Re:not eating, possibly pregnant??

Pete Giwojna

Dear Lisa:

Gravid males do often behave somewhat differently; as their pregnancy progresses, they are less mobile and become real home bodies, since they cannot expose their developing brood to any unnecessary risks. They tend to hole up and may even go into hiding; they may go off to feed and miss a meal or two or fail to show up at the feeding station now and then.

But they do not stop eating altogether, and the only time they are in any pain or discomfort is when they are experiencing labor pains during the actual delivery. Pregnant males can swim perfectly normally when they want to move from one spot to another. Their distended brood pouches to not weigh them down. In other words, a pregnant male does not attempt to prop his pouch up against objects, or try to lie down or rest his pouch on the bottom, or anything of that nature.

So I am worried that George is ailing rather than pregnant, Lisa. When seahorses attempt to lie prone on the bottom for extended periods, it is usually due to either generalized weakness or negative buoyancy. They will lie down when they are too weak to hold themselves in their normal upright position, or they may be weighed down (negatively buoyant) and are thus unable to remain upright. Very often seahorses with negative buoyancy are reluctant to let go of their hitching posts because they cannot support themselves without the leverage and support their muscular tail provides when it is anchored to something.

The negative buoyancy can result from either an underinflated swimbladder or from fluid accumulation in the brood pouch or the coelomic cavity of the affected seahorse. Since George is in distress and has a swollen pouch that seems to be weighing him down, I suspect that he is suffering from a buildup of fluid in his pouch, which is a form of ascites or dropsy.

The recommended treatment in such cases is to isolate the affected seahorse in your hospital tank and treat it for two weeks using a combination of doxycycline and kanamycin. Those are potent broad-spectrum antibiotics that can be combined safely together to produce a synergistic effect that further potentiates the medications.

If possible, Lisa, I would suggest performing a needle aspiration on George to confirm that there is fluid building up within his pouch, and if so, to remove as much of the fluid as possible. This would not only verify that we are treating him for the right problem, but it would also provide him with some temporary relief from the negative buoyancy and pressure that is building up within his pouch. He should feel much better as a result, so hopefully his appetite will improve and he will begin eating again. This is how to proceed:

Needle Aspirations.

It is also very practical to aspirate air or fluid from a bloated pouch using a small hypodermic needle and a syringe (and insulin syringe is ideal for this). The pouch can easily be penetrated from the side and is not harmed by the entrance of the needle. It is a painless procedure that causes the seahorse surprisingly little discomfort, if any.

Remember, when you perform a needle aspiration, you are not penetrating the seahorse’s stomach, but rather the brood pouch that is slung beneath its belly at the base of its tail.

You cannot release the gas or fluid that has built up in your male’s pouch simply by perforating the side of his pouch with a small needle. That’s not what the term "needle aspiration" means. Rather, you need a hypodermic needle and syringe in order to perform a needle aspiration. You must first depress the plunger on the hypodermic syringe to empty all of the air out of the barrel of the syringe, and then carefully insert the hypodermic needle into the side of the pouch, just far enough to penetrate into the central cavity of the pouch, and then gradually withdraw the plunger again, which will extract the gas or fluid from that area of the pouch.

You may need to perform this procedure twice, once from the left-hand side of the pouch and once from the right-hand side of the pouch, since male seahorses in breeding condition develop an septum or internal membrane that divides their pouches roughly into left and right hemispheres. So you may need to aspirate air or fluid from the left side of the pouch, and then repeat the procedure with your hypodermic needle on the right side of the pouch in order to remove all of the trapped gas or fluid from your stallion’s marsupium.

In addition to aspirating trapped gas or fluid, the hypodermic can also be used to flush out the pouch thoroughly either with sterile saline or a medicated solution (an antibiotic or Diamox dissolved in saltwater). Here’s how another hobbyist describes this procedure:

<Open quote>
dear pete, it was time to give the antibiotics due to recurrent swelling of his pouch and i had small iv catheters but i was unable to intubate the opening. either too small or voluntary tightening by the horse. only choice left was an injection with a needle. i used a 29g insulin syringe and first removed whatever air i could. then reinjected approx .5cc mix of neomycin sulfate plus bifuran until distended then withdrew approx half of that and left the remainder in his pouch. a couple of lethargic days followed with little food intake. then he started eating live brine shrimp then the usual mysis. it is now 5 or 6 weeks later and all seems well. before that a diamox bath didnt do much but i stopped the diamox due to what seemed like unfavorable side effects. hard to believe the antibiotic injection worked so well. i gave only one injection as it seems to have worked. thanks again for all your help. he was certainly a goner without the intervention and we are most grateful. best regards sg
<close quote>

In your case, Lisa, I would suggest aspirating one side of your seahorses pouch to determine if you can withdraw any fluid using the syringe. If so, try to see if the fluid is discolored or purulent or has a foul odor of any kind. (In the laboratory, at this point, we would culture some of the aspirate to determine if any bacteria grow out and then test them for sensitivity to antibiotics so we could treat the infection quickly and effectively, but of course that’s not practical for the home hobbyist.) If you are able to withdraw any fluid, go ahead and remove as much of the fluid from each side of the pouch as possible, and then transfer George directly to your hospital tank so that he can be treated with broad-spectrum antibiotics as soon as possible. As I mentioned earlier, the best antibiotics to use for this type of problem are kanamycin combined with doxycycline.

Both of these antibiotics can be obtained without a prescription from National Fish Pharmaceuticals at the following URL:

Click here: Fish Medications

While he is in the hospital tank for treatment, by all means try offering George some of his favorite live foods to tempt them to eat. When a seahorse stops eating, the most important thing is to get some food into him one way or another. You’ve got to keep his strength up and give him a chance to recover before you can worry about weaning him 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, you name it — is worth a try. Just get some good meals into George ASAP to build up his strength and help them regain his condition. If you can aspirate the fluid from his pouch, he may regain his appetite once you have relieved the pressure on his pouch and he no longer has to struggle against the negative buoyancy.

It’s possible to post photographs on this forum, but larger files such as a video clip aren’t going to work.

Best of luck treating George if it turns out that his pouch is filled with fluid, Lisa. Here’s hoping he is soon feeling much better and eating like a horse again.

Pete Giwojna

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