Re:vomiting seahorse

#4787
Pete Giwojna
Guest

Dear 007:

My best guess is that you may be dealing with a mild case of weak snick or a similar feeding problem. I have seen and heard of many instances of weak snick and related feeding disorders (sticky trigger, trigger lock, lockjaw) in seahorses over the years, all of which involve a malfunction of the seahorses suctorial feeding mechanism that prevents the affected individuals from being able to generate sufficient suction to slurp up their food. Those types of feeding problems are typically due to either a mechanical injury or an infection affecting the seahorse’s hyoid bone trigger mechanism or the underlying musculature with which it generates the powerful suction that it uses when feeding. Such mechanical injuries can sometimes be caused by ingesting a foreign object while feeding, or the problem may be due to protozoan parasites and/or secondary infections that attack the gills and eventually affect the muscles that operate the buccal suction pump and/or the opercular suction pumps.

It sounds as though the affected seahorse is spitting up some of the Mysis and then repeatedly attempting to slurp it up and swallow it again because it cannot generate sufficient suction in one snick to macerate the food and ingest it. It seems to take the seahorse two or three attempts before it can get the food down on some occasions, but it’s a good sign that he is eventually able to swallow the morsel.

Since only your male Sunburst seems to be affected and all of the other seahorses are thriving and eating normally, I suspect that your male’s relatively weak snick is the result of a mechanical injury or muscular strain in this case, as explained in greater detail below, and since this seems to be a mild case that is not preventing the stallion from eating entire, I believe he will recover without the need for any treatment.

<Open quote>
A common cause of weak snick in many instances is a mechanical injury to the seahorse’s hyoid-bone "trigger" mechanism. This sometimes happens when a seahorse accidentally ingests a foreign object when feeding off the bottom. The offending particle is often a piece of gravel or crushed shell. When a hard, sizable foreign object such as this is ingested, it can lodge in the throat or snout, and the seahorse may have difficulty expelling it again. (The seahorse’s feeding mechanism is much better suited for sucking things in than spitting them out again.) When that happens, the seahorse is almost always able to clear the offending object eventually, but sometimes not before it causes considerable irritation or the repeated efforts to eject it cause a muscular strain to the hyoid trigger mechanism. The seahorse then acts as though it has a very bad sore throat. The suction it generates is weak and both the act of pulling the trigger and the act of swallowing appear to be painful. The seahorse feeds reluctantly or halfheartedly as a result, and may eventually stop feeding altogether. Such mechanical injuries can also open the door for snout rot.

Suspect a mechanical injury when the weak snick or sticky trigger is not accompanied by respiratory distress, when only one of your seahorses is affected and exhibiting unusual symptoms, or when you witnessed the seahorse struggling to expel a foreign object. In such cases, most often the problem clears up on its own after two weeks to two months as the injury heals. No treatment is necessary and the key to a successful outcome is keeping the patient eating while the healing takes place. That’s what treatment should concentrate on.

When these feeding difficulties arise, it’s a good idea to try tempting the affected seahorse with live adult brine shrimp. Seahorses suffering from weak snick induced by an injury may have better luck slurping up smaller, lighter, soft-bodied prey like brine shrimp; if so, that will be enough to keep them going while they heal. You’ll want to enrich the brine shrimp to maximize its nutritional value, and gutloading the shrimp with an enrichment product high in HUFA such as Vibrance is a good way to fortify it beforehand. Brine shrimp are filter feeders that will ingest whatever is suspended in the water with them, so all you need to do is add a pinch or two (or drop or two) of the enrichment formula to a small container of saltwater swarming with brine shrimp at least 30 minutes before you offer the shrimp to your seahorse.

Some hobbyists dealing with weak snick have had good success in coaxing the affected seahorse to feed by transferring the seahorse to a critter keeper or breeder net or similar enclosure that can hang within the main tank itself, and then adding a generous amount of live adult brine shrimp to the container. Within the enclosure, the affected seahorse does not have to compete with its tankmates for the live food, and it is easy to maintain an adequate feeding density within the confined space so that there is always a big juicy brine shrimp passing within striking distance of the hungry seahorse. Add one or two hitching posts within the critter keeper or breeder net so that your male can anchor in place and wait for a tasty brine shrimp to pass within easy reach, and give him an hour or two within the enclosure to eat him fill of the softbodied adult brine shrimp. You can monitor his progress from a nonthreatening distance away from the tank to see how she is doing. In most cases, the seahorse quickly becomes familiar with the routine of being transferred to the special enclosure at feeding time and associates it with tasty live foods and a full belly — positive reinforcements that make it a very nonthreatening, stress-free procedure for the affected seahorse — and, as a result, it may actually come to look forward to it after a few feedings. You can repeat this feeding process two or three times daily in order to fatten him up again, if your schedule allows.
<Close quote>

In short, 007, if the affected seahorse is experiencing respiratory distress or any other indications that suggest the problem could be due to protozoan parasites, please let me know right away and I will provide you with some detailed treatment options explaining how to treat your aquarium to eradicate such protozoan parasites. But if he is not showing any other symptoms other than a moderate loss of suction when feeding, and your other seahorses continues to thrive and eat normally, then you’re most likely dealing with a muscular strain or mechanical injury, and keeping your male eating by providing him with abundant softbodied adult brine shrimp to slurp up, if necessary, is probably the best approach to this problem.

Keep an eye on the trend when the affected stallion is feeding. If the problem is only sporadic, it will probably gradually begin to improve on its own. If not, if the problem appears to get worse rather than better, let me know and there are some other things you can try that may correct the situation. Also, if you search this forum for weak snick, you will find a lot more information on related feeding disorders…

Best of luck with your seahorses, 007! Here’s hoping your male Sunburst is soon scarfing down his full complement of frozen Mysis again with the greatest of ease.

Respectfully,
Pete Giwojna


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