Re:Sick/non-eating Reidi

#4923
Pete Giwojna
Guest

Dear Rich:

I’m very sorry to hear about the problems you’ve been having with your Brazilian seahorse (Hippocampus reidi), sir. It sounds like something more serious is going on than a simple hunger strike because of the extreme lethargy, difficulty holding herself with the normal upright position, and the erratic, panicked swimming behavior when disturbed. It was sensible of you to begin treating her with the antibiotics and I would recommend adding kanamycin to your treatment regimen if possible. It is an aminoglycoside antibiotic, like neomycin, which can also be combined safely with triple sulfa in order to form a more potent synergistic combination of antibiotics. Unlike neomycin, however, the kanamycin is readily absorbed through the seahorse’s skin and gills, and can therefore also attack infections from the inside, rather than just externally. Kanamycin dissolves readily in saltwater and is a very useful medication for prolonged immersion in a hospital tank.

There are two methods of force feeding your seahorse you may want to consider under the circumstances, sir — handfeeding and tube feeding. Handfeeding is less invasive and less likely to cause irritation of the tube snout/esophagus, and has the added benefit that it can be maintained indefinitely. I know hobbyists that have kept seahorses with weak snick in good condition by hand feeding them for several weeks — even months — until they had recovered sufficiently to resume feeding normally on their own again. I will be happy to discuss both methods of force feeding for you, Rich:

Force-Feeding by Hand

By handfeeding in this sense I mean holding one entire, intact (whole and unbroken) frozen Mysis that you have carefully thawed in your fingertips and then placing the tail of the Mysid directly in the mouth of the seahorse. Many times the seahorse will simply spit it out again, but often if you can insert the Mysis into her open mouth far enough, her feeding instincts will kick in and take over so that she slurps up the frozen Mysis almost reflexively. That’s a much less stressful and less invasive method of force feeding a seahorse that sometimes works well (especially if the seahorse is accustomed to being hand fed and doesn’t shy away from the aquarist). Force feeding the seahorse by hand sounds much more difficult than it actually is, and seahorses will often respond well to this method of feeding, Rich. Even the professional curators at the large public aquariums will use this technique when their highly prized (and very expensive) seadragons are experiencing problems with weak snick, as explained in the discussion thread below:

<open quote>
Has anyone had problems with syngnathids having a problem
getting food into their mouths? Currently I have a few ribbon
pipehorses (seadragons) that have lost the ability to take in food,
either live or frozen when attempting to eat. It is as if they have
lost the suction power when they attempt to snap up the food. They
can see the food and chase it and attempt to eat but don’t have
enough snap to create the suction needed to get the piece of food
into its mouth. Even when putting the affected animal in a smaller
tank with lots of food, it still can’t get the food in.
This condition seemed to develop even though the ribbon
pipehorses were eating aggressively before the problem started. They
were mainly eating frozen mysis and occasionally were fed live mysis.
I was thinking that possibly the diet of mainly frozen mysis could
not be enough for them nutritionally as they were developing??? Not
sure.
I have occasionally seen this problem before in weedy and
leafy seadragons as well as some seahorses.
Has anyone else had this problem? Any ideas of what may
cause this problem? Any ideas on how to get them to eat again? Has
anyone had luck with force feeding seadragons to get them to eat
again?

Thanks,
Leslee Matsushige

Leslee Matsushige (Yasukochi)
Assistant Aquarium Curator
Birch Aquarium at Scripps
Scripps Institution of Oceanography
University of California San Diego

Hi Leslee,
Over the years, we have seen mouth problems develop in some of our dragons. Sometimes it’s attributed to injury. Sometimes we don’t know what causes it, but we are often successful in getting them to recover on their own with just supportive feedings until we observe that they are back to catching food normally. Sometimes this can take a long time…as in a month or two of force feedings before they are back to catching enough on their own to sustain themselves.
Although I have not had experience force feeding ribbon dragons, I have both force fed and tube fed leafy and weedy seadragons. Typically, we force feed numerous frozen mysids to a sick dragon up to 3 times a day. By force feeding, I mean that we very gently place a mysid in the mouth of the animal and then lightly hold a finger in front of it so that it can’t easily spit out the food. Usually they learn pretty quickly that they are getting food this way and start to slurp mysids up as soon as they are put in their mouth. I usually try to get 6-10 mysids in per feeding. It takes good eyesight and a steady hand to make sure you don’t injure their mouth with this method. We have also tube fed using a thick slurry of cyclopeeze or pulverized and moistened pelleted food…usually giving around .3cc per feeding…though it’s dependent on the size of the animal. I think we usually use a 2-3mm french catheter cut down to fit on a small syringe. Again we do this 3 x day. We find that the animals do better with the frequent feedings and usually they go right back to searching for food after being released.
Teryl Nolan
Aquarium Supervisor
SeaWorld Florida

Hi Teryl,
Thanks for your response to my posting. We are currently trying to tube feed one of our leafy seadragons. We have been feeding it 1x/day for now to see how it handles the feedings.
I was wondering what was the size of the seadragon that you feed .3cc of the food slurry to? Our leafy is about 10-11 inches in length. I am not sure of the amount to feed. Since we are feeding only 1x/day we are trying .6cc per feeding.
Do you find force feeding or tube feeding to be better in certain situations? Our leafy still attempt to get the food but can not snap its jaw with enough force to get the food into its mouth.
When you force feed the seadragon do you hold it upsidedown? What do you use to put the mysid in its mouth? If you could give more details about force feeding that you think might be helpful, can you pass this on?
Your response has been helpful!
Thanks,
Leslee

In a message dated 7/16/2009 1:20:44 P.M. Central Daylight Time, [email protected] writes:
Hi Leslee,
We usually feed our full-sized leafies just .3cc at each feeding. I don’t know that you can’t go higher, we just don’t. I try to be conservative and part of my philosophy about having to force feed them is that since they naturally tend to graze on food all day long, I like to feed them smaller amounts more frequently.

In our experience, the dragons usually go back to their normal routine after a tube or force feeding. If they were actively looking for food, but just not following through and eating it, that’s what they go back to. If prior to the feeding, they were acting pretty lethargic…maintaining a stationary position on the water, usually facing a wall, and not showing any interest in feeding…then we’ve noticed that after they get a little energy from the force feeding, they often come out, act a little more normally, and even show signs of hunting for food. The reason we started force feeding the sick ones 2-3x a day years ago, is because we see such a dramatic turn around in their behavior after they have gotten some food. If we don’t follow it up with another feeding that day, then they seem to lose steam and go back to their wall-facing behavior.

I’ve come to the point that I believe it’s better to force feed than to tube feed (unless I need to tube with an oral medication or the dragon won’t take the force feeding). If you have the very small mysids available because you purchase live or culture your own, that’s what I prefer to use. We freeze our mysids prior to feeding them out. If you lightly restrain the dragon, in an upright position, but completely under the water, I find it’s easier to use latex gloves and very carefully insert a small mysid into the dragon’s mouth tail first using my fingers. We can usually get them to eat 10-20 per feeding. They will usually slurp it up pretty quickly. Sometimes they spit them out the first couple times though. In which case, I lightly hold my finger in front of their mouth until they’ve swallowed the mysid. That keeps them from spitting them out completely…usually. We have a few that we hold under water and pour mysids in front of, then we just move them directly in front of the food and they slurp them up. I think they probably get more from the whole mysids than from the gruel.

We don’t even move them off exhibit unless there are other health issues. We just lean over the side of our system and handle the dragons quickly beneath the surface. Then release them. I think it is much less stressful on the animals if you don’t have to move them. They tolerate this extremely well in my experience and we have had numerous that required supplemental feedings for awhile, but then recovered.

I hope this helps!

Teryl Nolan
Aquarium Supervisor
SeaWorld Florida
<close quote>

Okay, Rich, that’s the quick rundown on force feeding the seahorses by hand.

Tube Feeding — a last resort when all else fails

Tube feeding can save a seahorse’s life in an emergency, but it’s best reserved as a last resort. It’s not a long-term solution, but rather a stopgap measure to provide desperately needed nutritional support for a seahorse when all else fails. If the tube feeding has to be continued for more than two or three days, it is apt to do more harm than good. But it could buy you a little more time to line up choice live foods.

Tube feeding 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, tube feeding can help strengthen the seahorse and keep it going until it has a chance to recover and resume feeding on its own.

The most common method of force feeding seahorses is better referred to as tube feeding since no force is involved. The following description is based on Leslie Leddo’s tube-feeding technique, as discussed in her online article (Leddo, 2002b). It is similar to the previous technique, except that a very fine catheter is attached to the syringe and inserted into the seahorse’s snout before the food is injected. Basically a small amount of food, very thoroughly mashed and diluted in distilled water, is very gently injected via a very small gauge plastic catheter inserted into the horses snout no further than the trigger. It works best if only a small amount of food — no more than 1-2 mm on the barrel of the syringe — is squirted into the seahorse’s mouth at one feeding. It’s invasive, but actually very gentle, and the seahorse is much more likely to keep the food down this way.

Whichever method of force feeding you try, it’s helpful to hold the seahorse cupped in your hand for a minute or two after a feeding session before you release it. Doing so makes it much less likely that the seahorse will regurgitate the food you so painstakingly put into it. Here are detailed instructions for tube feeding, as explained by the author (Leddo, 2002b):

<begin quote> "Tube Feeding: When All Else Fails, an Alternative to Starvation"
by Leslie Leddo

Is your seahorse on a hunger strike? Have you tried all the non-invasive methods and various of types of foods to no avail? Are you concerned you may lose him to starvation? There is another alternative that may help to jump-start his feeding response. Tube feeding is an option when all else has failed. It is actually easier than you might imagine. Sit back, relax, and read on.

What you need:

* Someone with access to medical supplies. A local sympathetic veterinarian is a good option.
* A high quality food. Frozen Mysis or a high quality flake can be used. My preference is Mysis relicta from Canada. It has an outstanding nutritional profile. It is 69.9% protein and rich in HUFAs.
* A very narrow catheter. I use a plastic intravenous catheter with the introducer needle removed from the center and properly disposed of in a Sharps container, perhaps prior to leaving the vet’s office with your supplies. I would suggest an 18 to 25-gauge depending on the diameter of your horse’s snout. I used a 20-gauge on my 6"-7" erectus. The smaller the horse or the narrower the snout, the smaller the catheter you will need. The catheter size is inversely proportional to the # gauge it is assigned. So an 18-gauge catheter has a wider lumen than a 24-gauge catheter
* A 1 cc syringe.
* A bowl. It should be wide enough and deep enough to allow for your horse to remain submerged while your assistant holds him and you administer the feeding.
* An assistant. Preferably someone who is not too squeamish.
* Tank water.
* A spoon.
* A small bowl.
* Distilled water.
* An area to work that is well lit.

What to prepare:

* Gather all your supplies.
* Review the anatomy of the GI tract of the seahorse, paying particular attention to the esophagus, stomach and intestines.
* Clear and clean a well-lit workspace.
* Wash and rinse your hands well.
* Prepare the food by placing a small amount of previously defrosted and enriched Mysis in the small bowl. With the convex side of your spoon, mash the Mysis into a smooth paste.
* Add a few drops of distilled water and mix thoroughly. You will need to experiment and play here a bit in order to get the paste to a consistency that will easily, smoothly, and consistently flow through the tip of the catheter when gentle pressure is applied to the plunger of the syringe. The smaller the diameter of catheter (the larger the gauge number) you are using, the more dilute and thinner the gruel will need to be.
Once you have a consistency you think is appropriate, draw some of the gruel into the syringe and attach the catheter to the syringe. The tip of the syringe is usually threaded and the catheter will screw on to it. Gently apply pressure to the plunger of the syringe to be sure the gruel flows through the tip of the catheter easily, smoothly and consistently. Adjust the consistency of the gruel as necessary by adding more distilled water or more Mysis paste until it flows smoothly through the catheter with VERY gentle pressure on the plunger. No force should be exerted at all.
* Flush the syringe and catheter several times by drawing a small amount of distilled water into the syringe and pushing it back out.
* Draw into the syringe a little more gruel than you intend to feed. I fed between 0.2cc and 0.25cc to a 6"-7" erectus. You are going to have to estimate the appropriate amount based on the size of your horse. This is where refreshing your knowledge of the seahorse’s internal anatomy will come in handy. Since the seahorse’s digestive tract is basically a straight tube from snout to anus, you can use their length as a general guideline to estimate the portion size.
* Start with the plunger of the syringe fully depressed, pull up on the plunger and draw about 0.3cc to 0.4cc of the Mysis mixture into the syringe. Any air in the syringe will need to be removed. Invert the syringe holding it vertically tip up, plunger down. Gently tap on the syringe several times. The air will displace the gruel appearing as a bubble at the tip of the syringe. Gently depress the plunger with the syringe remaining in the inverted position, so you will be pushing up on the plunger. Continue to depress the plunger until all the air has been expressed from the syringe and a small amount of gruel appears at the syringe tip.
* Attach the catheter to the syringe and prime it by depressing the plunger until a few drops of gruel emerge from the catheter tip.

OK now you are ready to actually feed the little bugger… whoops… sorry… your sweet little hunger-striking horse.

How to proceed:

Round up your assistant. Take a few deep breaths and relax.

Fill the large bowl with your horse’s tank water.

Remove your horse from the tank by gently scooting him into a small container and gently release him into the bowl of tank water.

Have your assistant firmly but gently hold the horse, keeping him submerged at all times. His head and neck should be between their thumb and forefinger, snout pointing up, with his body lying across their palm. Encourage him to curl his tail around their pinky. This will help to keep the horse calm. If you have never held a seahorse in your hand you may be surprised at how strong they are. He may struggle or even snick. Boy, oh boy — was I surprised at how powerful their snick is!

Take the previously filled and primed syringe into your dominant hand.

Loosely hold the horse’s snout between the thumb and forefinger of your other hand.

Closely observe the snout tip. It will open and close in synchrony with his respiration.

As the snout opens, insert the tip of the catheter into the snout about ½ way between the snout tip and trigger.

Slowly and gently depress the plunger. Try to time injecting tiny bits of the gruel just prior to the closing of the snout. If he is ingesting the gruel you will actually see him swallow and pass some of the food through his gills. He may snick, it will feel strange but don’t be alarmed. The first time my boy did it I thought for sure the catheter would break off in his snout. It never did. He did however dent it a bit. That snick is powerful!

If the gruel is coming back out of his snout either you are injecting the gruel too quickly, the catheter tip is not far enough into his snout or you are close to the end of the feeding and his GI tract is full. First check to see if you are close to the end of the estimated amount of the feeding. If so, he is probably full and you are done. If not, try injecting the gruel a little slower, taking care to try and synchronize advancing the plunger just prior to the closing of the snout. If the gruel continues to come back out try advancing the catheter tip just a tad further. Finish the feeding. You may need to give him and yourself a little break if either of the above situations occurs and too much of the feeding is lost. Refill the syringe and give him the rest of the estimated amount.

Wooooooo-Hoooooooo!!! That’s it! You did it! Tell him what a good boy he was, return him to the tank, give yourself a big pat on the back, thank your assistant and take the rest of the evening off in front of your tank with a cup of tea… well… OK, if you insist a cold beer, a glass of wine, or a good stiff drink of your choice. It wasn’t that bad now was it? I bet it was easier than you had anticipated. I thought it was.

Some tips:

Practice pushing the gruel through the catheter. If it is too thick it will stick and you will need to push harder. You will need to thin it with some distilled water so that it flows out smoothly.

Ask your veterinarian for several size catheters. Use the one with the widest diameter (lowest # gauge) that will easily insert into the horse’s snout.

Have the vet remove the introducer needle in his office, so you do not have to worry about needle disposal.

It may be necessary to do this several days in a row until the feeding response is initiated or returns. I would suggest offering a variety of foods prior to each daily tube feeding. If you have been tube feeding for several days and he shows no interest in eating, you may need to gradually decrease the amounts of the feeding so he is actually hungry or possibly fast him for a day or two. It is my feeling that, if at all possible, allowing him to remain in his own tank with other horses and offering a variety of foods (live as well as frozen) may be beneficial in helping to encourage him to eat.

I hope you never need to use the information I presented here, but if you should I would like to wish you good luck and hope this information has proved useful (Leddo, 2002b). <end quote>

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, tube feeding can help strengthen the seahorse and keep it going until it has a chance to recover and resume feeding on its own.

For example, during one such incident a hobbyist reported that his seahorse hadn’t eaten for over a week. This particular hunger strike started during treatment for internal parasites, so the seahorse was weak and debilitated to begin with. On that occasion, only one tube feeding was necessary before the seahorse began eating on her own again.

Dr. Marty Greenwell notes that syngnathids in general and seahorses in particular are vulnerable to emaciation in captivity because of their rapid intestinal transit time and very limited fat stores (Bull and Mitchell, 2002, p24). At the Shedd, he regularly tube feeds newly acquired seahorses that arrive badly emaciated. In such circumstances, Dr. Greenwell advises, "…syngnathids are at a high risk for loss of body condition. With this in mind, anorectic seahorses and pipefish almost always require nutritional support. At Shedd Aquarium, anorectic syngnathids are tube fed a high quality, commercial fish flake food gruel. Because of the very small, vestigial stomach, only limited volumes of gruel can be administered at any given time, i.e., 0.05 to 0.10 cc for most seahorses and up to 0.25 cc or more for the large Hippocampus sp., trumpetfish, and the sea dragons. Offering nutritional support can mean the difference between survival and death in sick and/or anorectic syngnathids (Bull and Mitchell, 2002, p24)."

That’s an introduction to tube feeding that will hopefully allow you to get some food into your barb, Rich. It’s best used as a last resort, but in a case like yours, it can sometimes be a real life saver.

Some hobbyists feel it’s easier to tube feed their seahorses after they have been sedated, while others feel that sedation only complicates the procedure. Sometimes sedating the seahorse can make tube feeding a little less stressful for both the patient and the caregiver, and I am sure that your Vet would prefer to do the procedure under sedation. In that case, Rich, there is an excellent discussion of the procedure with step-by-step instructions and photographs available online at the following URL:

Click here: Force Feeding – Seahorse.org
http://forum.seahorse.org/index.php?showtopic=10975&hl=force+feeding

Best of luck getting some nutrition into your H. reidi and restoring her to good health, Rich.

Respectfully,
Pete Giwojna


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