Re:Female Floating — PLEASE HELP!!

Pete Giwojna

Dear seahorsegirl:

Yes, if your female Hippocampus erectus is bloated and floating, she is most likely suffering from internal gas bubble syndrome. Either her swimbladder is over inflated as a result, or excess gas is building up within her coelomic cavity and abdomen. In my experience, internal GBS is the most difficult form of gas bubble syndrome to resolve, and the least likely to respond to Diamox, especially if the seahorse is not eating and the medication cannot be administered orally via feeder shrimp that have been injected with a solution of the Diamox. Combining a good antibiotic with the Diamox will sometimes produce better results than the Diamox alone.

If you have already treated your female with the Diamox to no avail, there are only two options that may be helpful at this point. The first of these is to manually partially deflate the seahorse’s swimbladder using a hypodermic, and, of course, the second option is to decompress the seahorse. When you are attempting decompression, the greater the depth at which the seahorse is compressed by hydrostatic pressure, the more effective the decompression is likely to be and the shorter the duration it must be maintained in order to be helpful. If you have been decompressing the seahorse at a depth of 40 inches for over three days with no change, seahorsegirl, then you may want to try decompressing her at greater depth if you can somehow manage it by using a PVC pipe to create a sort of homemade decompression chamber. But in most instances where decompression is effective in treating GBS, the seahorses have been decompressed from a depth of 10 feet or greater, which is something that is very difficult for the home hobbyist to attempt…

Remember, after your female has been compressed at depth and you are ready to remove her from your homemade decompression chamber, she must be returned to the surface very gradually. You can either raise your female back to the surface in several stages, over a period of about an hour, or gradually lower the water level in your homemade decompression chamber in stages over a period of about an hour, in order to decompress the seahorse afterwards. Just be slow and methodical when you are decompressing her; the more gradual, the better…

You might consider manually deflating your female’s swimbladder if you can visualize it clearly using back illumination. Manually deflating the swimbladder is accomplished much like a needle aspiration, except the needle is inserted into the gas bladder rather than the pouch. This is how Dr. Marty Greenwell from the shed aquarium describes this procedure in the 2005 Seahorse Husbandry Manual:

"If a hyperinflated swimbladder is suspected, a bright light can be directed from behind the animal to visualize the location and borders of the distended organ. This is useful when attempting to deflate the bladder. The needle should be directed between the scute/plate margins for ease of penetration through the skin. The external area can be rinsed with sterile saline or a drop of triple antibiotic up all my appointments can be applied prior to penetration."

The seahorse’s swimbladder is a large, single-chambered sac that begins in the band of its neck and extends 1/3 of the length of its body cavity along the dorsal surface. It’s a large organ so if you can visualize it clearly using a bright light (just like candling an egg), releasing some of the gas to partially deflate the swimbladder is fairly straightforward and uncomplicated.

If the problem is a hyperinflated swimbladder, this simple procedure will provide your seahorse with immediate relief and cure the problem. But if you cannot make out the swimbladder clearly or if the problem is due to excess gas building up within the abdominal cavity, rather than a hyperinflated gas bladder, trying a deeper decompression chamber may be your best hope for a good outcome…

I am sorry that I cannot be more helpful, seahorsegirl, but the prognosis is poor in cases like this when the seahorse does not respond to Diamox and/or moderate decompression.

For future reference, keep in mind that problems with buoyancy due to a hyperinflated swimbladder can be caused by rapid fluctuations in water temperature, so be sure to maintain a stable water temperature in your seahorse tank.

Also, you might want to search this forum for the following phrases: "preventing gas bubble disease," "preventing gas bubble syndrome," or "preventing GBS" or "preventing GBD." That should lead you to information that discusses the factors most often associated with gas bubble syndrome and some simple precautions the home hobbyist can take to minimize such problems in the future.

Best of luck resolving this problem and restoring your female to normal again.

Pete Giwojna

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