Ocean Rider Seahorse Farm and Tours | Kona Hawaii › Forums › Seahorse Life and Care › preventive medicine › Re:preventive medicine
That’s a very good question, sir! There are indeed some preventative measures hobbyists can take to help prevent any disease problems. The best approach in that regard depends on whether you are considering wild-caught seahorses, which are prone to disease and often arrive in poor condition, or the hardier captive-bred-and-raised seahorses (highly recommended).
If you’re going to give wild seahorses a try, then it’s very important to quarantine them properly and treat them prophylactically while they are in quarantine, as discussed below. For example, here is the quarantine protocol followed by the Shedd Aquarium:
Shedd Aquarium Seahorse Quarantine Protocol
The following schedule sets out the basic quarantine schedule for seahorses entering the John G. Shedd Aquarium. Application dates and specifics can be modified if it is deemed necessary.
Chloroquine used to be part of the quarantine process but has been discontinued as a result of sensitivity.
Seahorse quarantine = 30 days
(1) Panacur In Artemia adults or nauplii: soak at 250mg Panacur /kg food and feed out as per normal food over 3 days. Artemia can be used to gut-load other food types if necessary. Start treatment on day 10 through 13 and repeat on day 20 through 23.
(2) Praziquantel bath at 10ppm for 3 hours or 1ppm for 24 hours on Day 29.
(3) Vaccine (Alpha-Dip 2100): dip at 1 part vaccine to 9 parts water for 20 to 30 secs on Day 7 and repeat on day 14.
(4) Diagnostic dip — Osmotic (freshwater) dip on Day 30.
(5) DHADC Selco as an addition to normal food. Soak prior to feeding as per label instructions) on Days 1 through 7.
In addition, Dr. Martin Greenwell found that wild syngnathids typically arrive at the Shedd malnourished and underweight, if not emaciated, and therefore routinely require nutritional support:
"Their intestinal transit time is fairly rapid and their fat stores tend to be rather minimal. Consequently, syngnathids tend to be at a high risk for loss of body condition. With this in mind, anorexic seahorses and pipefish almost always require nutritional support. At Shedd aquarium, anorexic syngnathids or tube fed a high quality, commercial fish flake food gruel. Because of the very small, vestigial stomach, only limited volumes of growth can be administered at any given time, i.e., 0.05 to 0.10 cc for most seahorses and up to 0.25 cc for the large Hippocampus sp., trumpetfish, and the seadragons. Offering nutritional support can mean the difference between life and death for sick and/or anorectic syngnathids."
So if the new arrivals are wild seahorses, Don, it’s important to treat them prophylactically with Panacur (fenbendazole) and a praziquantel bath while they is in your quarantine tank before you introduce them to the main tank, and it’s vital that you provide them with nutritional support if they are thin and underfed.
If the seahorses are captive-bred-and-raised specimens from a High-Health aquaculture facility such as Ocean Rider, then the quarantine protocols required for wild seahorses are unnecessary. Your seahorses will be free of pathogens and parasites when they arrive and will reach you well-fed and in top condition.
But there are other measures that you can take to help avoid disease problems with the superior domesticated seahorses. For instant, providing them with a daily dose of beta-glucan by the simple expedient of enriching their frozen Mysis with Vibrance will boost their immune system and help prevent disease.
Both vibrance formulations now include beta-glucan as a primary ingredient. Beta-glucan is a potent immunostimulant that provides important health benefits for fishes. Thanks to Vibrance, we can now boost our seahorse’s immune systems and help them fight disease as part of their daily feeding regimen. Enriching our galloping gourmets’ frozen Mysis with Vibrance will give them a daily dose of Beta Glucan to stimulate phagocytosis of certain white cells (macrophages). If the research on Beta Glucan is accurate, this could be a great way to help prevent infections from bacteria, fungus, and viral elements rather than attempting to treat disease outbreaks after the fact.
Not only should Vibrance + Beta Glucan help keep healthy seahorses healthy, it should also help ailing seahorses recover faster. Research indicates that it helps prevent infections and helps wounds heal more quickly (Bartelme, 2001). It is safe to use in conjunction with other treatments and has been proven to increase the effectiveness of antibiotics (Bartelme, 2001). It will be great for new arrivals recovering from the rigors of shipping because Beta Glucan is known to alleviate the effects of stress and to help fish recover from exposure to toxins in the water (Bartelme, 2001) . Good stuff!
For more information on the potential benefits of Beta Glucan for aquarium fish, please see the following article:
Click here: Advanced Aquarist Feature Article
Adminstering Beta Glucan orally via Vibrance-enriched frozen Mysis, which are so naturally rich in highly unsaturated fatty acids (HUFA), is the perfect way to boost the immune response of our seahorses since vitamins and HUFA enhance the capacity of immune system cells that are stimulated by the use of beta glucan (Bartelme, 2001).
Other preventative measures the hobbyist can take include providing a stress-free environment for your seahorses and being a good observer of their behavior so that you can detect any changes that might indicate a potential problem and nip it in the bud before it causes trouble, as discussed below:
When it comes to health problems, seahorses are like other tropical marine fish. They are susceptible to the usual diseases and infections and parasites that plague other reef fish, as well as a few afflictions that are specific to seahorses (e.g., prolapsed pouch, white tail disease, and gas bubble syndrome). The bony exoskeleton and protective slime coat of Hippocampus gives the seahorse limited immunity from certain ectoparasites such as marine ich (Cryptocaryon irritans) and marine velvet (Amyloodinium), so the telltale white spots that characterize those conditions may never show up (or may be visible only on the unarmored fins). So those particular diseases are relatively uncommon in seahorses, although when they do occur, the parasites can still freely invade the seahorse’s gills, with deadly results.
Ocean Rider seahorses come to you direct from a High-Health aquaculture facility and are certified to be free of pathogens and parasites when they arrive, so if you can provide them with a stress-free environment and proper care, you should find them to be quite hardy and relatively disease resistant.
Nevertheless, seahorses that are subjected to chronic stress, which alters their blood chemistry, affects key hormones, and suppresses their immune system, become vulnerable to diseases and health problems just like any other fish. So the best thing you can do for your seahorses is to create a stress-free environment for them in which they feel right at home. We will discuss how to accomplish that and eliminate many of the common aquarium stressors later in this message, Don, but first let me review some of the obvious signs of stress or illness you should be aware of.
Respiratory distress is one such sign. Seahorses that are stressed or suffering from gill disease or parasites that attack the gills will exhibit rapid respiration, labored breathing, huffing, panting, yawning or coughing behavior, and other indications of respiratory distress. So familiarize yourself with your seahorse’s normal respiration rate, which will vary somewhat with water temperature and their activity level or degree of arousal/excitement, and subsequent changes in their normal breathing pattern can alert you to a possible problem.
Your seahorses’ respiration rate may increase naturally when they are feeding, actively courting, being handled, or excited in general, and then return to their normal resting respiratory rate afterwards. That’s natural and nothing to be concerned about. Symptoms of respiratory distress are ordinarily pretty obvious and you should have no trouble determining when your seahorse is laboring or struggling to breathe.
Seahorses that are stressed may also go off their feed, which is another obvious symptom that’s easy for the diligent aquarist to detect. So take a moment to enjoy the show when feeding your seahorses. Make sure they’re all eating well, and use this opportunity to look them over closely for wounds, injuries, or signs of disease. Seahorses are natural-born gluttons. Ordinarily, these galloping gourmets are ALWAYS hungry, so when one of these chow hounds is off its feed, that’s often an excellent early indicator that something’s wrong. Early detection of a potential problem can be the key to curing it, so it’s a good idea for the alert aquarist to observe his prize ponies while they put on the ol’ feed bag. Make sure they all show up for mess call, are acting normally, and have a well-rounded abdomen when they’re done eating.
Abnormal changes in coloration are another indicator of stress and certain disease problems. For example, seahorses will often darken over their entire bodies in response to stress, and pallor can be a sign of low dissolved oxygen levels or high CO2 levels since seahorses may blanch when subjected to hypoxic conditions. Skin infections and parasites that attack the skin will often cause a localized loss of pigmentation or discoloration, so be on the lookout for pale patches or white blotches that appear on your seahorse suddenly, particularly if these pale spots are not symmetrical (that is, they don’t appear in the same place on both sides of the seahorse’s body).
However, it’s important to distinguish between normal color changes and transitory color phases that all seahorses go through, and the type of abnormal changes in coloration we have been discussing above. Seahorses are truly the chameleons of the sea with a propensity for changing color in response to a wide range of environmental factors, hormonal influences, and behavioral interactions, or simply to better blend into their background.
With a little experience, you will become familiar with their normal color pattern and the transitory color phases they occasionally go through, which will make it easy to determine if an unnatural marking or suspicious pale blotches suddenly appears.
The hobbyist should also be aware that there are any number of environmental conditions that can affect the coloration of their seahorses, often by affecting the ability of chromatophores to contract and expand. These include the following factors:
Stress — seahorses often respond to stress by darkening.
Emotional state — when excited, seahorses typically brighten in coloration, reflecting a state of high arousal.
Competion for mates — dominant individuals brighten; subordinate seahorses darken in submission.
Poor water quality — high levels of nitrogenous wastes (e.g., ammonia, nitrite or nitrate) can cause chromatophores to contract and colors to fade.
O2/CO2 — low oxygen levels (or high CO2 levels) can cause colorful seahorses to fade and they will blanch when subjected to hypoxic conditions.
Background colors — seahorses will often change color in order to blend in with their immediate surroundings.
Medications — some antibiotics and malachite-green-based remedies negatively affect color.
Tankmates — seahorses may change their base coloration to blend in with the rest of the herd or to match their mate (or a potential partner).
Temperature — chromatophores tend to contract at high temperatures, causing colors to fade; cooler temps can make pigment cells expand, keeping colors bright.
Disease — skin infections (bacterial, fungal, or parasitic) can cause localized loss of pigmentation or discoloration of the affected areas.
Diet — seahorses cannot synthesize the pigments used in their chromatophores. It is therefore important to enrich their food with pigments such as carotenoids in a form that’s easy for them to absorb. If color additives are not provided, the chromatophores will gradually lose their pigments and the seahorse’s color can fade. Vibrance, for example, is exceptionally rich in Vitamins A and C as well as natural carotenoids, which are not found in Mysis relicta. This is important because the carotenoids are a class of yellow to red pigments, which include the carotenes and the xanthophylls. Like all cells, individual pigment cells have a limited life expectancy in the body and must be regularly renewed. Marine organisms cannot synthesize carotenoids, so if they do receive adequate amounts in their diet, they will have difficulty replenishing their red and yellow pigments. This means that the colors of bright yellow, orange, and red seahorses will gradually fade over time if their daily diet is lacking in carotenoids. So don’t neglect the enrichment step in your daily feeding regimen! If seahorses are fed a strict diet of Mysis relicta without additional enrichment, they may begin to develop dietary deficiencies over time, and both their health and coloration will eventually suffer.
Beware of tenderness and especially a loss of color or prehensility in your seahorse’s tail. Tail rot and white tail disease typically begin with a loss of prehensility in the very tip of the tail (Giwojna, Oct. 2003). At this stage, the seahorses can grasp large objects just fine, but cannot take hold of slender objects with a small diameter (Leslie Leddo, pers. com.). Next the loss of grasping ability spreads further up the tail and the seahorses begin to act as if their tails are very tender and sensitive. They will drape their tails over objects rather than grasping onto them and begin to drag their tails behind themselves, often arching the end of their tail upward in the shape of "U" (rather than the usual "J" or tight coil) as if to lift it off the ground and keep it from touching anything (Leddo, pers. com.).
Scratching and the erratic behavior are often an indication of the irritation ectoparasites cause. So when a seahorse attempts to scratch itself with its tail, or repeatedly attempts to scratch itself by rubbing against various objects, it’s often a sign of a parasitic infestation. If such symptoms persist, you’ll need to treat the seahorses with a good antiparasitic.
Buoyancy problems are another obvious sign of a health problem. Positive buoyancy — the tendency to float — can result from a number of causes such as hyperinflation of the swimbladder, pouch gas, or various forms of Gas Bubble Syndrome (GBS). Negative buoyancy — the tendency to sink — can be an indication of generalized weakness, and underinflated gas bladder, or fluid (ascites) building up within the abdomen or coelomic cavity.
Those are some of the signs of stress and early symptoms of health problems the diligent seahorse keeper should be aware of, Don. One of the best ways to prevent bacterial infections, outbreaks of parasites, and other disease problems is to provide them with a stress-free environment. Many of the parasites and pathogens that plague our pampered ponies are ubiquitous — present in low numbers in most everyone’s systems or within the seahorse’s body itself (Indiviglio, 2002) as normal flora. As a rule, healthy fish resist such microorganisms easily, and they only become a problem when seahorse’s immune system has been impaired, leaving it susceptible to disease (Indiviglio, 2002). Chronic low-level stress is one of the primary factors that suppresses the immune system and weakens the immune response, opening the way to infection and disease (Indiviglio, 2002). Long-term exposure to stressful conditions is very debilitating. Among other effects, it results in the build up of lactic acid and lowers the pH of the blood, which can have dire consequences for seahorses for reasons we’ll discuss later.
When disease breaks out in an established aquarium it is therefore generally an indication that something is amiss with your aquarium conditions. A gradual decline in water quality is often a precursor of disease (Indiviglio, 2002). Poor water quality is stressful to seahorses. Prolonged stress weakens their immune system. And an impaired immune system leaves the seahorse vulnerable to bacterial, viral, and fungal infections to which healthy, unstressed seahorses are immune. As if that weren’t bad enough, there are a number of environmental diseases that are caused directly by water quality problems.
With this in mind, it’s important to review the most common stressors of captive seahorses. These include the design of the aquarium itself. A poorly designed seahorse setup that lacks adequate cover and shelter, or has too few hitching posts, will be stressful to the occupants (Topps, 1999). Seahorses are shy, secretive animals that rely on camouflage and the ability to conceal themselves for their safety and survival. A sparsely decorated tank that leaves them feeling vulnerable and exposed will be a source of constant stress (Topps, 1999). The seahorse setup should have plenty of secure hiding places so they can conceal themselves from view completely whenever they feel the need for privacy. It should be located in a low traffic area away from external sources of shock and vibration.
Needless to say, rapid fluctuations in temperature, pH, salinity and other aquarium parameters must also be avoided. A large aquarium of 40 gallons or more provides much greater stability in that regard than does a smaller setup. The greater the water volume in the aquarium and sump, the more stable the system will be.
Heat stress is especially debilitating and dangerous for seahorses due to a number of reasons (Olin Feuerbacher, pers. com.). For one thing, elevated temperatures can have a very detrimental effect on the immune system of fishes. This is because many of the enzymes and proteins involved in their immune response are extremely temperature sensitive (Olin Feuerbacher, pers. com.). Some of these protective enzymes can be denatured and inactivated by an increase of just a few degrees in water temperature (Olin Feuerbacher, pers. com.). So when seahorses are kept at temperatures above their comfort zone, their immune system is compromised and they are unable to fend off diseases they would normally shrug off.
At the same time heat stress is weakening the seahorse’s immune response, the elevated temperatures are increasing the growth rate of microbes and making disease organisms all the more deadly. Research indicates that temperature plays a major role in the regulation of virulence genes (Olin Feuerbacher, pers. com.). As the temperature increases, virulence genes are switched on, so microorganisms that are completely harmless at cooler temperatures suddenly become pathogenic once the water warms up past a certain point. Thus both the population and virulence of the pathogens are dramatically increased at higher temperatures (Olin Feuerbacher, pers. com.).
This is true of Columnaris and certain types of Vibrio. At cool temperatures these bacteria are relatively harmless, but at elevated temperatures they become highly contagious, virulent pathogens that kill quickly.
In short, it’s doubly important to keep seahorses at the proper temperature. Because of the reasons mentioned above and the fact that water holds less and less dissolved oxygen as it warms up, seahorses generally tolerate temps at the lower end of their preferred range much better than they handle temperatures at the upper limit of their range.
Incompatible tankmates are also stressful for seahorses. This includes not only aggressive, territorial fishes and potential predators but also inoffensive species that are restless, active fishes. Seahorses may be uneasy around fishes that are always on the go, swimming tirelessly back and forth.
Other common stressors for seahorses include overcrowding, overfeeding, stray voltage, and a host of issues related to water quality: ammonia or nitrite spikes, high nitrate levels, inadequate circulation and oxygenation, high CO2 levels and low 02 levels, low pH, etc., etc., etc (Giwojna, Jun. 2002).
In short, if hobbyists provide their seahorses with a stress-free environment, optimum water quality, and a nutritious diet, they will thrive and your aquarium will flourish with a minimum of problems. Preventing disease in the first place is infinitely preferable to trying to treat health problems after the fact.
When disease breaks out in an established aquarium it is therefore generally an indication that something is amiss with your aquarium conditions. A gradual decline in water quality is often a precursor of disease (Indiviglio, 2002). Poor water quality is stressful to seahorses. Prolonged stress weakens their immune system. And, as we have been discussing, an impaired immune system leaves the seahorse vulnerable to bacterial, parasitic, viral, and fungal infections which healthy, unstressed seahorses easily fend off.
At the first sign of a health problem:
Because diseases are so often directly related to water quality, or due to stress resulting from a decline in water quality, when trouble arises the first thing you should do is to break out your test kits and check your water chemistry. Very often that will provide a clue to the problem. Make sure the aquarium temperature is within the acceptable range and check for ammonia and/or nitrite spikes first. See if your nitrate levels have risen to harmful levels and look for a drop in pH.
Be sure to check your dissolved oxygen (O2) level too. A significant drop in O2 levels (6 – 7 ppm is optimal) is very stressful yet easily corrected by increasing surface agitation and circulation to promote better oxygenation and gas exchange. At the other extreme, oxygen supersaturation is a red flag indicating a potentially deadly problem with gas embolisms (Gas Bubble Syndrome).
If any of your water quality parameters are off significantly, that may well be the cause of the problem or at least the source of the stress that weakened your seahorses and made them susceptible to disease. And correcting your water chemistry may well nip the problem in the bud, particularly if it is environmental, without the need for any further treatment.
Clean Up & Perform a Water Change
After a quick check of the water chemistry to assess the situation, it’s time to change water and clean up. In most cases, the surest way to improve your water quality and correct the water chemistry is to combine a 25%-50% water change with a thorough aquarium clean up. Siphon around the base of your rockwork and decorations, vacuum the top 1/2 inch of the sand or gravel, rinse or replace your prefilter, and administer a general system cleaning. The idea is to remove any accumulated excess organic material in the sand/gravel bed, top of the filter, or tank that could degrade your water quality, serve as a breeding ground for bacteria or a reservoir for disease, or otherwise be stressing your seahorses. [Note: when cleaning the filter and vacuuming the substrate, your goal is to remove excess organic wastes WITHOUT disturbing the balance of the nitrifying bacteria. Do not dismantle the entire filter, overhaul your entire filter system in one fell swoop, or clean your primary filtration system too zealously or you may impair your biological filtration.]
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, 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 and correct the source of the stress before your seahorse becomes seriously ill and requires treatment.
Proper quarantine procedures for new arrivals obtained from your LFS are also very important for avoiding health problems. All fishes that are intended as tankmates for seahorses MUST be quarantined first without exception. Any fish you bring home from your LFS is a potential disease vector for all manner of nasty pathogens and parasites, and you need to take every possible precaution to prevent these from being introduced to your display tank.
First Aid Kit for Seahorse Keepers
Of course, when it comes to health problems, prevention is our first goal but that is not always possible to achieve, and when disease problems do crop up, early detection of the problem and prompt treatment are the keys to restoring health. Some diseases are remarkably fast acting, such as pathogens and parasites that multiply by binary fission and can quickly explode to plague proportions when conditions favor them. By the time a health problem becomes apparent, there is often no time to make the rounds of your local fish stores searching for the right medications, much less time to order the meds you need through the mail.
Savvy seahorse keepers avoid such delays by keeping a few of the most useful medications on hand at all times so they’re right there when needed. For the greater seahorses, the following weapons should be in your disease-fighting arsenal at the ready, and I strongly suggest you stock your fish-room medicine chest will the following: first aid preparations such as methylene blue, a pouch kit, and a good topical treatment for wounds such as betadine; potent antiparasitic agents such as formalin and metronidazole; a good antifungal agent; and broad-spectrum antibiotics. And don’t forget the heavy artillery for emergency situations when you’re not sure what you’re dealing with — combination drugs with ingredients that are effective against protozoan parasites, bacteria, and fungal infections alike.
In general, I would say that a basic seahorse First Aid Kit should include the following items and these are the items you should make sure you have on hand in your fish-room:
Methylene Blue (for reversing nitritepoisoning and relieving respiratory distress);
Betadine (as a topical treatment for disinfecting small cuts, scrapes, or minor injuries);
Formalin (for treating ectoparasites and fungal problems);
Antiparasitic for treating internal parasites (i.e., praziquantel or metronidazole);
Small Syringe with Needle and Cannula (pouch flushes, tube feeding, needle aspirations);
Diamox (i.e., acetazolamide for treating Gas Bubble Disease);
Deworming Agent such as Panacur (for hydroids, Aiptasia, nematodes and bristleworms);
Vibrance (includes beta-glucan to boost the immune system and help prevent disease);
Broad-Spectrum Antibiotics (i.e., neomycin sulfate or Neo3 for treating bacterial infections).
Having the items above on hand will allow you to address nearly all of the common afflictions of seahorses promptly and effectively. In short, your seahorse First Aid Kit should include all of the basics listed below:
Small Syringe with a fine needle and cannula or catheter
Together with freshwater dips, these items comprise the basic first aid measures you will need to deal with heavy breathing and many of the most common problems hobbyists encounter, such as bloated pouch and hunger strikes. They are the fish-room Band-Aids, disinfectants, and tools you’ll need for scrapes and abrasions and other minor problems.
Along with your basic First Aid Kit, the seahorse keeper’s medicine chest should also include the following categories of must-have meds so that you are prepared to deal with any major disease problems that may arise:
Antiparasitic Agents: Praziquantel or metronidazole for internal parasites (pick one and keep it on hand at all times), plus a good antiparasitics for external parasites such as formalin or Parinox.
Antifungals: Nifurpirinol (Furanase) is recommended.
Broad Spectrum Antibiotics: if you can only keep one antibiotic in your fish-room medicine cabinet, make it neomycin sulfate due to efficacy and the ability to combine with the other antibiotics mentioned above. For example, it can be used together with nifurpirinol to create a potent combination that’s effective in combating both fungal and bacterial infections. Or another good choice would be Neo3 by Aquabiotics, which is a concentrated formulation of neomycin sulfate combined with sulfa compounds to produce a potent rot-spectrum antibiotic with synergistic effects.
If you can afford to keep more than one antibiotic on hand, build on that approach and add others that can be safely combined with the neomycin to further increase their potency, such as Kanamycin and Sulfathiazole or other sulfa compounds (e.g., Triple Sulfa).
Combo Medications: When it comes to the heavy artillery, Paragon II and Furan2 are my favorite big guns (pick one and keep it at the ready in your arsenal). They can save the day when you’re not sure whether you’re dealing with a fungal problem, a parasite infestation or a bacterial infection. But remember, they are weapons of mass destruction that will nuke your biofilter, so use them with discretion and only in a hospital tank.
Diamox (Acetazolamide): in all its different forms, Gas Bubble Syndrome is one of the most common problems that plagues seahorses, and Diamox is your primary weapon for defeating this affliction. But as a prescription drug, it can be difficult to obtain.
Okay, Don, that’s the rundown on disease prevention for the seahorse keeper. As Leslie mentioned, if you stick with hardy captive-bred-and-raised seahorses, provide them with a nutritious diet including Vibrance and a stress-free environment, and maintain optimum water quality, they should thrive and have few if any problems with disease. If you search this forum for the phrase "medicine chest," you’ll find more detailed information on must-have meds for seahorses.
Best of luck with your preparations for your seahorses, sir!