Re:H.Reidi not eating properly – please help!!!

#4910
Pete Giwojna
Guest

Dear Devine:

I’m sure you to hear about the problems you’ve been having with your female Brazilian seahorse (Hippocampus reidi) lately and I have some suggestions that I hope will help.

The first things to consider that can often make a great deal of difference when a seahorse goes off its feed is to perform a series of water changes and try tempting the seahorse with live foods, as discussed in greater detail below, and that’s what I think you should concentrate on at this time:

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.

In your case, Devine, I suspect that deteriorating water quality may have played a role in this problem. For one thing, your nitrates have been running way too high. For seahorses, it’s important to keep the nitrates below 20 ppm at all times (0-10 ppm nitrate is optimal). If your seahorse tank has had a nitrate level as high as 40 ppm recently along with the drop in the pH, that suggests a decline in water quality associated with excess nutrients, and the best thing you can do right now is to continue to strive to improve the water quality.

Regardless of how your water chemistry appears right now, a good place to start addressing this problem would be to perform a 25%-35% water change 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 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 keep your finicky female eating and see if you can fatten her up a bit. When seahorses stop eating, the most important thing is to get some food into them one way or another. You’ve got to keep their strength up and give them a chance to recover before you can worry about weaning them back onto frozen foods again. Hawaiian red feeder shrimp or volcano shrimp (Halocaridina rubra) and live Mysis 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 your H. reidi ASAP to build up her strength and help her regain her conditioning.

When seahorses tire of the same old, boring frozen food and refuse to eat their "veggies," living prey is what they crave: Mysids, ghost 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 especially true for H. reidi seahorses, Devine, which have a well-deserved reputation as finicky eaters that often prefer live foods.

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.

In your case, Devine, I would suggest trying tempting your female with adult brine shrimp. The adult brine shrimp are readily available, inexpensive, and soft body, which means they may be easier for your female to swallow considering the difficulties that she has been having. Adult brine shrimp (Artemia spp.) can certainly be used as occasional treats or dietary supplements, or to help break a hunger strike, providing you enrich it to fortified nutritional content. Here are the instructions for enriching brine shrimp, in case you that’s the most convenient live food for you to provide. The original Vibrance formula that is rich in highly unsaturated fatty acids and other lipids (i.e., Vibrance I) works best for fortified brine shrimp:

Enriching Artemia with Vibrance I

For enriching or "gut packing" live Artemia (brine shrimp), or other live shrimp or live food of all sizes. Blend 1 teaspoon of Vibrance into 1 cup of water for 3 minutes. Add this to the live food vessel for 30 minutes, or until you see the gut of the animal turn red. Rinse the animals with clean salt water and feed immediately to your seahorses or other fish.

When it comes to good sources for live foods, you can also get Gammarus amphipods (green iron horse feed) and Hawaiian volcano shrimp (red iron horse feed) from Ocean Rider and live Mysis from Sachs Systems Aquaculture. All of these live shrimp are what I’d like to call "feed-and-forget" foods. 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. Nothing stimulates a seahorse’s feeding instinct like the frantic movements and evasive maneuvers of natural, living prey.

The Ocean Rider Aquaculture Facility in Hawaii (http://seahorse.com/) is a good source for the following live foods but the shipping costs from Hawaii can be considerable:

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

Or the live Mysis from Sachs Systems Aquaculture would also be a good choice for live Mysis shrimp. They provide live Mysis in lots ranging anywhere from 100 to 5000 for very reasonable prices which include the cost of priority shipping. For example, you can obtain 200 live Mysidopsis bahia for $35 (priority shipping included) from Sachs and your seahorses will love them:

<http://www.aquaculturestore.com/swinverts.html&gt;

All of the sources listed above are high-health aquaculture facilities that provide disease free live foods. You can buy be feeder shrimp or live foods in quantity and set up a small holding tank for them so that you can dole them out as live treats for your seahorses whenever it’s convenient.

If your seahorse’s loss of appetite is associated with a change in their 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 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). The instructions for treating your seahorse for intestinal flagellates using metronidazole are explained below:

Intestinal Flagellates

Intestinal flagellates are microscopic organisms that move by propelling themselves with long tail-like flagella (Kaptur, 2004). Such flagellates can be found in both the gastrointestinal and reproductive tracts of their hosts. In low numbers they do not present a problem, but they multiply by binary fission, an efficient means of mass infestation when conditions favor them (such as when a seahorse has been weakened by chronic stress), Kaptur, 2004. When they get out of control, these parasites interfere with the seahorse’s normal digestive processes such as vitamin absorption, and it has difficulty obtaining adequate nourishment even though it may be eating well and feeding heavily (Kaptur, 2004). Suspect intestinal parasites are a work when a good eater gradually wastes away despite its hearty appetite (Giwojna, Dec. 2003). Their presence can be confirmed by examining a fecal sample under a microscope, but they can be easily diagnosed according to the more readily observed signs described below (Kaptur, 2004).

The symptoms to look for are a seahorse that’s losing weight or not holding its own weightwise even though it feeds well, or alternatively, a lack of appetite accompanied by white stringy feces (Kaptur, 2004). When a seahorse stops eating aggressively and begins producing white, stringy feces instead of fecal pellets, that’s a clear indication that it’s suffering from intestinal flagellates (Kaptur, 2004). Treat the affected seahorse(s) with metronidazole at the first sign of either condition (Giwojna, Dec. 2003).

Metronidazole is an antibiotic with antiprotozoal properties that is very effective in eradicating internal parasites in general and intestinal flagellates in particular (Kaptur, 2004). It is ideal for this because it is rapidly absorbed from the GI tract, has anti-inflammatory effects in the bowel, and was designed specifically to treat protozoal infections and anaerobic bacterial infections by disrupting their DNA (Kaptur, 2004).

When administered properly, metronidazole is wonderfully effective at eliminating intestinal parasites, and there should be signs of improvement within 3 days of treatment (Kaptur, 2004). The seahorse’s appetite should pick up, and as it does, those characteristic white stringy feces will return to normal (Giwojna, Dec. 2003).

Intestinal parasites are typically transferred from their host to uninfected fishes by fecal exposure, and good tank management and hygiene can therefore go a long way towards limiting their spread (Giwojna, Dec. 2003). You don’t want seahorses eating frozen Mysis that may have become contaminated from laying on a dirty substrate (Giwojna, Dec. 2003). Using a feeding station can help prevent this as can vacuuming the substrate regularly.

Fortunately, intestinal flagellates have virtually no ability to survive outside their host’s body (Giwojna, Dec. 2003). If you detect the problem early and are diligent about cleaning the substrate while the affected seahorse is undergoing treatment in isolation, the parasites should be easily eliminated from your system and chances are good the rest of your herd will remain unaffected (Giwojna, Dec. 2003).

If the seahorse is still eating, administering the metronidazole orally via gut-loaded shrimp is often extremely effective (Giwojna, Dec. 2003).

Gutloading simply means to fill live shrimp up with medication by feeding them food that’s been soaked in the desired medication. Once the feeder shrimp are full of the medicated food — that is, their guts are loaded with it — they are immediately fed to the seahorses, which thus consume the medication along with the shrimp. It’s a neat way to trick seahorses into taking their medicine, just as our moms used to do when were little, crushing up pills in a spoonful of jelly or jam. Another term for gutloading is bioencapsulation, since the medication is neatly contained within a living organism rather than a capsule. Gutloading allows the seahorses to be treated in their main tank, where they are completely at home, surrounded by their tankmates and the rest of the herd, and is thus a very stress-free form of treatment.

There are a number of ways to gutload shrimp, but the one described below is one of the easiest and works great for administering metronidazole orally. It is impossible to determine precisely what dosage of medication each individual fish ingests when gutloading, but metronidazole is a very, very safe drug and you cannot overdose a seahorse using this method of treatment. Feeding each seahorse its fill of shrimp gut-loaded with metronidazole for 5-10 days assures that they receive an effective dose of the medication.

I prefer live adult brine shrimp (Artemia sp.) since they are inexpensive, readily available, easy to bioencapsulate, and can be gut loaded in freshwater as described below. To medicate the brine shrimp, dissolve approximately 100 mg of metronidazole per liter or about 400 mg per gallon of water and soak the shrimp in the resulting freshwater solution. If the metronidazole you are using comes in liquid or capsule form, you can use it as is. But if the metronidazole is in tablet form, be sure to crush it into a very fine powder (you may have to use a household blender to get it fine enough) and dissolve it in freshwater at the dosage suggested above. Soak the adult shrimp in freshwater treated with the antibiotic for 15-30 minutes and then feed the medicated shrimp to your seahorses immediately. (Don’t let your pumps and filters "eat" all the brine shrimp!)

The brine shrimp are soaked in freshwater, not saltwater, because in theory the increased osmotic pressure of the freshwater helps the antibiotic solution move into their bodies via osmosis. But in fact nobody knows for sure whether the antibiotic is diffusing into the brine shrimp or they are ingesting it in very fine particles (brine shrimp are filter feeders and will take in whatever is suspended in the water with them) or whether the brine shrimp merely become coated with the antibiotic while they are soaking in it. But that’s not important — all that really matters is that gut-loading adult brine shrimp with medications this way is effective.

Keep the seahorses on a strict diet of such medicated brine shrimp throughout the treatment period to get as much of the antibiotic into the seahorses as possible, and mix up a new batch of medicated freshwater to soak the brine shrimp in for each feeding.

If the affected seahorse is no longer eating, then it should be treated in a hospital tank or the entire aquarium can be treated (no carbon filtration, UV, or protein skimming during the treatments). Since metronidazole is only active against anaerobic bacteria, it will not affect beneficial Nitrosomonas and Nitrobacter species or disrupt the biological filtration, and it can therefore be used safely to treat the main tank (Kaptur, 2004). Dissolve 250 mg of metronidazole for every 10 gallons of water in the treatment tank, and the medication will be absorbed through the seahorse’s gills (Kaptur, 2004). Metronidazole is oxidized over a period of several hours, so the entire dose needs to be replenished daily; (Kaptur, 2004.) Treat the affected seahorse in isolation for a minimum of 5 consecutive days, or you can treat the main tank with the metronidazole providing it does not house any sensitive invertebrates.

Your local fish store should carry a medication designed for aquarium use whose primary ingredient is metronidazole (e.g., Flagyl, Metro-MS by FishVet, Hexamit, etc.). Just follow the instructions on the package and be sure to use the marine dose. Temporarily relocate sensitive invertebrates such as decorative shrimp until after the treatment regimen has been completed.

Best of luck restoring your seahorse’s appetite, Devine! Concentrate on improving your water quality through a series of partial water changes and tempting the seahorse to eat with live foods, especially soft-body adult brine shrimp (Artemia), which may be easier for her to swallow. Here’s hoping that she as soon eating like a horse again.

Respectfully,
Pete Giwojna


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