I’m very sorry to hear that you lost one of your new seahorses and at the other one is itching and scratching itself. Unfortunately, the problems you are having are due to the fact that your 6-gallon nano tank is not a suitable set up for seahorses.
Nano tanks are compact and convenient, but they are designed with reef keepers in mind and are therefore usually equipped with powerful lighting systems and strong water pumps that provide the vigorous water movement and intense lighting that live corals require in order to thrive. But that means they are very problematic for seahorses, which prefer relatively low lighting and moderate water currents, with plenty of slack water retreats they can retreat to when desired. Because of their limited swimming ability, seahorses can be overwhelmed by the powerful water circulation in most nano tanks, as happened with the pony that you lost. For this reason, nano cubes and nano tanks requires substantial modifications in order to make them marginally useful for seahorses. In your case, mermaid, I would not recommend that you even attempt the necessary modifications because the 6-gallon nano tank is way too shallow and far too small to be used for any of the larger seahorse species.
It is great that your boyfriend is experienced with marine aquariums, and, in my opinion, your best course of action would be for your boyfriend to set up a larger aquarium devoted to seahorses, while converting the 6-gallon nano system to an invertebrate tank instead. Live corals and compatible invertebrates would thrive in such an aquarium, whereas the seahorses will have chronic problems in a tank of that size.
Please contact me off list ([email protected]) and I will provide you with some detailed information and suggestions explaining how to set up a suitable aquarium optimized for seahorses that could easily and safely accommodate several large seahorses.
In the meantime, you have a more serious problem to deal with because the seahorse that is scratching himself has very likely developed a problem with parasites. Most often the itching and shaking you mentioned is due to ectoparasites, flukes, or protozoan parasites that attack the skin and gills of the fish. This causes them great irritation and can have fatal consequences if the parasites are not eliminated one way or another. The seahorse that is itching and scratching should be treated as soon as possible, as discussed below:
If the scratching is due to ectoparasites, mermaid, a dip is a good first aid measure to begin with. It is a good idea to provide the seahorses that are scratching with some immediate relief from the parasites by dipping them with freshwater, methylene blue, or even a diluted solution of hydrogen peroxide, or to administer a formalin bath for the itchy ponies. All of these options are discussed in more detail below:
A freshwater water dip is simply immersing your seahorse in pure, detoxified freshwater that’s been preadjusted to the same temp and pH as the water the seahorse is accustomed to, for a period of at least 10 minutes (Giwojna, Dec. 2003). It doesn’t harm them — seahorses typically tolerate freshwater dips exceptionally well and a 10-minute dip should be perfectly safe. Freshwater dips are effective because marine fish tolerate the immersion in freshwater far better than the external parasites they play host to; the change in osmotic pressure kills or incapacitates such microorganisms within 7-8 minutes (Giwojna, Dec. 2003). A minimum dip, if the fish seems to be doing fine, is therefore 8 minutes. Include some sort of hitching post in the dipping container and shoot for the full 10 minutes with your seahorses (Giwojna, Dec. 2003).
If you will be using tap water for the freshwater dip, be sure to dechlorinate it beforehand. This can be accomplished usually one of the commercial dechlorinators, which typically include sodium thiosulfate and perhaps a chloramine remover as well, or by aerating the tap water for at least 24 hours to dissipate the chlorine (Giwojna, Dec. 2003).
If you dechlorinate the dip water with a sodium thiosulfate product, be sure to use an airstone to aerate it for at least one hour before administering the dip. This is because the sodium thiosulfate depletes the water of oxygen and the dip water must therefore be oxygenated before its suitable for your seahorse(s).
Observe the horse closely during the dip. You may see some immediate signs of distress or shock. Sometimes the horse will immediately lie on its side on the bottom. That’s a fairly common reaction — normal and to be expected, rather than a cause for concern, so don’t be alarmed if this happens. Just nudge or tap the seahorse gently gently with your finger if it lies down on its side. Normally, the seahorse will respond to the slight nudge by righting itself again and calm down for the duration of the dip. However, if it does not respond, stop the treatment.
Most seahorses tolerate the treatment well and experienced no problems, but if you see continued signs of distress — twitching, thrashing around etc. — stop the treatment.
After you have completed the dip and returned the seahorses to the aquarium, save the dip water and examined it closely for any sign of parasites. The change in osmotic pressure from saltwater to freshwater will cause ectoparasites to lyse (i.e., swell and burst) or drop off their host after 7-10 minutes, and they will be left behind in the dipping water. Protozoan parasites are microscopic and won’t be visible to the naked eye, but some of the other ectoparasites can be clearly seen. For example, monogenetic trematodes will appear as opaque sesame seeds drifting in the water (Giwojna, Aug. 2003) and nematodes may be visible as tiny hairlike worms 1/16-3/16 of an inch long. Other parasites may appear as tiny dots in the water. Freshwater dips can thus often provide affected seahorses with some immediate relief by ridding them of these irritating pests and can also aid their breathing by flushing out gill parasites.
However, mermaid, freshwater dips and formalin baths can be stressful for seahorses that are experiencing respiratory distress and having breathing problems, so if you think the parasites may also be infesting the gills of your seahorses, giving them a quick dip in concentrated methylene blue or diluted hydrogen peroxide may be a better alternative for you.
Methylene Blue Dip
For best results, consider administering a very brief (5-10 seconds — no more than 10 seconds maximum) dip in a solution of methylene blue between 30-50 ppm, as described below. Prepare the solution of methylene blue using saltwater from your seahorses tank ahead of time. Time the very short Methylene blue dip closely — maybe keep each seahorse in your hand while you dip it in the blue so there’s no fumbling around to capture it when time’s up — pull the pony out after 10 seconds and immediately return it to the main tank afterwards.
If you can obtain the Kordon brand of Methylene Blue (available at most well-stocked local fish stores), their suggested treatment protocol for treating external parasites as a dip is as follows:
For use as a dip for treatment of external parasitic protozoans:
(a) Prepare a nonmetallic container of sufficient size to contain the fish to be treated by adding water similar to the original aquarium.
(b) Add 5 teaspoons (24.65 ml) per 3 gallons of water. This produces a concentration of 50 ppm. It is not recommended that the concentration be increased beyond 50 ppm.
(c) Place fishes to be treated in this solution for no longer than 10 seconds.
(d) Return fish to original aquarium.
See the following link for more information on treating with Kordon’s Methylene Blue:
Click here: KPD-28 Methylene Blue
If your methylene blue is not Kordon (KPD-28) Methylene Blue, then disregard the instructions above and follow the manufacturer’s instructions for using your brand as a bath or dip instead.
Another excellent option would be to perform brief dips in hydrogen peroxide as explained below, because they are easier on fishes suffering from respiratory distress and can be administered on a daily basis, if necessary.
Here are the instructions for performing the very brief hydrogen peroxide dips, mermaid:
Therapeutic Hydrogen Peroxide (H202) Dips
A very quick dip 10-second dip in a 3% hydrogen peroxide solution is effective in cleansing fish of Uronema and other protozoan parasites and will also help to disinfect bacterial lesions and promote healing of open wounds and sores. (Note: 3% is the standard concentration of hydrogen peroxide that you obtain at the drugstore or probably have in your medicine chest at home, but this is not the right choice for performing this procedure.)
Rather, it is customary to obtain the stronger 35% Food Grade or Technical Grade of hydrogen peroxide and then dilute it to the proper concentration instead. For example, 35% hydrogen peroxide was approved for aquaculture use by the FDA in January 2007 and is sold under the name of PEROX-AID(r). This is a much stronger solution of hydrogen peroxide which professional aquarists start with when performing such dips. The desired 3% hydrogen peroxide dipping solution is prepared by taking one gallon of dechlorinated freshwater and then removing 10-oz of the water and replacing it with 10-oz of 35% hydrogen peroxide (PEROX-AID) instead. This formula will produce a ~3% solution of hydrogen peroxide for the brief dip (Kollman, 2003).
You can also scale this formula down by starting with 1/2 gallon of dechlorinated freshwater for the dip, and then removing 5 ounces of the water and replacing it with 5 ounces of 35% hydrogen peroxide instead. That will again produce a ~3% solution of hydrogen peroxide and 1/2 gallon is enough for dipping seahorses if you put it in a relatively small container rather than a large plastic bucket.
The 35% Food Grade or Technical Grade hydrogen peroxide can be purchased from chemical supply houses and some online sources, but it is much stronger and more volatile than the drugstore hydrogen peroxide, and must therefore be handled with great care. Be especially careful NOT to confuse the 35% hydrogen peroxide solution with the mild 3% hydrogen peroxide solution from your drugstore when disinfecting wounds or performing the usual first aid measures that the weak solution is customarily used for around the house.
Once prepared, you can use the same dipping solution for dipping several seahorses in quick succession, but it should then be discarded and you will need to prepare a new solution of 3% hydrogen peroxide each day immediately before you perform the dips, if you will be doing them on a daily basis. This is necessary because the hydrogen peroxide dissipates fairly quickly and must be used immediately after it’s prepared for best results.
Dip the affected seahorse in the hydrogen peroxide solution for 10 seconds and then return it to the treatment tank. Cup the seahorse in your hand so that you can remove the seahorse quickly after 10 seconds of exposure in the dipping container. The hydrogen peroxide dip will disinfect bacterial lesions and abrasions and help promote healing. The dips have the added benefit of cleansing the fish from some ectoparasites and may help the seahorse’s breathing because the hydrogen peroxide greatly increases the dissolved oxygen levels in the dipping solution. The 3% hydrogen peroxide dips can be repeated once a day or once every three days as needed, depending on the severity of the infection/infestation.
In summation, the entire seahorse can be submerged in a 3% solution of hydrogen peroxide for a period of 10 seconds to help disinfect wounds or rid them of ectoparasites. DO NOT use a stronger solution of hydrogen peroxide for this procedure! The very brief dips in 3% hydrogen peroxide are a treatment regimen that has been refined by Dr. J. Peter Hill , DVM, who serves as the veterinarian for the Newport Aquarium. He uses it to treat ectoparasites such as Uronema as well as to combat external bacterial infections and to disinfect open wounds or ulcers, thereby helping to promote more rapid healing. He has recommended such baths for seahorses for these purposes…
In a pinch, some hobbyists will use the 3% hydrogen peroxide from their drugstore, but for best results, it’s safer to start with a concentrated 35% Food Grade or Technical Grade, or better yet the 35% PEROX-AID designed for use in aquaculture, and then to dilute it to 3% H2O2 as previously described.
Another alternative would be to use formalin treatments at 1ml/gal for a 1 hour bath
every other day until the scratching stops for up to 3 treatments. However, unlike hydrogen peroxide which increases the level of dissolved oxygen in the dipping container, formalin consumes oxygen and can therefore be hard on seahorses that are having breathing problems of any type, so bear that in mind. The formalin does have the added virtue of working wonders with seahorses when they’re cloudy eyes are due to monogenetic trematodes or eye flukes. If you try the formalin baths, mermaid, be sure to observe the precautions outlined below:
Many commercial formalin products are readily available to hobbyists, such as Kordon’s Formalin 3, Formalin-F sold by Natchez Animal Supply, and Paracide-F, sold by Argent Chemical Laboratories. Or whatever brand of formalin is available at your fish store should work fine.
A formalin bath simply involves immersing the seahorse in a container of saltwater which contains the proper dosage of formalin for a period of 60 minutes before returning it to the main tank. Include a hitching post of some sort in the container and follow these instructions: place the fish in a three-gallon bucket or a similar clean, inert container containing precisely one gallon of siphoned, aerated tank water. Medicate the bucket of water with with the appropriate amount of formalin for a concentrated bath according to the directions on the label. Place an airstone in the bucket and leave the fish in the bath for up to 60 minutes. If at any time the fish becomes listless, exhausted or loses its balance, immediately place the fish in clean, untreated water in your hospital tank.
I want you to be aware of these precautions when administering the formalin bath:
Formalin has limited shelf life and degrades to the highly toxic substance paraformaldehyde (identified as a white precipitate on the bottom of the solution); avoid using any formalin product which has such a precipitate at the bottom of the bottle.
Formalin basically consumes oxygen so vigorous aeration must be provided during treatment.
Time the bath closely and never exceed one hour of chemical exposure at this concentration.
Observe the seahorse closely during the bath at all times, and it show signs of distress before the allotted time has elapsed, remove it from the treatment immediately.
If you can obtain Formalin 3 from Kordon at your LFS, Monique, these of the instructions you should follow for your formalin dip:
METHOD 2 (DIP) FOR THE PREVENTION OR TREATMENT OF FISH DISEASES
(a) To a clean, non-metallic container (i.e., a plastic bucket), add one or more gallons of fresh tap water treated with Kordon’s AmQuel . For marine fish use freshly prepared saltwater adjusted to the same specific gravity (or salinity) as in the original tank. Make sure the temperature in the container is identical to that in the aquarium
(b) Add 1 teaspoons of Formalin•3. This produces a concentration of 100 ppm. formaldehyde.
(c) Agitate the solution with an airstone and adjust for a moderately strong flow of air.
(d) Remove the fishes to be treated and deposit them in the container for a treatment period of not more than 50 minutes. Immediately after the treatment period, or if signs of distress are noted, remove the fishes to a previously prepared recovery tank. The fishes may be returned to their original tank, but the presence of the original disease-causing agents in the tank water may result in a reoccurrence of the disease condition.
(e) Observe recovering fishes. Make sure that tankmates do not molest them during recovery.
(f) Repeat treatment as needed, every week. Each treatment is very stressful to the treated fishes. Do not reuse the dip solution.
For additional information on treating fishes with Formalin 3 by Kordon, see the following web page:
Click here: KPD-54 Formalin-3
If you get another brand of formalin, just follow the instructions that it comes with for a concentrated bath or dip (not prolonged immersion or a long-term bath).
Any of the dips are baths mentioned above should provide your itchy seahorses with immediate relief and will serve as a helpful first aid measure to start with, mermaid. However, for a heavy infestation, it is also necessary to treat the seahorse tank in order to eradicate the parasites. There are a number of treatment options that would accomplish that goal.
For instance, the seahorse tank could be treated with quinine sulfate, chelated copper sulfate, Paracide-D, Parinox, praziquantel, or Osmotic Shock Therapy (i.e., hyposalinity) after removing sensitive invertebrates. However, if you have live corals in the aquarium with the seahorses, that limits the treatment options greatly, since almost all of the anti-parasitic medications are hard on live corals and invertebrates in general. Please let me know all of the specimens and invertebrates that the 6-gallon nano tank houses, and I will help you decide on an appropriate treatment regimen in your case.
Best of luck resolving this parasite problem and upgrading your seahorse tank to provide more suitable accommodations, mermaid. I hope to hear from you off list as soon as possible so that I can explain the proper conditions and ideal setup for seahorses in more detail.