I’m sorry to hear that you’re pregnant male is having some problems with positive buoyancy after all. That does complicate things somewhat, but I wouldn’t recommend trying to evacuate any gas from his brood pouch at this time.
Judging from your description of his behavior, it sounds like the birth spasms may already have begun and that he could be delivering anytime now. The best thing to do would be to give him another day or so because when the labor pains begin in earnest and he begins pumping to give birth to the newborns, he will also be able to expel any gas that is trapped in his pouch at the same time. Gravid males flush out their pouch very thoroughly both during the delivery and afterwards, in preparation for remating, and he will release any gas that has built up in his pouch when he does so, without the need for any intervention on your behalf.
If he does not give birth within the next day or two and the positive buoyancy becomes worse in the meantime, then you will have to do something to assist him with this problem. However, I would not recommend attempting to manually evacuate the gas trapped in the brood pouch from a pregnant male since massaging the pouch or attempting to "burp" it manually can be harmful to the developing young and very stressful for a gravid male late in his pregnancy.
Under the circumstances, it would be much better to attempt a needle aspiration and/or treat him with Diamox (the tablet form of acetazolamide) in order to relieve the pouch emphysema. Removing any gas that is build up via a needle aspiration will have a negative impact on very few of the developing young as compared to attempting to manually evacuate the gas. Here are the basic instructions for extracting the gas build up using a needle aspiration:
It is also very practical to aspirate air from a bloated pouch using a small hypodermic needle and a syringe. The pouch can easily be penetrated from side and is not harmed by the entrance of the needle. It causes the seahorse surprisingly little discomfort and is often less traumatic that massaging the pouch and other methods for evacuating gas. It is a quick and effective technique and is often easier on the seahorse keeper and his patient than other approaches.
Remember, when you perform a needle aspiration, you are not penetrating the seahorse’s stomach, but rather the brood pouch that is slung beneath its belly at the base of its tail.
You cannot release the gas that has built up in your male’s pouch simply by perforating the side of his pouch with a small needle. That’s not what the term "needle aspiration" means. Rather, you need a hypodermic needle and syringe in order to perform a needle aspiration. You must first depress the plunger on the hypodermic syringe to empty all of the air out of the barrel of the syringe, and then carefully insert the hypodermic needle into the side of the pouch, just far enough to penetrate into the central cavity of the pouch, and then gradually withdraw the plunger again, which will extract the gas from that area of the pouch.
You may need to perform this procedure twice, once from the left-hand side of the pouch and once from the right-hand side of the pouch, since male seahorses in breeding condition develop an septum or internal membrane that divides their pouches roughly into left and right hemispheres. So you may need to aspirate air from the left side of the pouch, and then repeat the procedure with your hypodermic needle on the right side of the pouch in order to remove all of the trapped gas from your stallion’s marsupium. But do not penetrate the pouch of your male with a hypodermic needle more than that; if aspirating the gas once from each side of the pouch is not sufficient to deflate the pouch and eliminate the problem with positive buoyancy, then you will need to flush out his pouch instead or release the gas using one of the other techniques described above.
You may also want to administer Diamox either orally or as a series of baths to counteract this problem with positive buoyancy, Lisa, as explained below:
The recommended dosage is 250 mg of Diamox per 10 gallons with a 100% water change daily, after which the treatment tank is retreated with the Diamox at the dosage indicated above (Dr. Martin Belli, pers. com.). Continue these daily treatments and water changes for up to 7-10 days for best results (Dr. Martin Belli, pers. com.).
The Diamox baths should be administered in a hospital ward or quarantine tank. Diamox does not appear to adversely affect biofiltration, but it should not be used in the main tank because it could be harmful to inhibit the enzymatic activity of healthy seahorses.
Using the tablet form of acetazolamide (250 mg), crush the required amount to a very fine powder and dissolve it thoroughly in a cup or two of saltwater. There will usually be a slight residue that will not dissolve in saltwater at the normal alkaline pH (8.0-8.4) of seawater (Warland, 2002). That’s perfectly normal. Just add the solution to your hospital tank, minus the residue, of course, at the recommended dosage:
Place the affected seahorse in the treatment tank as soon as first dose of medication has been added. After 24 hours, perform a 100% water change in the hospital tank using premixed water that you’ve carefully aerated and adjusted to be same temperature, pH and salinity. Add a second dose of newly mixed Diamox at the same dosage and reintroduce the ailing seahorse to the treatment tank. After a further 24 hours, do another 100% water change and repeat the entire procedure until a total of up to 7-10 treatments have been given. About 24 hours after the final dose of acetazolamide has been added to the newly changed saltwater, the medication will have lost its effectiveness and the patient can be returned directly to the main seahorse tank to speed its recovery along.
As with Diamox pouch flushes, one of the side affects of acetazolamide baths is loss of appetite. Try to keep the affected seahorse eating by plying it with its favorite live foods during and after treatment, until it has fully recovered.
The seahorse usually show improvement within three days. Dr. Martin Belli reports they nearly 100% success rate when this treatment regimen is followed for 7-10 days, and most cases clear up in less than a week.
If you prefer, you can also administer the Diamox orally, which will allow you to treat the affected seahorse in the main tank where he is the most comfortable. You get the Diamox into the food by preparing a Diamox solution, as described below, and then injecting it into live feeder shrimp or even the large Piscine Energetics frozen Mysis relicta. The Diamox is deactivated fairly quickly once you prepare the solution for injecting, so you must prepare a new Diamox solution each day during the treatment period. Here’s how to proceed, Lisa:
Administering Acetazolamide/Diamox Orally
I have found that the Diamox is often more effective when it’s ingested and administering the medication orally allows you to treat the seahorse in the main tank where he’s most comfortable and relaxed.
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. Don’t allow any healthy seahorses to eat the medicated shrimp instead of the ailing pony, since it could be bad for them. To prevent this, you may have to target feed or isolate the sick seahorse when feeding it the gut-loaded shrimp. Isolating the patient briefly in a Critter Keeper or something similar when feeding him the medicated shrimp often works well.
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. He should show improvement rapidly, with 2-3 days. If not, after you have fed him injected shrimp for 3 straight days, give him a break from the Diamox for a few days and try again. (Diamox can suppress the appepitite, so feed him unmedicated/uninjected shrimp for a few days to keep him eating and help restore his appetite.) Then feed him Diamox-injected shrimp again at the rate of 2 per day for a total of 3 more days, but this time increase the dosage of Diamox slightly (shave off a bit more of the tablet each day when you mix the new Diamox solution).
Pregnant males are a specially susceptible to pouch emphysema and other forms of gas bubble syndrome because of the placenta-like changes that take place in their heavily vascularized brood pouch, and I know of several cases in which gravid male seahorses were treated with Diamox successfully and went on to deliver a normal brood, so it doesn’t appear that the Diamox has any adverse effects on the embryonic young or fetal fry.
Best of luck with your overdue dad and his pouch gas problem, Lisa. Here’s hoping that he gives birth shortly and expels any gas that has built up within his pouch in the process, a merging none the worse for wear without any need for you to intervene. But it would be a good idea to try to line up a small hypodermic syringe and/or some Diamox in the meantime, while you’re waiting to see if he will give birth and resolve the problem himself.