- June 1, 2020 at 4:39 am #52062vanessa.cParticipant
Hi there, hoping you can help me eith this. My male whitei has held his fry past his due date. He was due about a week ago but is holding it in. As a result he is also swimming upside down sometimes. This has happened twice before, he always seems to expel them much later than he should (at about 30 to 35 days gestation), and when he does he is back to normal and swimming fine. I have not seen the fry when he expels them, I assume they are all stillborn and the scavengers of the tank took care of it.
He was having normal births with live fry before he started doing this so I’m not sure why he is choosing to hold onto them so long now. Can you please give me some advice? Thanks in advance.June 2, 2020 at 5:59 am #52085Pete GiwojnaModerator
I’m sorry to hear about the problems that your Hippocampus whitei stallion has been having during his pregnancies lately, and I would be happy to share my thoughts on this matter and to offer some advice regarding how best to correct the situation.
The fact that your male is swimming upside down at times indicates that he is having a problem with positive buoyancy (i.e., the tendency to float) due to a buildup of gas within its pouch, Vanessa. This can be from something as harmless as air bubbles becoming entrapped within the marsupium during its vigorous pouch displays when the seahorse is courting, or it could be due to a more serious problem such as chronic pouch emphysema, a form of gas bubble syndrome (GBS).
In your case, Vanessa, I suspect that the excess gas in his pouch is associated with the problems your male has been having as a result of his prolonged pregnancy.
You see, Vanessa, it is quite possible for a stallion to be pregnant and to be having buoyancy problems as a result of gas building up within its pouch at the same time. Pregnant males are particularly vulnerable to chronic pouch emphysema and other forms of gas bubble syndrome (GBS), and it is not uncommon for a male that is carrying a brood of young to develop problems with pouch gas and positive buoyancy. When this reaches the point where the affected male is floating at the surface or swimming upside down and struggling against positive buoyancy, you have no choice but to release the trapped gas one way or another as soon as possible. Otherwise, the seahorse will eventually be unable to feed and will exhaust itself struggling against the tendency to float, resulting in the buildup of lactic acid in its blood and associated changes in blood chemistry (acidosis) that further aggravate its condition.
Pregnancy is naturally a high-risk period for pouch emphysema and pouch gas for a couple of reasons, Vanessa. First of all, 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. The increased blood supply to the marsupium during pregnancy thus makes breeding males increasingly susceptible to the formation of intravascular gas emboli (micronuclei or seed bubbles) at this time, which can result in pouch emphysema and positive buoyancy problems.
Secondly, 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.). That may well be what is happening with your Hippocampus whitei stallion, Vanessa.
I know of a couple of cases in which male seahorses developed pouch emphysema and/or other forms of GBS every time they became pregnant. When they weren’t breeding, they were just fine, but when they were carrying a brood of young, they were invariably plagued with pouch gas and buoyancy problems. Providing the GBS was managed properly (typically by performing a needle aspiration or by administering Diamox orally via gut-loaded shrimp, in cases like this), the affected male may be able to give birth normally and recover fully afterwards.
So it’s possible that this could become a recurring problem for your male whenever he becomes pregnant, Vanessa, which seems to be the situation you are describing. If that is indeed the case, I will be happy to help you deal with the situation as it rises. When a gravid male develops problems with pouch gas and positive buoyancy during the course of his pregnancy, I usually recommend performing a needle aspiration to release the trapped gas in a noninvasive manner that make allow the male to carry his brood full term and deliver them normally in due course, as described below:
A needle aspiration is a very straightforward technique that simply involves inserting a hypodermic needle through the side of the pouch, tapping into the pocket(s) of trapped gas or fluid, withdrawing the plunger on the syringe and removing the fluid or gas. If you have never done a needle aspiration before, I know it sounds a bit gruesome, but it is typically a surprisingly painless procedure for the seahorse and is often easier and less stressful for both the aquarist and the patient than performing pouch flushes or repeatedly massaging the pouch. Not only is a needle aspiration less traumatic, as a rule, but it is also often more effective in removing the trapped gas and relieving the problem. A needle aspiration is easier to perform if you have a helper, since an extra pair of hands is very helpful when you’re ready to withdraw the plunger on the syringe and extract the gas from the encapsulated bubble.
The procedure is accomplished while the seahorse is held under water, just as you would if burping or flushing the pouch, and you grasp the seahorse in the same manner as well.
Prepare the needle and syringe ahead of time by sterilizing the hypodermic. When you are ready, 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.
While the seahorse is thus restrained, use your dominant hand to insert the needle into the side of the pouch (not the front) so you can tap into the pocket(s) of trapped gas.
Remember, you are not performing a subcutaneous or intramuscular injection, so there is no need to use a shallow angle when penetrating the wall of the pouch. Depress the plunger all the way and then insert the hypodermic laterally, from the side of the pouch rather than the front, at a perpendicular angle to the wall of the pouch. Use a big firm, gentle pressure to penetrate the wall of the pouch.
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 central cavity of the pouch, and then gradually withdraw the plunger again, which will extract the gas or fluid 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 a septum or internal membrane that divides their pouches roughly into left and right hemispheres. So you may need to aspirate air or fluid 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 or fluid from your stallion’s marsupium.
In addition to aspirating trapped gas or fluid, the hypodermic can also be used to flush out the pouch thoroughly either with sterile saline or a medicated solution (an antibiotic or Diamox dissolved in saltwater). Here’s how another hobbyist describes this procedure:
dear pete, it was time to give the antibiotics due to recurrent swelling of his pouch and i had small iv catheters but i was unable to intubate the opening. either too small or voluntary tightening by the horse. only choice left was an injection with a needle. i used a 29g insulin syringe and first removed whatever air i could. then reinjected approx .5cc mix of neomycin sulfate plus bifuran until distended then withdrew approx half of that and left the remainder in his pouch. a couple of lethargic days followed with little food intake. then he started eating live brine shrimp then the usual mysis. it is now 5 or 6 weeks later and all seems well. before that a diamox bath didnt do much but i stopped the diamox due to what seemed like unfavorable side effects. hard to believe the antibiotic injection worked so well. i gave only one injection as it seems to have worked. thanks again for all your help. he was certainly a goner without the intervention and we are most grateful. best regards sg
If you missed the pocket of trapped gas on your first attempt at this, the hypodermic may also withdraw placental fluid from the marsupium and/or yolk from ova implanted within the lining of the pouch, depending on how far advanced the pregnancy is, but that’s not a problem. Very few, if any, of the fetal fry or embryonic young are affected during a needle aspiration, compared to the alternative which is performing a pouch flush and thoroughly cleaning out his pouch.
Don’t worry that performing a needle aspiration will injure your male or cause any irreparable damage to the stallion or the young he may be carrying, Vanessa. I can assure you that needle aspirations will not ruin your male for breeding or cause him any permanent harm. For instance, releasing the air or gas from a tiny dwarf seahorse male is much more difficult than it is for the larger seahorses, and sometimes requires extraordinary measures to accomplish. Here is an account of one such case in which Kirk Strawn — the leading expert on Hippocampus zosterae in the wild — had to evacuate the air from a pregnant dwarf seahorse several times during the course of its pregnancy:
Herald and Rakowicz (1951) found bubbles to occur in the large seahorses, Hippocampus hudsonius punctatus, as the result of gas given off by decaying young remaining in the pouch after delivery. They recommended removing the bubble by inserting a needle into the opening of the pouch after delivery. This is a more difficult operation on the little dwarfs. It is more easily accomplished either during courtship or following the delivery of young — at which times the opening to the pouch is dilated. Inserting a needle through the entrance of the pouch does not ruin a male for future breeding. A male kept away from females from February until June had bubbles removed on three occasions by puncturing the side of the pouch with a needle and squeezing out the bubble. (Males go through the motions of courtship and may pick up bubbles even if no females are present.) On June seventh he was placed with a ripe, freshly caught female. On the seventeenth I cut a slit in the side of the pouch and removed a bubble and two partly formed babies. By the twentieth [3 days later] the slit was healed over, and he had another air bubble. On the 23rd I partially removed this bubble by forcing a needle through the entrance of the pouch. On the 25th [2 days later] yolk came out when the needle was inserted. On July 5th he gave birth to a large brood after which a bubble was squeezed out of the dilated opening of the pouch without the aid of a needle. The next day he sucked in another bubble while courting. Although removing bubbles does not permanently damage the fish, it is much easier to put a fence, such as a cylinder of plastic screen, around the air stone and its rising stream of bubbles.
Note that in this episode, Strawn had to perform needle aspirations on his pregnant male multiple times in addition to eventually performing surgery and cutting open the side of the pouch on one occasion, Vanessa. Yet even after all of these traumatic events, some of which resulted in yolk or embryonic young being released along with the air, the male still went on to deliver a large brood normally at the appointed time afterwards. So you needn’t be concerned that your efforts to evacuate the gas from your stallion’s pouch will cause him injury or damage, or necessarily doom any fertile eggs are developing young he may still be carrying.
You must release the gas that is bloating his pouch and causing positive buoyancy to provide a stallion with pouch bloat with some relief, and I would suggest performing a needle aspiration this time and/or treating your male with Diamox (the tablet form of acetazolamide) as soon as possible, Vanessa. Of these two treatment options, a needle aspiration is probably your best bet because it will provide your stallion with immediate relief from the positive buoyancy (Diamox may take several days to work and it is a prescription drug that is often difficult for hobbyists to obtain). As I said, removing any gas that is build up via a needle aspiration will have a negative impact on very few of the developing young as compared to attempting to manually evacuate the gas by burping the pouch or performing a pouch massage or pouch flush.
In short, it is the changes the marsupium undergoes during pregnancy that leave the gravid male so susceptible to pouch emphysema, and a needle aspiration is the best way to remove the gas that is built up within the pouch in such cases. But it’s best to avoid flushing the pouch with the antibiotic solution when you perform the needle aspiration(s) if you suspect that the male may be pregnant and carrying embryonic young or fetal fry.
Okay, Vanessa, now let’s discuss why this seems to have become a recurring problem for your male.
Problems like this strongly indicate that there is something amiss with the conditions in your seahorse tank. If you can provide me with a little more information about your seahorse setup (i.e., the dimensions of the tank and the type of filtration you are using), as well as the current aquarium parameters (water temperature, pH, specific gravity, and levels of ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate), I will be able to advise you as to whether you should be making changes to the physical environment in order to prevent such problems in the future.
If there does not appear to be anything significantly out of line with your basic aquarium parameters, Vanessa, then this problem was most likely triggered by a gradual increase in organic loading over the last several months due to the buildup of detritus, mulm, organic wastes, and dissolved organic compounds. That could be why your Hippocampus whitei male was having normal pregnancies and births at first, but has been having difficulty, prolonged pregnancies now that more excess organic material has accumulated in your aquarium over time.
In that event, Vanessa, you can best address the aquarium conditions by performing a series of water changes in conjunction with a general aquarium cleaning, installing micron filtration in one form or another (e.g., a micron filter cartridge or micron filter sock), followed by the regular addition of probiotics to your main tank. I will explain more about how best to proceed in that regard below:
Many times problems with positive buoyancy in small, closed-system home aquariums are associated with increased organic loading in the aquarium. Many times the seahorses will thrive in a new aquarium for several months, or perhaps even a year or two, with no difficulties, only to develop problems with hyperinflated swimbladders or other forms of GBS as time goes by. This is perplexing to the home hobbyist, because he or she is maintaining the tank just as he or she has always done, yet for no apparent reason, one or more of their seahorses suddenly seems to be plagued by problems with GBS.
Often such problems can be traced back to the gradual accumulation of detritus, mulm, waste products, and other organics over time. It is inevitable that organic loading in the aquarium slowly increases as time goes by, which leads to a gradual deterioration of the water quality due to the steady buildup of detritus, mulm, and other organic wastes. And there is always an increase in the numbers of undesirable or harmful bacteria whenever conditions begin to become less sanitary, as well. All of which begins to cause low-level stress for the seahorses at some point, which can lead to an increased incidence of GBS and other health problems.
Pregnant males are particularly vulnerable to chronic pouch emphysema and other forms of gas bubble syndrome (GBS), and it is not uncommon for a male that is carrying a brood of young to develop problems with pouch gas in positive buoyancy. When this reaches the point where the affected male is floating at the surface, you have no choice but to release the trapped gas one way or another as soon as possible.
I don’t know if any of this applies in your case, Vanessa, but I do know reducing the amount of organics in the aquarium often pays big dividends for the home hobbyist and that concentrating on maintaining optimum water quality would be a good place for you to start in addressing this problem. Some of the steps you can take to reduce the amount of organics in your aquarium and improve the water quality are as follows: (1) improve the water flow and circulation in the aquarium, while increasing surface agitation and oxygenation; (2) improve your filtration system by adding a protein skimmer or upgrading the existing protein skimmer and installing a micron cartridge filter; (3) reduce the amount of organic matter that you add to the aquarium in the first place by adjusting your feeding regimen; (4) combine a major water change with a good general aquarium cleaning; and (5) add a good probiotic to your aquarium to decrease the amount of organic material through the activity of bio-enzymes and beneficial microflora.
Let’s discuss each of these measures in a little more detail. First and foremost, improving the water flow and increasing the surface agitation and oxygenation of your aquarium will have many benefits for your seahorses. You will want the filters to turn over the entire volume of your seahorse tank at least five times per hour, and using a spray bar return at the top of the aquarium to diffuse the water flow can allow you to achieve much higher turnover rates (> 10 times per hour) without creating too much turbulence for your seahorses. You’ll want to adjust the outflow the filters to eliminate any dead spots or stagnant areas where waste products may tend to accumulate. Good circulation will prevent pockets of harmful anaerobic decay and keep particulate matter suspended in the water column where the filters can remove it from the aquarium. Alternating the direction of the water flow is also helpful, as is increasing surface agitation to improve the oxygenation and facilitate more efficient gas exchange at the air/water interface. A simple air stone anchored just beneath the surface of the water can help to achieve this goal.
Improving the water circulation and surface agitation to increase the oxygenation will raise the levels of dissolved oxygen in the aquarium while eliminating excess CO2 via more efficient offgassing. You may notice that your seahorses become more active and have a better appetite, eating more aggressively, as a result, and elevating the levels of dissolved oxygen and reducing the levels of dissolved CO2 will also help to raise and stabilize the pH of the aquarium at the same time. This is important because the pH of the aquarium tends to drop over time, and low pH can be a contributing factor for gas bubble syndrome.
After you have addressed the water flow, surface agitation, and oxygenation in your seahorse tank, consider further improving the filtration system. If the tank does not already have an efficient protein skimmer, go ahead and install one. Although seahorses can certainly be kept successfully without the use of a protein skimmer, I recommend including a good skimmer for best results.
The majority of the undesirable metabolites, organic wastes and excess nutrients that accumulate in our aquariums and degrade water quality are “surface-active,” meaning they are attracted to and collect near the surface of a gas-liquid interface (Fenner, 2003). Skimmers take advantage of this fact by using a column of very fine air bubbles mixed with aquarium water to trap dissolved organics and remove them from our systems. This air-water mixture is lighter than the surrounding aquarium water and rises up the column of the skimmer until the foam eventually spills into a special collection cup atop the skimmer, which can be removed and emptied as needed. Proteins and other organic molecules, waste products, uneaten food and excess nutrients, and a host of other undesirable compounds stick to the surface of the bubbles and are carried away along with the foam and removed from the aquarium (Fenner, 2003a). As a result of this process, these purification devices are typically known as foam separators, foam fractionators, air-strippers, or simply protein skimmers.
In my experience, nothing improves water quality like a good protein skimmer. They provides many benefits for a seahorse setup, including efficient nutrient export, reducing the effective bioload, and increasing both the Redox potential and dissolved oxygen levels in the water (Fenner, 2003a). They do a tremendous job of removing excess organics from the aquarium, including phenols, albumin, dissolved organic acids, and chromophoric (color causing) compounds (Fenner, 2003a). Their ability to remove dissolved wastes BEFORE they have a chance to break down and degrade water quality makes them indispensable for controlling nuisance algae. A good protein skimmer is an invaluable piece of equipment for keeping your nitrates low and your water quality high when feeding a whole herd of these sloppy eaters in a closed-system aquarium.
If your tank already has a protein skimmer, consider upgrading to a larger, more efficient model, if necessary, and make sure that you are using the protein skimmer properly. It should be operated 24/7, around the clock, and it is important to keep it tuned and adjusted properly so that it yields a steady flow of dry foam into the collection cup, WITHOUT releasing clouds of microbubbles into the aquarium. The efficiency of the protein skimmer can be greatly increased if it is cleaned and maintain properly. This includes regularly cleaning the inside of the barrel where the bubble column works its magic, which is a step that many home hobbyists neglect to the detriment of their water quality.
It will also be very helpful to install a micron cartridge filter on your seahorse tank. A micron filter will literally polish the water on a microscopic level by removing even the finest particulate matter. Micron cartridges do an excellent job of helping to reduce dissolved organic compounds in the aquarium and, as an added benefit, they leave the water unbelievably clear, almost invisible (which is great for aquarium photography, by the way). If your filtration system cannot accommodate a micron filter cartridge, then install a micron filter sock instead, and clean or replace the filter sock very frequently, or at least use a micron filter pad to provide mechanical filtration.
Once you have your filtration system up to snuff, it’s time to look at the amount of organics that you, the hobbyist, are adding to the aquarium on a daily basis and how you can cut back on any excesses in that regard. The aquarist is, of course, introducing organic matter into the aquarium in the form of the food he provides for the fish and invertebrates, as well as with any supplements he or she may be adding to the tank. You can make improvements in that area by being very careful to avoid overfeeding and diligently removing leftovers promptly. If you have been taking the quick, easy, lazy approach by broadcast feeding or scatter feeding your seahorses with the frozen Mysis, it’s time to put a stop to that immediately! Simply switching to target feeding or handfeeding your seahorses, or teaching them to take their meals from a convenient feeding station, can dramatically reduce the amount of wastage and spoilage at feeding time. And, you will soon discover that target feeding or using a feeding station are very fun, rewarding methods for feeding your ponies, and that they can make feeding time one of the highlights of your day.
Secondly, if you have been enriching the frozen Mysis for your seahorses using Selcon or Vibrance or some other enrichment formula, cut back on the amount of fortification that you are providing. It has been my experience that home hobbyists tend to overdo it when it comes to the enrichment process, possibly on the theory that “if a little is good for them, then a lot must be even better,” or perhaps simply due to confusion about the proper way to enrich Mysis. How can you tell if you are using too much of your enrichment product? If it washes off the frozen Mysis when you add the fortified shrimp to the aquarium water, then the high-calorie ingredients are simply being added to the aquarium water and not doing your ponies any good. Rather than helping to provide your seahorses with good nutrition, the enrichment formula instead is increasing the organic loading in the aquarium and degrading your water quality. A little bit of the enrichment powder, or concentrated liquid formulation, goes a long, long, long way when you are fortifying frozen Mysis, and if any appreciable amount of the enrichment product is washing off the Mysis when you feed them to the seahorses, you are using too much. Cut back accordingly and/or do without any enrichment at all for some of the seahorses’ feedings each day.
Aside from increasing the water flow and circulation in your seahorse tank, and upgrading the filtration system, one of the most important measures you can take to remove excess organics from your setup is to perform a general aquarium cleanup together with a major water change, and then to add a regular dose of a good probiotic to the aquarium. The probiotics help to restore optimal water quality by degrading organic matter, help to eliminate opportunistic pathogenic bacteria from your seahorse setup by outcompeting them, and boost the immune system of the seahorses, thereby helping the ponies to fight off disease problems. Combining the use of the probiotics with a good water change and aquarium cleaning allows seahorses with non-contagious health problems, such as gas bubble syndrome, to be treated in the main tank where they will be the most comfortable, surrounded by their tankmates, helps to assure that the rest of your ponies won’t be affected, and is a very stress-free way to address this type of health problem, as discussed below.
One of the best ways to prevent bacterial infections, outbreaks of parasites, and other health problems is to provide your seahorses with a stress-free environment. Many of the parasites and pathogens that plague our pampered ponies are ubiquitous — present in low numbers in most everyone’s systems or within the seahorse’s body itself (Indiviglio, 2002) as normal flora. As a rule, healthy fish resist such microorganisms easily, and they only become a problem when seahorse’s immune system has been impaired, leaving it susceptible to disease (Indiviglio, 2002). Chronic low-level stress is one of the primary factors that suppresses the immune system and weakens the immune response, opening the way to infection and disease (Indiviglio, 2002). Long-term exposure to stressful conditions is very debilitating. Among other effects, it results in the buildup of lactic acid and lowers the pH of the blood, which can have dire consequences for seahorses and leave them susceptible to Gas Bubble Syndrome.
When disease breaks out in an established aquarium it is therefore generally an indication that something is amiss with your aquarium conditions. A gradual decline in water quality is often a precursor of disease (Indiviglio, 2002). Poor water quality is stressful to seahorses. Prolonged stress weakens their immune system. And an impaired immune system leaves the seahorse vulnerable to bacterial, viral, and fungal infections to which healthy, unstressed seahorses are immune. As if that weren’t bad enough, there are a number of environmental diseases that are caused directly by water quality problems.
When disease breaks out in an established aquarium it is therefore generally an indication that something is amiss with your aquarium conditions. A gradual decline in water quality is often a precursor of disease (Indiviglio, 2002). Poor water quality is stressful to seahorses. Prolonged stress weakens their immune system. And, as we have been discussing, an impaired immune system leaves the seahorse vulnerable to bacterial, parasitic, viral, and fungal infections which healthy, unstressed seahorses easily fend off.
At the first sign of a health problem:
Because diseases are so often directly related to water quality, or due to stress resulting from a decline in water quality, when trouble arises the first thing you should do is to break out your test kits and check your water chemistry. Very often that will provide a clue to the problem. Make sure the aquarium temperature is within the acceptable range and check for ammonia and/or nitrite spikes first. See if your nitrate levels have risen to harmful levels and look for a drop in pH.
Be sure to check your dissolved oxygen (O2) level too. A significant drop in O2 levels (6 – 7 ppm is optimal) is very stressful yet easily corrected by increasing surface agitation and circulation to promote better oxygenation and gas exchange. At the other extreme, oxygen supersaturation is a red flag indicating a potentially deadly problem with gas embolisms (Gas Bubble Syndrome).
If any of your water quality parameters are off significantly, that may well be the cause of the problem or at least the source of the stress that weakened your seahorses and made them susceptible to disease. And correcting your water chemistry may well nip the problem in the bud, particularly if it is environmental, without the need for any further treatment.
Clean Up & Perform a Water Change
After a quick check of the water chemistry to assess the situation, it’s time to change water and clean up. In most cases, the surest way to improve your water quality and correct the water chemistry is to combine a 25%-50% water change with a thorough aquarium clean up. Siphon around the base of your rockwork and decorations, vacuum the top 1/4 inch of the sand or gravel, rinse or replace your prefilter, and administer a general system cleaning. The idea is to remove any accumulated excess organic material in the sand/gravel bed, top of the filter, or tank that could degrade your water quality, serve as a breeding ground for bacteria or a reservoir for disease, or otherwise be stressing your seahorses. [Note: when cleaning the filter and vacuuming the substrate, your goal is to remove excess organic wastes WITHOUT disturbing the balance of the nitrifying bacteria. Do not dismantle the entire filter, overhaul your entire filter system in one fell swoop, or clean your primary filtration system too zealously or you may impair your biological filtration.]
At first glance your aquarium parameters may look great, but there are some water quality issues that are difficult to detect with standard tests, such as a decrease in dissolved 02, transitory ammonia/nitrite spikes following a heavy feeding, pH drift, or the gradual accumulation of mulm and detritus. A water change and cleanup is a simple preventative measure that can help defuse those kinds of hidden factors before they become a problem and stress out your seahorses. These simple measures may restore your water quality and correct the source of the stress before your seahorse becomes seriously ill and requires treatment.
In short, I would also recommend a good general cleaning of your seahorse tank followed by the use of a good probiotic such as Sanolife MIC-F, in order to help your male with pouch emphysema recover, and to help protect the rest of your herd, as discussed in more detail below:
The Use of Probiotics for Disease Prevention and Control
The use of probiotics has long been regarded a promising area for future research in aquaculture. Simply put, probiotics are mixtures of specially cultured microbes and microflora that are known to be beneficial to the aquarium and its inhabitants. When added to the aquarium, probiotics populate the aquarium substrate and filter media, as well as colonizing the gastrointestinal tract of the seahorses. Probiotics that colonize the digestive system of the seahorse with beneficial microflora can offer protection against certain pathogens by means of competitive inhibition, and there is also good evidence that suggests they may improve immune function by increasing the number of IgA-producing plasma cells, increasing or improving phagocytosis as well as increasing the proportion of T lymphocytes and Natural Killer cells.
At the same time, other beneficial bacteria in the probiotics mixture colonize the sand and gravel, live rock, and filter media, where they specialize in breaking down waste products, detritus, and other organic matter. This helps to maintain optimum water quality by reducing organic loading, stabilizing the pH, improving the clarity of the water, and reducing the levels of nitrates and phosphates in the aquarium.
In short, probiotics can prevent seahorse diseases by three mechanisms: dramatically improving water quality, boosting the immune system, and outcompeting pathologic bacterial, such as Vibrio. This is important for the seahorse keeper to know because Vibrio are the type of bacteria that are most commonly associated with infections such as tail rot, snout rot, and marine ulcer disease or ulcerative dermatitis. in addition, probiotics are also known to markedly reduced the incidence of gas bubble syndrome (GBS) when seahorses are kept in small, closed-system aquariums, probably by virtue of their ability to promote optimum water quality (Dan Underwood, personal communication).
Until recently, the use of probiotics in aquaculture has been confined primarily to livestock intended for human consumption (e.g., food fish and edible shrimp), rather than for ornamental fish intended for the aquarium industry, but that’s beginning to change, particularly in acknowledgment of the growing problem with drug-resistant strains of bacteria.
Fortunately, for the first time in the history of the aquarium hobby, probiotics are now becoming widely available to home hobbyists and at a very economical cost. They are inexpensive, extremely easy to use, and can often be real lifesavers for fish maintained in home aquariums.
Okay, Vanessa, that’s the quick rundown on treatment options for pregnant seahorses that develop positive buoyancy as a result of gas building up within their pouches. A needle aspiration is a good option in such cases (the smaller the needle, the better), as is administering Diamox orally via feeder shrimp or large frozen Mysis that have been injected with a solution of the medication. If neither of those are feasible, the pouch can be flushed out thoroughly in order to release the trapped gas, but this will be harsh on any embryonic young that the male may be carrying…
Please contact me off list at the following e-mail address, Vanessa, so that I can send you a document that will explain some of the other simple things that home hobbyists can do to help prevent or minimize problems with gas bubble syndrome in the future in more detail than as possible on a discussion forum like this:
Best of luck dealing with this tricky situation, Vanessa…
Pete Giwojna, Ocean Rider Tech Support
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