- This topic has 3 replies, 2 voices, and was last updated 15 years, 1 month ago by Pete Giwojna.
May 21, 2006 at 11:58 pm #820teresaMember
My barb his little belly is very bloated to the point he is actually floating across the top of the tank with his belly straight in the air.
please give some help how to relieve this
TeresaMay 22, 2006 at 8:00 pm #2536Pete GiwojnaGuest
I’m sorry to hear that your seahorse has developed problems with positive buoyancy. I assume that your seahorse is a male and that his pouch has become bloated due to gas or air that has become trapped or accumulated within the marsupium. This is a fairly common problem with male seahorses, and you’ll need to remove the trapped gas or air by "burping" or massaging his pouch or by performing a pouch flush, as discussed below:
First I’ll outline the treatment protocol I recommend in cases like this, Teresa, and then I’ll explain some of the ways to evacuate the air from your male’s pouch:
First Treatment: Manually Evacuating Gas from the Pouch
At the first sign of a bloated pouch accompanied by any indications of positive buoyancy, the pouch should be "burped" or the trapped gas should be evacuated using a fine catheter. That will provide the affected seahorse with immediate relief, and if this simple first-aid measure resolves the issue, all is well and good.
In that case, the problem was no doubt due to simple pouch bloat, a harmless sort of gas build up that is entirely unrelated to chronic pouch emphysema. Pouch bloat can be caused by gas produced by the decay of embryonic material and the remains of placental tissue or other organic matter (possibly even stillborn young) within the brood pouch, if the male is unable to flush it out and cleanse it properly by pumping water in and out during its pouch displays (Cozzi-Schmarr, per. com.). And in some isolated cases, it’s possible that a bacterial infection of the pouch may also be involved (Cozzi-Schmarr, 2003). But it is far more common for pouch bloat to result from air bubbles trapped in the pouch during courtship displays, especially if the male chooses to display in the bubble stream produced by an airstone or bubble wand or bubble curtain (Strawn, 1954)..
However, hobbyists should be aware that even a case of simple pouch bloat can contribute to recurring pouch emphysema, a much more serious problem, if it is not handled properly. The simple act of of struggling against the positive buoyancy that results from pouch bloat can alter the seahorse’s blood chemistry, and result in full-blown PE via acidosis of the blood if the problem is not relieved promptly.
The first indication of both pouch bloat and PE is a loss of equilibrium. The seahorse’s center of gravity shifts as the gas accumulates in its pouch, 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.
The uncharacteristically hard work it must do while swimming means the hard-pressed seahorse builds up an oxygen debt in its muscles, and the lactic acid that builds up as a result of anaerobic metabolism further disrupts its blood chemistry and worsens the situation. It will struggle mightily in a losing battle against its increasing buoyancy until finally it can no longer swim at all, bobbing helplessly at the surface like a cork whenever it releases its grip on its hitching post. At this point, its pouch will be obviously swollen and bloated.
It is imperative that the gas be evacuated and neutral buoyancy restored long before that happens in order to assure that the affected seahorse is subjected to the least possible stress and does not have to overexert itself for an extended period. The longer it must fight against positive buoyancy, the greater the chances its blood will be acidified in the process and the more likely it becomes that a case of basic pouch bloat can progress into recurring pouch emphysema.
Breeding males are often especially susceptible to chronic pouch emphysema and GBS in general because of the placenta-like changes that occur in the lining of the pouch during pregnancy. Spongelike, its tissues expand as the capillaries and blood vessels swell and multiply. A film of tissue then forms around each embedded egg, providing it with a separate compartment (alveolus) of its own. The thickening of the wall of the marsupium and elaboration of pouch structures around the implanted eggs result in a dramatic increase in vascularization, and this increased blood supply (hence increased concentration of carbonic anhydrase) transports more dissolved gases to the pouch, increasing the risk of GBS accordingly.
Ideally, the air should be evacuated from the male’s pouch at the first sign of positive buoyancy. If this simple procedure does not cure the problem, then it is appropriate to move on to stronger measures once the problem recurs, as described below.
Second Treatment: Flushing the Pouch combined with administering Acetazolmide orally.
In my experience, acetazolmide (brand name Diamox) is much more effective in treating PE when it is ingested rather than administered as a pouch flush or a series of baths. Therefore, if pouch gas recurs a second time, I recommend treating it more aggressively with antibiotic/antifungal pouch washes while feeding the affected seahorse Diamox-injected shrimp (or Diamox bioencapsulated in live shrimp, depending on how badly handicapped the buoyant male happens to be when it comes to feeding).
The pouch flush solution I prefer is a combination of nifurpirinol and neomycin sulfate, since that combo works together synergistically to forms a wide spectrum antibiotic with potent antifungal as well as antibacterial properties (Basleer, 2000). Nifurpirinol (Furanase) and neomycin sulfate (Neosulfex) are the active ingredients in two different commercial products designed for aquarium use, and both of them used to be readily available at your local fish store. Neosulfex has since been discontinued, I believe, but neomycin sulfate is still found in many aquarium medications and is also available online from the National Fish Pharmacy.
Because it is so difficult to distinguish chronic pouch emphysema (PE) from ordinary pouch bloat, which has virtually identical symptoms, many seahorse keepers delay treatment too long when their prize ponies are experiencing buoyancy problems. They will often continue to evacuate the air from the pouch repeatedly in the forlorn hope that their stallion has not developed a life-threatening form of GBS but merely trapped a little air during his pouch displays. Very often this is wishful thinking, which only delays the inevitable and subjects the seahorse to ongoing stress needlessly, while making successful treatment more difficult by increasing the risk that gas emboli will form elsewhere and cause more damage in the meantime. In many cases, all you accomplish by waiting and hoping for the best is to allow the PE to become more advanced, more entrenched, and more severe in the interim.
To avoid this sort of needless delay, I suggest flushing the pouch thoroughly with antibiotics at the first sign of pouch gas and positive buoyancy should your initial attempt to evacuate the air fail to cure the problem (Garrick-Maidment, pers. com.). The affected seahorse must be handled in order to "burp" its pouch or evacuate the air via pouch massage anyway, so I recommend administering an antibiotic pouch wash at the same time.
Not only is repeatedly evacuating the air from the male’s pouch counterproductive in most cases, the constant manipulation can be hard on the tissue of the pouch, aggravating the dermal layers of the marsupium and leaving them vulnerable to secondary infections. (The male marsupium is far more complex than most hobbyists realize, consisting of four separate layers of epithelial and connective tissue, with the innermost layers being heavily vascularized.)
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 burping or massaging the pouch removes this protective barrier, and the shearing pressures that are involved may aggravate the underlying tissue, resulting in secondary infections of the outer marsupium that can further complicate the picture.
Progressing directly to flushing the pouch plus oral Diamox after the first pouch evacuation helps minimize these repeated insults to the delicate marsupium.
If all goes well, as it usually does when the proper measures are performed in a timely fashion, a third round of treatments is normally not necessary. In fact, some experts report a 100% cure rate for pouch emphysema when such pouch flushes are properly administered during the early stages of the condition (Garrick-Maidment, per. com.).
However, if the pouch flushes and an oral Diamox should fail to resolve the problem, the recompression-decompression cure would be your next recourse. Paul Groves found pressurization to be an effective cure for pouch emphysema, as well as the other forms of GBS, while he was conducting his extensive series of trials with gas bubble syndrome.
And if they happen to have the necessary equipment already on hand, some hobbyists prefer to treat PE with recompression-decompression as their second form of treatment, skipping over the Diamox and pouch flushes altogether. I have not tried the latter personally, however.
OK, Teresa, here are some instructions on how to carry out that first treatment to evacuate the air from your male’s pouch. That should provide him with some immediate relief and hopefully no other treatments will be necessary.
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.
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.
Best of luck treating your male’s buoyancy problem, Teresa! Let me know if completely evacuated the air from his pouch resolves the problem or if his buoyancy problems come back. If the problem recurs, it may be necessary to treat him with Diamox and pouch washes in the next step, and I will be happy to provide you with complete instructions display name exactly how to do so.
Pete GiwojnaJanuary 3, 2009 at 12:23 pm #4571ChristieNJGuest
I want to thank you so very much for the information on this subject .My baby boy horse was in trouble and we did it ! He is doing great thanks to you and this club.I am new with my horses But love them dearly .I only have 2 they are a pair and both boys .Just made my day that the air is out and he can swim normal again and dance 🙂 Thank You for helping .January 4, 2009 at 4:52 am #4572Pete GiwojnaGuest
Congratulations on performing a successful pouch evacuation! It is always intimidating the first time you have to "burp" a male’s pouch or perform a pouch flush to release trapped gas, but once you have accomplished the procedure, everything will go much more smoothly if the need ever arises again. Well done.
However, you need to be aware that problems with bloated pouch and pouch gas tend to recur, and that many times massaging the pouch or manually releasing the air only provides a temporary reprieve. Repeatedly massaging or burping the pouch can cause irritation to the delicate tissues and membrane of the marsupium, which can eventually lead to secondary infections, so you should be prepared to perform a pouch flush or a needle aspiration or to treat the seahorse with Diamox if the gas continues to build up in his pouch and he has more problems with positive buoyancy.
Purchasing a pouch kit from Ocean Rider (seahorse.com) and obtaining some of the Diamox at this time, well you are male is feeling better and can swim and eat normally again, would be a very sensible precaution so that you can keep them on hand against the event that they will be needed. If you don’t already have one, you might want to consider obtaining a pouch kit from Ocean Rider in case these problems persist.
Unfortunately, obtaining Diamox (the tablet form of acetazolamide) can often be a Catch-22 situation for hobbyists. It is a carbonic anhydrase inhibitor — a prescription drug often used for treating glaucoma, hydrocephaly, epilepsy, congestive heart failure, and altitude sickness in humans, so you have to get it from your Vet or perhaps your family doctor. Unfortunately, Veterinarians are often unfamiliar with Diamox — it’s very much a people med and unless you find a Vet that works with fish regularly, he or she will probably never have heard of gas bubble disease or treating it with carbonic anhydrase inhibitors. Many pet owners are on very good terms with their Vets, who are accustomed to prescribing medications for animals, so it’s often best to approach your Vet first about obtaining Diamox despite the fact they may never have heard of it until you brought it to their attention. Your family doctor, of course, will be familiar with such medications and have Diamox on hand but it can sometimes be difficult to get your MD to jump that final hurdle and prescribe it for a pet. Either way, it can be tough to get the medication you need under these circumstances.
However, I would exhaust those possibilities first before I considered an online source for the Diamox. Print out some of the detailed information that’s been posted regarding pouch emphysema and gas bubble syndrome (GBS) on this forum, and how it’s treated using Diamox, and present that to your family veterinarian and/or your family practitioner. Bring photographs of the affected male 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 your male 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, as you know, customs officials can confiscate such shipments, although that very rarely happens with this particular medication.
If you ultimately need to go that route, Trudy, 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. That’s why it’s best to plan ahead and line up the medication now, before it’s actually needed.
If more gas does build up in your male’s pouch in the meantime, you can always perform a needle aspiration or evacuate the trapped gas using a small catheter or pipette, or better yet flush his pouch out thoroughly as previously described, to provide him with relief and buy time until the pouch kit and/or Diamox have arrived.
In the meantime, you may also want to make some modifications to your seahorse tank to help prevent problems with chronic pouch emphysema and other forms of gas bubble syndrome in the future, Trudy. Here’s some additional information that will help explain the causes of GBS and some of the precautionary measures you can take to make your seahorse tank more resistant to such problems:
Gas bubble syndrome (GBS) is a mysterious, widely misunderstood affliction that can take on many different incarnations. As you know, gas bubble syndrome is believed to be caused by gas emboli forming within the tissue of heavily vascularized portions of the seahorse’s anatomy — the placenta-like brood pouch of males, the eye, the muscular prehensile tail — and it can take several different forms depending on where the bubbles or emboli occur. When it occurs in the brood pouch of the male, chronic pouch emphysema or bloated pouch results, leading to positive buoyancy, which is by far the most common form of GBS. When it occurs in the capillary network behind the eye (choroid rete), Exopthalmus or Popeye results, and the eye(s) can become enormously swollen. When it affects the capillary network of the gas bladder (the rete mirabile), hyperinflation of the swimbladder occurs, resulting in positive buoyancy. When it affects the tail or snout, external gas bubbles (i.e., subcutaneous emphysema) form just beneath the skin and look like raised blisters. When intravascular emboli occur deep within the tissue and occlude blood flow, generalized edema results in the affected area. Or extravascular emboli may cause gas to build up within the coelom, often resulting in positive buoyancy and swelling or bloating of the abdominal cavity (internal GBS).
The mechanisms by which the gas emboli can spread and grow, and the type of insults that can result are therefore fairly well known, but the etiology of GBS is otherwise still poorly understood, and there are many theories as to what causes the gas embolisms to form in the first place. Nitrogen gas supersaturation of the water, the unique physiology of the male’s brood pouch, malfunctions of the pseudobranch or the gas gland of the swim bladder, stress-related changes in blood chemistry that affect the oxygen-carrying capacity of hemoglobin, infection with gas-producing bacteria — all these and more have been advanced as mechanisms that could trigger the formation of the gas embolisms at some point. Very likely GBS has multiple causes, but most experts now believe it is due to physical conditions in the seahorse tank rather than any sort of pathogen, and I would be happy to share my thoughts on the matter with you, for whatever it’s worth.
For starters, let me stress that if it’s very unlikely that any sort of disease organisms or pathogen causes GBD. It is not at all contagious and does not appear to spread from seahorse to seahorse. To my knowledge, no one has ever been able to isolate a pathogen from the marsupium of the male with pouch emphysema or from the subcutaneous emphysema that characterize seahorses with tail bubbles. If bacteria play a role in GBD, I am confident it is only as a secondary infection.
In other words, gas bubble syndrome is not a disease that seahorses contract after being exposed to a pathogen of some sort, but they will often develop the condition when kept in a system that exposes them to gas supersaturation, insufficient water depth, stress, inadequate water circulation, a bacteria-laden substrate or other environmental factors conducive to the formation of gas emboli. In other words, it is an environmental disease, triggered by certain conditions within the aquarium itself. In my experience, the environmental triggers that are most often associated with GBS are as follows:
1) Insufficient depth (aquaria that are less than 20 inches deep are very susceptible to GBS, and the taller the aquarium is, the more resistant it will be to GBS).
2) Gas supersaturation of the aquarium water, which can lead directly to the formation of gas emboli within the blood and tissues of seahorses.
3) Changes in the seahorse’s blood chemistry (i.e., acidosis). Anything that tends to acidify the blood of the seahorses can result in GBS, including stress, low levels of dissolved oxygen and/or high levels of CO2, and low pH in the aquarium water, among other factors.
Maintaining your reduced specific gravity and water temperature are good ways to minimize future problems with GBS due to gas supersaturation, but there are a number of other things to keep in mind in that regard as well.
For example, tall aquariums minimize problems with GBS because the deeper the water and the greater the hydrostatic pressure, the more dissolved gases the water (and the seahorse’s blood) can hold in solution. By the same token, the shallower the aquarium and the less water pressure there is, the less dissolved gases the water can hold and the more likely gas is to come out of solution and form gas emboli (i.e., seed bubbles) in the blood and tissues.
The point is that the greater hydrostatic pressure at increased depth is known to protect seahorses against GBS, whereas the reduced hydrostatic pressure in shallow aquaria is known to be conducive to gas bubble syndrome. I have found that GBS is a very common problem for seahorses in home aquariums that are less than 24-inches tall, whereas there is considerable evidence that tanks 3 feet deep or more provide a measure of protection against GBS. This is because the gas emboli that cause GBS form more readily at reduced hydrostatic pressure, and will go back into solution again if the hydrostatic pressure is increased sufficiently, and obviously the deeper the aquarium the greater the hydrostatic pressure at the bottom of the tank. (In fact, seahorses with GBS can often be cured by submerging them at depths great enough to recompress them (> 10 feet) and cause the gas to go back into solution.)
Here is some information that reviews the most common aquarium stressors, among other causes of GBS, and discusses some simple methods for minimizing problems with GBS. Please look it over closely and see if any of these factors may have contributed to this problem in your case:
Preventing Gas Bubble Syndrome
Since GBS is caused by physical factors in the seahorse setup, when the affliction crops up, it’s a red flag that indicates that there’s something amiss with the conditions in your tank. With that in mind, I would like to quickly review some of the preventative measures aquarists can take to minimize problems with Gas Bubble Syndrome:
(1) Aquarium options (Giwojna, Jan. 2004):
Taller is better. When shopping for a seahorse setup, opt for the tall or high model of the largest aquarium you can reasonable afford and maintain. If the tank is too short, male seahorses may not be able to get enough pumping action in as they ascend and descend during courtship displays and mating (the copulatory rise) to flush out their pouches and cleanse them properly (Cozzi-Schmarr, 2003). This can contribute to bloated pouch, a type of pouch emphysema.
As a rule, your seahorses require a minimum of three times their height (total length) in vertical swimming space in order to mate comfortably and help avoid this sort of pouch gas problem.
Other forms of GBS are also believed to be depth related, but the aquarium must be greater than 30 inches deep to provide any significant protection against them, which is not feasible for most hobbyists (Giwojna, Jan. 2004). As an example, a water depth of at least 3 feet is known to protect the Hawaiian seahorse (Hippocampus fisheri) against GBD (Karen Brittain, pers. com.).
If you’ve had a problem with GBS in the past, look for a tank at least 20-30 inches tall, reduce your water temp to 68°F-72°F, reduce the specific gravity of the aquarium water, and avoid overly tall hitching posts that reach near the water’s surface (Cozzi-Schmarr, 2003). You want to encourage the seahorses to hang out near the bottom in order to take advantage of every inch of depth the aquarium can provide.
(2) Filtration options (Giwojna, Jan. 2004):
Gas supersaturation of the water can occur whenever the dissolved gas pressure in the water is greater than the atmospheric pressure. When that happens, the dissolved gases in the seahorse’s tissues are no longer in equilibrium with the surrounding aquarium water, causing gas to move into the area with lower partial gas pressure — the tissues and blood of the seahorse – and come out of solution, forming gas emboli! Providing proper filtration, circulation, and aeration can help prevent this.
Trickle filter (acts as a de-embolizing tower or degassing column in a limited fashion).
External filter that returns water as a "water fall" or a canister filter with a spray bar return positioned so that it roils the water surface.
Sump with strong aeration.
Overflow drains, as opposed to siphon/suction tubes.
Surface agitation to facilitate efficient gas exchange.
Increased circulation and water movement.
Extra airstone(s) just below the surface of the water.
Having a trickle filter, water "falling" into the tank as it’s returned, or strong aeration and surface agitation in the tank or the sump will help off-gas any supersaturated dissolved gases (Giwojna, Jan. 2004). This will also help off-gas a build up of CO2 and the associated pH drop that some tanks experience when the lights go off and photosynthesis has no longer taking place (Giwojna, Jan. 2004). The off gassing or degassing takes place only at the very air/water interface, so you want to spread the water into very thin sheets and let it be in contact with the atmosphere for an extended period (Robin Weber, pers. com.). That is precisely what a degas column does by trickling water over solid media open to the atmosphere, and if properly maintained and operated, a wet/dry trickle filter or biowheel filter can often perform the same function to a limited extent (Jorge A. Gomezjurado, pers. com.). For best results, the outflow from a trickle filter should go into a baffled chamber that will allow bubbles to dissipate before they enter pumps or plumbing restrictions (J. Charles Delbeek, pers. com.).
Airstones, air lifts, bubble wands, etc., that are submerged deeper than 18 inches.
Subsurface entry of the inflowing or recirculating water.
Protein skimmers that generate a bubble column by injecting air under pressure at depth.
On small, closed-system aquariums, supersaturation is often due to the entraining of air on the intake side of a leaky pump, which then chops the air into fine microbubbles and injects it into the water (Cripe, Kowalski and Phipps, 1999). Water and air are thus mixed under high pressure and forced into the water column, which can result in gas supersaturation. An air leak in inflowing or recirculating water that enters the tank below the surface can cause the same thing (Cripe, Kowalski and Phipps, 1999). Allowing the water to splash before it enters the tank is a simple way to prevent this from happening. The splashing helps the water to expel excess gas and reach equilibrium with the ambient air pressure (Giwojna, Jan. 2004).
Likewise, airstones, air lifts, bubble wands and the like can cause problems if they are too deep because they will cause gas to dissolve in water to match the ambient pressure (the current atmospheric pressure) PLUS the pressure of the water column above the stone. If they are immersed at a depth greater than 18 inches, the pressure of the water column above them may be sufficient to cause low-level gas supersaturation of the water, especially when there is little atmosphere/water interface (Colt & Westers, 1982). For example, Robin Weber found that airstone submerged in reservoirs 3 feet deep produced gas supersaturation at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. The airstones produced supersaturation at a level of about 104%, and the only cases of GBS she has ever observed at the aquarium occurred in the most supersaturated exhibits. So keep your airstones shallow!
Protein skimmers that inject air under pressure at depth, or produce bubbles a foot or more below the surface, can be problematic for seahorses and other fish fry again because that can cause gas to dissolve in the aquarium water at ambient pressure (the current atmospheric pressure) PLUS the pressure of the water column above the bubbles. Under certain circumstances, this can cause low level gas supersaturation of the water and contribute to problems with gas bubble disease (Colt & Westers, 1982) in syngnathids (i.e., seahorses and pipefish). Other skimmers can also cause problems by releasing clouds of microbubbles into the aquarium, which is unsightly and can contribute to certain forms of gas bubble syndrome in seahorses and pipefish such as subcutaneous emphysema, chronic pouch emphysema, Exopthalmia, and hyperinflation of the gas bladder under certain circumstances. (Problems can result if the microbubbles are drawn into the filters or water pumps and pressurized in the process.) So if you have had problems with GBS in a home aquarium filtered by a protein skimmer, consider removing or disabling the protein skimmer to determine if that makes a difference for the better…
(3) Eliminate stress (Giwojna, Jan. 2004):
Avoid aggressive tankmates.
Avoid heat stress and temperature spikes.
Install a titanium grounding probe to eliminate stray voltage.
Avoid exposing the seahorse tank to excessive noise or heavy foot traffic.
Use a cork or Styrofoam aquarium pad beneath the tank to deaden vibrations.
Stress has been linked to GBS in seahorses via the following mechanism: chronic or prolonged stress causes changes in the seahorse’s blood chemistry (acidosis), which in turn affects the oxygen-carrying capacity of certain types of hemoglobin, and the reduced oxygen-carrying capacity of hemoglobin can then causes embolisms to form in the blood.
The excess of protons (H+) under acid conditions also causes carbonic anhydrase to shift to producing CO2 from carbonic acid in the bloodstream, and the CO2 that results can likewise lead to gas embolisms under certain circumstances (Giwojna, Jan. 2004).
Mic Payne is one of the professionals who feel GBS is most likely a stress-related affliction. He believes it is often a result of chronic stress due to antagonistic behavior by overaggressive males, particularly if they are overcrowded (Payne, pers. com.). Exposing our seahorses to any type of stress may leave them predisposed to GBS (and vulnerable to many other diseases as well). Reduce the stress levels on our seahorses and we reduce the incidence of GBS accordingly (Giwojna, Jan. 2004).
(4) Maintain optimum water quality (Giwojna, Jan. 2004):
Don’t overfeed and remove leftovers promptly.
Employ an efficient cleanup crew.
Practice sound aquarium management and maintenance.
Monitor the aquarium parameters regularly.
Maintain total alkalinity and keep your pH between 8.1-8.4
Maintain a strict schedule for routine water changes.
Gradually reduce the water temperature to increase the amount of dissolved gases it can hold.
Reduce the salinity in the main tank to increase the amount of dissolved gases the water can hold.
When he was experimenting with possible treatments for GBS, Paul Groves (Head Aquarist at Underwater World in Perth, Australia, at the time) was able to produce all the different forms of GBS in a control group of Hippocampus breviceps simply by exposing them to a dirty, bacteria-laden substrate. His seahorse setup was far better than any hobbyist could hope for — an open system with 100% flow through from the ocean and a live sand base, yet all the seahorses in the tank eventually developed GBS (Groves, pers. com.). Males with chronic pouch gas were the first to appear, followed by specimens with internal GBS, and finally subcutaneous gas bubbles appeared on the tails and snouts of the others Groves, pers. com.). The weakness of Paul’s setup was poor circulation, and for experimental purposes, he deliberately allowed fecal matter and uneaten nauplii to build up on the bed of live sand. (Groves found that antibiotics were totally ineffective in treating GBS, but he eventually cured 10 of the 12 affected seahorses by pressurizing them at a depth of 4 meters.)
It is not clear whether stress from the dirty conditions or exposure to such a high density of bacteria triggered the problem in this case, but the lesson is loud and clear all the same — it pays to keep those aquariums clean (Giwojna, Jan. 2004)! If we keep our seahorses setups clean, we will keep our problems with GBS to a minimum (Giwojna, Jan. 2004).
Maintaining the proper pH is especially important for seahorses, since low pH in the aquarium can contribute to the acidosis under certain circumstances, leading to gas embolisms via the same mechanisms as stress-induced GBS (Giwojna, Jan. 2004).
Likewise, it’s important to remember that the warmer the water, the less dissolved oxygen it can hold. Elevated water temperatures increase the metabolism of your seahorses, and therefore their consumption of oxygen, at the same time that the rise in temperature is reducing the amount of dissolved oxygen in the water. That creates a dangerous situation for seahorses and may well result in respiratory distress and rapid, labored breathing, as well as contributing to asphyxia and gas supersaturation under certain circumstances. Reducing the water temperature will increase the amount of dissolved oxygen and other gases the water can hold before it becomes saturated, reducing the chances of gas supersaturation (hence GBS) and hypoxia accordingly.
There is also an inverse relationship between salinity and dissolved oxygen. The higher the specific gravity or salinity, the less dissolved oxygen (and other dissolved gases) the water can hold. By the same token, the lower the salinity or specific gravity, the more dissolved gases the water can hold. Sometimes the specific gravity in a seahorse tank can creep up unbeknownst to the aquarist due to evaporation of the aquarium water, and the higher the specific gravity gets, the lower the dissolved gas levels in the aquarium will be and the greater the chances that the aquarium water could become supersaturated with dissolved gas. Lowering the specific gravity in the home aquarium as to at least 1.020 is a good way to eliminate such potential complications. Seahorses will be perfectly comfortable at a specific gravity of 1.015-1.017 and can tolerate a specific gravity as low as 1.010. Reducing the salinity will help prevent potential problems with gas supersaturation and therefore GBS.
(5) Water changing precautions (Giwojna, Jan. 2004):
It’s an excellent idea to use Reverse Osmosis (RO) or Deionized (DI) or RO/DI water for your changes because it’s much more pure than tap water. However, water purified by such methods is very soft and must be buffered before it’s used so it won’t drop the pH in your aquarium when it’s added (Giwojna, Jan. 2004).
When mixing saltwater for your marine aquarium, it’s important to fill your container with all the water you will need BEFORE adding the salt mix. In other words, if you are mixing up 5 gallons of new saltwater, fill the mixing container with 5 gallons of water and then add the salt. If you do it the other way around — dump the salt mix in the container and then start filling it with water, the water can become saturated with salt to the point that the calcium precipitates out. This calcium precipitation will turn the water milky and can also lower the pH to dangerous levels (Giwojna, Jan. 2004).
Water changes can also be a problem because of the supersaturation of gases in tap water. Tap water distribution systems are maintained under pressure at all times, both to insure adequate flow and to prevent polluted water from outside the pipes from entering in at leaks. Any additional gas introduced into these pipes (from a leaky manifold, for example) will be dissolved at these are higher partial pressures, and will often be supersaturated when it emerges from the tap (Giwojna, Jan. 2004). Also, as we have previously discussed, gases are more soluble in cold water than warm, so when gas-saturated cold water emerges from the tap and warms up in an aquarium, or is warmed up and preadjusted to aquarium temps prior to making a water change, the water can become supersaturated (Giwojna, Jan. 2004). This must be avoided at all costs because gas supersaturation is one of the factors that can contribute to Gas Bubble Syndrome in seahorses and other fish.
To prevent this, tap water should be allowed to sit for several days beforehand or gentle aeration can be used to remove gas supersaturation before a water change (just make sure your airstones are not be submerged greater than 18 inches while you’re aerating your freshly mixed water; (Giwojna, Jan. 2004)). Some brands of artificial sea salt also produce low levels of ammonia immediately after mixing with water, and aging or aerating the newly mixed water as described above will dissipate this residual ammonia.
Most of the above is mentioned for future reference for hobbyists that have well-established seahorse tanks — I realize there aren’t many modifications you can make after the fact, once your system is already up and running (Giwojna, Jan. 2004). But there are a few things you can try with your existing system that should help.
First of all, whenever you find yourself dealing with an environmental disease such as GBS, a water change is an excellent place to start. At the first sign of GBS, I suggest you combine a 25%-50% water change with a thorough aquarium clean up (Giwojna, Jan. 2004).
Secondly, consider adding an ordinary airstone to your tank, anchored just beneath the surface of the water. That will add surface agitation, extra aeration, and better gas exchange at the air/water interface (Giwojna, Jan. 2004). Unless you’re quite certain your system already has plenty of water movement, it is also advisable to add a small powerhead for extra circulation (Giwojna, Jan. 2004). Seahorses can handle more water movement than most folks realize, and you can always turn it off during feedings. Just screen off the intake for the powerhead as a precaution so it can’t accidentally suck up a curious seahorse (Giwojna, Jan. 2004).
Thirdly, I recommend that home hobbyists who have had a problem with GBS in the past reduce the salinity in their seahorse tanks to at least 1.020 in order to increase the amount of dissolved gases the water can hold before it become saturated. Reducing the specific gravity to 1.015-1.017 is even better in most cases, providing you aren’t keeping live corals or delicate invertebrates in your seahorse tank. Likewise, reduce the water temperature in tanks with a history of GBS to around 68°F-72°F in order to increase the amount of dissolved gases the water can hold before it become saturated. Both these simple measures will help prevent gas supersaturation and reduce future problems with GBS accordingly.
Finally, use shorter hitching posts and holdfasts that will confine your seahorses to the bottom half of the aquarium and reduce the water temperature. Shorter hitching posts will get the maximum benefit from whatever depth your tank can provide, and lowering the water temperature and specific gravity allows the water to hold more dissolved gases, which can help avoid any tendency toward supersaturation (Cozzi-Schmarr, 2003).
Those simple measures may make a big difference. Just maintain good water quality, provide your seahorses with the stress-free environment, add a shallow airstone and perhaps an extra power head to provide better water movement and gas exchange, remove your protein skimmer as a precaution, keep things cool and reduce the water temperature in your seahorse tank, and you can reduce your risk of GBS considerably.
That’s my thinking with regard to preventing GBS, Christie. I suspect that very few of the factors mentioned above apply to your seahorse setup, but they are common problems for many home aquarists.
Best of luck with your seahorses and all of your projects, Christie! Here’s hoping your troubles with gas bubble syndrome are soon a thing of the past.
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