Dear Fish Face:

Pete Giwojna

Dear Fish Face:

I understand why you used the clove oil to sedate your seahorse before attempting the force feeding, sir, and it’s a very intimidating procedure for the uninitiated so it’s no wonder you felt panicky during your very first attempt.

Some hobbyists do feel it’s easier to tube feed their seahorses after they have been sedated, while others feel that sedation only complicates the procedure. Sometimes sedating the seahorse can make tube feeding a little less stressful for both the patient and the caregiver, but beware that it is quite possible to sedate the seahorse to death using clove oil if you’re not careful, especially if you’ve never used it before. (In fact, clove oil is often used to euthanize fish painlessly simply by prolonging the “sedation” to the point of no return.)

At any rate, it’s great to hear that your seahorse survived the crisis, and I think you did a fine job of handling a very tricky situation for your first attempt at this sort of thing, Fish Face.

However, since your seahorse had such a close call this time and didn’t tolerate the procedure very well, before you resort to the more invasive tube feeding again, FF, I would suggest that you first try force feeding the affected 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 her open mouth far enough, her feeding instincts will kick in and take over so that she 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, FF.

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:

In a message dated 5/4/2009 6:11:43 A.M. Central Daylight Time, [email protected] writes:

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
7007 SeaWorld Drive
Orlando, Florida 32821

Okay, that’s another feeding option for you to consider, Fish Face, which I think you and your seahorse will find to be considerably less dramatic than sedating the pony in order to administer another tube feeding.

I would strongly recommend following up with antibiotic therapy in a hospital tank as we discussed in my previous post, FF. If you have to set up a makeshift hospital tank, it will be worthwhile for you to purchase a new five-gallon plastic bucket for this purpose, sir, and you needn’t worry about cycling the treatment tank.

The powerful broad-spectrum antibiotics you will be using don’t discriminate and will kill the beneficial nitrifying bacteria that provide biological filtration as well as any pathogenic or harmful bacteria, sir, which is why you don’t want to administer them in your main tank.

You will be maintaining water quality in the hospital tank by performing daily 100% water changes using freshly mixed saltwater that you have heavily aerated and carefully pre-adjusted to the same temperature, pH, and specific gravity as the main tank.

Of course, it is always a good idea to fill the hospital tank or hospital container with water from the seahorse tank initially, so that no acclimation will be necessary when you transfer the pony from the main tank to the treatment tank. But you will want to mix up enough new saltwater to perform at least 10-14 days worth of 100% water changes in the treatment container, in order to successfully complete a full regimen of the antibiotics.

Best of luck restoring your female to normal again, FF.

Pete Giwojna, Ocean Rider Tech Support

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