Re:Sick SeaHorse

Pete Giwojna

Dear Jeff:

I’m sorry to hear about the snout problem your seahorse has developed. The reddish "pimple" on its snout is actually a fungal or bacterial lesion, which is often seen in the initial stages of snout rot. I would suggest immediate treatment with antibiotics and topical applications, as explained in more detail below.

Here’s an excerpt on snout rot from my new book, (Complete Guide to Greater Seahorses in the Aquarium, unpublished) which discusses treatment options you can explore:

<open quote>

Snout rot is a dreadful disease that afflicts all Syngnathids. It’s a dangerous disease that requires immediate treatment in order to save the seahorse.

Snout rot is the result of an infection, which can be either bacterial or fungal in nature (Giwojna, Oct. 2003). The initial symptoms are discoloration and slight swelling in the affected area of the snout. At this early stage, the seahorse is often not bothered by its affliction and eats and feeds normally. A spar But don’t let that lead to complacency — you cannot afford to take a "wait-and-see" approach with this affliction! As the disease progresses, the infection will begin to eat away the underlying tissue, and if left untreated, snout rot is both disfiguring and deadly (Giwojna, Oct. 2003).

The tip of the snout is often the first area affected, becoming inflamed and eroding away, and once its mouthparts are involved, the seahorse can no longer be saved. It is unable to feed, its jaws disintegrate, and the tip of the snout is progressively eaten away (Giwojna, Oct. 2003). I have seen seahorses with over half their snouts missing, and euthanasia is the only recourse for fish in this pathetic condition.

I have seen several cases of snout rot as a secondary infection in seahorses recovering from protozoan parasites that attack the gills, and in those cases the progression of the disease was somewhat different (Giwojna, Oct. 2003). The barrel of the snout was often affected rather than the tip, and instead of the end of the snout eroding away, one or more holes were eaten through the snout elsewhere (Giwojna, Oct. 2003). Although its jaws and mouthparts are intact when this happens, the seahorse’s ability to feed is still impaired because it can’t generate adequate suction through its suddenly "leaky" snout. In such cases, the snout rot may be preceded or accompanied by other unusual ailments, such as weak snick, trigger lock or "lockjaw (Giwojna, Oct. 2003)."

There is considerable anecdotal evidence suggesting that bacterial snout rot can be differentiated from the fungal form of the disease by a close visual inspection (a hand lens or magnifying glass may be required for this). If the snout rot is due to a fungal infection, the affected area of the snout is often pinkish and may appear lumpy or raised, whereas when bacterial infection is at work, white tissue is exposed upon flaking or sloughing of the skin (Giwojna, Oct. 2003). Thus, many hobbyists maintain that if the affected area of the snout looks pinkish, it’s fungus, but if the affected area appears whitish, it’s a bacterial problem (Giwojna, Oct. 2003). This information can help guide you to the appropriate treatment.

Medications with powerful antifungal agents such as nifurpirinol (the active ingredient in Furanase) are a good treatment for snout rot when a fungal infection is indicated (Giwojna, Oct. 2003). A wide spectrum antibiotic such as kanamycin or neomycin, or both combined together, is a good choice when bacterial snout rot is indicated (Giwojna, Oct. 2003).

If you are unsure whether bacteria or fungus is involved, combining nifurpirinol (Furanase) with neomycin is an excellent option, as is treating with a good combination drug that has both antifungal and antibacterial properties (Giwojna, Oct. 2003). Treatment should take place in a hospital ward or quarantine tank to avoid nuking your biofilter.

Some success has also been reported using topical solutions using iodine-based disinfectants combined with formalin, or even a concentrated solution of sodium chloride, to treat the affected area of the snout (Giwojna, Oct. 2003). The high-dose sodium chloride treatment is milder but safer, as great care must be taken not to get these topical solutions in the gills, eyes, or mouth of the seahorse, which is difficult to prevent when treating the snout (Giwojna, Oct. 2003).

Personally, I would NOT waste time trying Betadine or sodium chloride topically when dealing with snout rot. I would begin antibiotic therapy in isolation at once. Be sure to use the marine dose of the medication. Stay on top of the water quality in your hospital tank with water changes as often as needed, and redose with the medication according to directions after each water change. <Close quote>

Okay, Jeff, that’s the quick rundown on snout rot. Since the infected lesion appears reddish in your case, I would suggest treatment with nifurpirinol (Furanase) or Furan2, combined with topical treatments as discussed below. Furan2 is a good choice as an antibiotic for snout rot when the lesion appears pinkish or reddish rather than white (nifurpirinol or Furanase is also one of the nitrofuran antibiotics), but for best results I would recommend applying anti-fungal and antibacterial ointments topically each day, sir, rather than a solution of Betadine or sodium chloride. The medications the pros prefer for this are 1% Silver Sulfadiazine Cream and Animax (or a triple antibiotic ointment).

The Silver Sulfadiazine Cream is specific for fungus, whereas the triple antibiotic ointment tackles secondary bacterial infection of the lesion. Here is how curators use these topical creams to treat similar lesions on the snouts of their prized Seadragons:

"It was best to treat the animal out of the water (although I know this can be a problem with seadragons). Animax was applied first and left on the animal out of the water for 30 seconds. The animal was then placed in a second bucket of tank water to allow the Animax to disperse and the seahorse to breathe before applying the Silver Sulfadiazine Cream. The Animax is rather liquidy, so it sloughs off the animal quickly in water. The Silver Sulfadiazine Cream was then applied with a small wooden applicator (the blunt end of a toothpick might also work well) and the animal returned to the tank. The Silver Sulfadiazine Cream is thicker in consistency so it stays on the animal for quite a while. It might make sense to treat the animal during an off-feed time of day if treating the snout. If the animal is off-feed, it might make sense to tube feed the animal." (Paul Anderson, pers. comm.)

You might need to obtain the Silver Sulfadiazine Cream and Animax from a veterinarian, but you could always get a triple antibiotic ointment off-the-shelf at any drugstore that would probably work as well as the Animax.

Gradually reducing the water temperature to 70°F in the treatment tank should help a great deal, and treating the red spot with a regimen of Furan2 according to instructions along with topical treatments of Silver Sulfadiazine Cream and a good triple antibiotic ointment should help prevent the infected red spot from eating through the seahorse’s snout.

When handling your seahorse to administer the topical treatments, Jeff, be sure to observe the following precautions.

Handling Seahorses

I do not like to use an aquarium net to transfer or manipulate seahorses, since their delicate fins and snouts can become entangled in the netting all too easily. I much prefer to transfer the seahorses by hand. Simply wet your hand and fingers (to avoid removing any of the seahorse’s protective slime coat) and scoop the seahorses in your hand. Allow them to curl their tail around your fingers and carefully cup their bodies in your hand to support them while you lift them out of the water. When you gently immerse your hand in the destination tank, the seahorse will release its grip and swim away as though nothing out of the ordinary has happened.

Composed of solid muscle and endowed with extraordinary skeletal support, the prehensile tail is amazingly strong. Indeed, large specimens have a grip like an anaconda, and when a 12-inch ingens or abdominalis wraps its tail around your hand and tightens its hold, its vise-like grip is powerful enough to leave you counting your fingers afterwards!

In fact, it can be quite difficult to remove an attached seahorse from its holdfast without injuring it in the process. Never attempt to forcibly detach a seahorse from its hitching post! When it feels threatened, it’s instinct is to clamp down and hold on all the tighter. When you must dislodge a seahorse from its resting place for any reason, it’s best to use the tickle technique instead. Gently tickling the underside of the tail where it’s wrapped around the object will usually induce the seahorse to release its grip (Abbott, 2003). They don’t seem to like that at all, and will quickly let go to move away to another spot. Once they are swimming, they are easy to handle.

Best of luck resolving your seahorse’s snout problem, Jeff!

Pete Giwojna

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