it is rapidly absorbed from the GI tract, has anti-inflammatory effects in the bowel, and was designed specifically to treat protozoal infections and anaerobic bacterial infections by disrupting their DNA (Kaptur, 2004).
If the seahorse is still eating, administering the metronidazole orally via gut-loaded shrimp is often extremely effective (Giwojna, Dec. 2003). Keep the seahorses on a strict diet of gut-loaded brine shrimp for 5-10 days. When administered properly, metronidazole is wonderfully effective at eliminating intestinal parasites, and there should be signs of improvement within 3 days of treatment (Kaptur, 2004). The seahorse’s appetite should pick up, and as it does, those characteristic white stringy feces will return to normal (Giwojna, Dec. 2003).
Intestinal parasites are typically transferred from their host to uninfected fishes by fecal exposure, and good tank management and hygiene can therefore go a long way towards limiting their spread (Giwojna, Dec. 2003). You don’t want seahorses eating frozen Mysis that may have become contaminated from laying on a dirty substrate (Giwojna, Dec. 2003). Using a feeding station can help prevent this as can vacuuming the substrate regularly.
Fortunately, intestinal flagellates have virtually no ability to survive outside their host’s body (Giwojna, Dec. 2003). If you detect the problem early and are diligent about cleaning the substrate while the affected seahorse is undergoing treatment in isolation, the parasites should be easily eliminated from your system and chances are good the rest of your herd will remain unaffected (Giwojna, Dec. 2003).
Gutloading simply means to fill live shrimp up with medication by feeding them food that has been soaked in the desired medication. Once the feeder shrimp are full of the medicated food — that is, their guts are loaded with it — they are immediately fed to the seahorses, which thus consume the medication along with the shrimp. It’s a neat way to trick seahorses into taking their medicine, just as our moms used to do when were little, crushing up pills in a spoonful of jelly or jam. Another term for gutloading is bioencapsulation, since the medication is neatly contained within a living organism rather than a capsule. Gutloading allows the seahorses to be treated in their main tank, where they are completely at home, surrounded by their tankmates and the rest of the herd, and is thus a very stress-free form of treatment.
There are a number of ways to gutload shrimp, but many hobbyists find it easiest to gutload adult brine shrimp with metronidazole as described below. It is impossible to determine precisely what dosage of medication each individual fish ingests when gutloading, but metronidazole is a very, very safe drug and you cannot overdose a seahorse using this method of treatment. Feeding each seahorse its fill of shrimp gut-loaded with metronidazole for 5-10 days assures that they receive an effective dose of the medication.
If live adult brine shrimp is easier for you to obtain, they can be gut-loaded or bio-encapsulated as follows. To medicate the brine shrimp, dissolve approximately 100 mg of metronidazole per liter or about 400 mg per gallon of water and soak the shrimp in the resulting freshwater solution. If the metronidazole you are using comes liquid or capsule form, you can use it as is. But if the metronidazole is in tablet form, be sure to 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.
Keep the seahorses on a strict diet of such medicated brine shrimp throughout the treatment period to get as much of the antibiotic into the seahorses as possible, and mix up a new batch of medicated freshwater to soak the brine shrimp in for each feeding.
Aside from fattening your skinny female up with choice live foods, which as you know can be an expensive proposition, one of the other things that you can do to build up her strength and help her to gain back some weight again is to enrich the frozen Mysis you are feeding her with Vibrance 1, which is the original lipid-rich or high-fat formulation. That’s the best way to get extra calories into her quickly, sir. Just enrich the frozen Mysis that you have been feeding to her every day with the Vibrance 1 beforehand, and she will be getting a lot of high-energy fat calories in every mouthful.
In short, switching to the high-fat Vibrance formulation (i.e., Vibrance One) temporarily should really help put some weight on your skinny female. The original Vibrance (Vibrance One) is a lipid-rich formula including beta-glucan, the proper balance of long chain fatty acids (DHA and EPA) derived from natural schizochytrium algae, and color-enhancing carotenoids, all combined with just the right amount of vitamins, minerals and water-soluble stabilized vitamin C in the proper proportions to further enhance the nutritional profile of the protein-rich frozen Mysis. Studies indicate the DHA it includes is essential for high survivability, nerve development, stress management, and proper reproduction. Switching from Vibrance II to Vibrance 1 may be all that’s necessary to build up your underweight female’s strength and get her back in top condition again.
If you want to send me a photo or short video of your female so that I can better assess her condition, I would be very happy to do so. Just send the pictures or video clip as an attachment to an e-mail and send it to the following address:
Best wishes with all your fishes, Pbohus!
Pete Giwojna, Ocean Rider Tech Support