Re:not eating

#4933
Pete Giwojna
Guest

Dear Mike:

I’m sorry to hear that your seahorses are off their feed, sir. It’s difficult to say what could be wrong with so little to go on but I would concentrate on three things in order to correct the situation — (1) increase the aeration and surface agitation in the aquarium to raise the levels of dissolved oxygen, (2) perform a series of water changes to improve the water quality even though the basic parameters (ammonia, nitrite, nitrate, pH and specific gravity) look good, and (3) try tempting them with some live foods until they have retained their appetite.

In the meantime, I would be happy to discuss some of the things that have been known to cause a seahorse to stop eating and what to do about these common causes for a hunger strike.

The first things to consider that can often make a great deal of difference when a seahorse goes off its feed is to perform a series of water changes and try tempting the seahorse with live foods, as discussed in greater detail below:

For starters, I have listed some of the factors that are commonly known to contribute to a loss of appetite in seahorses:

(1) deteriorating water quality.

(2) low oxygen and/or high CO2 levels.

(3) a deficiency of trace elements and minerals.

(4) various disease processes — in particular, internal parasites.

Regardless of how your water chemistry appears right now, a good place to start addressing this problem would be to perform a 25%-35% water change immediately to safeguard the water quality and replenish depleted trace elements and minerals. (At first glance your aquarium parameters may look great, but there are some water quality issues that are difficult to detect with standard tests, such as a decrease in dissolved 02, transitory ammonia/nitrite spikes following a heavy feeding, pH drift, a deficiency and trace elements/minerals, or the gradual accumulation of detritus. A water change and cleanup is a simple preventative measure that can help defuse those kinds of hidden factors before they become a problem and stress out your seahorses. These simple measures may restore your water quality as well as your seahorses’ appetite.)

Be sure to check your dissolved oxygen (O2) level in addition to the usual pH, ammonia, nitrite and nitrite readings.. A significant drop in O2 levels (6 – 7 ppm is optimal) or rise in CO2 levels is very stressful yet easily corrected by increasing surface agitation and circulation to promote better oxygenation and gas exchange. Add a shallow airstone just beneath the surface if necessary and increase the circulation throughout your tank it possible.

Whether the beneficial effects are due to improving water quality or replenishing depleted trace elements or something else altogether, performing a major water change as described above often sets things right when seahorses are off their feed for no apparent reason.

In the meantime, while you are working on your water quality, by all means get some live foods to keep your seahorses and see if you can fatten them up a bit. When the seahorses stopped eating, the most important thing is to get some food into them one way or another. You’ve got to keep their strength up and give them a chance to recover before you can worry about weaning them back onto frozen foods again. Hawaiian red feeder shrimp or volcano shrimp (Halocaridina rubra) are ideal for this — seahorses find them utterly irresistible! But anything that’s readily available — enriched adult brine shrimp, live ghost shrimp that are small enough to be swallowed, newborn guppies or mollies, Gammarus amphipods, copepods, Tigger pods, you name it — is worth a try. Just get some good meals into your H. reidi ASAP to build up their strength and help them regain their conditioning.

When seahorses tire of the same old, boring frozen food and refuse to eat their "veggies," living prey is what they crave: Mysids, ghost shrimp, Gammarus or adult Artemia — the type of food isn’t really as important as the fact that it’s alive and kicking. Nothing stimulates a sea horse’s feeding instincts like the frantic movements and evasive maneuvers of real, live, "catch-me-if-you-can" prey items (Giwojna, 1996).

That’s why I like to use occasional treats of live food as behavioral enrichment for my seahorses. They get the thrill of hunting after and chasing down live prey, which livens things up for them in more of ways than one and is a nice change of pace from their daily routine in captivity. Live foods are guaranteed to perk up an ailing appetite and excite the interest of the most jaded "galloping gourmets." When it comes to a hunger strike, living prey is the only sure cure for the "Bird’s Eye blues." (Giwojna, 1996)

I also find live foods to be especially useful for those rare occasions when seahorses are ailing and must be treated. Many medications (e.g., Diamox) have the unfortunate side effect of suppressing appetite, so when treating sickly seahorses, it’s a good idea to tempt them with choice live foods in order to keep them eating and help build up their strength while recuperating. Separating an ailing seahorse from its mate and herdmates and transferring it to a strange new environment for treatment can be a traumatic experience, especially since the Spartan surroundings in the sterile environment of a sparsely furnished hospital tank can leave a seahorses feeling vulnerable and exposed. Live foods can counteract these negative affects to a certain degree, and offer a little excitement that distracts the isolated seahorse temporarily at least from its melancholy.

Adult brine shrimp (Artemia spp.) can certainly be used as occasional treats or dietary supplements, or to help break a hunger strike, providing you enrich it to fortified nutritional content. Here are the instructions for enriching brine shrimp, in case you that’s the most convenient live food for you to provide. The original Vibrance formula that is rich in highly unsaturated fatty acids and other lipids (i.e., Vibrance I) works best for fortified brine shrimp:

Enriching Artemia with Vibrance I

For enriching or "gut packing" live Artemia (brine shrimp), or other live shrimp or live food of all sizes. Blend 1 teaspoon of Vibrance into 1 cup of water for 3 minutes. Add this to the live food vessel for 30 minutes, or until you see the gut of the animal turn red. Rinse the animals with clean salt water and feed immediately to your seahorses or other fish.

When it comes to good sources for live foods, you can get Gammarus amphipods (green iron horse feed) and Hawaiian volcano shrimp (red iron horse feed) from Ocean Rider and live Mysis from Sachs Systems Aquaculture. All of these live shrimp are what I’d like to call "feed-and-forget" foods. They are tough, rugged little shrimp that you can toss in your tank with no acclimation whatsoever. They are agile and elusive enough that your filters won’t eat them and the seahorses won’t be able to capture them all right away. Some will hide and evade well enough that your seahorses will still be hunting down the stragglers for the next day or two. Best of all, you can toss a nice batch of them in your aquarium, secure in the knowledge that they won’t perish and pollute it, but thrive and survive as real, live, "catch-me-if-you-can" prey items that seahorses cannot resist. Nothing stimulates a seahorse’s feeding instinct like the frantic movements and evasive maneuvers of natural, living prey.

The Ocean Rider Aquaculture Facility in Hawaii (http://seahorse.com/) is a good source for the following live foods but the shipping costs from Hawaii can be considerable:

Green Iron Horse Feed (Gammarus amphipods)
Red Iron Horse Feed or Volcano Shrimp (Halocaridina rubra)

Or the live Mysis from Sachs Systems Aquaculture would also be a good choice for live Mysis shrimp. They provide live Mysis in lots ranging anywhere from 100 to 5000 for very reasonable prices which include the cost of priority shipping. For example, you can obtain 200 live Mysidopsis bahia for $35 (priority shipping included) from Sachs and your seahorses will love them. Or the or the very smallest (1/4") of the common shore shrimp (Palaemonetes vulgaris) from Sachs would also be a good choice:

<http://www.aquaculturestore.com/swinverts.html&gt;

All of the sources listed above are high-health aquaculture facilities that provide disease free live foods. You can buy be feeder shrimp or live foods in quantity and set up a small holding tank for them so that you can dole them out as live treats for your seahorses whenever it’s convenient.

So in your case, I would suggest ordering perhaps 100-200 of the live Mysis from Sachs Aquaculture for starters, and setting them up in a small tank of their own with a few small algae-covered live rock as for them to feed on and use for shelter. That would solve your feeding problems and give you a chance to enjoy your seahorses while they are stalking and hunting live prey, which is fascinating to watch, while you work on making the water changes to assure optimal water quality for your seahorses.

Another good possibility you can consider are the Tigger Pods, which are now carried by some pet stores. Seahorses eat them very readily and if you can find a local fish store that carries them, that could be a very convenient option for you while you are dealing with this hunger strike, Mike. Here is some more information about the Tigger Pods:

<Open quote>
Tigger Pods by Reed Mariculture

Receiving your Tigger Pods™

Receiving your Tigger Pods™
Tigger Pods™ are wonderful little creatures, full of energy, fun to watch, and great food for your reef tank.
When you receive your shipment, here are some steps that will help ensure their health and survival.
Upon arrival you may notice the Tigger-Pods™ aren’t very active. This is normal when cold shipped or cold stored. As the bottles warm up, the Tigger Pods™ will become more active. It is not uncommon to have a few of the oldest copepods to die from old age. We pack the bottle with all stages of life, but only count the adults. On average, we pack at least 10% more in every bottle to account for any DOA.
Personal Use
Upon arrival, open bottle cap and remove the inside liner. Let stand at room temp for 2 hours to allow temperature to rise. The Tigger Pods™ can be poured directly into your refugium and/or main tank. They can live several weeks in the bottle, as long as they are fed and the bottle is open to the air.
Tigger Pods™ feed on microalgae and we recommend feeding them with Phyto-Feast™. Phyto-Feast™ can be dosed directly into both your refugium and main tank. The recommended feeding rate is 1 to 5 drops per gallon each day, depending on the bio-density of your reef tank.
Store Use and Display
Receiving
Open the bottle cap and remove the inside liner.
Leave the cap open for 1 hour or more to re-oxygenate the water.
Replace the cap on the bottle and close the flip-spout.
Display
During the day put the bottles in a high traffic area to attract the customer’s attention, but keep out of direct sunlight. Light is ok, and needed.
At night put the bottles under gentle light so the accompanying Macro-Feast™ will produce oxygen. The flip-caps can also be left open to increase oxygen.
Every 2-3 days add 1 drop of Phyto-Feast to each bottle.
Longer Term Storage
Tigger Pods™ can be stored in a "warm" (40 F +) refrigerator to slow down their metabolic processes, which will increase store shelf life.
For more information about Tigger Pods™ please visit our website at http://www.Tigger-Pods.com.
<close quote>

If your seahorses’ loss of appetite is associated with a change in their fecal pellets, that could indicate a problem with internal parasites. For example, a change from fecal pellets of normal color and consistency to white, stringy feces accompanied by hunger strike is often an indication of intestinal flagellates (Kaptur, 2004). If you think that this could be a factor in your case, then treatment with metronidazole or praziquantel is usually an effective remedy (Kaptur, 2004). The instructions for treating your seahorse for intestinal flagellates using metronidazole are explained 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 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). When a seahorse stops eating aggressively and begins producing white, stringy 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).

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 affected seahorse is undergoing treatment in isolation, the parasites should be easily eliminated from your system and chances are good the rest of your herd will remain unaffected (Giwojna, Dec. 2003).

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

Gutloading simply means to fill live shrimp up with medication by feeding them food that’s been soaked in the desired medication. Once the feeder shrimp are full of the medicated food — that is, their guts are loaded with it — they are immediately fed to the seahorses, which thus consume the medication along with the shrimp. It’s a neat way to trick seahorses into taking their medicine, just as our moms used to do when were little, crushing up pills in a spoonful of jelly or jam. Another term for gutloading is bioencapsulation, since the medication is neatly contained within a living organism rather than a capsule. Gutloading allows the seahorses to be treated in their main tank, where they are completely at home, surrounded by their tankmates and the rest of the herd, and is thus a very stress-free form of treatment.

There are a number of ways to gutload shrimp, but the one described below is one of the easiest and works great for administering metronidazole orally. It is impossible to determine precisely what dosage of medication each individual fish ingests when gutloading, but metronidazole is a very, very safe drug and you cannot overdose a seahorse using this method of treatment. Feeding each seahorse its fill of shrimp gut-loaded with metronidazole for 5-10 days assures that they receive an effective dose of the medication.

I prefer live adult brine shrimp (Artemia sp.) since they are inexpensive, readily available, easy to bioencapsulate, and can be gut loaded in freshwater as described below. To medicate the brine shrimp, dissolve approximately 100 mg of metronidazole per liter or about 400 mg per gallon of water and soak the shrimp in the resulting freshwater solution. If the metronidazole you are using comes in liquid or capsule form, you can use it as is. But if the metronidazole is in tablet form, be sure to crush it into a very fine powder (you may have to use a household blender to get it fine enough) and dissolve it in freshwater at the dosage suggested above. Soak the adult shrimp in freshwater treated with the antibiotic for 15-30 minutes and then feed the medicated shrimp to your seahorses immediately. (Don’t let your pumps and filters "eat" all the brine shrimp!)

The brine shrimp are soaked in freshwater, not saltwater, because in theory the increased osmotic pressure of the freshwater helps the antibiotic solution move into their bodies via osmosis. But in fact nobody knows for sure whether the antibiotic is diffusing into the brine shrimp or they are ingesting it in very fine particles (brine shrimp are filter feeders and will take in whatever is suspended in the water with them) or whether the brine shrimp merely become coated with the antibiotic while they are soaking in it. But that’s not important — all that really matters is that gut-loading adult brine shrimp with medications this way is effective.

Keep the seahorses on a strict diet of such medicated brine shrimp throughout the treatment period to get as much of the antibiotic into the seahorses as possible, and mix up a new batch of medicated freshwater to soak the brine shrimp in for each feeding.

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.

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.

If all else fails, you can always try force feeding the seahorses. Force feeding can save a seahorse’s life in an emergency, but it’s best reserved as a last resort. It is appropriate when a seahorse has gone without eating for a prolonged period and has exhausted its energy reserves. This can happen when a seahorse is beset with internal parasites and stops eating, or perhaps when a seahorse is undergoing extended treatment with a medication that suppresses the appetite. And, of course, it is very common — perhaps even the rule — in wild-caught seahorses that have run the gauntlet from collector to wholesaler to retailer before finally reaching the hobbyist (Lidster, 1999). In such cases, force feeding can help strengthen the seahorse and keep it going until it has a chance to recover and resume feeding on its own. Let me know if nothing else works and you feel tube feeding is appropriate in your case, and I’ll send you details instructions explaining several different techniques for force feeding seahorses safely, but it’s still too early to consider force feeding at this point.

Best of luck resolving this problem and restoring your seahorse’s appetite, Mike.

Respectfully,
Pete Giwojna


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