I’m sorry to hear about the problem you been having with your yellow and black seahorses, but I don’t have enough information to go on right now to determine exactly what is causing the problem. It sounds like you have some sort of pathogen or parasites that is affecting the seahorses and that caused the death of one of them, but discoloration and spots can be caused by many different disease organisms. If you can provide me with photographs of the affected seahorse(s) and tell me a little more about your aquarium system, I may be able to provide you with a better diagnosis and therefore better assistance and guidance, Robin.
If you are able to take digital photographs of the seahorse(s), you can send them to me at the following e-mail address: [email protected]
In addition, it will be helpful if you could tell me what species of seahorses you have, Robin, and whether or not they are captive-bred-and-raised or wild-caught seahorses.
Can you please describe the aquarium system you are using for your seahorse tank, Robin? How large is the aquarium (length, width, and height)? What kind of filtration equipment is installed and running on the aquarium? What type of lighting system does the tank you? How long has your seahorse tank been up and running? Please list all of the current inhabitants of the aquarium you will be using as your seahorse tank, if any.
Finally, can you please tell me your current readings for the following aquarium parameters, Robin:
Discoloration and spots could be an indication of external parasites, among other things, Robin. If external parasites are involved, the seahorses will often exhibit symptoms of respiratory distress since many of these parasites invade the gills of the fish and impair their breathing. Seahorses will also often scratch against objects are scratch themselves with their tails due to the irritation caused by the parasites. Have you noticed any of those symptoms in your seahorses, Robin?
If so, it may be time to consider dipping your seahorse or administering a therapeutic baths, which can provide a seahorse with temporary relief from a problem with external parasites. The most effective bath or dip for you to administer will depend on what medications you have on hand or that you can obtain from your local fish stores, Robin, but I will provide detailed instructions for administering three such therapeutic baths below, and one of those should work well for you.
Administering a short-term dip to the affected seahorses that will provide them with some immediate (albeit temporary) relief. Dipping the seahorses will eliminate the bulk of the external parasites that are irritating them and causing the respiratory distress, providing them with quick relief, but they will eventually be reinfested once they are returned to the tank, so in the event you are dealing with an outbreak of parasites, Robin, treating the main tank will eventually be necessary to resolve the problem once and for all.
Here are instructions for performing the therapeutic dips that may be helpful if you are having a problem with external parasites (protozoans or ciliates), Robin:
Methylene Blue Dip
First of all, you may want to consider administering a single, very brief (5-10 seconds — no more than 10 seconds maximum) dip in a solution of methylene blue between 30-50 ppm, as described below. Prepare the solution of methylene blue using saltwater from your seahorses tank ahead of time. Time the very short Methylene blue dip closely — maybe keep each seahorse in your hand while you dip it in the blue so there’s no fumbling around to capture it when time’s up — pull the pony out after 10 seconds and immediately return it to the main tank afterwards.
If you can obtain the Kordon brand of Methylene Blue (available at most well-stocked local fish stores), their suggested treatment protocol for treating external parasites as a dip is as follows:
For use as a dip for treatment of external parasitic protozoans:
(a) Prepare a nonmetallic container of sufficient size to contain the fish to be treated by adding water similar to the original aquarium.
(b) Add 5 teaspoons (24.65 ml) per 3 gallons of water. This produces a concentration of 50 ppm. It is not recommended that the concentration be increased beyond 50 ppm.
(c) Place fishes to be treated in this solution for no longer than 10 seconds.
(d) Return fish to original aquarium.
See the following link for more information on treating with Kordon’s Methylene Blue:
Click here: KPD-28 Methylene Blue
If your methylene blue is not Kordon (KPD-28) Methylene Blue, then disregard the instructions above and follow the manufacturer’s instructions for using your brand as a bath or dip instead.
Another alternative would be to use formalin treatments at 1ml/gal for a 1 hour bath every other day until the scratching stops for up to 3 treatments, Robin. However, bear in mind that formalin consumes oxygen and can therefore be hard on seahorses that are having breathing problems of any type. But formalin is very effective in eradicating gill flukes and protozoan parasites. The formalin does have the added virtue of working wonders with seahorses when they’re cloudy eyes are due to monogenetic trematodes or eye flukes. If you try the formalin baths, Robin, be sure to observe the precautions outlined below:
Formalin (HCHO) is basically a 37% solution of formaldehyde and water. It is a potent external fungicide, external protozoacide, and antiparasitic, and is thus an effective medication for eradicating external parasites, treating fungal lesions, and reducing the swelling from such infections. It is a wonder drug for treating cases of Popeye caused by trematodes, and also eradicates external nematodes.
In my experience, provided it is administered properly, seahorses tolerate treatment with formalin very well at therapeutic dosages. For a long term bath the correct dose is 15 to 25 mg/L. [Note: 25 mg/L equals 1 ml (cc) of 37% formalin per 10 gallons of water.] This is done every other day for 3 treatments.
For a short term bath (dip) the correct dose is 250 mg/L. This would equal 1 ml (cc) of 37% formalin per 1 gallon of water. This should be for about 45 minutes to 1 hour. In my opinion, formalin is a safe, effective treatment for parasitic infections in seahorses providing you don’t exceed these dosages and observe the following precautions for administering the medication properly:
Many commercial formalin products are readily available to hobbyists, such as Kordon’s Formalin 3, Formalin-F sold by Natchez Animal Supply, and Paracide-F, sold by Argent Chemical Laboratories. Or whatever brand of formalin is available at your fish store should work fine, Pam.
A formalin bath simply involves immersing the seahorse in a container of saltwater which contains the proper dosage of formalin for a period of 30-60 minutes before transferring it to your hospital tank. Include a hitching post of some sort in the container and follow these instructions: place the fish in a three-gallon bucket or a similar clean, inert container containing precisely one gallon of siphoned, aerated tank water. Medicate the bucket of water with the appropriate amount of formalin for a concentrated bath according to the directions on the label. Place an airstone in the bucket and leave the fish in the bath for 30 minutes. If at any time the fish becomes listless, exhausted or loses its balance, immediately place the fish in clean, untreated water in your hospital tank.
I want you to be aware of these precautions when administering the formalin bath:
Formalin has limited shelf life and degrades to the highly toxic substance paraformaldehyde (identified as a white precipitate on the bottom of the solution); avoid using any formalin product which has such a precipitate at the bottom of the bottle.
Formalin basically consumes oxygen so vigorous aeration must be provided during treatment.
Time the bath closely and never exceed one hour of chemical exposure at this concentration.
Observe the seahorse closely during the bath at all times, and it show signs of distress before the allotted time has elapsed, remove it from the treatment immediately.
If you can obtain Formalin 3 from Kordon at your LFS, Robin, these are the instructions you should follow for your formalin dip:
METHOD 2 (DIP) FOR THE PREVENTION OR TREATMENT OF FISH DISEASES
(a) To a clean, non-metallic container (i.e., a plastic bucket), add one or more gallons of fresh tap water treated with Kordon’s AmQuel . For marine fish use freshly prepared saltwater adjusted to the same specific gravity (or salinity) as in the original tank. Make sure the temperature in the container is identical to that in the aquarium
(b) Add 1 teaspoons of Formalin•3. This produces a concentration of 100 ppm. formaldehyde.
(c) Agitate the solution with an airstone and adjust for a moderately strong flow of air.
(d) Remove the fishes to be treated and deposit them in the container for a treatment period of not more than 50 minutes. Immediately after the treatment period, or if signs of distress are noted, remove the fishes to a previously prepared recovery tank. The fishes may be returned to their original tank, but the presence of the original disease-causing agents in the tank water may result in a reoccurrence of the disease condition.
(e) Observe recovering fishes. Make sure that tankmates do not molest them during recovery.
(f) Repeat treatment as needed, every week. Each treatment is very stressful to the treated fishes. Do not reuse the dip solution.
For additional information on treating fishes with Formalin 3 by Kordon, see the following web page:
Click here: KPD-54 Formalin-3
If you get another brand of formalin, just follow the instructions that it comes with for a concentrated bath or dip (not prolonged immersion or a long-term bath) or follow the following directions, courtesy of Ann at the org:
FORMALIN Short-Term BATH Dosage and Preparation Instructions
Active Ingredient: 37% Formaldehyde
Indication: external parasites
Brand Names: Formalin, Formalin-MS
1. Do NOT use Formalin that has a white residue at the bottom of the bottle. White residue
indicates the presence of Paraformaldehyde which is very toxic.
2. "Formalin 3" by Kordon contains only 3% Formaldehyde. Dosing instructions will need to be modified if using this product.
• Fill a small tank with aged, aerated, dechlorinated marine water. Match the pH, temperature, and salinity to that of the tank the Seahorse is currently in.
• Add an artifical hitch and 1-2 vigorously bubbling airlines. Formalin reduces dissolved O2 so heavy aeration is required.
• Add 1ml/cc of Formalin per one gallon (3.8 liters) of tank water. Allow several minutes for the Formalin to disperse.
• Place the Seahorse into the dip water for 45-60 minutes unless it is showing signs of an adverse reaction. If the Seahorse cannot tolerate the Formalin dip, immediately move it back to the hospital tank.
• Observe the Seahorse for 24hrs for signs of improvement.
Finally, here are the instructions for performing a freshwater dip, Robin, which is a good option for many hobbyists who do not happen to have access to the methylene blue or formalin. Most seahorses tolerate the freshwater dips very well providing that the pH and temperature of the freshwater have been adjusted to match the temperature and pH of the seahorse tank. (Ordinary baking soda can be used to adjust the pH of the freshwater.)
A freshwater dip is simply immersing your seahorse in pure, detoxified freshwater that’s been preadjusted to the same temp and pH as the water the seahorse is accustomed to, for a period of at least 10 minutes (Giwojna, Dec. 2003). It doesn’t harm them — seahorses typically tolerate freshwater dips exceptionally well and a 10-minute dip should be perfectly safe. Freshwater dips are effective because marine fish tolerate the immersion in freshwater far better than the external parasites they play host to; the change in osmotic pressure kills or incapacitates such microorganisms within 7-8 minutes (Giwojna, Dec. 2003). A minimum dip, if the fish seems to be doing fine, is therefore 8 minutes. Include some sort of hitching post in the dipping container and shoot for the full 10 minutes with your seahorses (Giwojna, Dec. 2003).
If you will be using tap water for the freshwater dip, be sure to dechlorinate it beforehand. This can be accomplished usually one of the commercial dechlorinators, which typically include sodium thiosulfate and perhaps a chloramine remover as well, or by aerating the tap water for at least 24 hours to dissipate the chlorine (Giwojna, Dec. 2003).
If you dechlorinate the dip water with a sodium thiosulfate product, be sure to use an airstone to aerate it for at least one hour before administering the dip. This is because the sodium thiosulfate depletes the water of oxygen and the dip water must therefore be oxygenated before its suitable for your seahorse(s). Regardless of how you detoxify the freshwater for the dip, it’s important to aerate the water in the dipping container well beforehand to increase the level of dissolved oxygen in the water. Many hobbyists leave the airstone in the dipping container throughout the procedure.
Adjusting the pH of the water in the dipping container so that it matches the pH of the water in the aquarium is a crucial step. Ordinary baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) will suffice for raising the pH of the water. If there is too much of a difference in the pH, there is a possibility the seahorse could go into shock during the dipping procedure. Preadjusting the pH will prevent that from happening. If you will are unsure about your ability to accurately adjust the pH in the dipping container, avoid this procedure altogether or be prepared to monitor the seahorse very carefully or shorten the duration of the tip to no more than about 2 minutes.
Observe the horse closely during the dip. You may see some immediate signs of distress or shock. Sometimes the horse will immediately lie on its side on the bottom. That’s a fairly common reaction — normal and to be expected, rather than a cause for concern, so don’t be alarmed if this happens. Just nudge or tap the seahorse gently with your finger if it lies down on its side. Normally, the seahorse will respond to the slight nudge by righting itself again and calm down for the duration of the dip. However, if it does not respond, stop the treatment.
Most seahorses tolerate the treatment well and experience no problems, but if you see continued signs of distress — twitching, thrashing around etc. — stop the treatment immediately and return the seahorse to normal strength saltwater. How well the seahorses tolerate a freshwater dip can vary from individual to individual and from species to species, but Hippocampus erectus seahorses tolerate the freshwater dips very nicely.
After you have completed the dip and returned the seahorses to the aquarium, save the dip water and examine it closely for any sign of parasites. The change in osmotic pressure from saltwater to freshwater will cause ectoparasites to lyse (i.e., swell and burst) or drop off their host after 7-10 minutes, and they will be left behind in the dipping water. Protozoan parasites are microscopic and won’t be visible to the naked eye, but some of the other ectoparasites can be clearly seen. For example, monogenetic trematodes will appear as opaque sesame seeds drifting in the water (Giwojna, Aug. 2003) and nematodes may be visible as tiny hairlike worms 1/16-3/16 of an inch long. Other parasites may appear as tiny dots in the water. Freshwater dips can thus often provide affected seahorses with some immediate relief by ridding them of these irritating pests and can also aid their breathing by flushing out gill parasites.
If you suspect a problem with parasites, the dip should be extended for the full 8-10 minutes if possible for best results.
Any of the dips are baths mentioned above should provide your seahorse with immediate relief and will serve as a helpful first aid measure to start with, Robin. However, for a heavy infestation, it is also necessary to treat the seahorse tank in order to eradicate the parasites. There are a number of good antiparasitics that are safe to use in the main tank, and I would be happy to recommend a good antiparasitic for you to use if the therapeutic dip provides your seahorse with relief from its respiratory distress, indicating a potential problem with parasites.
But discoloration (depigmentation of the skin) and suspicious white spots or blotches on the body of the seahorse can also be an indication of a bacterial infection or fungal infection that attacks the skin and underlying tissue, Robin, and in that case the appropriate treatment is to administer broad-spectrum antibiotics or therapeutics in a hospital tank.
In a case like this, when it’s unclear whether you are dealing with a a parasite problem or a bacterial infection, a fungal problem, or a mixed infection, treatment with Instant Ocean Lifeguard in your hospital tank or quarantine tank is a good place to start, Robin. Instant Ocean Lifeguard is easy to use, inexpensive, and often available at local fish stores, including Petco and Petsmart retail stores so it is easy to obtain, allowing you to begin treatment promptly, which is very important for obtaining good results. The product may have a variety of different names depending on where you purchase it, including Instant Ocean Lifeguard, Instant Ocean Lifeguard Saltwater, or Instant Ocean Lifeguard All-in-One Marine Remedy.
Here is some more information explaining the type of problems Instant Ocean Lifeguard is often effective in treating and how to use the medication:
Instant Ocean Lifeguard
Instant Ocean Lifeguard Saltwater tablets with HaloShield® attack a broad range of external fish diseases in saltwater aquariums including bacterial, fungal, viral, and parasitic. It’s HaloShield®, a revolutionary non-antibiotic agent, that makes LIFEGUARD pre-measured tablets so tough on harmful disease-causing microorganisms.
It is made by Instant Ocean, it is specifically for marine use and treats the following: ick, oodinium, fungus,milky or shedding slime,bacterial gill disease, mouth and fin rot, clamped or torn fins, and ulcers.
Safeguard tanks with LIFEGUARD! One tablet treats 10 gallons of water, recommended treatment is for five days.
Keep your aquatic pets healthy and fit with Instant Ocean LIFEGUARD All-In-One Marine Remedy. This therapeutic treatment is ideal for marine fish and treats clinical signs of diseases in its earliest stages. HaloShield® eliminates disease-causing microorganisms, and each tablet is premeasured for precise dosage and dissolves easily in water. Instant Ocean Lifeguard Saltwater is effective against marine Ick & Oodinium.
Ideal for use with marine fish
Treats a range of diseases, including bacterial, fungal, viral and parasitic conditions
HaloShield destroys disease-causing microorganisms
Effective against marine ick and oodinium
Tablets are premeasured and dissolve easily
Add 1 tablet per day to each 10 gal. of water
Made in the USA
Active ingredients: 1-chloro-2,2,5,5-tetramethyl-4-imidazolidinone.
Before treatment, remove filter carbon and turn off UV sterilizer. Add one tablet per day to each 10 US gallons of aquarium water using the enclosed treatment apparatus. Use treatment for 5 consecutive days, at 24-hour intervals. For best results, after 5-day treatment is complete, wait 24 hours (day 6), then return activated carbon and turn on UV sterilizer. Perform a 25% water change using a dechlorinator and a bacteria-enzyme to condition aquarium water. To treat smaller aquariums, break tablet along score lines. Each 1/4 tablet treats 2-1/2 US gallons.
Keep out of reach of children. For aquarium use only. Not for use on food fish. Not suitable for invertebrates or newly set up aquariums. Some macroalgae may show sensitivity. Use only as directed. Do not overdose. If overdose occurs, add carbon or dechlorinator as directed for immediate neutralization.
Available in a 16 pack
Okay, Robin, that’s the rundown on the Instant Ocean Lifeguard, which is what I would recommend that you try at this point without knowing more about the problems you’ve been having and your seahorse setup. In order to use the Instant Ocean Lifeguard, you would need to treat your seahorse in a quarantine tank or hospital tank, perform a 100% water change each day to maintain optimum water quality, and then re-dose with the medication according to the instructions above each day for five consecutive days. 24 hours after the fifth treatment (i.e., on the sixth day of treatment), you can return the seahorse’s) to the main tank.
If you don’t have a hospital tank or quarantine tank up and running at this time, Robin, you will need to set one up. This is what I normally advise home hobbyists regarding a suitable hospital tank, Robin:
Basic Hospital Tank set up
Live sand and live rock are not necessary in a hospital tank. A bare-bottomed aquarium with plenty of hitching posts will suffice for a hospital ward or Quarantine Tank (QT). Ideally, the hospital tank should have one or more foam filters for biofiltration along with a small external filter, which can easily be removed from the tank during treatment but which can hold activated carbon or polyfilter pads when it’s time to pull the meds out. It’s important for the hospital ward to include enough hitching posts so that the seahorse won’t feel vulnerable or exposed during treatment. Aquarium safe, inert plastic plants or homemade hitching posts fashioned from polypropylene rope or twine that has been unraveled and anchored at one end are excellent for a hospital tank. No aquarium reflector is necessary. Ambient room light will suffice. (Bright lights can breakdown and inactivate certain medications and seahorses are more comfortable and feel more secure under relatively dim lighting.)
So just a bare tank with hitching posts is all you need for your hospital ward. No heater. No reflector. No lights. No substrate. You can even do without the sponge filters or external filter in your case, just adding a couple of airstones to provide surface agitation and oxygenation. That’s it.
In a pinch, a clean 5-gallon plastic bucket (new and unused, NOT an old scrub bucket!) can serve as a makeshift hospital tank. It should be aerated and equipped with hitching posts and perhaps a heater, but nothing else. This makes a useful substitute when the Quarantine Tank is occupied or in use and a seahorse needs treatment.
Stay on top of water quality in the hospital tank/bucket with water changes as often as needed during treatment, and and when you are treating the occupants for a health problem, re-dose with the medication(s) according to directions after each water change.
As you can see, Robin, hospital tank is pretty easy to set up because it’s not intended to house the seahorses long-term, only while they undergo a treatment regimen that usually lasts 5-14 days.
For filtration, I keep things really simple in a hospital tank, using only foolproof air-operated sponge filters for my dwarf seahorses. Avoid sponge filters with weighted bottoms or other metal components, however, since they will rust when exposed to saltwater. Sooner or later this will cause problems in a marine aquarium (sooner in the small setups that are most suitable for H. zosterae). Select a sponge filter that has no metal parts and is safe for use in saltwater. The proper units will have suction cups to anchor them in place rather than a weighted bottom.
The sponge filters I find that work well are the Oxygen Plus Bio-Filters (models 2, 3, 4, or 5) or the Tetra Brilliant foam filters. They have no metal components, making them completely safe for use in saltwater, and just one of these foam filters will do the job on a tank of 5 gallons or less. They do not have a weighted bottom but are equipped with suction cups instead. Two of the smaller models can be used on larger 25-gallon tank like yours, Robin, but one of the larger models, like the one at the link below, would be sufficient for your 10-gallon aquarium:
Click here: Foam Aquarium Filters: Oxygen Plus Bio-Filter 2
Avoid the Oxygen Plus Bio-filter 6, 11, and the Multi sponge, which all have a weighted bottom (metal), that rusts when exposed to saltwater. If you want more filtration, you’re better off going with two of the smaller suction cup sponge filters rather than any of the models with weighted bottoms.
All you need to operate sponge or foam filters is an inexpensive, diaphragm-operated air pump (whatever is available at a reasonable price from your LFS will do just fine), a length of airline tubing to connect the air pump to the foam filter(s), and a set of air valves (gang valves) to regulate the air flow to the filters. That’s all — nothing to it! The inexpensive Apollo 5 air pumps work great for sponge filters, but whatever air pump you have on hand should certainly do the job.
Cleaning the foam filters is a snap. Simply immerse them in a bucket of saltwater and gently squeeze out the sponge until it’s clean and releases no more sediment or debris. Run a bottlebrush through the inside of the tube, wipe off the outside of the tube, and you’re done. The filter is ready to go back in the aquarium with no impairment at all of the biofiltration. Takes only a couple minutes.
Okay, Robin, those are my thoughts regarding setting up a hospital tank.
Please get back to me as soon as possible with the additional information I requested about your seahorses and your seahorse tank, along with any photographs of the affected seahorses you can provide, and I may be able to provide you with better guidance on treating this problem and getting your seahorses back to normal again.
Pete Giwojna, Ocean Rider Tech Support