- This topic has 8 replies, 2 voices, and was last updated 15 years, 5 months ago by Pete Giwojna.
March 21, 2008 at 7:42 am #1381starinaMember
I am new to this and not sure how things work on here but I have had my male seahorse for about 8 months now and he has been bloated for about three months now. I bought Pimafix and have been injecting it in his stomach one to two times daily and he still is very bloated. He isn\’t pregnant either. I bobs to the top and seems to be distressed all the time. How can I get rid of his bloated stomach?
Thank you for your help
LynnMarch 22, 2008 at 2:01 am #4041Pete GiwojnaGuest
I’m very sorry to hear about the problems with positive buoyancy your bloated male has developed. Please correct me if I’m mistaken, but when you say that your stallion has a bloated stomach, I assume that you mean that his brood pouch, which is situated at the base of his tail right where the abdomen and the prehensile tail merge together in the front, has become swollen and enlarged.
Positive buoyancy in a male seahorse is most often due to gas building up within its brood pouch, which becomes swollen and buoyant as a result, but it can also be due to an overinflated swim bladder in some cases, and the concern is that the problem will worsen until the seahorse is floating at the surface of the aquarium unable to swim or feed.
As in many other bony fishes, the seahorse’s gas bladder functions as a swim bladder, providing the lift needed to give them neutral buoyancy. In essence, the swim bladder is a gas-filled bag used to regulate buoyancy. Because the seahorse’s armor-plated body is quite heavy, this organ is large in Hippocampus and extends well down into the body cavity along the dorsal boundary.
When the swimbladder is inflated with just the right amount of gas, the buoyancy provided by this gasbag exactly cancels out the pull of gravity, and the seahorse will neither tend to float nor tend to sink. This condition is known as neutral buoyancy, and it makes it very easy for the seahorse to swim and maneuver almost effortlessly. But when the swimbladder is over inflated with gas, the seahorse will have positive buoyancy and must exert a lot of energy when swimming in order to counteract the tendency to float. And if the swimbladder is underinflated, the seahorse has negative buoyancy and must swim hard in order to avoid sinking.
The first indication of a problem with positive buoyancy is a loss of equilibrium. The seahorse’s center of gravity shifts as excess gas accumulates in brood pouch or its swim bladder, and it will have increasing difficulty swimming and maintaining its normal posture, especially if it encounters any current. It will become apparent that the seahorse has to work hard to stay submerged, as it is forced to abandon its usual upright swimming posture and swim with its body tilted forward or even horizontally in order to use its dorsal fin to counteract the tendency to rise. If untreated, the problem can worsen until the hapless seahorse is left bobbing helplessly at the top of the tank.
There is an easy way to determine whether positive buoyancy in a male seahorse is due to gas accumulating in its brood pouch or is the result of an overinflated swim bladder, Lynn. If the stallion’s brood pouchis bloated or enlarged, then you can be sure that the problem is due to a buildup of gas in the seahorse’s pouch (or marsupium, as it is also known). If the male’s pouch does not appear to be swollen or inflated, yet it is floating nonetheless, then the positive buoyancy is almost certainly do to a hyperinflated swimbladder, or gas bladder, as it is also known.
Since your stallion has had this problem for so long, I would recommend releasing the gas that is trapped in his pouch and then treating the seahorse with Diamox (the tablet form of acetazolamide). If successful, evacuating the air that has built up in his pouch will provide your seahorse with immediate relief from the positive buoyancy, and the Diamox treatments will help prevent this problem from recurring.
Perhaps the most effective way to release the gas is to carefully insert a small catheter or cannula or tiny pipette into the aperture of the pouch, and then apply firm but gentle pressure to the outside of the pouch. This usually causes the air to escape through the catheter or pipette, providing the affected seahorse with immediate relief. (We will discuss a number of other methods for evacuating the gas from a bloated brood pouch later in this e-mail, Lynn, so that one way or another we can make sure that you release the pressure.)
Once the brood pouch has been emptied of gas, relieving the problem with positive buoyancy, you should treat your stallion with acetazolamide (brand name Diamox) in order to prevent further problems with gas bubble syndrome.
Acetazolamide can either be administered orally by injecting a solution
made from Diamox (the tablet form of acetazolamide) into feeder
shrimp or the tablets can be used to administer acetazolamide as a
series of baths instead. Subcutaneous emphysema or tail bubbles often respond
well to these alternative methods of treatment as well, as explained below:
If the seahorse is still eating, you can also administer the acetazolamide orally, which will allow you to treat the affected seahorse in the main tank amidst familiar surroundings and in the company of its tankmates where it is the most comfortable. 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 Diamox (i.e., 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.
If your male is no longer eating, Lynn, then you will need to administer the Diamox in a hospital tank as a series of baths instead:
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 up to 7-10 days for best results (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 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.
Okay, Lynn, here are some instructions explaining a number of different methods for evacuating the air from your male’s pouch. If you can release the air that’s building up within his pouch, that should provide him with some immediate relief and allow you time to obtain some Diamox and complete his treatments.
Pouch Massage: Burping the Pouch
Pouch bloat is ordinarily easily resolved by evacuating the gas from the marsupium. This procedure is commonly known as pouch massage or "burping" the pouch and it provides immediate relief for the seahorse when successful. The first attempt or two at performing this procedure can be very intimidating, I know, but it is actually much easier than it sounds.
To expel the trapped air, wet your hands first and hold the seahorse upright in the water with your non-dominant hand, allowing his tail to wrap your little finger or ring finger so he has a good grip and feels secure (Burns, 2001). While the seahorse is thus restrained, use your dominant hand to massage the pouch firmly yet gently between your index finger and thumb, working upward with a circular motion from the bottom of the tail toward the top so as to work the trapped gas upwards toward the opening of the pouch (Burns, 2001). Don’t squeeze the pouch too forcibly, just maintain gentle pressure from below as you massage the pouch, always working from the base of the pouch toward the orifice at the top with your thumb and index finger to force the gas upward.
Hopefully, as your massage moves to the upper half of the pouch and approaches the top, the aperture of the pouch will begin to gape open, allowing a stream of bubbles to escape (Burns, 2001). This is the "burp" you’ve been hoping to produce, and when it happens, you can actually feel the bloated pouch slowly deflate as you gently force the bubbles out (Burns, 2001).
If that does not happen, however, you will have to modify your gas evacuation technique somewhat, this time using the thumb and index finger of your non-dominant hand to massage the pouch with a gentle back and forth motion, while you use a bobby pin or similar blunt implement in your dominant hand to carefully tease open the aperture of the pouch (Burns, 2001).
You are not trying to insert the bobby pin into the pouch at all (Burns, 2001). The idea is to use the rubber-coated end of the pin to gently manipulate the orifice of the pouch, using a sideways pressure on the mouth of the pouch to tease it open, rather than using a downward pressure to force the bobby pin into the opening (Burns, 2001).
Begin as before, holding the seahorse upright in the water with your non-dominant hand, allowing his tail to wrap your little finger or ring finger so he has a good grip and feels secure, while leaving your thumb and index finger free to perform the massage (Burns, 2001). Begin at the base of the pouch near the tail, and massage the pouch gently but firmly between your thumb and index finger, working upwards with a back and forth motion as though gently squeezing a toothpaste tube from the bottom to the top (Burns, 2001).
Meanwhile, using your dominant hand, position one of rubber coated ends of the booby pin at the mouth of the slitlike aperture, and use sideways pressure to prise the lips of the pouch open without actually inserting the pin into the pouch (Burns, 2001). This may take a surprising amount of pressure, so proceed gently but firmly, making sure you direct the brunt of the pressure sideways rather than downward (Burns, 2001). As your massage progresses to the upward portion of the pouch, a few small bubbles at a time will be expelled, and you can feel the pouch gradually deflate between your fingers.
Continue applying pressure from the bottom of the pouch up while prizing the mouth of the pouch open until the pouch feels flaccid and no more gas escapes (Burns, 2001). You may have to repeat this procedure two or three times to be sure you have evacuated all of the trapped gas (Burns, 2001).
If successful, it’s an instant cure and your seahorse should be back to normal immediately, able to swim freely and feed as usual. Burping the pouch is stressful, but seahorses are very forgiving and often will swim away and start eating immediately afterward as though nothing happened. This type of pouch gas is not a serious problem and poses no threat to the seahorse’s long-term health.
Eyedropper Pouch Evacuations
Rather than burping or massaging the pouch, some hobbyists find it easier to use an ordinary eyedropper to evacuate the air from a large seahorse’s pouch. This technique is fairly self-explanatory. Get a glass eyedropper (the smaller the better) from your drugstore — the glass kind that has a rubber bulb. The glass tip is much smoother than plastic droppers are and the rubber squeeze-bulb allows you to apply suction using the eyedropper with one hand while holding the seahorse with your other hand.
Take the seahorse in your nondominant hand, keeping it underwater, of course, and let it wrap its tail round your baby finger. Then take the eyedropper in your dominant hand, squeeze the rubber bulb and hold the bulb squeezed closed while you very gently insert the glass tip into the aperture of the pouch. Once you are just slightly inside the pouch, slowly release the squeeze bulb and the bubbles of trapped air will often be aspirated.
Remove the eyedropper, expel the bubbles it extracted, and repeat the whole procedure as necessary to remove all the trapped air and restore neutral buoyancy.
If you have a Pouch Kit from Ocean Rider, the flushing apparatus can be used in a similar manner to aspirate the trapped air.
It is also very practical to aspirate air from a bloated pouch using a small hypodermic needle and a syringe. The pouch can easily be penetrated from side and is not harmed by the entrance of the needle. It causes the seahorse surprisingly little discomfort and is often less traumatic that massaging the pouch and other methods for evacuating gas. It is a quick and effective technique and is often easier on the seahorse keeper and his patient than other approaches.
However, like repeatedly massaging or burping the pouch, needle aspirations can be irritating and harmful to the pouch if they must be performed over and over again. If aspirating the air from the pouch does not cure the problem, and the gas continues to build up and cause buoyancy problems for your seahorse, then you’ll need to attempt flushing out the pouch thoroughly and/or treating the stallion with Diamox instead in order to resolve the problem once and for all.
Whatever method you decide to use to evacuate the male’s pouch, be sure to observe the following precautions when manipulating 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.
In your case, Lynn, if you have the necessary apparatus on hand, it might be better for you to perform a thorough pouch flush right away, since that method of releasing the trapped air is often more effective in preventing a recurrence of the problem. Here are detailed instructions from Leslie Leddo, myself, and other experienced seahorse keepers explaining different ways to perform a pouch flush:
"Pouch Flush Techniques and Tips"
By Leslie Leddo
You will need:
•A small syringe. I like to use a 1-cc syringe.
•A catheter of some sort. It needs to be something that is plastic, very narrow, cannulated, blunt tipped, semi pliable, but not so soft that it bends from just a bit of pressure, on one end and fits snugly on to the tip of a syringe at the opposite end. Some suggestions would include an a plastic intravenous catheter, with the center introducer needle used to puncture the skin and vein order to introduce the catheter removed, a plastic pipette, or the syringe tips that come inside some of the aquarium test kits. If you have access to an IV catheter any size, between an 18 and 25g will work well.
•A bowl. I like to use something with a wide rim so I have space to move freely and have enough room should I need another pair of hands…i.e., an assistant. The syringe and pipette/catheter are both used to flush the pouch as well as to aspirate the previous days flush from the pouch.
How to prepare the Syringe and Catheter:
Draw about 1cc of the medicated flush solution into the syringe by pulling back on the plunger.
Invert the syringe so the tip is pointed up. With the syringe inverted, gently tap it until all the air bubbles come to the surface just below the syringe tip; with the syringe still inverted depress the plunger until all the air is removed from the syringe and a small amount of the solution is emerging from the syringe tip.
Attach the catheter or pipette to the tip of the syringe, depress the plunger of the syringe to fill (prime) the catheter or pipette with the solution.
Okay, now you are ready to flush the pouch. Proceed as follows:
Gently place the horse in the bowl filled with his own tank water. Very gently and slowly introduce the tip of the catheter through the pouch opening, into the pouch. When you enter the pouch you may meet some resistance. If you encounter resistance when inserting the catheter, I have found that it helps to try different angles, rather than pushing forcefully. I have never dissected a seahorse, but from all the evacuations and flushes I have done it feels to me as if the opening to the pouch is more than a simple opening. It feels like a short tunnel, with folds or pockets of tissue along the walls of the tunnel. I have had to flush/evacuate several different horses. They all seem to be built a bit differently.
I have had success entering the pouch opening straight and then angling the catheter down a bit as well as entering at an angle from the start.
Once you have the catheter tip inside the pouch, depress the plunger of the syringe, flushing the pouch until you see some of the solution coming back out of the pouch. Continue to flush the pouch with about .2 to .3 cc.
Once the pouch has been flushed, you want to leave a small amount of flush inside the pouch. Pulling back on the plunger aspirate the some of the fluid until some of the solution has been removed from the pouch, leaving enough so that the pouch remains softly full, but is not at all taught or tight. Place your horse back in his tank
The next day, prior to the new flush, aspirate the previous days flush from the pouch. Using the syringe with the catheter/pipette attached to the tip, insert it as described above. Pull back on the plunger of the syringe withdrawing the flush from the day before.
Now you are ready to administer the newly mixed flush by repeating the steps described above.
Antibiotic Pouch Washes
If you can obtain a suitable small glass eyedropper with a rubber squeeze bulb, the tip of which you can insert into the pouch orifice, you can use the eyedropper to flush the pouch instead. Otherwise, you’ll have to obtain a small pipette or use a small syringe and catheter for the flushes, as previously described in Leslie Leddo’s pouch flushing tips. You will be flushing the male’s pouch once a day for three consecutive days, using a medicated pouch flush solution.
The first thing you’ll need to do is prepare the pouch flush solution. I recommend using a combination of nifurpirinol and neomycin sulfate for the pouch flushes, since that combo works together synergistically to forms a wide spectrum antibiotic with potent antifungal as well as antibacterial properties (Basleer, 2000). Nifurpirinol and neomycin sulfate are the active ingredients in two different commercial products designed for aquarium use, and both of them should both be readily available at your local fish store. Prepare a 50:50 solution by taking approximately 1/10 teaspoon of nifurpirinol and 1/10 teaspoon of neomycin powder (from a capsule) and mixing them together with about 40 cc (or 2-1/2 tablespoons) of tank water from your seahorse setup. (Nifurpirinol comes in tablet form, so you’ll have to crush a tablet into as fine a powder as possible, using a blender if necessary, and then use 1/10 teaspoon of this nifurpirinol powder for the mixture.) Mix the nifurpirinol powder and neomycin sulfate powder with the tank water very well until the medication is thoroughly dissolved. Avoid any undissolved residue that remains. (You will have to make up a new batch of this solution each day for 3 days.)
If you can’t find both nifurpirinol and neomycin, then you can use either one alone, or substitute kanamycin capsules alone, to make your medicated pouch solution. In that case, just use 1/10 teaspoon of the antibiotic powder and mix it thoroughly with about 20 cc (or 1-1/2 tablespoons) of tank water. Again, make a new batch of pouch-flush solution each day.
And here are instructions from Keith Gentry explaining how to do a pouch-flush directly with Diamox:
In cases of recurring pouch emphysema, diamox can be administered as a solution injected into the pouch via an narrow gauge irrigating cannula or plastic 26 or 28 gauge IV catheter sleeve attached to a 0.5 or 1ml syringe (larger syringes should not be used).
Using a blender, mix ½ of a 250mg Diamox tablet with a cup of seawater at the same specific gravity as the tank. Fill the syringe with about .5ml of this solution, avoiding the residue at the bottom of the cup. The seahorse should be held as per the procedure for pouch evacuations.
Insert the catheter sleeve slowly and gently a small way into the pouch opening and inject this solution SLOWLY into the seahorse’s pouch, leaving the solution in the pouch. Make sure you are familiar with the location of the pouch opening.
Never use a metal needle for this procedure.
The procedure may have to be repeated twice to be effective. In stubborn cases, it is recommended to concurrently administer broad spectrum antibiotics. Diamox and antibiotics have been used simultaneously and successfully without appararent side effects.
I believe the dosage of antibiotic is one 250mg tablet of neosulfex per 10 gallons. It’s important you treat the horse in a quarantine tank. Diamox and neosulfex can kill your
For neomycin and sulfa you can use up to 4 times the marine dosage listed on the instruction or are up to 8 times the recommended freshwater dosage. [End quote]
Finally, here are Neil Garrick-Maidment’s instructions for performing his extremely successful pouch flushing procedure:
Hope you don’t mind me interjecting on the point about gas bubble in the
pouch but it is important to emphasise a few things.
When I devised and developed this treatment quite a number of years ago, I
was shocked to hear some of the ways people were clearing the bubbles within
the pouch, from cocktail sticks to straws, which caused irreparable damage
to the pouch and the Seahorse. It is vital that great care is taken when
doing this process and the purchase of a fine blunt ended pipette from the
chemist is the best way.
When handling the Seahorse make sure you have a
firm grip with the pouch facing outwards under the water, its best to have
the tail curled around the little finger to add stability. Then insert the
pipette almost vertically, through the pouch opening so the pipette goes
down into the pouch (almost parallel with the body) and not in towards the
body which will cause major internal and secondary problems.
Once the pipette is safely in the pouch then a fine nozzled hand spray (it must be
fine to fit into the end of the pipette) must be used to flush down through
the pipette, you will notice bubbles of gas being vented from the pouch as
you flush the pouch, initially with water from the tank, this stops shock to
the animal and at the same time clears the pouch. This same method (do not
remove the pipette in between stages) should then be used to add medication
When withdrawing the pipette use a slight twisting motion and remove in
exactly the same direction as it has gone in. The Seahorse will seem a
little shell shocked after this but the immediate release from floating etc
will provide instant relief.
I have had 100% success with this process but
you must be in mind of the Seahorse and its discomfort at all times.
Just before starting make sure you have all your equipment and medication in
place, there is nothing worse than getting part way through and realising
you have forgotten something.
Hope this helps
Neil Garrick-Maidment [close quote]
One of these techniques will hopefully work well for you, Lynn, depending on what medications and equipment you have on hand or have access to for performing the pouch flushes. But no matter what method you use, the first step is to try manually releasing the trapped gas from your male’s pouch. I find the easiest way to do that is to carefully insert a small catheter or cannula or tiny pipette into the aperture of the pouch, as previously described, and then apply firm but gentle pressure to the outside of the pouch. This usually causes the air to escape through the catheter or pipette. This method works very well but it’s easier if you have three hands or a helper to assist you.
Best of luck deflating your stallion’s bloated pouch and resolving this problem with positive buoyancy, Lynn!
Pete GiwojnaMarch 22, 2008 at 9:58 am #4042starinaGuest
Thank you so much for your help and all the information you have given me. I have tried to massage his belly and it goes down but when I stop it inflates again so I will have to try something else you suggested. Is the aperture the hole below the chest area where the babies come out? Not up on all the parts of the seahorse quite yet. Can I put a very small syringe into the side of his belly and suck the air out that way? He seems to be used to me doing that and doesn’t fight it any more. But I tried to put the syringe in the hole above his belly and below his chest area and he went crazy and it seemed to hurt him so I stopped doing that. I hope you understand what area I am talking about here. Again, thank you for your help with this.
One question here also. How often do I have to change the water and sand? Is the changing of the water more inportant than the sand is? And is there a tester kit that I should be using to make sure that the ocean waster is the way it should be for both of them? Thanks again.
LynnMarch 23, 2008 at 12:14 am #4043Pete GiwojnaGuest
Yes, that’s correct — the aperture is the mouth of the pouch where the babies are expelled by the birth spasms when a pregnant male delivers his brood of young. If you can carefully insert a small catheter or cannula or tiny blunt pipette into the slitlike opening of the pouch where the babies come out, as previously described, and massage the pouch gently working from the bottom up towards the aperture at the top, you will find that this will allow the trapped gas to escape easily through the catheter or pipette. Releasing the gas that has built up within the pouch this way should provide the seahorse with temporary relief from the positive buoyancy that is causing him to float.
You can obtain a suitable small catheter or cannula for this purpose from the following vendor:
If the aperture to the pouch is too tight to insert a small catheter or tiny pipette, then the next easiest way to release the gas is by performing a needle aspiration, which should always be done by inserting the needle horizontally through the side of the pouch rather than trying to insert the hypodermic needle vertically through the opening at the top of the pouch. (You never want to try to force a needle through the aperture of the pouch where the babies are released.)
As I mentioned in my previous post, many times it’s relatively easy to aspirate air from a bloated pouch using a small hypodermic needle and a syringe. The pouch can easily be penetrated from side and is not harmed by the entrance of the needle. It causes the seahorse surprisingly little discomfort and is often less traumatic that massaging the pouch and other methods for evacuating gas. It is a quick and effective technique and is often easier on the seahorse keeper and his patient than other approaches.
But you don’t want to perform needle aspirations repeatedly or they can become a source of irritation to the delicate pouch membrane. The skin or integument of the pouch is of course its first line of defense against disease. It contains mucus glands, and the slime covering the skin acts as a barrier to ectoparasites and infection. The protective slime may even contain antibodies and antibacterial substances (Evans, 1998). Marine fish are always in danger of dehydration because the seawater they live in is saltier than their blood and internal body fluids (Kollman, 1998). As a result, they are constantly losing water by diffusion through their gills and the surface of their skin, as well as in their urine (Kollman, 1998). The mucus layer also acts as a barrier against this, waterproofing the skin and reducing the amount of water that can diffuse through its surface (Kollman, 1998).
Repeatedly manipulating or massaging the pouch removes this protective barrier, and the shearing pressures that are involved in "burping" the pouch may aggravate the underlying tissue, resulting in secondary infections of the outer marsupium that can further complicate the picture. So it’s important not to rely on repeatedly massaging the pouch to evacuate trapped gas or to perform multiple needle aspirations to remove the gas from the pouch.
Your stallion is suffering from a form of gas bubble syndrome known as chronic pouch emphysema, Lynn. That means that simply releasing the gas from your male’s pouch bloat won’t cure him. It will provide him with some immediate relief from his positive buoyancy, and he will feel at great deal better temporarily, but then they gas will begin to build up within his pouch again and the positive buoyancy will return. The same thing will happen again and again in the days and weeks ahead, requiring you to repeatedly evacuating his pouch.
In order to prevent this from happening and to keep the bloated pouch from recurring over and over, you will need to treat the seahorse with acetazolamide (brand name Diamox) in addition to releasing the gas from his pouch. So don’t neglect to administer Diamox either orally, if the seahorse is still eating, or as a series of baths if he is not. Releasing the gas from his pouch is merely the first step in his treatment regimen — following up with the Diamox is the second step that may resolve the problem once and for all.
Best of luck evacuating the gas from your male’s pouch and restoring him to normal, Lynn!
Pete GiwojnaMarch 23, 2008 at 10:14 am #4044starinaGuest
Thank you Pete for all that information. I will have to insert a small needle in his stomach and hopefully can get rid of the gas that way as I tried to insert a small needle in to his aperture and he went crazy like it hurt so I stopped. I hope this works this time. Not sure but do I extract the air until his stomach is back to normal again or what? I don’t want to kill him or hurt him by doing this. Thank you again,
LynnMarch 23, 2008 at 10:55 pm #4045Pete GiwojnaGuest
Just to make sure that we are both on the same page, when you perform a needle aspiration, you are not penetrating the seahorse’s stomach, but rather the brood pouch that is slung beneath its belly at the base of its tail.
Also, you cannot release the gas that has built up in your male’s pouch simply by perforating the side of his pouch with a small needle. Rather, you need a hypodermic needle and syringe in order to perform a needle aspiration. You must first depress the plunger on the hypodermic syringe to empty all of the air out of the barrel of the syringe, and then carefully insert the hypodermic needle into the side of the pouch, just far enough to penetrate into the cavity of the pouch, and then gradually withdraw the plunger again, which will extract the gas from that area of the pouch.
You may need to perform this procedure twice, once from the left-hand side of the pouch and once from the right-hand side of the pouch, since male seahorses in breeding condition develop an internal septum or membrane that divides their pouches roughly into left and right hemispheres. So you may need to aspirate air from the left side of the pouch, and then repeat the procedure with your hypodermic needle on the right side of the pouch in order to remove all of the trapped gas from your stallion’s marsupium. But do not penetrate the pouch of your male with a hypodermic needle more than that; if aspirating the gas once from each side of the pouch is not sufficient to deflate the pouch and eliminate the problem with positive buoyancy, then you will need to flush out his pouch instead using one of the methods for performing a pouch flush that I described in my previous post. You will do more harm than good if you try to repeatedly perform needle aspirations (you must avoid turning your male into a pincushion at all costs)!
Also, Lynn, as we have discussed before, releasing the gas from your male’s pouch in this way will merely provide him with some temporary relief, if successful. It won’t cure his problem, and the gas will soon build up in his patch again unless you also treat him with acetazolamide (brand name Diamox) and correct the conditions in your aquarium that trigger this problem in the first place.
Best of luck with the needle aspirations, which are the first step toward resolving this problem, Lynn.
Pete GiwojnaApril 3, 2008 at 8:23 am #4087starinaGuest
Thank you all for the information. I put the syringe into the stomach area and the bubble went down but he was bloated again within a day. Will be getting the Diamox and try that. Thanks again. I have not been on here in awhile and missed the emails that you all have sent. I do appreciate your help very much. LynnApril 4, 2008 at 4:27 am #4098Pete GiwojnaGuest
You’re very welcome!
I’m sorry to hear that simply releasing the gas from your male’s pouch didn’t resolve his problems with gas bubble syndrome. I was afraid that might be the case — when they’ve had positive buoyancy problems for so long, it’s almost always due to chronic pouch emphysema and it keeps recurring unless you can use the Diamox to disrupt the cycle.
Administering the Diamox orally or as a series of baths after you flush out his pouch, or alternatively administering the Diamox directly as a pouch flush, should help relieve this problem.
Unfortunately, obtaining Diamox (the tablet form of acetazolamide) can often be a Catch-22 situation for hobbyists. It is 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. Do a search for "carbonic anhydrase inhibitor" on this forum and print out some of the detailed information that’s been posted regarding gas bubble disease and how it’s treated using Diamox and present that to your family veterinarian and/or your family practitioner. Bring photographs of your stallion with the positive buoyancy problem 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 ailing seahorse in for a quick checkup to get the desired results.)
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 be aware that customs officials can confiscate such shipments.
If you ultimately need to go that route, 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.
Best of luck obtaining the medication you need, Lynn! Here’s hoping your stallion is feeling much better again soon.
Pete GiwojnaApril 6, 2008 at 2:28 am #4106Pete GiwojnaGuest
Unfortunately, that’s often the case with this prescription medication and Diamox (the tablet form of acetazolamide) can be difficult for the average hobbyist to obtain. You have three alternatives at this point:
First of all, you can order the Diamox without a prescription from the online source I mentioned in my previous e-mail. In all probability, the medication will reach you without any problems, although it will take about two weeks to be delivered. Because of this delay, that isn’t much help for a seahorse that is already ailing, but many seahorse keepers find it prudent to order the Diamox from this vendor and then keep it on hand in case it has ever needed.
Secondly, you can appeal to other hobbyists on the various seahorse discussion boards and forums and see if one of them can provide you with some Diamox tablets from their surplus. It usually only takes a handful of the Diamox tablets to treat a case of gas bubble syndrome and once a hobbyist has attained a supply of Diamox from one source or another, the bulk of the medication is typically left over following a treatment regimen. A sympathetic hobbyist may be willing to make some of his excess Diamox available to you.
Finally, you can consider using the recompression/decompression cure to treat your seahorse for chronic pouch emphysema by pressurizing it at a depth of 30 inches or more (the deeper, the better), as explained below. The recompression-decompression cure is a good alternative for treating Gas Bubble Syndrome (GBD) for hobbyists who are having trouble obtaining Diamox for one reason or another. Anyone can set up a simple homemade decompression chamber and be treating their seahorse as soon as they can mix up a new batch of saltwater. I would be happy to run through those procedures again for anyone who finds themselves in this all-two-familiar familiar Diamox dilemma, Lynn:
The Recompression Cure for Gas Bubble Syndrome
Recompression simply involves placing the affected seahorses in a flow-through cage or enclosure and immersing them for a period of days at a depth with sufficient water pressure to cause the emboli to dissolve. The increased hydrostatic pressure causes the gas bubbles that have formed within the tissue and blood of the seahorse to go back into solution where they can be resorbed, relieving the problem. (This is why a decompression chamber is used to treat divers for the "bends," caused by nitrogen gas embolisms within the diver’s tissue and blood.) Afterwards, the seahorses are slowly raised back to normal depth/pressure over a period of hours, allowing the total partial pressures of the dissolved gases in the water and the seahorses’ bloodstream to equalize on the way up.
At present, there is no consensus among the professional aquarists who use this method regarding the exact depth and length of immersion needed to effect a cure. I’ve encountered decompression times ranging from 2 days to 10 days and depths ranging from 10 feet in large aquaria (Paul Groves, pers. com.) to over 35 feet at the bottom of the ocean (Bill Stockly, pers. com.), all of which worked equally well. Interestingly, the shortest immersion time was used successfully at one of the shallowest depths (4 meters) and cured seahorses afflicted with all the different forms of GBS (Paul Groves, pers. com.).
While the exact treatment protocol that will produce the best results remains to be determined, everyone whom has tried the decompression cure agrees as to its remarkable effectiveness. It cures external GBS (subcutaneous emphysema, a.k.a. tail bubbles), chronic pouch emphysema (pouch bloat) and internal GBS equally well. In fact, as long as treatment is begun early enough, before the emboli have caused irreversible damage, decompression has a very high cure rate. It is safe, provides the affected seahorses with immediate relief, and works for all forms of GBS.
Of course, the home hobbyist lacks the resources to apply decompression at the sort of depths employed by the professionals. But I am discussing the recompression-decompression cure in some detail for two reasons. First of all, a number of hobbyists have managed to construct homemade decompression tanks and chambers, and other enterprising hobbyists may wish to follow their lead (Lisa Hovis, pers. com.). Homemade decompression devices range from simple tubes of water 6-12 inches in diameter and 4-12 feet tall capped at one end, designed merely to increase hydrostatic pressure, to pressurized wide-mouth bottles complete with pressure gauges and bleeder valves (Lisa Hovis, pers. com.). Secondly, I suspect that when enough data comes in we will find that a depth considerably less than 10 feet and relatively short immersion times will prove to be adequate to resolve most cases of GBS.
For example, while working with the Hawaiian seahorse (Hippocampus fisheri) at the Waikiki Aquarium, Karen Brittain found that all the specimens kept in smaller, shallower aquaria developed subcutaneous gas bubbles within a matter of months, whereas H. fisheri that were maintained in tanks at least 1 meter deep fared much better (Bull and Mitchell, 2002, p37). The Hawaiian seahorse remains pelagic all its life, typically being found at least a mile offshore in deep water, and Brittain speculates that H. fisheri needs to migrate to depths unachievable under normal aquarium conditions to maintain proper physiological balance (Bull and Mitchell, 2002, p37). I think she is absolutely correct. It seems likely that H. fisheri follows a daily vertical migration pattern, perhaps synchronized with the movements of plankton. Her findings suggest that tanks a minimum of 3 feet deep can provide a measure of protection against GBS, and custom-built aquaria of those dimensions are certainly within the realm of the home hobbyist.
This remains a fertile field for future research. It has been suggested that should there be an outbreak of GBS in one of your aquariums, transferring the seahorses to an aquarium at least 3 times as deep can decompress the patients and prevent a recurrence of such problems (Wooten and Waughman, 2004). This suggestion has a lot of merit. Even upgrading to a tank that’s twice as deep would be quite advantageous in terms of GBS prevention. Much work remains to be done to develop decompression guidelines for seahorses and to determine what sort of depth is needed to confer protection from GBS to different species. But when it comes to GBS, two things are certain: deeper tanks are healthier for seahorses and recompression can achieve remarkable recoveries.
In short, many times your best bet to cure internal GBS may be to try a moderate form of recompression to help your seahorse recover. What I have in mind is confining the affected seahorse in a flow-through enclosure at the bottom of a 50-gallon Rubbermaid enclosure 40 inches deep, or something similar, for a period of about 3 days. Once the seahorse is immersed at the bottom of this homemade "decompression chamber," you cannot raise it to the surface again for daily feedings. Since your decompression chamber will have no biofiltration, I would simply fast your seahorse while it recompresses at depth. It can easily go without eating for a few days and that will help eliminate any ammonia spikes in the meantime.
If you decide to try this, be sure to keep your makeshift decompression chamber well-aerated. A shallow airstone anchored just below the surface — NOT at the bottom of the decompression chamber! — to provide surface agitation and oxygenation should suffice.
When the recompression period is finished, raise the seahorse to the surface (or lower the water level in the hydrostatic chamber) gradually, in a series of stages, over a period of several hours, to assure that the patient decompresses completely and the gas emboli don’t reform.
Lighting your homemade decompression chamber isn’t really necessary. Seahorses have outstanding visual acuity and see very well under low light conditions (a couple of species are even said to have adopted nocturnal behavior in the face of heavy fishing pressure), so your male seahorse will be able to see well under the ambient light levels that penetrate and 50-gallon bucket. You won’t be feeding him while he’s undergoing the decompression cure, so he doesn’t need to be able to see well enough to hunt small prey or anything like that, and the darkened conditions may give him a sense of security and help him relax, since he won’t be feeling so exposed and vulnerable.
If you want to keep an eye on him periodically while he’s undergoing pressurization, you can just take a quick peek now and then using a flashlight.
When the recompression period is finished, raise the seahorse to the surface (or lower the water level in the hydrostatic chamber) gradually, in a series of stages, over a period of several hours, to assure that he decompresses completely and the gas emboli don’t reform.
One of our other Club members (Christine) recently used this method to cure her seahorse of internal GBS after Diamox baths had been tried unsuccessfully. Here is how Chris described her experience with GBS, and her treatment method with her homemade decompression chamber, in posts to the group:
Hi — After 3 days of diamox Heidi was still buoyant (the diamox did not
seem to have helped at all), and swimming with the tip of her head
sticking out of the top of the water, clearly frustrated with her
situation. I looked at her with a magnifying class, and can’t see any
external signs of bubbles. I also don’t see any signs of bloating or
I followed Pete’s suggestions, took her off the diamox to restore her
appetite, gave her 1 day of rest in the hospital tank with clean water
and Kanamycin. She ate well yesterday and this morning. I rigged up
an inexpensive way of submersing her to 3 times the depth of my 30
gallon display tank. (I priced building a 6 ft deep tank out of an
acrylic tube attached to a base, or acrylic rectangles
attached to a base, and it came out to be anywhere from $250 to $400.
They wanted to charge $175 per linear foot of the acrylic tube thick
enough to safely support a 5 or 6 ft column of water). I’m going to
try the cheap method first, and will build a deeper aquarium if she
needs a greater water pressure.
So-I have her in a ‘critter keeper’ (small plastic container with a
lid that has slots in it and a viewing window in the center) with 2
soft rubber hitching posts. The lid has 4 large criss-crossed rubber
bands on it just in case the lid comes off. I made sure there weren’t
any bubbles underneath the critter keeper or underneath the little
clear viewing lid on the top. I bought a 50 gallon rubbermaid bucket
which gives a water depth of 3 1/2 ft when filled. The critter keeper
is inside a 5 gallon white bucket weighted down with a signature
coral, with a rope tied to the bucket handle (made it easy to lower
into the big bucket). I lowered her slowly this morning, and she
seems fine (not pinned against the lid of the critter keeper, and she
is able to go between the 2 hitching posts). I have an airstone going
at the surface of the deep bucket, as Pete suggested. I can see her
with a flashlight. Her breathing looks normal.
I filled the 50 gallon bucket yesterday with the shower! and let it
‘degas’ for one day (also to make sure that it didn’t spring a leak.
It is in the bathtub). The water temp is 70 degrees. I matched the
specific gravity and ph of the hospital tank.
Heidi is going to remain there for 2-3 days, as per Pete’s suggestion.
After that, I will bring her up very slowly (or unload the water from
the big bucket very slowly). I hope this works! Our big bathroom has
been completely taken over with buckets, hospital tank, salt mix, etc.
Wish us luck!
And here is Christine’s follow-up message after the recompression-decompression treatment was completed:
Hi Pete and Everybody, Heidi is okay! No more floating. I unloaded
the water from my makeshift compression chamber very slowly, as per
Pete’s suggestion, rather than pulled up the critter keeper from the
bottom (much safer to unload the water). I then transferred the
critter keeper she was in to a 5 gal bucket of clean saltwater,
and she swam out when I opened the lid. I decided to do a water
change in the main tank before putting her back in, and used the water
I pulled out of the main tank (74 degrees) to warm up the water she
had been in (70 degrees) to help re-acclimate her to the main tank.
She is eating and swimming as normal, back to her aggressive self with
the turkey baster and Mysis. She is very happy to be back in the
display tank, and is enjoying swimming all around, once again
neutrally buoyant. She was sooo happy to see her favorite coral
colored fake coral. Her color is going back from being dark brown
(her under stress color) to light brown/gold today. I hope to see
her go back to her coral color soon. Thanks for your help Pete!
I hope I never again have a SH with the floaties!
For the record, she was in a critter keeper inside a 5 gal bucket
weighted down with a fake (Signature) coral at the bottom of 40 inches
of water in a Rubbermaid 50 gallon bucket (on wheels-a new bucket). I
had an airstone at the top as per Pete’s instructions. She was in for
2 1/2 days.
For best results, the decompression sure is often combined with antibiotic therapy. It is a simple matter to administer a regimen of antibiotics while the seahorse is submerged at the bottom of the 50-gallon Rubbermaid bucket. (Just don’t perform any water changes while the seahorse is undergoing recompression-decompression.) This would help prevent any secondary infections which are often associated with GBS or stress, and would also cover all the bases if you suspect the underlying cause of your seahorse’s positive buoyancy may be due to a bacterial infection.
For the antibiotic therapy, kanamycin, neomycin, and nifurpirinol are the antibiotics I prefer. I would recommend using two of them (i.e., kanamycin/neomycin or nifurpinol/neomycin) in combination for even greater efficacy, as described below:
This is a potent broad-spectrum, gram+/gram- antibiotic. It is wonderfully effective for aquarium use because it is one of the few antibiotics that dissolves well in saltwater and that is readily absorbed through the skin of the fish. That makes it the treatment of choice for treating many bacterial infections in seahorses. Kanamycin can be combined safely with neomycin to further increase its efficacy. Like other gram-negative antibiotics, it will destroy your biofiltration and should be used in a hospital tank only.
Nifurpirinol is a nitrofuran antibiotic that is the active ingredient in many commercial preparations designed for use in the aquarium. It is stable in saltwater and rapidly absorbed by fish, making it the preferred treatment for fungal infections in seahorses (Burns, 2002). Nifurpirinol is photosensitive and may be inactivated in bright light, so use this medication only in a darkened hospital tank.
Nifurpirinol may be combined with neomycin (see below) to produce a potent broad-spectrum medication that’s effective against both fungus and bacteria. Nifurpirinol/neomycin is therefore a great combination to use when you’re not certain whether the infection you are treating is fungal or bacterial in nature.
Neomycin is a very potent gram-negative antibiotic. Most of infections that plague marine fish are gram-negative, so neomycin sulfate can be a wonder drug for seahorses (Burns, 2002). As mentioned above, it can even be combined with other medications such as kanamycin or nifurpirinol for increased efficacy. For example, kanamycin/neomycin is tremendous for treating bacterial infections, while nifurpirinol/neomycin makes a combination that packs a heckuva wallop for treating mixed bacterial/fungal infections or problems of unknown nature. Keep it on hand at all times.
Neomycin will destroy beneficial bacteria and disrupt your biological filtration, so be sure to administer the drug in a hospital tank.
One other thing to keep in mind is water temperature. Since you’re homemade decompression chamber is unheated, the water temperature will gradually fall over the three-day treatment period. This is fine and to be is expected — and even beneficial in many respects — but it does mean that once the decompression period is over, you may have to acclimate the seahorse for temperature before returning the patient to the main tank.
In short, Lynn, you might want to consider ordering the Diamox from the outline vendor I suggest and then pressurized the affected stallion in a homemade decompression chamber as described above while you are waiting for the medication to arrive.
Best of luck obtaining the medication you need and resolving your male’s buoyancy problem.
I am having a hard time finding Diamox anywhere in my area. Not sure what else to do as I am more comfortable giving this to my seahorse that trying any other thing you have mentioned. I have checked the Vet, the place where I bought my seahorse and I even called my doctor as it is a perscription. I can’t get it anywhree. Do you have or know of any place whre I can get the Diamox. My seahorse is so bloated and is not getting tiny bubbles all over him. I am concerned he will get stressed over all this again since he wont’ be able to swim properly. Any thoughts again on this one.
Thank you so much for you help,
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