Re:Bloated Sunburst!

Pete Giwojna

Dear Kris:

I’m sorry to hear about the problem with bloating your seahorse has developed. Of course, that’s not a good sign and it indicates that your seahorses seriously ill.

The generalized swelling you describe could be an indication of a serious bacterial infection akin to dropsy, which causes edema and ascites (fluid build up within the abdomen), or it could be a sign of kidney failure, or it could be a manifestation of internal gas bubble syndrome (GBS), which causes gas and/or fluid to build up within the coelomic cavity.

The prognosis is poor in such cases and I would suggest isolating the affected seahorse and treating her aggressively with antibiotic therapy in your hospital tank, gradually reducing the water temperature to as low as 68°F if possible, and administering beta-glucan orally if the seahorse is still eating. If you can obtain it, I would also add Diamox to the treatment regimen, since it is helpful in treating GBS and may also have a diuretic affect that can help to restore the proper fluid balance in some cases.

The antibiotics I would recommend in a case like this are aminoglycoside antibiotics (i.e., kanamycin sulfate or neomycin sulfate) combined with various sulfa compounds. You should be able to get Triple Sulfa along with a medication whose primary ingredient is either kanamycin (kanamycin sulfate, Kanacyn, Kanacin, etc.) or neomycin at a well-stocked local fish store. If not, you can obtain kanamycin sulfate, neomycin sulfate powder and triple sulfa powder from National Aquarium Pharmaceuticals. You can order them online at the following site:

One of the most important things you can do when trying to treat a suspected bacterial infection is to reduce the aquarium temperature, Kris. Cooling down the microbes and slowing their metabolism and rate of reproduction accordingly can slow any bacterial infection and markedly reduced its virulence (Giwojna, Oct. 2003).

A simple way to drop the water temp in your of the tank is to position a small fan so it blows across the surface of the water continually (Giwojna, Oct. 2003). This will lower the water temperature a few degrees via evaporative cooling (just be sure to top off the tank regularly to replace the water lost to evaporation). Leaving the light off on your hospital tank in conjunction with evaporative cooling can make a big difference and help you knock out this bacterial infection (Giwojna, Oct. 2003). Tropical seahorses will be fine as low as 66°F-68°F providing you drop the aquarium temperature gradually and dropping the temperature just a few degrees can make a big difference.

In a pinch, some hobbyists will even freeze plastic bottles 3/4 full of water and float the frozen bottles of water in their tank during the hottest part of the day. If necessary, that may worth trying in your case too, Jan, depending on how well your aquarium temp responds to the other measures. If you can gradually reduce the temperature in your hospital tank low enough, that alone may resolve the underlying infection. Just don’t reduce the temperature in your treatment tank too far too fast.

It’s equally important that you keep your seahorse eating well to help it recover. I would suggest that you target feed or perhaps even handfeed your seahorse during the treatment period. Not only will this provide her with nutritional support to keep our strength up, but it’s also the best way to get your seahorse to ingest beta-glucan. Administering a daily dose of beta-glucan (a potent immunostimulant) to boost the immune system of your seahorses and speed her recovery. This can easily be accomplished simply by enriching frozen Mysis with Vibrance (both Vibrance formulations now include beta-glucan as a primary ingredient).

The research on the health effects of Beta Glucan is pretty phenomenal. It has long been used in the aquaculture of commercially valuable food fishes and seafood, such as cod, turbot, salmon and shrimp. It improves the growth rate and reduces mortality rates among the fry (or larvae in the case of shrimp), and improves disease resistance in juveniles and adults.

Not only should Beta Glucan help keep healthy seahorses healthy, it should also help ailing seahorses recover faster. Research indicates that it helps prevent infections and helps wounds heal more quickly (Bartelme, 2003). It is safe to use in conjunction with other treatments and has been proven to increase the effectiveness of antibiotics (Bartelme, 2003). It will be great for new arrivals recovering from the rigors of shipping because Beta Glucan is known to alleviate the effects of stress and to help fish recover from exposure to toxins in the water (Bartelme, 2003) .

If you have Diamox, Kris, I also suggest using it in conjunction with the antibiotic therapy.
I have found that the Diamox is often more effective when it’s ingested, particularly when treating internal GBS.

If you can obtain a small syringe with a fine needle, the acetazolamide solution can simply be injected into feeder shrimp or even frozen Mysis. Mic Payne (Seahorse Sanctuary) used this method of administering Diamox successfully when he had recurring problems with GBD due to maintaining a population of Hippocampus subelongatus in shallow tanks only 16-inches (40 cm) deep:

"Seahorses maintained in this system are susceptible to gas bubble disease. Specimens with bubbles around the eyes or under the epidermis of the tail are readily treated with acetazolamide (Diamox tablets 250 mg). Mix a very small amount of crushed tablet with water and inject it into several glass shrimp that are then frozen. These are then fed to the target animal at the rate of two per day for four days. Bubbles disappear on the second day."

Volcano shrimp or red feeder shrimp from Ocean Rider (iron horse feed) work great for this. If a fine enough needle is used, they will survive a short while after being injected — long enough for their twitching and leg movements to attract the interest of the seahorse and trigger a feeding response.

Leslie Leddo has cured seahorses with tail bubbles and pouch gas using this technique. She found that a 1/2 cc insulin syringe with a 26-gauge needle was ideal for injecting frozen Mysis or live red feeder shrimp. They plump up when injected and ~1/2 cc is about the most of the solution they can hold. There bodies will actually swell slightly as they are slowly injected and excess solution may start to leak out. The 26-gauge needle is fine enough that it does not kill the feeder shrimp outright; they survive long enough for the kicking of their legs and twitching to assure that they will be eaten. So if your Vet or family doctor will prescribe the Diamox for treating your seahorse, ask them also to provide a 1/2 cc insulin syringe with a 26-gauge needle.

If you are using 250-mg tablets, Leslie found that 1/8 of a tablet provides enough Diamox for several days’ worth of injections. In other words, 1/8 of a 250-mg Diamox tablet provides enough of the medication to inject two shrimp daily for about 5 days. So each day, I would take 1/8 of a tablet and shave off approximately 20%-25% of it to make the Diamox solution for that day’s injections. (NOTE: if you are using 125-mg Diamox tablets, adjust your dosage accordingly — that is, start with 1/4 of a tablet and then shave off 20%-25% of it to make the Diamox solution.) Then crush the Diamox you have shaved off and to a very fine powder and dissolve it in a very small quantity of water.

Use the resulting solution to inject two of the live feeder shrimp and feed them to the affected seahorse immediately after injecting them. You don’t want the healthy seahorses to ingest the medicated shrimp, so target feed them to the affected seahorse only.

Diamox doesn’t dissolve especially well in water; there’s always a residue of undissolved material left behind. Try to avoid this residue when you draw up the medicated solution in your syringe, the particles can sometimes clog up the fine bore needle when you are trying to inject the shrimp.

Each day you will have to prepare fresh Diamox solution to inject the shrimp for that day’s treatment, so just repeat the steps above each day.

In summation, the only thing I could suggest in a case like yours is to treat the affected seahorse in isolation with antibiotic therapy in conjunction with Diamox, reduce the water temperature in the treatment tank, and make sure the seahorse gets a daily dose of beta-glucan by of vibrance hyper and enriched frozen Mysis, if possible. This is a difficult problem to cure, but that’s the treatment regimen that I think might give your seahorse the best chance for recovery.

Best of luck treating your bloated seahorse, Kris!

Pete Giwojna

America's Only Seahorse Aqua-Farm and One of Hawaii's Most Popular Attractions

Ocean Rider seahorse farm is a consistent Trip Advisor Certificate of Excellence Award Winner and "Top 10 Things To Do" Kona, Hawaii attraction. Our "Magical Seahorse Tours" are educational and fun for the whole family.

Tour tickets are available for Purchase On-Line. Space is limited and subject to availability.

small seahorse Ocean Rider, Inc. is an Organic Hawaiian-Based Seahorse Aqua-Farm & Aquarium that Follows Strict Good Farming Practices in Raising Seahorses and Other Aquatic Life.

Seahorse Hawaii Foundation

Inspiring ocean awareness by saving the endangered seahorse and sea dragons around the world from extinction through conservation, research, propagation, and education.

Help us save the seahorse and the coral reefs they live in with a tax deductible contribution to the Seahorse Hawaii Foundation. You will be helping to protect and propagate over 25 species of endangered seahorses, sea dragons and friends.

Make A Tax-Deductible Donation Today!

A Different Kind of Farm (Video) »

Ocean Rider Kona Hawaii

Ocean Rider Kona Hawaii
Seahorse Aqua-Farm & Tours

73-4388 Ilikai Place

Kailua Kona, Hawaii 96740

Map & Directions


Contact Ocean Rider

Copyright ©1999-2023
All Rights Reserved | Ocean Rider Inc.

My Online Order Details

Purchase Policy

Site Terms and Conditions