- This topic has 5 replies, 2 voices, and was last updated 16 years, 3 months ago by Pete Giwojna.
November 7, 2007 at 12:37 am #1307eamberMember
I am having trouble with my female Starburst. From day 1, she has had problems capturing food into her snout. Either she will miss the food or the food partially gets snatched and it ends up hanging on her snout as she eagerly tries to suck it in. I do not see any legions, but it does seem that her snout may be too small, which I would consider a birth defect. Her male partner has never had problems eating and he is twice the size as his partner.
For the last couple weeks, I have been trying to isolate her (in the tank) from the other horses, so she may take her time trying to snatch up as much food as possible. As she struggles and the food hangs off of her snout, the other come by a take it from her. Even after they are being fed plenty of mysis.
What could be the problem? I once tried to feed her food with a pipet (purchased from Ocean Rider) and the pipet was too large for her snout. I can try to take pictures of her, but need to know where to send them to. I have 12 gallon Aqua Pod ready to go just in case she needs individual attention for a little while.
Let me know what you think….she looks like she is starving….November 7, 2007 at 3:44 am #3875Pete GiwojnaGuest
It sounds like your female Sunburst has developed a case of weak snick, which is making it difficult for her to generate adequate suction to slurp up the frozen Mysis as usual. That’s a somewhat mysterious malady which can result from a number of causes, but since the female Sunburst is the only seahorse that’s affected and has any symptoms of a problem, I suspect it is most likely due to a muscular strain or mechanical injury to the seahorse’s suctorial feeding mechanism.
Weak snick occurs when there is something wrong with the buccal suction pump and/or opercular pumps that generate the powerful suction with which seahorses feed. The buccal pump is the hyoid bone trigger mechanism seahorses use to slurp up food with a sudden inrush of water, while the opercular pumps move the water taken in while feeding or breathing past the gills and out again via a tiny pore that acts as an exhaust port. When these mechanisms are impaired, seahorses may have difficulty feeding and breathing, which leads to an assortment of odd ailments ranging from weak snick to sticky trigger to trigger lock to lockjaw, as discussed below in greater detail:
FEEDING DIFFICULTIES: WEAK SNICK, TRIGGER LOCK, & LOCK JAW
Seahorses suck! That’s a fact. Our amazing aquatic equines are supremely well adapted for suctorial feeding, which just means that their tubular snouts are designed for generating a powerful suction and slurping up small prey whole (Giwojna, Feb. 2004). Basically, their tubular mouths operate like slurp guns, a method of feeding that is often adopted by fish accustomed to taking prey from the bottom or plucking small crustaceans and larvae from the leaves of underwater plants (Evans, 1998). The anatomy of the seahorse’s head has evolved to accommodate this method of feeding (Giwojna, Feb. 2004).
For example, a tubular mouth is an advantage for suctorial feeding because it acts like a pipette and the narrow opening accelerates the inrush of water via the Venturi effect, thus maximizing the suction generated by the powerful head muscles (Giwojna, Feb. 2004). The seahorse’s oral or buccal cavity and gill chambers (opercular cavities) act as dual suction pumps that draw the water inwards with considerable force (Evans, 1998). Expansion of the buccal and opercular cavities causes a sudden drop in pressure within the mouth (Evans, 1998). The suction thus created allows the seahorse to suck up food through its slurp-gun snout faster than the eye can follow. In essence, the seahorse inhales its food in the blink of an eye, and cavitation caused by the sudden inrush of water traveling at tremendous velocity through the narrow snout and characteristic movements of its head and skull bones produce the distinctly audible "snick!" which announces the demise of its prey (Giwojna, Feb. 2004).
Every seahorse keeper is familiar with the seahorse’s "trigger," located at the underside of its jaws at the base of its throat, which moves downward sharply when the seahorse strikes, thereby expanding its oral (buccal) cavity and generating the suction to draw its prey inwards. This trigger is actually the seahorse’s hyoid bone, and it is pulled downward by contraction of the powerful sternohyoideus muscle that runs from the hyoid bone to the cleithrum (one of the bones of the pectoral girdle), which forms part of the seahorse’s bony exoskeleton (the cleithral ring) just behind its head (Evans, 1998).
The suction generated by the sudden downward contraction of the hyoid bone when a feeding seahorse "pulls the trigger" on its intended prey is greatly enhanced by the nearly simultaneous expansion of its gill chambers or opercular cavities (Giwojna, Feb. 2004). The additional suction thus created by the seahorse’s opercular pump is produced by contractions of the hyohyoideus muscles and dilator operculi muscles (Evans, 1998). The water pulled into the gill chambers this way is then expelled from the opercular cavity through a small pore. (This narrow opening accelerates the stream of water passing through it in the same way as its narrow tubular snout does.) The seahorse’s bony coronet evolved atop its head in part to provide solid anchorage and attachment points for the large muscles that operate its buccal suction pump and twin opercular suction pumps, which enable it to feed so efficiently (Giwojna, Feb. 2004). This is the perfect feeding mechanism for an ambush predators, and the seahorse is perfectly adapted for its role as the sniper of the seagrass jungle (Giwojna, Feb. 2004).
Of course the seahorse’s turreted, independently operating eyes are the perfect targeting system for this sophisticated feeding apparatus (Giwojna, Feb. 2004). Side-mounted, hemispherical eye turrets provide nearly 360 degrees of vision and allow the seahorse to look upwards and downwards (or forward and backwards) simultaneously in search of potential prey or possible predators (Giwojna, Feb. 2004). As soon as it detects a likely prey item, both eyes lock on it simultaneously and track it intently, thus providing excellent depth perception. This allows the seahorse to judge distances with remarkable accuracy as it draws a bead on its intended victim (Giwojna, Feb. 2004).
The hyoid bone is the trigger which fires the seahorse’s slurp-gun snout, and the moment its prey closes within striking distance, the powerful sternohyoideus muscle contracts and pull the trigger (Giwojna, Feb. 2004). The buccal cavity expands, followed the almost instantaneous contraction of the hyohyoideus muscles and dilator operculi muscles, which likewise expand the opercular cavities (Evans, 1998). The resulting drop in pressure creates a sharp inrush of water, which draws the prey irresistibly into the seahorse’s mouth (Evans, 1998). Once the prey has been sucked in, the mouth is closed. At this point, the buccal and opercular cavities are contracted and the excess water is forced out in a strong stream via the tiny opercular pores (Evans, 1998).
All this happens in an instant, faster than the eye can follow, and the powerful suction that is generated often macerates large prey (Giwojna, Feb. 2004). When the resulting debris is expelled from the gill chambers, it looks remarkably as if the seahorse is shooting smoke out of its ears, thus giving a feeding seahorse an uncanny resemblance to the legendary fire-breathing dragon (Giwojna, Feb. 2004).
However, when this remarkable feeding mechanism is injured or disrupted by parasites and/or secondary infections, a number of problems arise. Weak snick is an unusual affliction that results when a seahorse is unable to generate adequate suction to feed properly. Seahorses develop weak snick when their sophisticated feeding apparatus, or the muscles that operate it, are incapacitated as a result of injury or infection.
For example, I have often seen it in seahorses as a result of protozoan parasite infections (Amyloodinium, Cryptocaryon, Brooklynella, Uronema, etc.). I tend to suspect that’s the cause when the weak snick is accompanied by rapid respiration and labored breathing, or when more that one seahorse develops the condition, or when the weak snick victim’s tankmates are bothered by odd ailments such as "trigger lock," appetite loss, lockjaw, heavy breathing, or the first signs of snout rot, which all early indications of masked protozoan parasite infections (Giwojna, Dec. 2003). These organisms typically attack the gills first, from which they spread to the throat and mouth (oral or buccal cavity). As their numbers build up in the gills and they spread from within, invading the esophagus and oral cavity, symptoms such as rapid breathing, loss of appetite, weak snick, trigger lock, and snout rot begin to appear (Giwojna, Dec. 2003).
This is how I believe the disease progresses in such cases: the burrowing of the embedded parasites causes hyperplasia of the underlying tissue, and when sufficient numbers of them build up in the gills, we see the initial symptoms of respiratory distress, labored breathing, and huffing (Giwojna, Dec. 2003). During a heavy infestation, the parasites may attack the key muscles that expand the opercular cavity, or sheer numbers of the parasites can clog the gills to the extent that the opercular pump is impaired, resulting in weak snick due to a decrease in suction (Giwojna, Dec. 2003). In severe cases, this will eventually result in death by asphyxiation.
In less severe cases, the parasites will continue to spread from the gills into the throat, buccal cavity, and eventually the snout itself (Giwojna, Dec. 2003). When this happens, the irritation caused by the burrowing parasites and the hyperplasia of the infected tissue can cause loss of appetite or difficulty swallowing and the victim may go on a hunger strike (Giwojna, Dec. 2003). If the swelling and hyperplasia occlude the gills, throat and snout sufficiently to prevent the seahorse from generating adequate suction when attempting to feed, weak snick is the result (Giwojna, Dec. 2003). If the burrowing of the embedded parasites allows secondary fungal or bacterial infections to take hold, the seahorse can develop snout rot (Giwojna, Dec. 2003). When such secondary infection(s) affect the sternohyoideus muscle that controls the hyoid bone trigger mechanism, ailments such trigger lock, sticky trigger, or lockjaw result and again the seahorse is unable to feed (Giwojna, Dec. 2003). Weak snick can be caused in this way as well if the sternohyoideus muscle is affected to the extent that hyoid trigger still operates, but so feebly that the buccal pump can no longer generate sufficient suction to feed (Giwojna, Dec. 2003).
Another common cause of weak snick in many instances is a mechanical injury to the seahorse’s hyoid-bone "trigger" mechanism. This sometimes happens when a seahorse accidentally ingests a foreign object when feeding off the bottom. The offending particle is often a piece of gravel or crushed shell. When a hard, sizable foreign object such as this is ingested, it can lodge in the throat or snout, and the seahorse may have difficulty expelling it again. (The seahorse’s feeding mechanism is much better suited for sucking things in than spitting them out again.) When that happens, the seahorse is almost always able to clear the offending object eventually, but sometimes not before it causes considerable irritation or the repeated efforts to eject it cause a muscular strain to the hyoid trigger mechanism. The seahorse then acts as though it has a very bad sore throat. The suction it generates is weak and both the act of pulling the trigger and the act of swallowing appear to be painful. The seahorse feeds reluctantly or halfheartedly as a result, and may eventually stop feeding altogether. Such mechanical injuries can also open the door for snout rot.
Suspect a mechanical injury when the weak snick or sticky trigger is not accompanied by respiratory distress, when only one of your seahorses is affected and exhibiting unusual symptoms, or when you witnessed the seahorse struggling to expel a foreign object. In such cases, most often the problem clears up on its own after two weeks to two months as the injury heals. No treatment is necessary and the key to a successful outcome is keeping the patient eating while the healing takes place. That’s what treatment should concentrate on.
When these feeding difficulties arise, it’s a good idea to try tempting the affected seahorse with live adult brine shrimp. Seahorses suffering from weak snick induced by an injury may have better luck slurping up smaller, lighter, soft-bodied prey like brine shrimp; if so, that will be enough to keep them going while they heal. You’ll want to enrich the brine shrimp to maximize its nutritional value, and gutloading the shrimp with an enrichment product high in HUFA such as Vibrance is a good way to fortify it beforehand. Brine shrimp are filter feeders that will ingest whatever is suspended in the water with them, so all you need to do is add a pinch or two (or drop or two) of the enrichment formula to a small container of saltwater swarming with brine shrimp at least 30 minutes before you offer the shrimp to your seahorse.
In short, Amber, if you feel your seahorse’s weak snick is most likely the result of a mechanical injury — and that’s my best bet at this point — then you need do nothing more than to keep it eating by offering it softbodied adult brine shrimp you have enriched beforehand. If the seahorse is experiencing respiratory distress or any other indications that suggest the problem could be due to protozoan parasites, there are number of treatment options you can consider.
For example, in that case, you could treat your seahorse with a 10-minute freshwater dip and/or a 30-60 minute bath in formalin. Both those procedures are very effective in eliminating ectoparasites and gill parasites, and may provide your seahorse with immediate relief. Or you could try treating your seahorse in a hospital tank using acriflavine in conjunction with methylene blue. I will be happy to provide you with instructions for all of these treatment options in case you feel such a procedure or procedures is warranted in your case.
If your female is unable to slurp up even the softbodied adult brine shrimp, then we may need to consider tube feeding her in order to provide her with some nutritional support and help her to keep her strength up while she recovers. Let me know if that becomes necessary and I will be happy to provide you with detailed instructions explaining how to proceed.
Best of luck resolving your seahorse’s feeding problem, Amber! Here’s hoping she is soon slurping up frozen Mysis with great gusto again!
Pete GiwojnaNovember 7, 2007 at 4:26 am #3876eamberGuest
Thank you for the response. I have been feeding her Frozen Brine for the past three weeks and also putting a pinch of VIB II to the container when thawing it. One day I did attempt to feed her with the pipette and she wouldn’t open her mouth at all and I didn’t want to force it in. She was very upset, kept floating up and down around the top and then tried to hide from me.
I would say she is only eating two – three pieces of brine shrimp per feeding (twice a day) and I know this is not enough. She is having trouble with that. Please let me know what to do next. You mentioned another option. EdNovember 7, 2007 at 8:30 am #3877Pete GiwojnaGuest
The other option is to tube feed or force-feed the seahorse, sir, but that’s not a long-term solution. Tube feeding is a stressful procedure for both the seahorse and the hobbyist, and is therefore best reserved for emergency situations when starvation is the only other recourse. So before you resort to force feeding your seahorse, I would suggest that you try a different method of feeding her brine shrimp.
Some hobbyists dealing with weak snick have had good success in coaxing the affected seahorse to feed by transferring the seahorse to a critter keeper or breeder net or similar enclosure that can hang within the main tank itself, and then adding a generous amount of live adult brine shrimp to the container. Within the enclosure, the affected seahorse does not have to compete with its tankmates for the live food, and it is easy to maintain an adequate feeding density within the confined space so that there is always a big juicy brine shrimp passing within striking distance of the hungry seahorse. Also, if the female becomes agitated by your attempts to target feed her, simply releasing her in the enclosure where she will be surrounded by plenty of tempting live adult brine shrimp and can feed at her leisure with you nowhere nearby may produce better results for your skittish female. Add one or two hitching posts within the critter keeper or breeder net so that your female can anchor in place and wait for a tasty brine shrimp to pass within easy reach, and give her an hour or two within the enclosure to eat her fill of the softbodied adult brine shrimp. You can monitor her progress from a nonthreatening distance away from the tank to see how she is doing. In most cases, the seahorse quickly becomes familiar with the routine of being transferred to the special enclosure at feeding time and associates it with tasty live foods and a full belly — positive reinforcements that make it a very nonthreatening, stress-free procedure for the affected seahorse — and, as a result, it may actually come to look forward to it after a few feedings. You can repeat this feeding process two or three times daily in order to fatten her up again, if your schedule allows.
If this technique is also unsuccessful and your female still cannot get enough to eat by feeding on the softbodied live adult brine shrimp on her own in the midst of plenty, then I would say it is time to consider tube feeding or force feeding her instead. In that case, the following information will explain how to proceed, Ed:
Force-feeding — a last resort when all else fails
Force feeding can save a seahorse’s life in an emergency, but it’s best reserved as a last resort. It’s not a long-term solution, but rather a stopgap measure to provide desperately needed nutritional support for a seahorse when all else fails. If the tube feeding has to be continued for more than two or three days, it is apt to do more harm than good. But it could buy you a little more time to line up choice live foods.
Tube feeding is appropriate when a seahorse has gone without eating for a prolonged period and has exhausted its energy reserves. This can happen when a seahorse is beset with internal parasites and stops eating, or perhaps when a seahorse is undergoing extended treatment with a medication that suppresses the appetite. And, of course, it is very common — perhaps even the rule — in wild-caught seahorses that have run the gauntlet from collector to wholesaler to retailer before finally reaching the hobbyist (Lidster, 1999). In such cases, tube feeding can help strengthen the seahorse and keep it going until it has a chance to recover and resume feeding on its own.
The most common method of force feeding seahorses is better referred to as tube feeding since no force is involved. The following description is based on Leslie Leddo’s tube-feeding technique, as discussed in her online article (Leddo, 2002b). It is similar to the previous technique, except that a very fine catheter is attached to the syringe and inserted into the seahorse’s snout before the food is injected. Basically a small amount of food, very thoroughly mashed and diluted in distilled water, is very gently injected via a very small gauge plastic catheter inserted into the horses snout no further than the trigger. It works best if only a small amount of food — no more than 1-2 mm on the barrel of the syringe — is squirted into the seahorse’s mouth at one feeding. It’s invasive, but actually very gentle, and the seahorse is much more likely to keep the food down this way.
Whichever method of force feeding you try, it’s helpful to hold the seahorse cupped in your hand for a minute or two after a feeding session before you release it. Doing so makes it much less likely that the seahorse will regurgitate the food you so painstakingly put into it. Here are detailed instructions for tube feeding, as explained by the author (Leddo, 2002b):
<begin quote> "Tube Feeding: When All Else Fails, an Alternative to Starvation"
by Leslie Leddo
Is your seahorse on a hunger strike? Have you tried all the non-invasive methods and various of types of foods to no avail? Are you concerned you may lose him to starvation? There is another alternative that may help to jump-start his feeding response. Tube feeding is an option when all else has failed. It is actually easier than you might imagine. Sit back, relax, and read on.
What you need:
* Someone with access to medical supplies. A local sympathetic veterinarian is a good option.
* A high quality food. Frozen Mysis or a high quality flake can be used. My preference is Mysis relicta from Canada. It has an outstanding nutritional profile. It is 69.9% protein and rich in HUFAs.
* A very narrow catheter. I use a plastic intravenous catheter with the introducer needle removed from the center and properly disposed of in a Sharps container, perhaps prior to leaving the vet’s office with your supplies. I would suggest an 18 to 25-gauge depending on the diameter of your horse’s snout. I used a 20-gauge on my 6"-7" erectus. The smaller the horse or the narrower the snout, the smaller the catheter you will need. The catheter size is inversely proportional to the # gauge it is assigned. So an 18-gauge catheter has a wider lumen than a 24-gauge catheter
* A 1 cc syringe.
* A bowl. It should be wide enough and deep enough to allow for your horse to remain submerged while your assistant holds him and you administer the feeding.
* An assistant. Preferably someone who is not too squeamish.
* Tank water.
* A spoon.
* A small bowl.
* Distilled water.
* An area to work that is well lit.
What to prepare:
* Gather all your supplies.
* Review the anatomy of the GI tract of the seahorse, paying particular attention to the esophagus, stomach and intestines.
* Clear and clean a well-lit workspace.
* Wash and rinse your hands well.
* Prepare the food by placing a small amount of previously defrosted and enriched Mysis in the small bowl. With the convex side of your spoon, mash the Mysis into a smooth paste.
* Add a few drops of distilled water and mix thoroughly. You will need to experiment and play here a bit in order to get the paste to a consistency that will easily, smoothly, and consistently flow through the tip of the catheter when gentle pressure is applied to the plunger of the syringe. The smaller the diameter of catheter (the larger the gauge number) you are using, the more dilute and thinner the gruel will need to be.
Once you have a consistency you think is appropriate, draw some of the gruel into the syringe and attach the catheter to the syringe. The tip of the syringe is usually threaded and the catheter will screw on to it. Gently apply pressure to the plunger of the syringe to be sure the gruel flows through the tip of the catheter easily, smoothly and consistently. Adjust the consistency of the gruel as necessary by adding more distilled water or more Mysis paste until it flows smoothly through the catheter with VERY gentle pressure on the plunger. No force should be exerted at all.
* Flush the syringe and catheter several times by drawing a small amount of distilled water into the syringe and pushing it back out.
* Draw into the syringe a little more gruel than you intend to feed. I fed between 0.2cc and 0.25cc to a 6"-7" erectus. You are going to have to estimate the appropriate amount based on the size of your horse. This is where refreshing your knowledge of the seahorse’s internal anatomy will come in handy. Since the seahorse’s digestive tract is basically a straight tube from snout to anus, you can use their length as a general guideline to estimate the portion size.
* Start with the plunger of the syringe fully depressed, pull up on the plunger and draw about 0.3cc to 0.4cc of the Mysis mixture into the syringe. Any air in the syringe will need to be removed. Invert the syringe holding it vertically tip up, plunger down. Gently tap on the syringe several times. The air will displace the gruel appearing as a bubble at the tip of the syringe. Gently depress the plunger with the syringe remaining in the inverted position, so you will be pushing up on the plunger. Continue to depress the plunger until all the air has been expressed from the syringe and a small amount of gruel appears at the syringe tip.
* Attach the catheter to the syringe and prime it by depressing the plunger until a few drops of gruel emerge from the catheter tip.
OK now you are ready to actually feed the little bugger… whoops… sorry… your sweet little hunger-striking horse.
How to proceed:
Round up your assistant. Take a few deep breaths and relax.
Fill the large bowl with your horse’s tank water.
Remove your horse from the tank by gently scooting him into a small container and gently release him into the bowl of tank water.
Have your assistant firmly but gently hold the horse, keeping him submerged at all times. His head and neck should be between their thumb and forefinger, snout pointing up, with his body lying across their palm. Encourage him to curl his tail around their pinky. This will help to keep the horse calm. If you have never held a seahorse in your hand you may be surprised at how strong they are. He may struggle or even snick. Boy, oh boy — was I surprised at how powerful their snick is!
Take the previously filled and primed syringe into your dominant hand.
Loosely hold the horse’s snout between the thumb and forefinger of your other hand.
Closely observe the snout tip. It will open and close in synchrony with his respiration.
As the snout opens, insert the tip of the catheter into the snout about ½ way between the snout tip and trigger.
Slowly and gently depress the plunger. Try to time injecting tiny bits of the gruel just prior to the closing of the snout. If he is ingesting the gruel you will actually see him swallow and pass some of the food through his gills. He may snick, it will feel strange but don’t be alarmed. The first time my boy did it I thought for sure the catheter would break off in his snout. It never did. He did however dent it a bit. That snick is powerful!
If the gruel is coming back out of his snout either you are injecting the gruel too quickly, the catheter tip is not far enough into his snout or you are close to the end of the feeding and his GI tract is full. First check to see if you are close to the end of the estimated amount of the feeding. If so, he is probably full and you are done. If not, try injecting the gruel a little slower, taking care to try and synchronize advancing the plunger just prior to the closing of the snout. If the gruel continues to come back out try advancing the catheter tip just a tad further. Finish the feeding. You may need to give him and yourself a little break if either of the above situations occurs and too much of the feeding is lost. Refill the syringe and give him the rest of the estimated amount.
Wooooooo-Hoooooooo!!! That’s it! You did it! Tell him what a good boy he was, return him to the tank, give yourself a big pat on the back, thank your assistant and take the rest of the evening off in front of your tank with a cup of tea… well… OK, if you insist a cold beer, a glass of wine, or a good stiff drink of your choice. It wasn’t that bad now was it? I bet it was easier than you had anticipated. I thought it was.
Practice pushing the gruel through the catheter. If it is too thick it will stick and you will need to push harder. You will need to thin it with some distilled water so that it flows out smoothly.
Ask your veterinarian for several size catheters. Use the one with the widest diameter (lowest # gauge) that will easily insert into the horse’s snout.
Have the vet remove the introducer needle in his office, so you do not have to worry about needle disposal.
It may be necessary to do this several days in a row until the feeding response is initiated or returns. I would suggest offering a variety of foods prior to each daily tube feeding. If you have been tube feeding for several days and he shows no interest in eating, you may need to gradually decrease the amounts of the feeding so he is actually hungry or possibly fast him for a day or two. It is my feeling that, if at all possible, allowing him to remain in his own tank with other horses and offering a variety of foods (live as well as frozen) may be beneficial in helping to encourage him to eat.
I hope you never need to use the information I presented here, but if you should I would like to wish you good luck and hope this information has proved useful (Leddo, 2002b). <end quote>
Force feeding can save a seahorse’s life in an emergency, but it’s best reserved as a last resort. It is appropriate when a seahorse has gone without eating for a prolonged period and has exhausted its energy reserves. This can happen when a seahorse is beset with internal parasites and stops eating, or perhaps when a seahorse is undergoing extended treatment with a medication that suppresses the appetite. And, of course, it is very common — perhaps even the rule — in wild-caught seahorses that have run the gauntlet from collector to wholesaler to retailer before finally reaching the hobbyist (Lidster, 1999). In such cases, tube feeding can help strengthen the seahorse and keep it going until it has a chance to recover and resume feeding on its own.
For example, during one such incident a hobbyist reported that his seahorse hadn’t eaten for over a week. This particular hunger strike started during treatment for internal parasites, so the seahorse was weak and debilitated to begin with. On that occasion, only one tube feeding was necessary before the seahorse began eating on her own again.
Dr. Marty Greenwell notes that syngnathids in general and seahorses in particular are vulnerable to emaciation in captivity because of their rapid intestinal transit time and very limited fat stores (Bull and Mitchell, 2002, p24). At the Shedd, he regularly tube feeds newly acquired seahorses that arrive badly emaciated. In such circumstances, Dr. Greenwell advises, "…syngnathids are at a high risk for loss of body condition. With this in mind, anorectic seahorses and pipefish almost always require nutritional support. At Shedd Aquarium, anorectic syngnathids are tube fed a high quality, commercial fish flake food gruel. Because of the very small, vestigial stomach, only limited volumes of gruel can be administered at any given time, i.e., 0.05 to 0.10 cc for most seahorses and up to 0.25 cc or more for the large Hippocampus sp., trumpetfish, and the sea dragons. Offering nutritional support can mean the difference between survival and death in sick and/or anorectic syngnathids (Bull and Mitchell, 2002, p24)."
That’s an introduction to force feeding that will hopefully allow you to get some food into your female seahorse if need be, Ed. It’s best used as a last resort, but in a case like yours, it can sometimes be a real life saver.
Some hobbyists feel it’s easier to tube feed their seahorses after they have been sedated, while others feel that sedation only complicates the procedure. Sometimes sedating the seahorse can make tube feeding a little less stressful for both the patient and the caregiver. In that case, Ed, there is an excellent discussion of the procedure with step-by-step instructions and photographs available online at the following URL:
Click here: Force Feeding
Clove oil is the best option for the home hobbyist when it comes to sedating seahorses, Ed, but professional fish breeders and herders proceed as follows:
Sedation and Anesthesia
MS-222 at the standard fish dose of 50 – 100 ppm works quite well for most of the syngnathids.In low-alkalinity water it is recommended to buffer the solution at a ratio of 2 parts sodium bicarbonate:1 part tricaine (wt:wt). The seadragons have a prolonged recovery time at 100 ppm and 50-75 ppm is the recommended dose for these two species. In a prolonged anesthetic recovery situation, it is advisable to ventilate the animals with fresh seawater containing no MS-222. Because of the long, rather narrow tube snout and the semi-closed nature of the branchial cavities, assisted ventilation is easily achieved with a 3.5 to 5.0 French red rubber catheter inserted through the tube snout to the level of the pharynx. A syringe filled with fresh saltwater is then attached to the end of the red rubber catheter and pumped in a pulsatile manner every few seconds until the animal is spontaneously breathing at a normal rate. The success of assisted ventilation is easily assessed by watching the opercula move in and out. This technique has also been successfully used to resuscitate animals in respiratory arrest.
Best of luck resolving your seahorse’s feeding problem, Ed. Here’s hoping she is soon eating like a horse again!
Pete GiwojnaNovember 7, 2007 at 11:42 pm #3878eamberGuest
Just wanted to let you know that I took your advice on feeding within a breeding bin. I have a large enough one for her. She at first was trying to get out and then realized she was all alone. She started eating. My time (home office) permits me to feed her three times a day. I’m going to go that route as much as possible, until she is strong enough. I have to run to the pet store for supplies, so I’m going to get her some live brine. She should enjoy that. I’ll keep you posted….Thanks EdNovember 8, 2007 at 9:41 pm #3879Pete GiwojnaGuest
Thanks for sharing the good news with us, sir! That’s very encouraging that your female would eat the softbodied adult brine shrimp on her own when she was confined with it in your breeding bin. She should regain her conditioning and put on some weight quickly if you can provide her with three feedings a day of the adult brine shrimp. Let her eat her fill for an hour or so and then return her to the main tank between feedings.
However, Ed, since you’ll be feeding her regularly with adult brine shrimp from your LFS, there are a couple of precautions you must be careful to observe for best results. First and foremost, you must be careful to disinfect live food beforehand to assure you won’t be introducing any pathogens or parasites along with the prey items, as discussed below.
There is one potentially serious drawback to feeding your seahorses living prey on a regular basis. There is always the chance that you can introduce disease into your aquarium along the with the live food. Live Artemia (brine shrimp), for example, are known disease vectors for a long laundry list of fish pathogens, and should be treated with caution in that regard – especially if obtained from your local fish store (LFS). The aquarist who relies on live foods for his seahorses MUST take special precautions to eliminate this potential danger!
Fortunately, there are a couple of simple measures that can minimize such risks. Decapsulating Artemia cysts, for instance, removes all known parasites and pathogens, effectively sterilizing brine shrimp eggs. Large public aquaria routinely go a step further, disinfecting live foods by administering a 10-minute freshwater bath and then rinsing it thoroughly through a 100-micron strainer before offering it to their seahorses (Bull and Mitchell 2002). Home hobbyists should do the same (a brine shrimp net will suffice for the strainer). Brine shrimp — the chief offender as a disease vector — tolerate this disinfection process extremely well.
Secondly, you must be aware that unfed adult brine shrimp are virtually nutritionally barren, and it is therefore vital that they be enriched improperly before you offer them to your seahorses. It is a great idea to enrich the brine shrimp with Vibrance, but make sure you use the lipid-rich Vibrance I rather than the low-fat formula (Vibrance II) for the Artemia. Adult brine shrimp are a good source of protein, but they have very little fat content. The lipid-rich formulation in Vibrance 1 (the original Vibrance) is thus ideal for enriching brine shrimp, transforming them from nutritionally barren, empty calories into a high-fat powerhouse of vitamins and nutrients that’s loaded with color-enhancing carotenoids. As an added benefit, enriching brine shrimp with Vibrance is also an excellent way to get your seahorses to ingest beta-glucan, which will boost their immune systems and help keep them healthy.
In your case, Ed, you can combine the enrichment and disinfection steps simply by placing a portion of adult brine shrimp (enough for one feeding) in a small container of freshwater and then adding the Vibrance 1 or other enrichment formula to the freshwater. For enriching or “gut packing” live artmeia (brine shrimp), or other live shrimp or live food of all sizes. Blend 1 teaspoon of Vibrance into 1 cup of water for 3 minutes. Add this to the live food vessel for 30 minutes, or until you see the gut of the animal turn red. Rinse the brine shrimp and feed immediately to your seahorses or other fish.
Best of luck fattening up your female with the softbodied adult brine shrimp while she recovers from her weak snick, Ed!
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