I received your photographs and they were very helpful. It was an excellent idea to include pictures that show the seahorse both in profile and head-on, which makes it easy to see the "puffiness" that is of concern.
First of all, it’s clear from the photographs that Puff is indeed a female, rather than a frisky young male in courtship mode. And it’s also quite obvious that your female is somewhat bloated. Her entire body appears a bit swollen and distended, including her tail. The swelling is not confined to the region around her vent, so she is not egg bound, but the distention does indicate that your female may be becoming seriously ill. (I wish I had better news for you.)
The generalized swelling could be an indication of a serious bacterial infection such as abdominal dropsy, which causes edema and ascites (fluid build up within the abdomen), or it could be a sign of kidney failure, or it could be a manifestation of internal gas bubble syndrome (GBS), which causes gas and/or fluid to build up within the coelomic cavity. In the photographs, she is showing her normal swimming posture, so it does not appear that she is struggling with positive buoyancy and fighting the tendency to float, and I think we can therefore probably rule out internal GBS.
When I have seen problems like this in the past, it has been my experience that the problem worsens if untreated until the seahorse stops eating and declines rapidly thereafter, so I would suggest isolating the affected seahorse and treating her aggressively with antibiotic therapy in your hospital tank and administering beta-glucan orally as long as the seahorse is still eating.
The antibiotics I would recommend for this problem are either (1) a two-week regimen of doxycycline hydrochloride combined with kanamycin sulfate, or (2) a single dose of gentamicin sulfate used all by itself. All of these antibiotics will destroy the beneficial nitrifying bacteria that provide biological filtration, so they should be used only in a hospital tank rather than in your 14-gallon Biocube, Mandy:
USE: broad-spectrum antibiotic derived from oxytetracycline. Used for both gram-positive and gram-negative bacterial disorders. Fin and tail rot, septicemia, mouth rot. Will not be deactivated by high pH levels in saltwater like ordinary tetracycline. Works in a similar manner to chloramphenicol.
DOSAGE: 1/4 teaspoon per 20 gallons, every 24 hours for 10 days. Do a 25% water change before each daily treatment.
Kanamycin sulfate powder
USE: gram-negative bacteria and resistant forms of piscine tuberculosis (mycobacteria). Works especially well in saltwater.
DOSAGE: 1/4 teaspoon per 20 gallons of water. Treat every 24 hours with a 25% water change before each treatment. Treat for 10 days. (For tuberculosis, use for up to 30 days.)
Gentamicin sulfate powder 100%
USE: probably the most powerful gram-negative antibacterial on the market today. Effective in fresh and saltwater. Only a single dose is usually required. One of the few drugs that is absorbed into the bloodstream through the gills.
DOSAGE: 1/4 teaspoon per 40 gallons. Only one dose is necessary. Treat one time and leave in water for 7-10 days. If water changes are done, replace the medication according to how much water was changed.
All of the medications mentioned above are available without a prescription from National Aquarium Pharmaceuticals. You can order them online at the following site:
I realize the instructions above indicate to use the doxycycline and kanamycin for 10 days, but when treating dropsy symptoms, it’s important to use them both at the same time and to continue the treatment for up to two weeks for best results. Using the doxycycline and kanamycin together creates a synergistic effect that increases their potency and effectiveness.
If you do not have a hospital tank set up, Mandy, you can make do with a clean plastic bucket, as discussed below:
Basic Hospital Tank
A bare-bottomed 5- or 10-gallon aquarium with plenty of hitching posts will suffice for a hospital ward or Quarantine Tank (QT). Ideally, the hospital tank should have one or more foam filters for biofiltration along with a small external filter, which can easily be removed from the tank during treatment but which can hold activated carbon or polyfilter pads when it’s time to pull the meds out. It’s important for the hospital ward to include enough hitching posts so that the seahorse won’t feel vulnerable or exposed during treatment. Aquarium safe, inert plastic plants or homemade hitching posts fashioned from polypropylene rope or twine that has been unraveled and anchored at one end are excellent for a hospital tank. No aquarium reflector is necessary. Ambient room light will suffice. (Bright lights can breakdown and inactivate certain medications and seahorses are more comfortable and feel more secure under relatively dim lighting.)
So just a bare tank with hitching posts is all you need for your hospital ward. No heater. No reflector. No lights. No substrate. You can even do without the sponge filters or external filter in your case, just adding an airstone or two to provide surface agitation and oxygenation. That’s it.
In a pinch, a clean 5-gallon plastic bucket (new and unused, NOT an old scrub bucket!) can serve as a makeshift hospital tank. It should be aerated and equipped with hitching posts and perhaps a heater, but nothing else. This makes a useful substitute when the Quarantine Tank is occupied or in use and a seahorse needs treatment.
Stay on top of water quality in the hospital tank/bucket with water changes as often as needed during treatment, and and when you are treating the occupants for a health problem, re-dose with the medication(s) according to directions after each water change.
It’s equally important that you keep your seahorse eating well to help it recover, Mandy. I would suggest that you target feed your seahorse during the treatment period. Not only will this provide her with nutritional support to keep our strength up, but it’s also the best way to get your seahorse to ingest beta-glucan. Administering a daily dose of beta-glucan (a potent immunostimulant) to boost the immune system of your seahorses and speed her recovery. This can easily be accomplished simply by enriching frozen Mysis with Vibrance (both Vibrance formulations now include beta-glucan as a primary ingredient).
The research on the health effects of Beta Glucan is pretty phenomenal. It has long been used in the aquaculture of commercially valuable food fishes and seafood, such as cod, turbot, salmon and shrimp. It improves the growth rate and reduces mortality rates among the fry (or larvae in the case of shrimp), and improves disease resistance in juveniles and adults.
Not only should 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, 2003). It is safe to use in conjunction with other treatments and has been proven to increase the effectiveness of antibiotics (Bartelme, 2003). 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, 2003) .
For more information on the potential benefits of Beta Glucan for aquarium fish, please see the following article:
Click here: Advanced Aquarist Feature Article
In summation, Mandy, I would suggest isolating Puff in a hospital ward and treating her with the powerful antibiotics recommended above while providing her with plenty of bite-size frozen Mysis enriched with Vibrance so that she will be receiving a daily dose of beta glucan as well to boost her immune system.
Best of luck treating Puff and resolving the generalized edema, Mandy.
Pete Giwojna, Ocean Rider Tech Support