Pete Giwojna

Dear Liz:

Thanks for the additional information about your ailing seahorse. I understand that he has had problems with recurring pouch emphysema in the past, including a bout in December of last year, and again this March, and possibly again in May, and that you therefore feel that gas bubble syndrome is at the root of his problems, and I would be happy to share my thoughts on the matter with you, Liz.

Performing a pouch flush is the proper procedure when a stallion has recurring bouts of positive buoyancy due to the buildup of gas within his brood pouch. Flushing the pouch out thoroughly using a medicated solution or even using clean saltwater will very often resolve the problem, so that the buildup of gas (recurring pouch emphysema) does not keep coming back. So if your male was having buoyancy problems associated with a bloated pouch again in May, then using a pouch kit to flush out his pouch was very prudent, Liz, and you can rest assured that you did the right thing. Under those circumstances, flushing out the male’s pouch can only help to relieve the problem, and should certainly not make things worse.

However, handling the seahorse and restraining him while you perform an invasive procedure like a pouch flush is always a stressful experience for the pony, so you never want to perform a pouch flush unnecessarily. Sometimes the stallion will act a little shell-shocked at first following such a procedure, but they usually bounce back quickly following their traumatic experience and are soon back to normal again. It sounds like your stallion seemed to get better later in the evening following the pouch flush, but was obviously having problems again by the next morning.

You mentioned that he was off his feed, seemed sensitive to light, and was spending time curled up on the bottom rather than perching and holding himself upright, as usual. And you therefore decided it would be best to isolate the seahorse and treat him in your hospital tank since he was obviously still ailing.

I gather that you are using the methylene blue to darken the water in your hospital tank in order to make the seahorse more comfortable because he is sensitive to the light. That’s okay, Liz – methylene blue is a very safe medication to use with seahorses and is especially helpful when they are experiencing respiratory distress, particularly if their breathing problems are related to ammonia poisoning and/or nitrite toxicity, which convert hemoglobin into methhemoglobin, a form of the molecule that is unable to pick up and transport oxygen. (High nitrate levels could conceivably have the same effect, but they would need to be dangerously high in order to do so.) The seahorse becomes increasingly oxygen deprived as more and more of the its hemoglobin is converted to methhemoglobin, and being short on oxygen can leave the seahorse extremely weakened, unable to hold itself upright, just as you described.

But the methylene blue is not helpful in treating recurring pouch emphysema or other forms of gas bubble syndrome (GBS), Liz, so if your stallion is still having problems with positive buoyancy and bloated pouch, the recommended procedure at this point would be to treat your male using acetazolamide (brand name Diamox) together with a good antibiotic in your hospital tank.

When pouch emphysema becomes a chronic problem, and performing a pouch flush fails to resolve the problem, treatment with the Diamox is the best way to cure the condition once and for all.

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.

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 your stallion 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 the affected seahorse in for a quick checkup to get the desired results.)

If you can obtain the Diamox, Liz, the instructions for using it to treat your seahorse in the hospital tank or as follows:

<Open quote>
Acetazolamide Baths (prolonged immersion)

The recommended dosage is 250 mg of acetazolamide 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 3-5 days for best results. Stubborn cases may require a second Regiment of the Diamox or a total of 7-10 days of treatment (Dr. Martin Belli, pers. com.).

The acetazolamide 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 3-5 treatments have been given. If necessary, the Diamox regimen can be repeated a second time for a total of 7-10 days of treatment. 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 effects 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 tail bubbles (subcutaneous emphysema) within three days, but chronic pouch emphysema and other forms of GBS can be more difficult to resolve and may require a second regimen of the Diamox. Dr. Martin Belli reports a 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. Minocycline, which is the active ingredient in Maracyn-Two (Mardel Labs), is a good choice for this, and the Maracyn-Two is readily available at pet shops and fish stores, so you should be able to obtain locally.
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In short, Liz, if your stallion is having another bout of positive buoyancy due to pouch emphysema and performing a pouch flush failed to relieve the problem, then I would recommend treating the stallion with Diamox in your hospital tank together with a good antibiotic, as explained above.

While you are treating your male in the hospital tank, Liz, you should also be working on improving conditions in your main tank so that you will have a healthy environment to return the stallion to following his treatments.

This is very important when dealing with recurring pouch emphysema or other forms of gas bubble syndrome because GBS is not a disease that is caused by harmful bacteria or parasites or some sort of pathogen. Rather, GBS is an environmental disease that is triggered by physical factors within the aquarium that are conducive to the formation of gas emboli within the blood and tissues of the seahorses. Unfortunately, males are much more susceptible to problems with GBS than females because of their physiologically dynamic, heavily vascularized brood pouches.

Secondly, Liz, I can tell you that GBS in small, closed-system home aquariums is often associated with increased organic loading in the aquarium. Many times the seahorses will thrive in a new aquarium for several months, or perhaps even a year or two, with no difficulties, only to develop problems with pouch emphysema or subcutaneous emphysema or other forms of GBS as time goes by. This is perplexing to the home hobbyist, because he or she is maintaining the tank just as he or she has always done, yet for no apparent reason, one or more of their male seahorses suddenly seems to be plagued by problems with GBS.

Often such problems can be traced back to the gradual accumulation of detritus, mulm, waste products, and other organics over time. It is inevitable that organic loading in the aquarium slowly increases as time goes by, which leads to a gradual deterioration of the water quality due to the steady buildup of detritus, mulm, and other organic wastes. And there is always an increase in the numbers of undesirable or harmful bacteria whenever conditions begin to become less sanitary, as well. All of which begins to cause low-level stress for the seahorses at some point, which can lead to an increased incidence of GBS and other health problems.

I don’t know if any of this applies in your case, Liz, but I do know reducing the amount of organics in the aquarium often pays big dividends for the home hobbyist and that concentrating on maintaining optimum water quality would be a good place for you to start in addressing this problem. Some of the steps you can take to reduce the amount of organics in your aquarium and improve the water quality are as follows: (1) improve the water flow and circulation in the aquarium, while increasing surface agitation and oxygenation; (2) improve your filtration system by adding a protein skimmer or upgrading the existing protein skimmer and installing a micron cartridge filter; (3) reduce the amount of organic matter that you add to the aquarium in the first place by adjusting your feeding regimen; (4) combine a major water change with a good general aquarium cleaning; and (5) add a good probiotic to your aquarium to decrease the amount of organic material through the activity of bio-enzymes and beneficial microflora.

Let’s discuss each of these measures in a little more detail. First and foremost, improving the water flow and increasing the surface agitation and oxygenation of your aquarium will have many benefits for your seahorses. You will want the filters to turn over the entire volume of your seahorse tank at least five times per hour, and using a spray bar return at the top of the aquarium to diffuse the water flow can allow you to achieve much higher turnover rates (> 10 times per hour) without creating too much turbulence for your seahorses. You’ll want to adjust the outflow the filters to eliminate any dead spots or stagnant areas where waste products may tend to accumulate. Good circulation will prevent pockets of harmful anaerobic decay and keep particulate matter suspended in the water column where the filters can remove it from the aquarium. Alternating the direction of the water flow is also helpful, as is increasing surface agitation to improve the oxygenation and facilitate more efficient gas exchange at the air/water interface. A simple air stone anchored just beneath the surface of the water can help to achieve this goal.

Improving the water circulation and surface agitation to increase the oxygenation will raise the levels of dissolved oxygen in the aquarium while eliminating excess CO2 via more efficient offgassing. You may notice that your seahorses become more active and have a better appetite, eating more aggressively, as a result, and elevating the levels of dissolved oxygen and reducing the levels of dissolved CO2 will also help to raise and stabilize the pH of the aquarium at the same time. This is important because the pH of the aquarium tends to drop over time, and low pH can be a contributing factor for gas bubble syndrome.

If you feel your seahorse tank already has as much water movement and circulation as the seahorses can handle, and that your surface agitation is also adequate, consider adding an Oxydator to your seahorse tank. An Oxydator is essentially an aquarium oxygenator that releases pure oxygen into the aquarium water in a controlled manner, thus raising the levels of dissolved oxygen while helping to decompose organics and other aquarium impurities in the process.

After you have addressed the water flow, surface agitation, and oxygenation in your seahorse tank, consider further improving the filtration system. If the tank does not already have an efficient protein skimmer, go ahead and install one. Although seahorses can certainly be kept successfully without the use of a protein skimmer, I recommend including a good skimmer for best results.

The majority of the undesirable metabolites, organic wastes and excess nutrients that accumulate in our aquariums and degrade water quality are "surface-active," meaning they are attracted to and collect near the surface of a gas-liquid interface (Fenner, 2003). Skimmers take advantage of this fact by using a column of very fine air bubbles mixed with aquarium water to trap dissolved organics and remove them from our systems. This air-water mixture is lighter than the surrounding aquarium water and rises up the column of the skimmer until the foam eventually spills into a special collection cup atop the skimmer, which can be removed and emptied as needed. Proteins and other organic molecules, waste products, uneaten food and excess nutrients, and a host of other undesirable compounds stick to the surface of the bubbles and are carried away along with the foam and removed from the aquarium (Fenner, 2003a). As a result of this process, these purification devices are typically known as foam separators, foam fractionators, air-strippers, or simply protein skimmers.

In my experience, nothing improves water quality like a good protein skimmer. They provides many benefits for a seahorse setup, including efficient nutrient export, reducing the effective bioload, and increasing both the Redox potential and dissolved oxygen levels in the water (Fenner, 2003a). They do a tremendous job of removing excess organics from the aquarium, including phenols, albumin, dissolved organic acids, and chromophoric (color causing) compounds (Fenner, 2003a). Their ability to remove dissolved wastes BEFORE they have a chance to break down and degrade water quality makes them indispensable for controlling nuisance algae. A good protein skimmer is an invaluable piece of equipment for keeping your nitrates low and your water quality high when feeding a whole herd of these sloppy eaters in a closed-system aquarium.

If your tank already has a protein skimmer, consider upgrading to a larger, more efficient model, if necessary, and make sure that you are using the protein skimmer properly. It should be operated 24/7, around the clock, and it is important to keep it tuned and adjusted properly so that it yields a steady flow of dry foam into the collection cup, WITHOUT releasing clouds of microbubbles into the aquarium. The efficiency of the protein skimmer can be greatly increased if it is cleaned and maintain properly. This includes regularly cleaning the inside of the barrel where the bubble column works its magic, which is a step that many home hobbyists neglect to the detriment of their water quality.

It will also be very helpful to install a micron cartridge filter on your seahorse tank. A micron filter will literally polish the water on a microscopic level by removing even the finest particulate matter. Micron cartridges do an excellent job of helping to reduce dissolved organic compounds in the aquarium and, as an added benefit, they leave the water unbelievably clear, almost invisible (which is great for aquarium photography, by the way).

Once you have your filtration system up to snuff, it’s time to look at the amount of organics that you, the hobbyist, are adding to the aquarium on a daily basis and how you can cut back on any excesses in that regard. The aquarist is, of course, introducing organic matter into the aquarium in the form of the food he provides for the fish and invertebrates, as well as with any supplements he or she may be adding to the tank. You can make improvements in that area by being very careful to avoid overfeeding and diligently removing leftovers promptly. If you have been taking the quick, easy, lazy approach by broadcast feeding or scatter feeding your seahorses with the frozen Mysis, it’s time to put a stop to that immediately! Simply switching to target feeding or handfeeding your seahorses, or teaching them to take their meals from a convenient feeding station, can dramatically reduce the amount of wastage and spoilage at feeding time. And, you will soon discover that target feeding or using a feeding station are very fun, rewarding methods for feeding your ponies, and that they can make feeding time one of the highlights of your day.

Secondly, if you have been enriching the frozen Mysis for your seahorses using Selcon or Vibrance or some other enrichment formula, cut back on the amount of fortification that you are providing. It has been my experience that home hobbyists tend to overdo it when it comes to the enrichment process, possibly on the theory that "if a little is good for them, then a lot must be even better," or perhaps simply due to confusion about the proper way to enrich Mysis. How can you tell if you are using too much of your enrichment product? If it washes off the frozen Mysis when you add the fortified shrimp to the aquarium water, then the high-calorie ingredients are simply being added to the aquarium water and not doing your ponies any good. Rather than helping to provide your seahorses with good nutrition, the enrichment formula instead is increasing the organic loading in the aquarium and degrading your water quality. A little bit of the enrichment powder, or concentrated liquid formulation, goes a long, long, long way when you are fortifying frozen Mysis, and if any appreciable amount of the enrichment product is washing off the Mysis when you feed them to the seahorses, you are using too much. Cut back accordingly and/or do without any enrichment at all for some of the seahorses’ feedings each day.

It will also be helpful if you avoid keeping live gorgonians or live corals in your seahorse tank that are not photosynthetic, and that therefore require supplemental feedings. These are generally provided by squeezing a nutrient-rich solution or phytoplankton culture into the aquarium water near the live coral, which releases a cloud of nutrients into the aquarium every time you do so. Your own eyes can tell you that the vast majority of the supplement is not being captured and consumed by the coral, but is rather just adding excess organics to the aquarium water, to the detriment of your water quality.

Aside from increasing the water flow and circulation in your seahorse tank, and upgrading the filtration system, one of the most important measures you can take to remove excess organics from your setup is to perform a general aquarium cleanup together with a major water change, and then to add a regular dose of a good probiotic to the aquarium. The probiotics help to restore optimal water quality by degrading organic matter, help to eliminate opportunistic pathogenic bacteria from your seahorse setup by outcompeting them, and boost the immune system of the seahorses, thereby helping the ponies to fight off disease problems. Combining the use of the probiotics with a good water change and aquarium cleaning allows seahorses with non-contagious health problems, such as gas bubble syndrome, to be treated in the main tank where they will be the most comfortable, surrounded by their tankmates, helps to assure that the rest of your ponies won’t be affected, and is a very stress-free way to address this type of health problem, as discussed below.

One of the best ways to prevent bacterial infections, outbreaks of parasites, and other health problems is to provide your seahorses 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 and leave them susceptible to Gas Bubble Syndrome.

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.

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 1/4 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 mulm and 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.

In short, I would also recommend a good general cleaning of your seahorse tank followed by the use of a good probiotic such as Sanolife MIC-F, in order to help your male with pouch emphysema recover, and to help protect the rest of your herd, as discussed in more detail below:

The Use of Probiotics for Disease Prevention and Control

The use of probiotics has long been regarded a promising area for future research in aquaculture. Simply put, probiotics are mixtures of specially cultured microbes and microflora that are known to be beneficial to the aquarium and its inhabitants. When added to the aquarium, probiotics populate the aquarium substrate and filter media, as well as colonizing the gastrointestinal tract of the seahorses. Probiotics that colonize the digestive system of the seahorse with beneficial microflora can offer protection against certain pathogens by means of competitive inhibition, and there is also good evidence that suggests they may improve immune function by increasing the number of IgA-producing plasma cells, increasing or improving phagocytosis as well as increasing the proportion of T lymphocytes and Natural Killer cells.

At the same time, other beneficial bacteria in the probiotics mixture colonize the sand and gravel, live rock, and filter media, where they specialize in breaking down waste products, detritus, and other organic matter. This helps to maintain optimum water quality by reducing organic loading, stabilizing the pH, improving the clarity of the water, and reducing the levels of nitrates and phosphates in the aquarium.

In short, probiotics can prevent seahorse diseases by three mechanisms: dramatically improving water quality, boosting the immune system, and outcompeting pathologic bacterial, such as Vibrio. This is important for the seahorse keeper to know because Vibrio are the type of bacteria that are most commonly associated with infections such as tail rot, snout rot, and marine ulcer disease or ulcerative dermatitis. in addition, probiotics are also known to markedly reduced the incidence of gas bubble syndrome (GBS) when seahorses are kept in small, closed-system aquariums, probably by virtue of their ability to promote optimum water quality (Dan Underwood, personal communication).

Until recently, the use of probiotics in aquaculture has been confined primarily to livestock intended for human consumption (e.g., food fish and edible shrimp), rather than for ornamental fish intended for the aquarium industry, but that’s beginning to change, particularly in acknowledgment of the growing problem with drug-resistant strains of bacteria.

Fortunately, for the first time in the history of the aquarium hobby, probiotics are now becoming widely available to home hobbyists and at a very economical cost. They are inexpensive, extremely easy to use, and can often be real lifesavers for fish maintained in home aquariums.

Anything that can help protect seahorses against Vibrio and other pathogens is certainly worth investigating and I strongly recommend that the home aquarist use probiotics in any aquarium that has suffered an outbreak of disease, especially bacterial infections such as snout and tail rot or marine ulcer disease (ulcerative dermatitis). Adding probiotics to the main tank at the first sign of such a problem will inhibit and help eliminate pathogenic bacteria from the aquarium. This can prevent your seahorse tank from becoming a "sick tank" that harbors a disease reservoir that will continue to take a toll on the remaining seahorses in the aquarium over time.

It is crucial to prevent this unfortunate situation from developing, because a sick tank that has suffered an outbreak of disease and now harbors a reservoir of pathogenic bacteria can continue to strike down new victims in the weeks and months ahead. At first, healthy seahorses may be able to successfully resist the opportunistic invaders, but small numbers of the pathogens will nonetheless remain, lurking silently in the background, ready to take advantage of any pony that should become stressed or weakened for any reason in the interim. What often happens under such circumstances is that the hobbyist will continue to lose individual seahorses to the same sort of disease symptoms even though all of his aquarium parameters look good and his herd appears to be perfectly healthy. For no apparent reason, one of the healthy ponies will suddenly sicken and die, so that the beleaguered hobbyist is losing additional specimens, one at a time, every few weeks or every month or so despite every precaution.

Adding probiotics to the main tank at the first sign of a disease outbreak can disrupt this deadly cycle by outcompeting the limited numbers of the pathogenic microbes and displacing them from the aquarium itself as well as from the aquarium fish. At the same time, the probiotics will enhance the immune function of the seahorses, strengthening their immune response and making them more disease resistant. So please be aware of this fact and take full advantage of the benefits probiotics can provide if your seahorse tank should suffer a disease problem.

Best of all, the probiotics are equally effective in helping to prevent disease outbreaks in a healthy marine aquarium. They can prevent pathogenic bacteria from gaining a toehold in your seahorse tank in the first place via the phenomena of competitive inhibition, and will boost the immune system of the healthy seahorses, further enhancing their disease-fighting abilities. Savvy seahorse keepers can thus help prevent disease problems by routinely adding appropriate probiotics to their healthy seahorse setups.

When a seahorse has been healthy in an aquarium for a year or two with no problems, and then suddenly dies for no apparent reason, the culprit is often a gradual deterioration of the water quality caused by the slow but steady accumulation of detritus, waste products, and other organic matter over time. This is particularly true when the seahorses are maintained in small, closed-system aquariums. Even though you are diligent in cleaning the aquarium when performing regular water changes, the organic loading of the aquarium system inevitably builds up over time. Along with the increase in the detritus and organic wastes, undesirable bacteria are also building up as always happens when conditions begin to become unsanitary.

In a small home aquarium, the water quality can go downhill quickly, and what typically happens in such a scenario is that the organic loading and associated undesirable bacteria build up until the aquarium system reaches a tipping point, after which the water quality declines, stressing the seahorses. Eventually, prolonged low-level stress weakens the seahorses and suppresses their immune response, allowing opportunistic bacteria to gain the advantage, and the seahorse develops an infection as a result. And, of course, stress is also associated with a greater incidence of Gas Bubble Syndrome, as we will discuss later in this message.

The use of probiotics prophylactically can disrupt this process by degrading waste products and excess organics, preventing them from accumulating in the aquarium. At the same time they are improving and stabilizing the water quality, they are helping to displace and eliminate harmful bacteria within the seahorses and within the aquarium by outcompeting them and boosting the seahorses’ immune response.

Using probiotics prophylactically can be especially helpful under the following circumstances:

(1) you are having difficulty stabilizing the pH in your seahorse tank;
(2) you are having a problem with nuisance algae in your seahorse tank;
(3) you are having trouble controlling the nitrates and/or phosphates in your seahorse tank;
(4) you cannot operate a protein skimmer on your aquarium to remove dissolved organics;
(5) the water in your aquarium is not as clear as it should be.

And, of course, the use of probiotics in your aquarium is always indicated whenever there has been an outbreak of disease in your seahorse setup.

One probiotic that I can recommend for disease prevention and control in the seahorse tank is Sanolife Mic-F from INVE AQUACULTURE, Inc., a Belgium-based company. Sanolife Mic-F contains special strains of Bacillus aimed at degrading organic matter in the aquarium and inhibiting pathogenic bacteria. It is inexpensive and costs $17 for half a kilogram. It can be obtained in the United States through Teri Potter, INVE’s Utah distributor, whose contact information is as follows:

3528 W 500 S
Salt Lake City
UT 84104
Tel. +1 (801) 956 0203
E-mail: [email protected]

The Bacillus bacteria in the Sanolife probiotic will reduce nitrates and improve water quality by degrading waste products and organic matter. When administered orally, they will also colonize the digestive tract of your seahorses with beneficial microflora that improve their digestion, so your ponies will produce less waste even though they may be eating the same amount. The Sanolife beneficial bacteria also help make your seahorses more disease resistant by helping to eliminate opportunistic pathogenic bacteria through the phenomena of competitive inhibition and by enhancing the immune response of the seahorses.

Dosing Sanolife Mic-F for home aquariums:

The Sanolife MIC-F probiotic can be administered in two ways — either by direct application of the powder to the aquarium water in the main tank on a daily basis, or it can be administered orally by mixing the powder with frozen Mysis or with live adult brine shrimp (Artemia), which are then fed to the seahorses. For best results, both methods can be used simultaneously. Administering the probiotics with the seahorse’s feed will help the special mixture of beneficial microbes to colonize the pony’s digestive tract, allowing the microbes to better stimulate the seahorses immune system and outcompete harmful bacteria such as Vibrio. Meanwhile, adding the Sanolife powder directly to the aquarium will encourage the enzymatic activity that breaks down excess organic matter and helps to assure optimal water quality.

Here are the instructions for both methods of administering Sanolife MIC-F:

Procedure for Direct Application of the Sanolife MIC-F To the Aquarium Water

The recommended daily dose is 5 grams of the probiotic per cubic meter of water in the aquarium system. Since 1 cubic meter of water equals 264 gallons, the proper dosage of the Sanolife powder is therefore as follows:

5 g per 264 gallons of aquarium water
2.5 g per 132 gallons of aquarium water
1 g per 53 gallons of aquarium water
500 mg per 26 gallons of aquarium water
250 mg per 13 gallons of aquarium water

[Note: 1 ounce equals ~28 grams]

When you have measured out the proper amount of the Sanolife MIC-F Powder, scoop up a little water from the tank, mix it with the powder and disperse the mixture evenly throughout the tank. Repeat daily.

Procedure for Administering Sanolife MIC-F Orally

Mixing Sanolife Powder with Frozen Mysis

The recommended dosage is 150 mg of Sanolife MIC-F powder per ounce of frozen Mysis. Thaw out 1 ounce of frozen Mysis. If the thawed Mysis is not sufficiently moist, sprinkle no more than 3 mL of water over the frozen Mysis to moisten it. (The added moisture will help the Sanolife powder adhere to the Mysis.) Gently but thoroughly mix in 150 mg of the Sanolife powder with the thawed, moistened Mysis. Then feed the prepared Mysis to the seahorses immediately or store it for a maximum of 24 hours in the refrigerator. Repeat this procedure for each day’s feedings.

Enriching Live Food with Sanolife Powder

Add 500 mg of Sanolife MIC-F powder per ounce of water in the enrichment container directly to the live adult brine shrimp (Artemia sp.) enrichment container. Apply at least two hours and no more than six hours before harvesting the enriched adult brine shrimp. Feed the enriched adult brine shrimp to your seahorses immediately thereafter or keep the enriched adult brine shrimp in cold storage for a maximum of 24 hours before using. Enrich a new batch of adult brine shrimp with the appropriate amount of the Sanolife powder for each day’s feeding.

If treating seahorses for a health problem, continue to administer the Sanolife MIC-F probiotic orally until the symptoms have completely disappeared and the seahorse is back to normal again.

But the Sanolife probiotics may not be for everyone. They may be unavailable in the area where you live. The proper amount of the probiotic powder must be measured out for each dose in order to achieve good results, and you may lack a good method for accurately measuring out the small amounts required, depending on the size of your tank. Or you may not be in a position to add a daily dose of the probiotics to your seahorse tank.

In that event, using the AquaBella Bio-Enzyme Salt Water Treatment System may be a better alternative for safeguarding the water quality in your seahorse tank. The AquaBella is a mixture of 20 different beneficial microorganisms that are specially engineered to break down waste products and pollutants in the aquarium water naturally, and it can work wonders for the long-term water quality in a small, closed-system aquarium. The AquaBella is available from Doctors Foster and Smith at a cost of about $28 and is a good investment for hobbyists who are having water quality issues and you cannot obtain Sanolife probiotics. AquaBella is extremely easy to use, consisting of six pre-measured syringes, each of which is labeled with the day it is to be used. You simply inject one of the syringes into the aquarium water for 5 consecutive days, using the appropriate syringe for each day, and then add the sixth and final syringe after 90 days have passed. That’s all there is to it — everything else happens automatically as the mixture of beneficial microbes colonizes the tank.

Here is some additional information on the AquaBella Bio-Enzymes that explains what they do and how they work in more detail:

* Breakthrough water treatment system for saltwater aquariums
* 20+ beneficial microorganisms maintain aquarium water quality
* Decomposes aquarium water pollutants and consumes phosphate

Aquabella Bio-Enzyme Salt Water Treatment System

Take the Aquabella challenge to keep saltwater aquarium water clean and crystal clear. Aquabella Bio-Enzyme Salt Water Treatment System is an innovative product designed to maintain aquarium water quality without the need for constant water changes. Dynamic blend of over 20 beneficial microorganisms optimize the natural breakdown of aquarium pollutants. This revolutionary organic water treatment system helps efficient breakdown of water pollutants.

Aquabella Bio-Enzyme Salt Water Treatment System breaks down ammonia, nitrite, nitrate, stabilizes pH levels, reduces odors and consumes phosphate to improve aquarium water quality and to reduce stress on fish. Spend more time enjoying a healthy saltwater aquatic system and less time on water changes. Simply dispense the six syringes according to the application instructions included. 100% organic ingredients. Kit contains six premeasured syringes for correct application rate without the need to mix or measure messy solutions. One kit treats aquariums 5 to 125 gallons.

Directions for use

Aquabella Organic Solutions has designed a unique treatment system to facilitate ease of application. The same procedure for treatment is followed whether you have a 5- or 125-gallon aquarium. Six syringes are conveniently included in the package. Each syringe is clearly labeled to ensure treatment at the correct application rate. NO mixing, measuring, or mess. It is recommended that you begin treatment without changing the saltwater in your aquarium.

Beginning Day 1 – Use syringe labeled "Day 1." Repeat application of product to your aquarium each day for the next 4 consecutive days. On the 90th day after the first application, apply the last remaining syringe labeled "Day 90." This last treatment reinforces the stability of a balanced aquatic ecosystem.

There is no need to stir AquaBella into your saltwater aquarium because the product will mix on its own. From Day 1 to Day 5 each day, plunge the daily pre-measured amounts in the barrel of the syringe into your aquarium. By the end of the 5-day treatment, you will see improvements in pH stability and water quality, which will reduce stress on fish in an aquatic ecosystem.

Aquabella stabilizes pH levels, which reduces stress on your fish. The treatment process incorporates both aerobic and anaerobic bacteria to break down ammonia, nitrite and nitrate to improve water quality and reduce odors.

Handling and Storage

Wash hands after use. If eye irritation occurs, flush with water for 15 minutes. Do not take internally. Keep out of reach of children. Do not reuse syringes for any other purpose; please discard after use. Store at room temperature. Do not refrigerate or freeze. Shelf life of 18 months.

Okay, that’s the rundown on the AquaBella Bio-Enzyme Salt Water Treatment.

You can order the AquaBella online at the following URL:

In summation, Liz, if you feel that your stallion’s problems are due to chronic pouch emphysema or another form of gas bubble syndrome, the appropriate medications to use for his treatments are Diamox combined with a good antibiotic like the minocycline in Maracyn-Two.

At the same time you are treating your male in the hospital tank, you should be concentrating on rehabilitating your main tank in order to reduce the nitrates and restore optimum water quality using the measures we have discussed above for improving the water flow and circulation in your aquarium, upgrading the filtration, and the use of probiotics to reduce the amount of organic wastes in the aquarium.

Best of luck resolving this problem, Liz.

Pete Giwojna

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