Dear Kent & Liam:
I am sorry to hear about the problems that one of your seahorses has developed with positive buoyancy. I would avoid attempting to massage the suspicious area if you are unsure whether the seahorse is male or female, since massaging it will be counterproductive if the seahorse is actually a female.
Sometimes seahorses will begin perching on the highest point in the aquarium they can anchor to or begin hanging out near the top of the tank because they have developed a problem with positive buoyancy (i.e., the tendency to float). They will perch high up when that happens because it simply requires too much effort and energy for the seahorse to fight against its buoyancy in order to swim normally or to remain near the bottom, as they usually do. Since your seahorse is hanging high up on the water return near the surface, that makes me suspect that it’s problems with positive buoyancy are again flaring up.
The positive buoyancy problems could be due to a form of gas bubble syndrome (GBS) or to an overinflated swim bladder, and I would recommend treating the seahorse with Diamox in order to resolve the positive buoyancy problems once and for all. Treatment with a carbonic anhydrase inhibitor acetazolmide (brand name Diamox) is helpful in treating GBS and overinflated swim bladders due to GBS. The acetazolmide/Diamox can be administered either orally via feeder shrimp bioencapsulated with the medication, or as a series of baths (prolonged immersion) in your hospital tank.
In your case, since the affected seahorse is still eating normally, I would recommend administering the Diamox orally since this can be done while the seahorses in the main tank, where it is the most comfortable, amidst familiar surroundings and in the company of its tank mates. You get the acetazolamide into the food by preparing a solution of the medication, as described below, and then injecting it into live feeder shrimp or even the large Piscine Energetics frozen Mysis relicta. The medication is deactivated fairly quickly once you prepare the solution for injecting, so you must prepare a new acetazolamide solution each day during the treatment period. Here’s how to proceed:
Administering Acetazolamide Orally
I have found that acetazolamide is often more effective when it’s ingested and administering the medication orally allows you to treat the seahorse in the main tank where he’s most comfortable and relaxed.
If you can obtain a small syringe with a fine needle, the acetazolamide solution can simply be injected into feeder shrimp or even frozen Mysis. Mic Payne (Seahorse Sanctuary) used this method of administering acetazolamide successfully when he had recurring problems with GBD due to maintaining a population of Hippocampus subelongatus in shallow tanks only 16-inches (40 cm) deep:
"Seahorses maintained in this system are susceptible to gas bubble disease. Specimens with bubbles around the eyes or under the epidermis of the tail are readily treated with acetazolamide (Diamox tablets 250 mg). Mix a very small amount of crushed tablet with water and inject it into several glass shrimp that are then frozen. These are then fed to the target animal at the rate of two per day for four days. Bubbles disappear on the second day."
Hawaiian volcano shrimp or red feeder shrimp (Halocaridina rubra) work great for this. If a fine enough needle is used, they will survive a short while after being injected — long enough for their twitching and leg movements to attract the interest of the seahorse and trigger a feeding response.
Leslie Leddo reports that a 1/2 cc insulin syringe with a 26-gauge needle was ideal for injecting frozen Mysis or live red feeder shrimp. They plump up when injected and ~1/2 cc is about the most of the solution they can hold. There bodies will actually swell slightly as they are slowly injected and excess solution may start to leak out. The 26-gauge needle is fine enough that it does not kill the feeder shrimp outright; they survive long enough for the kicking of their legs and twitching to assure that they will be eaten.
Administering the Diamox orally in this way is the least stressful way to medicate the seahorse, so you may want to consider trying that first before you resort to the Diamox baths.
Diamox or Acetazolamide can also be administered as a 7-10 day series of baths, as explained below:
Diamox Baths (prolonged immersion)
The recommended dosage is 250 mg of Diamox per 10 gallons with a 100% water change daily, after which the treatment tank is retreated with the sole light at the dosage indicated above (Dr. Martin Belli, pers. com.). Continue these daily treatments and water changes for up to 7-10 days for best results (Dr. Martin Belli, pers. com.).
The Diamox baths should be administered in a hospital ward or quarantine tank. Acetazolamide does not appear to adversely affect biofiltration or invertebrates, but it should not be used in the main tank because it could be harmful to inhibit the enzymatic activity of healthy seahorses.
Using the tablet form of acetazolamide (250 mg), crush the required amount to a very fine powder and dissolve it thoroughly in a cup or two of saltwater. There will usually be a slight residue that will not dissolve in saltwater at the normal alkaline pH (8.0-8.4) of seawater (Warland, 2002). That’s perfectly normal. Just add the solution to your hospital tank, minus the residue, of course, at the recommended dosage:
Place the affected seahorse in the treatment tank as soon as first dose of medication has been added. After 24 hours, perform a 100% water change in the hospital tank using premixed water that you’ve carefully aerated and adjusted to be same temperature, pH and salinity. Add a second dose of newly mixed acetazolamide at the same dosage and reintroduce the ailing seahorse to the treatment tank. After a further 24 hours, do another 100% water change and repeat the entire procedure until a total of up to 7-10 treatments have been given. About 24 hours after the final dose of acetazolamide has been added to the newly changed saltwater, the medication will have lost its effectiveness and the patient can be returned directly to the main seahorse tank to speed its recovery along.
One of the side affects of acetazolamide baths is loss of appetite. Try to keep the affected seahorse eating by plying it with its favorite live foods during and after treatment, until it has fully recovered.
The seahorse usually show improvement of the tail bubbles within three days. Dr. Martin Belli reports they nearly 100% success rate when this treatment regimen is followed for 7-10 days, and most cases clear up in less than a week. For best results, the Diamox should be used in conjunction with a good broad-spectrum antibiotic to help prevent secondary infections. A good aminoglycoside antibiotic such as kanamycin or neomycin would work well for this.
Unfortunately, obtaining Diamox (the tablet form of acetazolamide) can often be a Catch-22 situation for hobbyists. It is a carbonic anhydrase inhibitor — a prescription drug often used for treating glaucoma, hydrocephaly, epilepsy, congestive heart failure, and altitude sickness in humans, so you have to get it from your Vet or perhaps your family doctor. Unfortunately, Veterinarians are often unfamiliar with Diamox — it’s very much a people med and unless you find a Vet that works with fish regularly, he or she will probably never have heard of gas bubble disease or treating it with carbonic anhydrase inhibitors. Many pet owners are on very good terms with their Vets, who are accustomed to prescribing medications for animals, so it’s often best to approach your Vet first about obtaining Diamox despite the fact they may never have heard of it until you brought it to their attention. Your family doctor, of course, will be familiar with such medications and have Diamox on hand but it can sometimes be difficult to get your MD to jump that final hurdle and prescribe it for a pet. Either way, it can be tough to get the medication you need under these circumstances.
However, I would exhaust those possibilities first before I considered an online source for the Diamox. Print out some of the detailed information that’s been posted regarding pouch emphysema and gas bubble syndrome (GBS) on this forum, and how it’s treated using Diamox, and present that to your family veterinarian and/or your family practitioner. Bring photographs of the boyant seahorse and be prepared to bring the seahorse in for a visit, if necessary. (Veterinarians are prohibited by law from prescribing medications to treat an animal they have not personally seen and examined. If you have had a close personal relationship with your vet over a period of years, they are often willing to bend that rule in the case of fish, but you may well have to bring Charlie Horse in for a quick checkup to get the desired results.) If they are agreeable, your veterinarian or family physician could also provide you with a suitable syringe and needle for injecting the Diamox solution into feeder shrimp.
If not — if neither your Vet or family physician will prescribe Diamox — then there are places you can order Diamox online without a prescription, but save that for a last resort. (You can’t always be certain of the quality of the medications you receive from such sources; in some cases, you even need to be concerned about counterfeit drugs, although Diamox certainly shouldn’t fall into that category.) The medications will take a week or two to arrive, which is troublesome when your seahorse is ailing and needs help ASAP. And, as you know, customs officials can confiscate such shipments, although that very rarely happens with this particular medication.
If you ultimately need to go that route, Kent and Liam, the following source is the one most seahorse keepers have found works best:
Click here: Inhouse Drugstore Diamox – online information
They offer 100 tablets of Diamox (250 mg) for around $20 US, but they ship from Canada by mail, which usually takes a little under two weeks for delivery. That’s why it’s best to plan ahead and line up the medication now, before it’s actually needed.
While you are working to line up the Diamox, Kent and Liam, there are a couple of other things that you can do to provide the seahorse with buoyancy problems with some immediate relief in the meantime. For example, gradually reducing the water temperature and lowering the salinity of the aquarium can minimize problems with pouch emphysema and other forms of gas bubble syndrome (GBS), and will also make the seahorse less buoyant, which will make it easier for it to swim and eat.
Gradually lowering the salinity or specific gravity is done as if performing a normal water change, except that the replacement water is simply treated tap water or RO water without the salt (Don Carner, pers. com.). (If the replacement water is RO/DI or other softened source, then a buffering agent should be employed to prevent pH and alkalinity drops; Thiel, 2003.) Make sure the freshwater you add is thoroughly mixed with the remaining saltwater in the tank as you proceed. This will assure that your salinity/specific gravity readings are accurate. Monitor the lowering closely so as to not reduce it too fast. Achieving the desired specific gravity (1.015-1.017) over a period of several hours is fine (Don Carner, pers. com.). The bacteria colony in the biofilter will survive, the seahorses and fish will survive just fine, and your cleanup crew should also be unaffected (Don Carner, pers. com.).
CAUTION! When lowering the salinity or specific gravity in your seahorse tank, be very careful as you add the freshwater when you approach the target salinity. You do NOT want to overshoot the mark and drop the salinity too far! Seahorses tolerate low salinity very well up to a certain point, but they cannot withstand salinities below 13.3 ppt (specific gravity = 1.010) indefinitely. Salinities below 1.010 may be fatal to seahorses in a matter of days, if not hours. Just take care when the specific gravity in your seahorse tank is nearing the desired level of 1.015-1.017 and you should be in great shape. There is a big enough difference between a specific gravity of 1.015-1.017 and the dangerous level of 1.010 to provide a large margin for error and make this process very safe.
Once you have reduced the specific gravity in your seahorse tank to 1.015-1.017, you can maintain it at that level indefinitely thereafter. When it aquarium has had an outbreak of gas bubble syndrome, reducing the specific gravity to 1.015-1.017 has many benefits. It makes it easier for the seahorses to osmoregulate, increases the amount of dissolved oxygen the water can hold it makes it easier for the seahorses to breathe, helps eliminate protozoan parasites and ectoparasites in general, and helps to minimize problems with gas supersaturation and therefore GBS.
But if you should want to return the specific gravity in your seahorse tank to normal at some point for any reason, be sure to do so very gradually. In that case, when you are ready to return the system to normal salinity, simply reverse the process, remove some of the low salinity water in the aquarium and replace it with high salinity water. Take your time and raise the salinity slowly and gradually. Fish can become dehydrated if the salinity is increased too rapidly, so be methodical and raise the salinity over a period of several days. Don’t hesitate to take a full two weeks to return the specific gravity to normal levels again in small increments. The salinity can be reduced relatively rapidly very safely, but it must be raised again very gradually in order to avoid the risk of dehydration.
Gas bubble syndrome (GBS) is not at all contagious since it’s an environmental disease rather than an infectious disease, but I would wait until your seahorse has recovered and your aquarium is back to normal again before you consider adding any more seahorses, Kent and Liam. When that time comes, your 30-gallon aquarium should be able to accommodate one more pair of seahorses but I would not add any more than that since the tank is already home to several gobies as well as the seahorses.
Best of luck treating the buoyant seahorse and getting him or her back to normal again, Kent and Liam!