Dear Jay:

Pete Giwojna

Dear Jay:

It’s unfortunate that your pony is a hider that doesn’t display itself openly all the time, sir, since that certainly does make it more difficult to determine if it’s getting plenty to eat or not.

That’s very unusual for Ocean Rider seahorses, Jay. After being raised by hand from the very moment of birth until they have matured and are ready to be shipped off to their proud owners for many generations now, Ocean Rider Mustangs and Sunbursts have reached a high level of domestication and are normally very friendly, highly sociable animals that very much enjoy interacting with their keepers.

Not only are they very accustomed to the human presence, but they quickly learn to associate people with manna from heaven, and this constant positive reinforcement at feeding time ordinarily causes them to regard their keepers as the givers of gourmet delights. There is a lot of puppy dog in the average Ocean Rider, Jay, and they will often come right up to the aquarium glass begging for a handout whenever they see you approaching the tank.

But if your pony is not one of the outgoing extroverts that seeks you out for handfeeding so that you always know how much it is eating, there is another way you can make sure it’s well fed. Just take a close look at its abdomens when it does come out, even if it’s only to take a close look at the frozen Mysis, bump into it, and then reject it.

After a good feeding, the seahorses belly rings should be flush or even slightly convex in cross section when viewed from head on. (We never want to see sunken, severely pinched-in abdomens on our seahorses! Concave belly rings are a sure sign of an underfed seahorse, with the sole exception of a female that has just transferred her eggs.)

So if you want to check whether your seahorses are eating well or not, don’t look at their profile — just examine them head-on and check out their gut. Their abdomens or belly plates should bulge out slightly or at least be flush with their flanks, not pinched in or sunken. In other words, when viewed from the back or from head-on, the cross-section of their abdomens should appear concave “( )” or flush “l l” rather than concave “) (” or pinched in.

If your reclusive seahorse has that pinched in emaciated appearance with concave belly rings, Jay, then it’s not getting enough to eat and you’ll need to take measures to remedy the situation.

One simple thing you can do is to try a different brand of frozen Mysis. Sometimes seahorses will greedily eat the right type of frozen Mysis but turn up their snouts at inferior brands of frozen Mysis, so that’s something to consider if your pony is examining and then rejecting the Mysis you’re offering it. Sometimes the problem is a simple as a size preference, sir.

I have noticed that seahorses can sometimes be very selective when it comes to the size of the prey they prefer. The jumbo Mysis relicta from Piscine Energetics are indeed quite large, and sometimes small, young seahorses may balk at the jumbos simply because of their size.

Some seahorses are very particular in that regard, and tend to reject food items that are significantly larger or smaller than their preferred range of prey. For example, I’ve seen some seahorses that rejected the smaller Hikari Mysis with great disdain, yet which greedily gulped down the jumbo Piscine Energetics Mysis relicta. On the other hand, I’ve had small seahorses turn up their snouts at the jumbo PE frozen Mysis because it’s too large for their liking, and attack the small Hikari frozen Mysis with great gusto.

If that’s the case with your reclusive little hermit, Jay, you might try ordering some of the Mini Marine Mysis by H2O life instead, or you can pick up a package of the much smaller Hikari frozen Mysis at your LFS for your pony instead. The Hikari Mysis is also quite small and many pet stores carry the Hikari brand so it should be readily available.

Or if you are currently using a brand of smaller Mysis, then you might try ordering the Jumbo Piscine Energetics frozen Mysis relicta instead. That’s the brand of frozen Mysis that the seahorses are accustomed to eating at Ocean Rider, so they normally gulp it down greedily.

And you might also consider adding a little garlic to the frozen Mysis to see if that makes a more attractive to your shy, finicky eater. I have heard a number of anecdotal reports from home hobbyists which suggest that garlic sometimes helps to stimulate appetite in their seahorses.

They tell me that a bottle of garlic elixor works best for this purpose. The garlic elixor or garlic extract consists of concentraited garlic juice that comes in a small bottle with an eye dropper. It is potent enough that if you add one drop to a cup of water you can smell the garlic their across the room.

To dose your frozen Mysis with the garlic, you just follow the frozen Mysis as usual, placed the thawed Mysis in a small cup with a little saltwater from the tank, and add 1-2 drops of the garlic concentrate to the cup. Allow the thawed Mysis to soak up the garlic for about 10 minutes and then target feed the Mysis to your seahorses as usual, using your baster or whatever implements you normally use for target feeding.

Better yet, SeaChem Garlic Guard is made specifically for use in aquariums and can be useful for the same purpose.

If none of the above produces good results in your case, Jay, here are some more suggestions that may help to perk up your pony’s appetite and elicit a stronger feeding response:

Loss of Appetite & Hunger Strikes

An unexplained loss of appetite in an otherwise healthy seahorse is Also often an environmental problem. Many times such eating problems are due to low levels of dissolved oxygen or high levels of carbon dioxide, and they can frequently be caused by deteriorating water quality, especially deficiencies in certain minerals and trace elements. Lack of appetite is therefore often an early indicator of water quality problems.

When a seahorse goes off its feed, the first things to consider that will often help restore its appetite are to perform a series of water changes to restore water quality and to try tempting the seahorse with live foods, as discussed in greater detail below:

For starters, I have listed some of the factors that are commonly known to contribute to a loss of appetite in seahorses:

(1) deteriorating water quality.

(2) low oxygen and/or high CO2 levels.

(3) a deficiency of trace elements and minerals.

(4) various disease processes — in particular, internal parasites.

Regardless of how your water chemistry appears right now, a good place to start addressing loss of appetite is to one or more 25%-35% water changes immediately to safeguard the water quality and replenish depleted trace elements and minerals. (At first glance your aquarium parameters may look great, but there are some water quality issues that are difficult to detect with standard tests, such as a decrease in dissolved 02, transitory ammonia/nitrite spikes following a heavy feeding, pH drift, a deficiency and trace elements/minerals, or the gradual accumulation of detritus. A water change and cleanup is a simple preventative measure that can help defuse those kinds of hidden factors before they become a problem and stress out your seahorses. These simple measures may restore your water quality as well as your seahorses’ appetite.)

Be sure to check your dissolved oxygen (O2) level in addition to the usual pH, ammonia, nitrite and nitrite readings.. A significant drop in O2 levels (6 – 7 ppm is optimal) or rise in CO2 levels is very stressful yet easily corrected by increasing surface agitation and circulation to promote better oxygenation and gas exchange. Add a shallow airstone just beneath the surface if necessary and increase the circulation throughout your tank it possible.

Whether the beneficial effects are due to improving water quality or replenishing depleted trace elements or something else Altogether, performing a major water change, or a series of water changes, as described above often sets things right when seahorses are off their feed for no apparent reason.

In the meantime, while you are working on your water quality, by all means get some live foods to tempt your finicky seahorse and see if you can fatten it up a bit. When a seahorse stops eating, the most important thing is to get some food into him one way or another. You’ve got to keep his strength up and give him a chance to recover before you can worry about weaning him back onto frozen foods again. Hawaiian red feeder shrimp or volcano shrimp (Halocaridina rubra) are ideal for this — seahorses find them utterly irresistible! But anything that’s readily available — enriched adult brine shrimp, live ghost shrimp that are small enough to be swallowed, newborn guppies or mollies, Gammarus amphipods, copepods, you name it — is worth a try. Just get some good meals into the reluctance seahorse ASAP anyway you can to build up its strength and help it regain its conditioning.

The problem may simply be a hunger strike, especially if you are dealing with a wild-caught seahorse that is dependent on live foods. When a wild seahorse suddenly stops eating, many times it has simply lost interest in frozen foods. Although this is rarely a problem with domesticated seahorses that are accustomed to eating frozen foods from an early age, hunger strikes are common developments when keeping wild-caught seahorses. If so, providing live foods, at least temporarily, will often turn the situation around.

When seahorses tire of the same old, boring frozen food and refuse to eat their “veggies,” living prey is what they crave: Mysids, feeder shrimp, Gammarus or adult Artemia — the type of food isn’t really as important as the fact that it’s Alive and kicking. Nothing stimulates a sea horse’s feeding instincts like the frantic movements and evasive maneuvers of real, live, “catch-me-if-you-can” prey items (Giwojna, 1996).

That’s why I like to use occasional treats of live food as behavioral enrichment for my seahorses. They get the thrill of hunting after and chasing down live prey, which livens things up for them in more of ways than one and is a nice change of pace from their daily routine in captivity. Live foods are guaranteed to perk up an ailing appetite and excite the interest of the most jaded “galloping gourmets.” When it comes to a hunger strike, living prey is the only sure cure for the “Bird’s Eye blues.” (Giwojna, 1996)

I also find live foods to be especially useful for those rare occasions when seahorses are ailing and must be treated. Many medications (e.g., Diamox) have the unfortunate side effect of suppressing appetite, so when treating sickly seahorses, it’s a good idea to tempt them with choice live foods in order to keep them eating and help build up their strength while recuperating. Separating an ailing seahorse from its mate and herdmates and transferring it to a strange new environment for treatment can be a traumatic experience, especially since the Spartan surroundings in the sterile environment of a sparsely furnished hospital tank can leave a seahorses feeling vulnerable and exposed. Live foods can counteract these negative affects to a certain degree, and offer a little excitement that distracts the isolated seahorse temporarily at least from its melancholy.

Some of the choice live foods that sea horses find irresistible are Ocean Rider’s red feeder shrimp (Red Iron Horse Feed, Halocaridina rubra), Gammarus amphipods, and the live Mysis post-larval Feeder Shrimp from Drs. Foster and Smith ( These live bite-size crustaceans are what I’d like to call a “feed-and-forget” food. They are tough, rugged little shrimp that you can toss in your tank with no acclimation whatsoever. They are agile and elusive enough that your filters won’t eat them and the seahorses won’t be able to capture them All right away. Some will hide and evade well enough that your seahorses will still be hunting down the stragglers for the next day or two. Best of All, you can toss a nice batch of them in your aquarium, secure in the knowledge that they won’t perish and pollute it, but thrive and survive as real, live, “catch-me-if-you-can” prey items that seahorses cannot resist.

When a seahorse goes off its feed, providing it with choice live foods can buy you time and stave off starvation while you work on making the water changes to assure optimal water quality for your seahorses.

The Ocean Rider Aquaculture Facility in Hawaii ( is a good source for the following live foods:

Green Iron Horse Feed (Gammarus amphipods)
Red Iron Horse Feed or Volcano Shrimp (Halocaridina rubra)

Or the live Mysis or post-larval Feeder Shrimp from Drs. Foster and Smith would Also be a good choice for this. You can obtain 100 live Mysidopsis bahia for $33.99 or 100 bite-size Feeder Shrimp for $39.99 from and your seahorses will love them. Just copy the following URL (everything within the angle brackets below), paste it in your web browser, and press the “Entered” key, Susan, and it will take you directly to the right webpage:

Some hobbyists have good success coaxing a finicky seahorse to feed by transferring the seahorse to a critter keeper or breeder net or similar enclosure that can hang within the main tank itself, and then adding a generous portion of live feeder shrimp to the container. Within the enclosure, the affected seahorse does not have to compete with its tankmates for the live food, and it is easy to maintain an adequate feeding density within the confined space so that there is always a bite-size feeder shrimp passing within striking distance of the hungry seahorse. If the affected seahorse is still interested in feeding at All, then releasing it in an in-tank enclosure like this where it will be surrounded by plenty of tempting live feeder shrimp and can feed at its leisure may help it to keep its strength up and recover more quickly. Add one or two hitching posts within the critter keeper or breeder net so that the seahorse can anchor in place and wait for a tasty shrimp to pass within easy reach, and give him an hour or two within the enclosure to eat his fill of the feeder shrimp. You can monitor his progress from a nonthreatening distance away from the tank to see how he is doing. In most cases, the seahorse quickly becomes familiar with the routine of being transferred to the special enclosure at feeding time and associates it with tasty live foods and a full belly — positive reinforcements that make it a very nonthreatening, stress-free procedure for the affected seahorse — and, as a result, it may actually come to look forward to it after a few feedings. You can repeat this feeding process two or three times daily in order to fatten him up again, if your schedule allows.

If your seahorse’s loss of appetite is associated with a change in its fecal pellets, that could indicate a problem with internal parasites. For example, a change from fecal pellets of normal color and consistency to white, stringy mucoid feces accompanied by hunger strike is often an indication of intestinal flagellates (Kaptur, 2004). If you think that this could be a factor in your case, then treatment with metronidazole or praziquantel is usually an effective remedy (Kaptur, 2004).

Okay, that’s the quick rundown on some of the things you can do immediately to perk up your seahorse and restore her appetite to normal again, Jay. You should immediately perform a major water change and increase the surface agitation and oxygenation in your seahorse tank. Go ahead and install an airstone, air diffuser, air bar, or bubble wand in your seahorse tank positioned where the stream of bubbles will not be drawn into the intake for the filtration system and that may be All you need to do to resolve the situation for now. If necessary, lineup some choice live foods to tempt your new additions to eat as well.

If you contact me by e-mail, Jay, I will send you a detailed document that is devoted entirely to the subject of feeding seahorses with frozen Mysis. It’s well illustrated and is loaded with feeding tips and suggestions that you may find useful, including a detailed discussion of the pros and cons of the different brands of frozen Mysis that are currently available. Please download the document and save it on your computer so that you can go through the material at your convenience.

You can always reach me at the following e-mail address:

[email protected]

Best of luck encouraging your shy, reclusive seahorse to put on the ol’ feed bag, sir. Here’s hoping your little hermit is soon eating like a horse again.

Pete Giwojna, Ocean Rider Tech Support

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