Re:not eating

Pete Giwojna

Dear Schandelmeier:

Thank you for getting back to me with the additional information. It does help to clarify matters. Obviously, if you brought Will home from your LFS after barely 15 minutes in transit, shipping stress from exposure to high levels of ammonia while in the shipping bag is not a contributing factor to his problems. The aquarium parameters you listed are all excellent, so I think we can rule out ammonia poisoning or nitrite toxicity in this case.

White mucoid feces or white stringy feces can sometimes be an indication of intestinal parasites in a seahorse that is off its feed, and if you suspect that Will may be suffering from such a problem, I would recommend treating him with metronidazole and methylene blue together in your quarantine tank, as discussed 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 naturally 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) or mucoid feces. Many times the vent or abdomen of the affected fish is swollen. When a seahorse stops eating aggressively and begins producing white, stringy feces or mucoid 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).

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

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.

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 aquarium is being treated with metronidazole, the parasites should be easily eliminated from your system and chances are good the rest of your herd will remain unaffected (Giwojna, Dec. 2003).

Low numbers of these flagellates are often part of the fish’s normal intestinal flora and only become problematic when a fish is stressed or its immune system is otherwise compromised, allowing them to reproduce unchecked. In this case, long-distance shipping and the stress of adjusting to a strange new aquarium appear to have tipped the balance in favor of the intestinal flagellates, but a regimen of metronidazole should resolve the problem.

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.

Metronidazole is most effective when it’s administered orally via gutloaded feeder shrimp, but that won’t be feasible since your new male is not eating, Schandelmeier. If administering the metronidazole directly to your seahorse tank is not effective in eliminating the intestinal flagellates for any reason, then a medication known as Paracide-D is an excellent alternative. It will not be available from any pet stores or fish stores, but it can be purchased online from National Fish Pharmaceuticals at the following URL (in addition, National Fish Pharmaceuticals also carries the metronidazole if you’re unable to find any locally, and they are a good source for the quinine sulfate that is so useful for treating resistant strains of marine ich (Cryptocaryon irritans):

Click here: Fish Medications

In short, I would recommend treating your seahorse tank with a regimen of metronidazole from your LFS as soon as possible. While you are completing the regimen of metronidazole, order some of the Paracide-D so you can use it as a backup, if necessary. Even if it’s not needed at this time, the Paracide-D is a good medication to keep on hand in any case.

If you are treating the affected seahorse in isolation in a hospital tank or quarantine tank, then you can add methylene blue to the treatment regimen as an additional precaution. Methylene blue and metronidazole can be safely used together to enhance their antibiotic properties. Just add enough of the methylene blue drop by drop to the hospital tank to tinge the water a nice shade of royal blue. (However, if you are treating the main tank with metronidazole, DO NOT add methylene blue because it will destroy the beneficial nitrifying bacteria and disrupt the biological filtration in the tank.)

Since you mentioned that Will is breathing a little heavy, the addition of the methylene blue to the treatment regimen would be helpful in this case, Schandelmeier. Use the dosage outlined in my previous post for a long-term bath rather than a quick 10-second dip.

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 (commonly known as "new tank syndrome"). Since hospital tanks are usually without biological filtration, and ammonia and nitrite can thus build up rapidly (especially if you are not doing water changes during the treatment period), it’s a good idea to add methylene blue to your hospital ward when treating sick fish.

Methylene blue also 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.

In addition, methylene blue treats fungus and some bacteria and protozoans. Methylene blue is effective in preventing fungal infections, and it has antiprotozoal and antibacterial properties as well, by virtue of its ability to bind with cytoplasmic structures within the cell and interfere with oxidation-reduction processes. A "must" for your fish-room medicine cabinet. However, be aware that it is not safe to combine methylene blue with some antibiotics, so check your medication labels closely for any possible problems before doing so.

If this is indeed a problem with intestinal flagellates or internal parasites, then your new seahorse should be feeling much better once they are under control again, and his appetite should increase at that time.

If you are not sure that Will is actually Hippocampus erectus or not, I would be happy to examine any photographs you can provide to help you identify the seahorse. Here is a copy of a post from one of our members that explains how to display the photographs on this forum:

<Open quote>
1st you have to host the photographs(s) you would like to post somewhere like photobucket or in my case AOLmyspace but you must make it small as the board will only take a small photo.

You click on the orange Img tag in the reply window and add your address of the hosted PIC etc.. newseahorse.jpg

Make sure to hit the close all tags tab after you are finished and then preveiew your post to see if it worked that way you can keep trying till you get it right without posting.

An image resize tool is very helpful.

For a larger image you could add a link with URL tab to the hosted photo. In some cases it will not work for all people but will for others it will (I never understood that) prob an AOL issue in my case!


<close quote>

Or you can always send the photographs to my personal e-mail address ([email protected]) if you are having trouble posting them on this forum.

If Will’s problems began shortly after you did a water change and you are wondering if either the partial water change or some debris that may have been stirred up while shifting live rock, etc., during your normal aquarium maintenance could be causing the problem, I suppose it is conceivable that he may have ingested a foreign object of some sort or that his gills could have been clogged temporarily by some of the debris. But that would be very unusual, and there’s not much else you can do in such a case other than the freshwater dips and baths you have already tried, which did not appear to provide him with any relief or are help them to unclog his gills again…

This is what I normally advise hobbyists with regard to water changes, Schandelmeier:

It is standard operating procedure to leave seahorses in the aquarium while you are making partial water changes. It is normally less stressful for the seahorses to stay put that it is to handle them and temporarily relocate them while you are performing maintenance on the aquarium.

When you are siphoning out the water that will be replaced during a water change, most hobbyists find it beneficial to vacuum a portion of the substrate as they do so. This is helpful for removing fecal pellets and reducing the amount of detritus in the substrate. Often they will vacuum a different portion of the substrate each time they perform a water change, so that after several water changes, most all of the substrate has been vacuumed lightly at least once during that time. If you find the siphoning stirs up to much sediment or releases too much detritus, then you can use dip tubes for removing fecal pellets, uneaten food, etc., from the aquarium in lieu of a thorough vacuuming.

It’s normal for some detritus and sediment to be stirred up during a water change, or when siphoning over the bottom or vacuuming the substrate, but normally the mechanical filtration in the does a good job of filtering out the suspended particles within a matter of a few hours. If not, you can hook up a diatom filter on the aquarium and run it for an hour or so to remove suspended particles and polish the water. As long as you change the mechanical filtration media regularly to remove the sediment and detritus it has collected, this is generally beneficial for the aquarium.

Here are some additional water changing tips to keep in mind:

If the tap water or well water in your town is of dubious quality, and you don’t mind lugging containers of water home from the pet store, then purchasing pre-mixed saltwater from your local fish store is often a good option. Many seahorse keepers purchase reverse osmosis/deinonized water (RO/DI) for their water changes. Most well-stocked pet shops that handle marine fish sell RO/DI water as a service for their customers for between 25 and 50 cents a gallon. For example, WalMart sell RO/DI water by the gallon for around 60 cents.

Natural seawater is another good option for a seahorse setup. Like RO/DI water, natural seawater can often be purchased at fish stores for around $1.00 a gallon, depending on where you live. It sounds expensive, but when you consider the alternative — paying for artificial salt mix and RO/DI water and mixing your own saltwater — then natural seawater is not a bad bargain at all. It has unsurpassed water quality and seahorses thrive in it.

Personally, I really like the convenience of mixing up a relatively large quantity of saltwater in a plastic garbage can, rather than mixing it by the bucket full on a weekly basis. A 30-40 gallon capacity plastic garbage can allows me to mix up enough saltwater for a whole month’s worth of weekly water changes at one time. Which assures that the freshly mixed saltwater will be well aged and thoroughly aerated, and that any chlorine or residual ammonia will have at plenty of time to have dissipated before it’s used. And it also allows you to preadjust the saltwater to match the exact conditions in your aquarium very accurately. It’s always a good idea to keep some premixed saltwater on hand in case of an emergency, when a quick water change becomes necessary. Here are some more suggestions for mixing your own saltwater and making regular partial water changes in your seahorse setup:

Water Changing Tips

If you find that performing a major water change seems to cause your seahorses distress, try adjusting your water changing schedule so that you are performing smaller water changes more frequently rather than larger water changes less often. For instance, if you have been performing 25%-50% water changes monthly, switch to administering a 10% water changes every week or try making 5% water changes biweekly instead. You’ll find the smaller water changes are much less stressful on the aquarium inhabitants.

Be sure to observe all of the usual water changing precautions as well. For example, it’s an excellent idea to use Reverse Osmosis (RO) or Deionized (DI) or RO/DI water for your changes because it’s much more pure than tap water. However, water purified by such methods is very soft and must be buffered before it’s used so it won’t drop the pH in your aquarium when it’s added.

When mixing saltwater for your marine aquarium, it’s important to fill your container with all the water you will need BEFORE adding the salt mix. In other words, if you are mixing up 5 gallons of new saltwater, fill the mixing containing with 5 gallons of water and then add the salt. If you do it the other way around — dump the salt mix in the container and then start filling it with water, the water can become saturated with salt to the point that the calcium precipitates out. This calcium precipitation will turn the water milky and can also lower the pH to dangerous levels.

Water changes can also sometimes be a problem because of the supersaturation of gases in tap water. Tap water distribution systems are maintained under pressure at all times, both to insure adequate flow and to prevent polluted water from outside the pipes from entering in at leaks. Any additional gas introduced into these pipes (from a leaky manifold, for example) will be dissolved at these higher partial pressures, and will often be supersaturated when it emerges from the tap. Also, gases are more soluble in cold water than warm, so when gas-saturated cold water emerges from the tap and warms up in an aquarium, or is warmed up and preadjusted to aquarium temps prior to making a water change, the water can become supersaturated. This must be avoided at all costs because gas supersaturation is one of the contributing factors that can cause Gas Bubble Disease in seahorses and other fish. To prevent this, tap water should be allowed to sit for several days beforehand or gentle aeration can be used to remove gas supersaturation before a water change (just make sure your airstones are not be submerged greater than 18 inches while you’re aerating your freshly mixed water).

There are a few accessories you should keep on hand to make water changing easier: one or more large capacity plastic garbage cans or Rubbermaid vats for mixing up new saltwater; a small powerhead for stirring and circulating the water while it mixes; a submersible heater to adjust the temperature of the newly mixed water; a large diameter siphon hose; a couple of new plastic buckets that hold 3-5 gallons.

First use a clean plastic bucket to fill up the garbage can with 10, 20 or 30 gallons of water or however much you want to mix up at one time. Add the proper amount of artificial salt mix for that much water, and toss your small, cheap powerhead into the garbage can to stir it up. While it’s mixing, put the submersible heater in to adjust the water temp, and add dechlorinator or detox if using tap water (if using reverse osmosis deionized water, or another softened source, be sure to add a pH buffer to the new water). Let the new batch of water mix, aerate, and stabilize for 24-48 hours before you perform the water change and check to make sure the temperature and pH of the new water matches your aquarium. Some artificial salt mixes produce residual amounts of ammonia when newly mixed; aerating the freshly mixed saltwater for 24-48 hours will dissipate and remaining traces of chlorine or ammonia.

If you follow the steps outlined above when mixing up new saltwater prior to performing a water change, the water cannot become saturated with salts, the calcium will not precipitate out, the newly mixed saltwater will be crystal clear and the water exchange should go smoothly.

Best of luck treating well with the metronidazole and methylene blue, Schandelmeier. Here’s hoping that he is soon feeling a great deal better and eating like a horse again!

Pete Giwojna

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