Re:Injured Snout

Pete Giwojna

Dear Jeff:

Yes, sir, I agree — judging from your assessment it certainly seems as though the problem is most likely the result of the mechanical injury. It is very difficult to project how long it may take for the injury to heal in such cases. Much depends on whether the injury involved the powerful sternohyoideus muscle that runs from the hyoid bone to the cleithrum and operates the buccal suction pump, or the hyohyoideus muscles and dilator operculi muscles which work together to operate the opercular suction pump, or both sets of muscles, and how severe the injury or strain happened to be in your case. I’ve heard recovery times ranging from a couple of weeks to over two months. Keeping the seahorse eating while it recovers is the key, and it sounds like you’re doing a great job of getting some nutrition into him.

As long as none of the seahorses are experiencing any kind of breathing difficulties or respiratory distress, there is one possible treatment you might consider to help speed the healing process, Jeff. I’ve heard a few anecdotal reports from hobbyists that maintain they have cured seahorses with weak snick or "sticky trigger/trigger lock" using Melafix (i.e., Melaleuca tree oil). It’s a risky treatment for seahorses due to the potential risk of asphyxiation, but it may have some limited application for feeding disorders that affect the seahorse’s suctorial feeding mechanism.

My main concern with Maleluca tree oil, the active ingredient in Melafix, is that it may impair the breathing of seahorses under certain circumstances for a couple of reasons. First of all, it seems to stimulate excess mucous production, and may cause the gills to be coated with a layer of slime. Secondly, it reportedly causes a drop in oxygen (O2) levels during treatment.

The drop in O2 levels is definitely a cause for concern, particularly if excess mucous production is impairing respiration by causing the gills to be coated in slime at the same time. If a thin film of this oil covers the surface of the aquarium, that could interfere with efficient gas exchange at the air/water interface, resulting in a drop in O2 levels and a build up of CO2.

One property of the Maleluca tree oil is that it dramatically reduces the surface tension of the water, causing protein skimmers to go nuts and overflow with copious amounts of wet foam. Skimmers usually need to be shut off during treatment as a result, so maybe that reduces the oxygenation in the aquarium further.

In short, it appears Melafix is contraindicated in cases where the affected seahorse is experiencing respiratory problems. I would say it is never advisable to use Melafix when seahorses are huffing, exhibiting labored breathing, or showing any signs of respiratory distress. And it would certainly be a sensible precaution to increase the aeration, surface agitation, and circulation when treating with this product. Consider adding an extra airstone or two to be safe.

So if you decide to try trading your seahorse tank with Melafix and you notice a change in the seahorse’s breathing — any signs of respiratory distress — I would discontinue the treatments immediately and remove the medication from the water ASAP. Start up your protein skimmer, resume filtration with fresh activated carbon, and perform a water change right away.

Melafix is a mild medication that is reef safe, and its main virtue is that it does not affect nitrifying bacteria or disrupt biological filtration, so it can be used to treat the main tank.

The reference I cited is from a Horse Forum column in FAMA magazine in which I discussed questions related to feeding disorders that impair the seahorse’s suctorial feeding mechanism:

Giwojna, Pete, and Carol Cozzi-Schmarr. Dec. 2003. "Horse Forum." Freshwater and Marine Aquarium.

Best of luck resolving your seahorse’s feeding problem, Jeff!

Pete Giwojna

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