Re:Injured Snout

#2926
Pete Giwojna
Guest

Dear Sharon:

I’m sorry to hear about your seahorses’ feeding difficulties. If it is indeed weak snick are one of the related feeding disorders, then it sounds like you have a pretty good gauge of the situation. Such problems are usually due to either a mechanical injury or an infection affecting the seahorse’s hyoid bone trigger mechanism or the underlying musculature with which it generates the powerful suction that it uses when feeding. Such mechanical injuries can sometimes be caused by ingesting a foreign object while feeding, or the problem may be due to protozoan parasites that attack the gills and eventually affect the muscles that operate the buccal suction pump and/or the opercular suction pumps.

I suspect you may be right, Sharon — when problems such as weak snick affect more than one of the seahorses in the aquarium, it’s most often due to a problem with parasites. In that case, a freshwater dip can provide some immediate relief from the parasites, and is generally a good first aid measure. As long as you match the temperature and pH of the freshwater to that of your seahorse tank, seahorses can generally tolerate a freshwater dip of up to 10 minutes without difficulty, and it’s a good idea to to extend the dip for that long providing the seahorse is handling it well since it can take 8 minutes in the freshwater for some of the parasites to be affected. So if you can match the pH of the dipping water to the aquarium conditions, and you follow the usual precautions, 10 minutes is recommended. As always, however, Sharon, if you can’t match the pH closely or the seahorse is exhibiting more than the expected momentary distress, then you can cut the dip short.

If you are leery about the freshwater dip, then you can consider performing a formalin bath in saltwater instead. That is also a very effective technique for treating protozoan parasites or ectoparasites in general. I will provide you with instructions and precautions for safely performing a formalin bath or a freshwater dip below

In short, Sharon, if the seahorse is experiencing respiratory distress or any other indications that suggest the problem could be due to protozoan parasites, there are number of treatment options you can consider.

For example, in that case, you could treat your seahorse with a 10-minute freshwater dip and/or a 30-60 minute bath in formalin. Both those procedures are very effective in eliminating ectoparasites and gill parasites, and may provide your seahorse with immediate relief. Or you could treat the main tank with Parinox, depending on whether or not it houses any senstive invertebrates. Or you could try treating your seahorse in a hospital tank using acriflavine in conjunction with methylene blue. I will be happy to provide you with instructions for all of these treatment options in case you feel such a procedure or procedures is warranted in your case.

If you don’t have a clear idea whether her feeding difficulties are due to an injury or to an infection brought on by gill parasites, you might try administering a diagnostic freshwater dip.

Freshwater Dips

A freshwater water dip is simply immersing your seahorse in pure, detoxified freshwater that’s been preadjusted to the same temp and pH as the water the seahorse is accustomed to, for a period of at least 10 minutes (Giwojna, Dec. 2003). It doesn’t harm them — seahorses typically tolerate freshwater dips exceptionally well and a 10-minute dip should be perfectly safe. Freshwater dips are effective because marine fish tolerate the immersion in freshwater far better than the external parasites they play host to; the change in osmotic pressure kills or incapacitates such microorganisms within 7-8 minutes (Giwojna, Dec. 2003). A minimum dip, if the fish seems to be doing fine, is therefore 8 minutes. Include some sort of hitching post in the dipping container and shoot for the full 10 minutes with your seahorses (Giwojna, Dec. 2003).

If you will be using tap water for the freshwater dip, be sure to dechlorinate it beforehand. This can be accomplished usually one of the commercial dechlorinators, which typically include sodium thiosulfate and perhaps a chloramine remover as well, or by aerating the tap water for at least 24 hours to dissipate the chlorine (Giwojna, Dec. 2003).

If you dechlorinate the dip water with a sodium thiosulfate product, be sure to use an airstone to aerate it for at least one hour before administering the dip. This is because the sodium thiosulfate depletes the water of oxygen and the dip water must therefore be oxygenated before its suitable for your seahorse(s). Regardless of how you detoxify the freshwater for the dip, it’s important to aerate the water in the dipping container well beforehand to increase the level of dissolved oxygen in the water. Many hobbyists leave the airstone in the dipping container throughout the procedure.

Adjusting the pH of the water in the dipping container so that it matches the pH of the water in the aquarium is a crucial step. If there is too much of a difference in the pH, there is a possibility the seahorse could go into shock during the dipping procedure. Preadjusting the pH will prevent that from happening. If you will are unsure about your ability to accurately adjust the pH in the dipping container, avoid this procedure altogether or be prepared to monitor the seahorse very carefully and shorten the duration of the tip to no more than about 4 minutes.

Observe the horse closely during the dip. You may see some immediate signs of distress or shock. Sometimes the horse will immediately lie on its side on the bottom. That’s a fairly common reaction — normal and to be expected, rather than a cause for concern, so don’t be alarmed if this happens. Just nudge or tap the seahorse gently with your finger if it lies down on its side. Normally, the seahorse will respond to the slight nudge by righting itself again and calm down for the duration of the dip. However, if it does not respond, stop the treatment.

Most seahorses tolerate the treatment well and experience no problems, but if you see continued signs of distress — twitching, thrashing around etc. — stop the treatment.

After you have completed the dip and returned the seahorses to the aquarium, save the dip water and examined it closely for any sign of parasites. The change in osmotic pressure from saltwater to freshwater will cause ectoparasites to lyse (i.e., swell and burst) or drop off their host after 7-10 minutes, and they will be left behind in the dipping water. Protozoan parasites are microscopic and won’t be visible to the naked eye, but some of the other ectoparasites can be clearly seen. For example, monogenetic trematodes will appear as opaque sesame seeds drifting in the water (Giwojna, Aug. 2003) and nematodes may be visible as tiny hairlike worms 1/16-3/16 of an inch long. Other parasites may appear as tiny dots in the water. Freshwater dips can thus often provide affected seahorses with some immediate relief by ridding them of these irritating pests and can also aid their breathing by flushing out gill parasites.

Here are the instructions for administering a formalin bath in case you would be more comfortable with this form of treatment for protozoan parasites rather than a freshwater bath, Sharon:

Formalin Bath

Formalin is basically a 37% solution of formaldehyde and water. It is a potent external fungicide, external protozoacide, and antiparasitic, and seahorse keepers commonly use formalin to cleanse new arrivals of ectoparasites during quarantine. Formalin (HCHO) is thus an effective medication for eradicating external parasites, treating fungal lesions, and reducing the swelling from such infections. It is a wonder drug for treating cases of Popeye caused by trematodes, and also eradicates nematodes as well as bacteria.

Many commercial formalin products are readily available to hobbyists, such as Kordon’s Formalin 3, Formalin-F sold by Natchez Animal Supply, and Paracide-F, sold by Argent Chemical Laboratories. (Or whatever brand of formalin is available at your fish store should work fine, Sharon.)

A formalin bath simply involves immersing the seahorse in a container of saltwater which contains the proper dosage of formalin for a period of 30-60 minutes before transferring it to your hospital tank. Include a hitching post of some sort in the container and follow these instructions: place the fish in a three-gallon bucket or a similar clean, inert container containing precisely one gallon of siphoned, aerated tank water. Medicate the bucket of water with with the appropriate amount of formalin for a concentrated bath according to the directions on the label. Place an airstone in the bucket and leave the fish in the bath for 30 minutes. If at any time the fish becomes listless, exhausted or loses its balance, immediately place the fish in clean, untreated water in your hospital tank.

I want you to be aware of these precautions when administering the formalin bath:
Formalin has limited shelf life and degrades to the highly toxic substance paraformaldehyde (identified as a white precipitate on the bottom of the solution); avoid using any formalin product which has such a precipitate at the bottom of the bottle.
Formalin basically consumes oxygen so vigorous aeration must be provided during treatment.
Time the bath closely and never exceed one hour of chemical exposure at this concentration.
Observe the seahorse closely during the bath at all times, and it show signs of distress before the allotted time has elapsed, remove it from the treatment immediately.

If you can obtain Formalin 3 from Kordon at your LFS, Sharon, these of the instructions you should follow for your formalin dip:

METHOD 2 (DIP) FOR THE PREVENTION OR TREATMENT OF FISH DISEASES
(a) To a clean, non-metallic container (i.e., a plastic bucket), add one or more gallons of fresh tap water treated with Kordon’s AmQuel . For marine fish use freshly prepared saltwater adjusted to the same specific gravity (or salinity) as in the original tank. Make sure the temperature in the container is identical to that in the aquarium
(b) Add 1 teaspoons of Formalin·3. This produces a concentration of 100 ppm. formaldehyde.
(c) Agitate the solution with an airstone and adjust for a moderately strong flow of air.
(d) Remove the fishes to be treated and deposit them in the container for a treatment period of not more than 50 minutes. Immediately after the treatment period, or if signs of distress are noted, remove the fishes to a previously prepared recovery tank. The fishes may be returned to their original tank, but the presence of the original disease-causing agents in the tank water may result in a reoccurrence of the disease condition.
(e) Observe recovering fishes. Make sure that tankmates do not molest them during recovery.
(f) Repeat treatment as needed, every week. Each treatment is very stressful to the treated fishes. Do not reuse the dip solution.

For additional information on treating fishes with Formalin 3 by Kordon, she the following web page:

Click here: KPD-54 Formalin-3
http://www.novalek.com/kpd54.htm

If you get another brand of formalin, just follow the instructions that it comes with for a concentrated bath or dip (not prolonged immersion or a long-term bath).

Be sure to observe the following precautions when handling your seahorses for the freshwater dip or formalin bath, Sharon.

Handling Seahorses

I do not like to use an aquarium net to transfer or manipulate seahorses, since their delicate fins and snouts can become entangled in the netting all too easily. I much prefer to transfer the seahorses by hand. Simply wet your hand and fingers (to avoid removing any of the seahorse’s protective slime coat) and scoop the seahorses in your hand. Allow them to curl their tail around your fingers and carefully cup their bodies in your hand to support them while you lift them out of the water. When you gently immerse your hand in the destination tank, the seahorse will release its grip and swim away as though nothing out of the ordinary has happened.

Composed of solid muscle and endowed with extraordinary skeletal support, the prehensile tail is amazingly strong. Indeed, large specimens have a grip like an anaconda, and when a 12-inch ingens or abdominalis wraps its tail around your hand and tightens its hold, its vise-like grip is powerful enough to leave you counting your fingers afterwards!

In fact, it can be quite difficult to remove an attached seahorse from its holdfast without injuring it in the process. Never attempt to forcibly detach a seahorse from its hitching post! When it feels threatened, it’s instinct is to clamp down and hold on all the tighter. When you must dislodge a seahorse from its resting place for any reason, it’s best to use the tickle technique instead. Gently tickling the underside of the tail where it’s wrapped around the object will usually induce the seahorse to release its grip (Abbott, 2003). They don’t seem to like that at all, and will quickly let go to move away to another spot. Once they are swimming, they are easy to handle.

In summation, Sharon, if your seahorse’s snout problem is due to protozoan parasites, either a freshwater dipped or a formalin bath can provide them with some quick relief.

However, if the main tank is heavily infested with parasites, there is an excellent chance that the seahorses could be reinfested once they are returned to the aquarium after the dip/bath. If the dip provide your seahorse with some relief, or there are indications of ectoparasites left behind in the dipping container (gill flukes are easily visible to the naked eye, but protozoan parasites are microscopic), then it would be a good idea to treat the seahorse tank for parasites as well. This can be accomplished either by hyposalinity (osmotic shock therapy) or with a good antiparasitics such as Parinox that won’t affect your biological filtration (providing there are no sensitive invertebrates that would be adversely affected by the Parinox). If we can confirm that parasites are at fault, I would be happy to discuss such methods for treating the main tank with you, Sharon.

Best of luck resolving your seahorse’s snout problem and feeding difficulties, Sharon!

Respectfully,
Pete Giwojna


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