Re:Help!!! Strange seahorse behaviour

#4748
Pete Giwojna
Guest

Dear devine:

I’m sorry to hear about the problem you’re having with your new Brazilian seahorses (Hippocampus reidi)

You said that the seahorses "arrived" yesterday, so I am assuming that they were shipped to you. Do you have any idea how long they were in transit before they arrived? Also, can you briefly describe how you acclimated the seahorses to your aquarium? How long did the acclimation procedure take from the time you opened the shipping bags until the seahorses were released in your aquarium?

It will also help me to determine what the problem could be if you can provide me with some additional information about your seahorse tank. How long has your seahorse tank been up and running? Are there any other inhabitants of the aquarium besides the H. reidi seahorses? If so, please list all of the other residents of the aquarium. And most importantly of all, please list your current readings for the following water quality parameters in your seahorse tank:

Ammonia (NH3/NH4+) =
Nitrite (N02) =
Nitrate (N03) =
pH =
specific gravity or salinity =
water temperature =

I suspect that your new seahorse may be suffering from the effects of ammonia poisoning. This can happen as an after effect of long-distance shipping, under certain circumstances, and it is also a common problem when fish are added to a new aquarium that hasn’t completed the nitrogen cycle and establish the biological filtration (i.e., new tank syndrome).

The most obvious symptoms of ammonia poisoning are a loss of equilibrium, hyperexcitability, increased respiration and oxygen uptake, and increased heart rate. At extreme ammonia levels, fish may experience convulsions, coma, and death. Seahorses exposed to less extreme ammonia levels will struggle to breathe. They will be lethargic and exhibit rapid respiration. They may appear disoriented, periodically detaching from their hitching posts only to sink to the bottom.

Seahorses affected by ammonia poisoning have difficulty swimming normally and often exhibit symptoms such as lying prone on the bottom unable to right themselves at all for extended periods or blindly bumping into objects on the walls of the aquarium in complete disorientation, and the strange behavior you describe for your male H. reidi sound similar.

Ammonia poisoning is completely reversible providing the seahorses weren’t exposed to toxic levels for too long, and the best first aid you can provide for ammonia poisoning is to immediately transfer the seahorses into clean, well-aerated saltwater with zero ammonia and zero nitrite.

Exposure to moderate levels of ammonia and nitrite, or high levels of nitrates, can change the normal hemoglobin in the seahorse’s blood stream to a form (i.e., methhemoglobin) that is no longer able to transport oxygen. If this becomes severe enough, it will leave the affected seahorse starved for oxygen, which makes it very weak and fatigued. As a result, the affected seahorses may detach themselves from their hitching posts periodically and rest on the bottom, unable to exert themselves in their weakened condition. As you can imagine, being deprived of oxygen really wipes them out in terms of loss of energy and stamina. And it also results in respiratory distress, and rapid, labored breathing as they try to oxygenate themselves and compensate for the lack of normal hemoglobin.

One of the properties of methylene blue is that it can reverse this process and convert the methhemoglobin in the red blood cells back into normal hemoglobin, which can then pick up and transport oxygen again as usual. That’s why it is so helpful in relieving shipping stress and treating ammonia exposure and nitrite poisoning. For this reason, you may want to pick up some methylene blue at your local fish store and keep it on hand in case it is needed (the Kordon brand of methylene blue is best, in my opinion). So keep a close eye on the seahorse that is lying on the bottom — especially its breathing rate compared to the other H. reidi that is doing well — and be prepared to give it a quick dip in methylene blue as described below.

The usual criteria for determining whether or not methylene blue is needed to help seahorses recover from exposure to high levels of ammonia is their respiration. If the seahorse has labored breathing — huffing or rapid respiration — then methylene blue is called for. Likewise, if the seahorse is experiencing convulsions or it’s behavior otherwise indicates it is suffering from more than temporary disorientation and loss of equilibrium, such as lying prostrate on the bottom, unable to right itself again at all after two or three hours have passed, it may benefit from methylene blue to assist its recovery.

If the H. reidi that has been behaving strangely is not showing definite signs of improvement and making good progress after a couple of hours, then you may want to consider a quick dip in methylene blue. Commonly known as "meth blue" or simply "blue," this is a wonderful medication for reversing the toxic effects of ammonia and nitrite poisoning. Methylene blue transports oxygen and aids breathing. It facilitates oxygen transport, helping fish breathe more easily by converting methemoglobin to hemoglobin — the normal oxygen carrying component of fish blood, thus allowing more oxygen to be carried through the bloodstream. This makes it very useful for treating gill infections, low oxygen levels, or anytime your seahorses are breathing rapidly and experiencing respiratory distress. It is the drug of choice for treating hypoxic emergencies of any kind with your fish. However, methylene blue will destroy nitrifying bacteria so it should be used in a hospital tank or as a brief bath or dip only (if used in an established aquarium, it will impair the biological filtration and the tank may need to be cycled all over again).

Here is some more information that may be helpful if you need to treat with methylene blue:

If you can obtain the Kordon brand of Methylene Blue (available at most well-stocked local fish stores), there are instructions for administering it as a very brief, concentrated dip are as follows:

For use as a dip for treatment of fungus or external parasitic protozoans and cyanide poisoning:
(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.

When you administer such a dip, hold the seahorse in your hand throughout the procedure and time it closely so that the dip does not exceed 10 seconds.

And here are Kordon’s instructions for administering the methylene blue in a hospital tank if longer-term treatment seems appropriate to reverse more severe cases of nitrite poisoning and ammonia toxicity:

As an aid in reversal of nitrite (NO2-) or cyanide (CN-) poisoning of marine and freshwater aquarium fishes:
(a) Remove carbon filter and continue to operate with mechanical filter media throughout the treatment period.
(b) Add 1 teaspoon of 2.303% Methylene Blue per 10 gallons of water. This produces a concentration of 3 ppm. Continue the treatment for 3 to 5 days.
(c) Make a water change as noted and replace the filter carbon at the conclusion of the treatment.

See the following link for more information on treating with Kordon’s Methylene Blue:

Click here: KPD-28 Methylene Blue
http://www.novalek.com/archive/kpd28.htm

If you obtained a brand of methylene blue other than Kordon, just follow the instructions the medication comes with.

Okay, devine, those are my thoughts on the matter and I suggest that you leave the aquarium lights off today and do not feed your seahorses. Get back to me as soon as possible with the additional information requested above and get some methylene blue from your local fish store. If your seahorse tank has good water quality (zero ammonia and zero nitrite) and fully established biological filtration, the new seahorse may recover on its own without the need for further intervention. But if your new aquarium has not fully cycled, or has not adjusted to the heavier bioload yet, and there are ammonia and/or nitrate in the tank, you will probably need to treat the seahorse with methylene blue and take additional measures to address the water quality in the aquarium.

Good luck and please get back to me ASAP!

Respectfully,
Pete Giwojna


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