Dear Tanya:

Pete Giwojna

Dear Tanya:

The other problems you have had with your seahorses recently makes me concerned about the pinkish spot you noticed on the barrel of your seahorse’s snout, which could be an early indication of an infection. That’s always worrisome because such a problem could develop into full-blown snout rot, as discussed below in more detail.

Suspect snout rot whenever there is a change in the coloration or appearance of your seahorse’s tube mouth. The initial symptoms of snout rot are discoloration (typically white or pinkish) and a slight swelling of the affected area of the snout. The end of the snout is most often affected, but the barrel of the snout can also be subject to tissue erosion depending on the genesis of the infection.

Snout rot is typically the result of a secondary infection (either bacterial or fungal) that takes hold at the site of a mechanical injury. Many times the initial injury takes place when the seahorse is feeding from the bottom of the aquarium and it accidentally ingests a foreign particle, such as a bit of gravel or crushed seashell from the bacteria-laden substrate, that scrapes or irritates the interior of its snout. Or it can result from eating frozen Mysis that has been contaminated after laying on the germ-laden bottom of the tank.

In some cases, aggressive bristleworms can be a contributing factor to a problem with snout rot. When bristleworms become too aggressive at feeding time, actively seeking out the frozen Mysis even during daylight hours, no longer content with cleaning up leftovers, and begin invading the feeding station, it puts seahorses at risk. Too many bristleworms lingering too long at the feeding station brings them in direct contact with the hungry seahorses who come to the lunch counter for their favorite food as usual. The galloping gourmets may accidentally brush up against the encroaching bristleworms, or even attempt to perch on them, and they may get a snootful of bristles when snicking at the same mysid a bristleworm has taken an interest in. Even if the seahorses don’t inadvertently snick at them, the bristleworms may shed a few of their irritating spicules while they are at the feeding station, and the hungry seahorses can then accidentally ingest such loose spicules when slurping up frozen Mysis. Captive bred seahorses are aggressive eaters that are accustomed to slurping up food from the bottom, and it seems at times this may also lead them to strike at baby bristleworms. I’ve also heard a few reports of seahorses that snicked up a tiny bristleworm and got them lodged in their snout or throat. It’s unclear in these cases whether the bristleworm was accidentally sucked up while the seahorse was targeting a piece of nearby Mysis or whether the seahorse actually mistook the tiny worm for something edible and deliberately struck at it, but this is another potential danger the seahorse keeper should be aware of.

Regardless of what may have led to to the discoloration on the barrel of the snout in your case, Tanya, it is crucial to begin treating the affected seahorse as soon as possible.

Here’s an excerpt on snout rot from my new book, (Complete Guide to Greater Seahorses in the Aquarium, unpublished) which should better explain how to proceed:


Snout rot is a dreadful disease that afflicts all Syngnathids. It’s a dangerous disease that requires immediate treatment in order to save the seahorse.

Snout rot is the result of an infection, which can be either bacterial or fungal in nature (Giwojna, Oct. 2003). The initial symptoms are discoloration and slight swelling in the affected area of the snout. At this early stage, the seahorse is often not bothered by its affliction and eats and feeds normally. But don’t let that lead to complacency — you cannot afford to take a “wait-and-see” approach with this affliction! As the disease progresses, the infection will begin to eat away the underlying tissue, and if left untreated, snout rot is both disfiguring and deadly (Giwojna, Oct. 2003).

The tip of the snout is often the first area affected, becoming inflamed and eroding away, and once its mouthparts are involved, the seahorse can no longer be saved. It is unable to feed, its jaws disintegrate, and the tip of the snout is progressively eaten away (Giwojna, Oct. 2003). I have seen seahorses with over half their snouts missing, and euthanasia is the only recourse for fish in this pathetic condition.

I have seen several cases of snout rot as a secondary infection in seahorses recovering from protozoan parasites that attack the gills, and in those cases the progression of the disease was somewhat different (Giwojna, Oct. 2003). The barrel of the snout was often affected rather than the tip, and instead of the end of the snout eroding away, one or more holes were eaten through the snout elsewhere (Giwojna, Oct. 2003). Although its jaws and mouthparts are intact when this happens, the seahorse’s ability to feed is still impaired because it can’t generate adequate suction through its suddenly “leaky” snout. In such cases, the snout rot may be preceded or accompanied by other unusual ailments, such as weak snick, trigger lock or “lockjaw (Giwojna, Oct. 2003).”

There is considerable anecdotal evidence suggesting that bacterial snout rot can be differentiated from the fungal form of the disease by a close visual inspection (a hand lens or magnifying glass may be required for this). If the snout rot is due to a fungal infection, the affected area of the snout is often pinkish and may appear lumpy or raised, whereas when bacterial infection is at work, white tissue is exposed upon flaking or sloughing of the skin (Giwojna, Oct. 2003). Thus, many hobbyists maintain that if the affected area of the snout looks pinkish, it’s fungus, but if the affected area appears whitish, it’s a bacterial problem (Giwojna, Oct. 2003). This information can help guide you to the appropriate treatment.

Medications with powerful antifungal agents such as nifurpirinol (the active ingredient in Furanase) are a good treatment for snout rot when a fungal infection is indicated (Giwojna, Oct. 2003). A wide spectrum antibiotic such as kanamycin or neomycin, or both combined together, is a good choice when bacterial snout rot is indicated (Giwojna, Oct. 2003).

If you are unsure whether bacteria or fungus is involved, combining nifurpirinol (Furanase) with kanamycin and/or neomycin is an excellent option, as is treating with a good combination drug that has both antifungal and antibacterial properties (Giwojna, Oct. 2003). Treatment should take place in a hospital ward or quarantine tank to avoid nuking your biofilter.

Furan2 is another good choice for an antibiotic for snout rot when the lesion appears pinkish or reddish rather than white (nifurpirinol or Furanase is also one of the nitrofuran antibiotics), The active ingredients in Furan 2 consist of two nitrofuran antibiotics (nitrofurazone and furazolidone) plus good old methylene blue. The usual dosage I have seen for this product is one capsule per 10 gallons of water when used as a bath.

However, you have to take special precautions when administering nitrofuran antibiotics because they are photosensitive and can be deactivated by light. (I suspect that’s the main reason for adding methylene blue to the medication — the dye in the methylene blue will darken the aquarium water and absorb light, which will help prevent the nitrofuran antibiotics from being deactivated.) So be sure to leave the aquarium light off on your hospital tank if you opt to treat the seahorse with Furan 2.

For best results I would recommend applying anti-fungal and antibacterial ointments affected area of the snout topically each day, while treating the seahorse with antibiotics in your hospital tank. The medications the pros prefer for this are 1% Silver Sulfadiazine Cream and Animax (or a triple antibiotic ointment).

The Silver Sulfadiazine Cream is specific for fungus, whereas the triple antibiotic ointment tackles secondary bacterial infection of the lesion. Here is how curators use these topical creams to treat similar lesions on the snouts of their prized Seadragons:

“It was best to treat the animal out of the water (although I know this can be a problem with seadragons). Animax was applied first and left on the animal out of the water for 30 seconds. The animal was then placed in a second bucket of tank water to allow the Animax to disperse and the seahorse to breathe before applying the Silver Sulfadiazine Cream. The Animax is rather liquidy, so it sloughs off the animal quickly in water. The Silver Sulfadiazine Cream was then applied with a small wooden applicator (the blunt end of a toothpick might also work well) and the animal returned to the tank. The Silver Sulfadiazine Cream is thicker in consistency so it stays on the animal for quite a while. It might make sense to treat the animal during an off-feed time of day if treating the snout. If the animal is off-feed, it might make sense to tube feed the animal.” (Paul Anderson, pers. comm.)

You might need to obtain the Silver Sulfadiazine Cream and Animax from a veterinarian, but you could always get a triple antibiotic ointment off-the-shelf at any drugstore that would probably work as well as the Animax.

Okay, Tanya, that’s the quick rundown on snout rot and how it can be treated most effectively. In your case, it sounds like you are dealing with a secondary fungal infection, and I would recommend treating your female in your hospital tank using nifurpirinol (brand name Furanase) combined with either kanamycin or neomycin, and then applying the topical treatments mentioned above to the affected area of the seahorse’s snout daily, taking care not to accidentally get these topical ointments into the gills, eyes, or mouth of the seahorse.

I find that combining kanamycin sulfate either with neomycin or the nifurpirinol produces the best results because they kanamycin is readily absorbed through the seahorse’s gills and skin, and can therefore attack the infection internally, whereas the neomycin and/or nifurpirinol (which are not readily absorbed) treat the infected area externally.

When handling your seahorse to administer the topical treatments, Tanya, be sure to observe the following precautions.

Handling Seahorses

I do not like to use an aquarium net to transfer or manipulate seahorses, since their delicate fins and snouts can become entangled in the netting all too easily. I much prefer to transfer the seahorses by hand. Simply wet your hand and fingers (to avoid removing any of the seahorse’s protective slime coat) and scoop the seahorses in your hand. Allow them to curl their tail around your fingers and carefully cup their bodies in your hand to support them while you lift them out of the water. When you gently immerse your hand in the destination tank, the seahorse will release its grip and swim away as though nothing out of the ordinary has happened.

Composed of solid muscle and endowed with extraordinary skeletal support, the prehensile tail is amazingly strong. Indeed, large specimens have a grip like an anaconda, and when a 12-inch ingens or abdominalis wraps its tail around your hand and tightens its hold, its vise-like grip is powerful enough to leave you counting your fingers afterwards!

In fact, it can be quite difficult to remove an attached seahorse from its holdfast without injuring it in the process. Never attempt to forcibly detach a seahorse from its hitching post! When it feels threatened, it’s instinct is to clamp down and hold on all the tighter. When you must dislodge a seahorse from its resting place for any reason, it’s best to use the tickle technique instead. Gently tickling the underside of the tail where it’s wrapped around the object will usually induce the seahorse to release its grip (Abbott, 2003). They don’t seem to like that at all, and will quickly let go to move away to another spot. Once they are swimming, they are easy to handle.

Also, Tanya, since most cases of snout rot are caused by accidentally ingesting a foreign object while feeding off the bottom, slurping up a tainted piece of Mysis that has been contaminated after laying on the bacteria-laden substrate, or accidentally snicking up a bristleworm or some of its spicules, one of the best ways to prevent seahorses from developing snout rot is by elevating their feeding station.

If you think the location of your feeding station may have left invulnerable to bristleworms, which in turn could have contributed to a snout problem in your seahorses, just let me know, and I would be happy to provide you with some suggestions for elevating your feeding station to help prevent such problems in the future.

Good luck.

Pete Giwojna, Ocean Rider Tech Support

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