Seahorse Club
Aquarium & Livestock

Feed Ezy Frozen Mysis

Seahorse Club
Aquarium & Livestock

Feed Ezy Frozen Mysis

Seahorse Club
Aquarium & Livestock

Feed Ezy Frozen Mysis

Seahorse Club
Aquarium & Livestock

Feed Ezy Frozen Mysis

Seahorse Club
Aquarium & Livestock

Feed Ezy Frozen Mysis

Seahorse Club
Aquarium & Livestock

Feed Ezy Frozen Mysis

Seahorse not eating

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  • #1104

    I\’ve had an orange female Brazilian seahorse (H. reidi) for a little over two months. Been doing great, hunting all around the tank. I think she mated with my male H. erectus a few weeks ago.

    Around about a week ago (I think — wasn\’t paying close attention) she started breathing fast. I\’d say probably twice as fast as my other seahorses, maybe 2x/sec vs. a typical 1x/sec.

    Two days ago, she stopped swimming around, and basically just stays in one place all day long. I\’ve tried to hand feed (frozen mysis), right in front of her snout. She shows little interest, maybe ate one or two a day ago, nothing in the last 2-3 feedings (~36hrs) that I could see. I do have a refugium and live rock, so there\’s some chance she could be eating pods, but given her sudden lack of interest in frozen mysis I doubt it.

    I can\’t see anything external on her body. No physical trauma, no parasites, nothing unusual. She looks fine. Just doesn\’t behave well (fast breathing, little eating, little exploring).

    I fear she\’s due to starve to death in the next day or so.

    I did lose a different seahorse (H. barbouri) about two weeks ago, with many similar symptoms (fast breathing, not eating food right in front of face). At the time I thought it was isolated, but now I fear a pathogen of some kind. (My remaining two seahorses seem perfectly fine for the moment. Both are males, both likely pregnant.)

    Any advice? I\’ve considered trying to give her a freshwater dip, as that\’s a \"cure\" for many common ailments. But the process is stressful too, and I don\’t have any particular diagnosis to recommend it. Is there any chance she\’s just temporarily \"sick\", and will get better on her own.

    I\’m puzzled about what\’s going on, and moreover what (if anything) I could do about it.


    One more item of info: my tank has lots of live rock, and as usual with these things I’ve got a forest of Aiptasia which I constantly battle. They’re all pretty small, and I thought the main danger was a large anemone physically catching a small seahorse, and my seahorses seem to avoid the aiptasia colonies. But I’ll admit it’s possible that a seahorse might brush up against one, and perhaps get stung, so there may be a chance that aiptasia poison is a factor in my troubles.


    I’m pretty new to SHs myself, so I don’t have much in the way of advice. But I can say it’ll probably speed things up if you posted your water parameters. Temp, SG, PH are of particular importance, but anything you have the ability to test for would be good. That way the info will be here when the real experts arrive.

    Get a couple of peppermint shrimp for those aptasia. Mine did a great job.


    OK. Tank is ~250g, inc. refugium. About 1.5y old, pretty mature. Seahorse partition is about 60g, coral reef partition is about 120g.

    Temp is 78 (night) – 79 (day). Salinity is 1.023-1.024. Ammonia, Nitrite ~0. Nitrate ~2-3ppm. Calcium ~400ppm, KH ~125ppm. pH generally around 8.2, but I haven’t measured in a long time.

    The real clue is that everything else (stony and LPS corals, fish, seahorses, clams, inverts) is doing great, and only this one seahorse is having trouble. Perhaps water chemistry is an issue, but it can’t be too far out of whack, since tens of other organisms are clearly thriving.

    Also, I got peppermint shrimp months ago. May have "helped", but didn’t "cure" my aiptasia problem. Although the one in the seahorse side may have escaped out the overflow and into the refugium somehow. I’m going to have to try to catch it and move it back.


    The temperature may be a factor. No higher than 75 is recommended, I believe.

    I’m not sure about SHs specifically but I do recall reading about other critters (snails I think) that are really temperate but are often kept in tropical tanks. It’s not obvious to the keeper that the animals are not suited to the higher temps because it takes some time for the subtle affects to kick in. Whether that is the case with SHs, I can’t say. The only reason I’ve heard for not keeping them above 75 had to do with bacterial infections, IIRC.

    Good luck. Hopefully the experts will have some good advice.



    The reverand is correct, you temp is high. Most recomend 72-75 for most tropical species of SH. I keep mine on the low end 71-72. Sh are highly suseptable to bacterial infections, and the higher temps raise the risks. There is also a very small treatment window with SH. MOst newer hobbiest miss the symptoms and don’t begin treatment soon enough.

    Aippis, can be a huge problem in a SH tank. Often, you may not see a wound but the horse devolops a bacterial infection from it.

    Is there any way you can put your horse in a hospital tank? If she is going to require any meds. you will need to. Slowly over a 24hr. period drop the temp to 74. If she is sick 69 would be better.

    MAybe Pete will come along and help, I’m affraid I’m not much good at the how and why of it.

    Best of Luck

    Pete Giwojna

    Dear Don:

    I’m sorry to hear that your Brazilian seahorse (Hippocampus reidi) is not her usual self. H. reidi can be finicky eaters at times, but if she is exhibiting other symptoms such as increased respiration and decreased activity, and you lost another seahorse two weeks ago which exhibited similar symptoms, then I wouldn’t take any chances this time.

    This could be a problem with gilt flukes or gill parasites and I would suggest transferring her to a hospital tank and treating her with hyposalinity (osmotic shock therapy) combined with antibiotics to combat possible secondary infections. Treating her in your hospital tank will allow you to better regulate the specific gravity, which is very important for properly administering hyposalinity or OST, and assure that your seahorse does not have to compete with any tankmates for food while you keep her eating by tempting her with her favorite live foods. It would also facilitate gradually dropping the temperature of the treatment tank, which can slow the growth of protozoan parasites and especially bacterial infections.

    The best way to administer hyposalinity is to adjust the the water in the hospital tank to the desired specific gravity, and the same temperature and pH as the main tank, and then transfer the affected seahorse directly to the hospital tank with no acclimation whatsoever. If you have an accurate, reliable instrument for measuring the salinity or specific gravity, such as a refractometer, adjust the specific gravity to 1.011-1.012, but if you are relying on a less precise floating hydrometer or swing-arm hydrometer, shoot for a safer specific gravity of 1.015, as discussed below:

    CAUTION! When administering hyposalinity to seahorses, be very careful as you add the freshwater when you approach the target salinity. You do NOT want to overshoot the mark and drop the salinity too far! Seahorses tolerate low salinity very well up to a certain point, but they cannot withstand salinities below 13.3 ppt (specific gravity = 1.010) indefinitely. Salinities below 1.010 may be fatal to seahorses in a matter of days, if not hours.

    In the olden days, many attempts were made to gradually convert seahorses from saltwater to freshwater. Hippocampus erectus tolerated these experiments splendidly all the way down to specific gravity of 1.010, but when the salinity was dropped any further, the seahorses all perished (Bellomy, 1969, p7). These experiments were repeated with several groups of seahorses representing different subspecies of erectus, and the results were always the same: fine as low as 1.010 — defunct at 1.009 (Bellomy, 1969, p7)!

    Keeping that in mind, it is best to make your target salinity 1.011-1.012 to allow a margin for error. And when you subsequently transfer the ailing H. reidi from the full strength salinity in your main tank to the hyposalinity in the hospital tank to the main tank, the parasites will be subjected to the greatest possible osmotic shock, leaving them no chance at all to adjust to change in osmotic pressure.

    To be safe and effective, administering hyposalinity requires the use of an accurate method for measuring salinity/specific gravity such as a refractometer. If you will be relying on a pet-store hydrometer for your readings, you may wish to consider alternate treatments rather than OST. If you do decide to try hyposalinity using a hydrometer, please observe the following precautions:

    Be aware of the temperature at which your hydrometer was calibrated and make full use of conversion charts to adjust your readings based on the actual temperature of the water aquarium water.

    Make your target salinity 20 ppt (specific gravity = 1.015) to allow for a greater margin for error.

    Hyposalinity or OST is completely compatible with most medications. (In fact, many medications are more effective at low salinity than they are in full strength saltwater.) Since secondary bacterial or fungal infections often accompany parasite problems, I always recommend combining hyposalinity in the hospital tank with antibiotic therapy. In that case, simply medicating the hospital tank with the appropriate antibiotics will be easier than administering the antibiotics orally via gut-loaded shrimp.

    The medications I recommend using in conjunction with hyposalinity are either Furan2 or Parinox. Furan2 is a good combo medication that consist of two nitrofuran antibiotics (nitrofurazone and furazolidone) plus good old methylene blue. That gives it both bacteriostatic and bactericidal properties, and makes it active against various gram-negative and gram-positive bacteria.

    The methylene blue component of the Furan2 is a specially helpful when ever seahorses are exhibiting symptoms of respiratory distress or rapid, labored breathing. Commonly known as "meth blue" or simply "blue," methylene blue transports oxygen and aids breathing. It facilitates oxygen transport, helping fish breathe more easily by converting methemoglobin to hemoglobin — the normal oxygen carrying component of fish blood, thus allowing more oxygen to be carried through the bloodstream. This makes it very useful for treating gill infections, low oxygen levels, or anytime your seahorses are breathing rapidly and experiencing respiratory distress. It is the drug of choice for treating hypoxic emergencies of any kind with your fish. Methylene blue is effective in preventing fungal infections, and it has antiprotozoal and antibacterial properties as well, by virtue of its ability to bind with cytoplasmic structures within the cell and interfere with oxidation-reduction processes. However, methylene blue will destroy nitrifying bacteria so it should only be used in a hospital tank (if used in an established aquarium, it will impair the biological filtration and the tank may need to be cycled all over again).

    Parinox would also be a good alternative for a case like this. It is a very potent antiparasitic that also kills protozoans and has antibacterial properties:


    USE: For Ich, hexamita, costia, ichthyophthirius, ectoparasites, monogenia, hirudinea, parasitic copepods, argulus, lernaea, anchor worms, fish lice, leeches. Also a protozoacide. Anti-bacterial, anti-parasitic, very wide spectrum.

    DOSAGE: Use 1/4 teaspoon per 20 gallons. Treat once a week for 2 weeks. If water changes are done, add back the percentage of medication according to how much water was changed.

    You can obtain Parinox online from National Fish Pharmaceuticals at the following URL:

    Click here: Fish Medications

    As you can see, Parinox is effective against all of the ectoparasites and protozoan parasites that attack the gills and skin of fish. It’s a good medication to use in situations like this where were not sure exactly which parasites we may be dealing with Although Parinox is safe for seahorses and won’t impair your biofilter, it can be hard on crustaceans and certain invertebrates, so it’s best administered in the hospital tank.

    Aside from eradicating gill flukes, monogenetic trematodes, and a wide range of protozoan ectoparasites, the hyposalinity will also help your H. reidi regain her strength and recover by making it easier for her to osmoregulate. This should further aid her breathing and reserve for remaining bodily resources for healing so that you need be concerned that she’s going to starve to death in the next few days. But it will still be vitally important to get her eating again nevertheless.

    The best way to to do this is to provide some choice live foods to for your H. reidi to give her some badly needed nourishment. You’ve got to keep her strength up and give her a chance to recover before you can worry about weaning your reidi back onto frozen foods again. Hawaiian red feeder shrimp or volcano shrimp (Halocaridina rubra) are ideal for this — seahorses find them utterly irresistible! But anything that’s readily available — enriched adult brine shrimp, live ghost shrimp that are small enough to be swallowed, newborn guppies or mollies, Gammarus amphipods, copepods, you name it — is worth a try. Just get some good meals into her ASAP. Don’t worry about frozen foods for now — just get her eating again any way can.

    In the meantime, while you are preparing the hospital tank at the proper specific gravity, you can administer a diagnostic freshwater dip to your H. reidi as a first aid measure, as described below:

    Freshwater Dips

    A freshwater dip is simply immersing your seahorse in pure, detoxified freshwater that’s been preadjusted to the same temp and pH as the water the seahorse is accustomed to, for a period of at least 10 minutes (Giwojna, Dec. 2003). It doesn’t harm them — seahorses typically tolerate freshwater dips exceptionally well and a 10-minute dip should be perfectly safe. Freshwater dips are effective because marine fish tolerate the immersion in freshwater far better than the external parasites they play host to; the change in osmotic pressure kills or incapacitates such microorganisms within 7-8 minutes (Giwojna, Dec. 2003). A minimum dip, if the fish seems to be doing fine, is therefore 8 minutes. Include some sort of hitching post in the dipping container and shoot for the full 10 minutes with your seahorses (Giwojna, Dec. 2003).

    If you will be using tap water for the freshwater dip, be sure to dechlorinate it beforehand. This can be accomplished usually one of the commercial dechlorinators, which typically include sodium thiosulfate and perhaps a chloramine remover as well, or by aerating the tap water for at least 24 hours to dissipate the chlorine (Giwojna, Dec. 2003).

    If you dechlorinate the dip water with a sodium thiosulfate product, be sure to use an airstone to aerate it for at least one hour before administering the dip. This is because the sodium thiosulfate depletes the water of oxygen and the dip water must therefore be oxygenated before its suitable for your seahorse(s). Regardless of how you detoxify the freshwater for the dip, it’s important to aerate the water in the dipping container well beforehand to increase the level of dissolved oxygen in the water. Many hobbyists leave the airstone in the dipping container throughout the procedure.

    Adjusting the pH of the water in the dipping container so that it matches the pH of the water in the aquarium is a crucial step. Ordinary baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) will suffice for raising the pH of the water. If there is too much of a difference in the pH, there is a possibility the seahorse could go into shock during the dipping procedure. Preadjusting the pH will prevent that from happening. If you will are unsure about your ability to accurately adjust the pH in the dipping container, avoid this procedure altogether or be prepared to monitor the seahorse very carefully or shorten the duration of the tip to no more than about 4 minutes.

    Observe the horse closely during the dip. You may see some immediate signs of distress or shock. Sometimes the horse will immediately lie on its side on the bottom. That’s a fairly common reaction — normal and to be expected, rather than a cause for concern, so don’t be alarmed if this happens. Just nudge or tap the seahorse gently with your finger if it lies down on its side. Normally, the seahorse will respond to the slight nudge by righting itself again and calm down for the duration of the dip. However, if it does not respond, stop the treatment.

    Most seahorses tolerate the treatment well and experience no problems, but if you see continued signs of distress — twitching, thrashing around etc. — stop the treatment.

    After you have completed the dip and returned the seahorses to the aquarium, save the dip water and examine it closely for any sign of parasites. The change in osmotic pressure from saltwater to freshwater will cause ectoparasites to lyse (i.e., swell and burst) or drop off their host after 7-10 minutes, and they will be left behind in the dipping water. Protozoan parasites are microscopic and won’t be visible to the naked eye, but some of the other ectoparasites can be clearly seen. For example, monogenetic trematodes will appear as opaque sesame seeds drifting in the water (Giwojna, Aug. 2003) and nematodes may be visible as tiny hairlike worms 1/16-3/16 of an inch long. Other parasites may appear as tiny dots in the water. Freshwater dips can thus often provide affected seahorses with some immediate relief by ridding them of these irritating pests and can also aid their breathing by flushing out gill parasites. And that makes a freshwater dip a good first aid measure for your H. reidi while you are preparing the proper conditions in the hospital tank, Don.

    As Kris has mentioned, gradually dropping the temperature in the hospital tank will also be beneficial for your H. reidi. The reduced water temperature will slow down the growth rate of any pathogens or parasites the seahorse may be carrying as well as reducing your H. reidi’s metabolism. This will reduce the caloric intake she needs to keep going and and help conserve for bodily resources, thereby further reducing the risk of starvation while you work on restoring her appetite.

    One simple way to drop the water temp in your hospital tank is to position a small fan so it blows across the surface of the water continually (Giwojna, Oct. 2003). This will lower the water temperature a several degrees via evaporative cooling (just be sure to top off the tank regularly to replace the water lost to evaporation). Leaving the cover/hood and light off on your seahorse tank in conjunction with evaporative cooling can make a surprising difference.

    In a pinch, some hobbyists will even freeze plastic bottles 3/4 full of water and float the frozen bottles of water in their tank during the hottest part of the day. If necessary, that may worth trying in your case too, depending on how well your aquarium temp responds to the other measures.

    Here are some additional suggestions on cooling down your aquarium from Renée at the org that you may also find helpful:

    Some summer tips are:

    · Use computer fans (you can wire them to AC adapters… we are making some this weekend for our tanks).

    · Use a big ol clip-on-fan or a fan on a stand that you can set close. (Just be mindful of water evap.)

    · Float ice containers in the tank (Use water/liquid that you wouldn’t care if it sprung a leak. Those blue lunch/picnic type cooling things are not acceptable IMO…. what if it leaks? It will kill everything. I would recommend using bottled ice water because it will stay frozen even longer than fresh water….. but if you do use fresh water make sure it is water you wouldn’t mind spilling into the tank…. good ole tap water is not acceptable.)

    · If you have a hood or canopy on the tank…..keep it off or lifted.

    · Cool down the room the tank is in by using a portable or window AC unit. The window units can be pretty cheap.

    · If the sun really heats up this room, look into some window tinting. This is what I did when I lived in South Texas. It dropped the room temp TEREMENDOUSLY! (If ya wanna go the cheap method, foil was used in many windows in the city I lived in… wasn’t the prettiest method but it saved many people lives who lived in places without central AC and couldn’t afford well working window units.)

    · Shorten your photoperiod…. if possible don’t have the lights on in the hottest past of the day. But at any rate, shorten the amount of hours the lights are on for.

    When reducing the water temperature via evaporative cooling, I should also caution you to observe all the usual precautions to prevent shocks and electrical accident when you are using an electric fan or any other electrical equipment on your aquarium, Don.

    One such precaution is to install an inexpensive titanium grounding probe in your aquariums. That will protect your seahorses and other wet pets from stray voltage and should also safeguard them electrocution in the event of a catastrophic heater failure or similar accident..

    But the best way to protect you and your loved ones from electrical accidents around the fish room is to make sure all the outlets are equipped with Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters. And it’s a good idea to make sure all your electrical equipment is plugged into a surge protector as well to further protect your expensive pumps, filters, heaters, etc. from damage. Some good surge protectors, such as the Shock Busters, come with a GFCI built right into them so you can kill two birds with one stone. So when you set up your cooling fan(s) on the aquarium, be sure they’re plugged into a grounded outlet with a GFCI or a surge protector with GFCI protection.

    While you are treating your H. reidi administering hyposalinity in the hospital tank, it would also be a good idea to tweak the aquarium parameters in your seahorse enclosure a bit, Don. If you can stabilize the water temperature in the 72°F-75°F range, that’s a step in the right direction, as well as bumping up the pH and notch or two. What sort of buffer have you been using, sir? Many hobbyists report good results using a two-part of our system consisting of an alkalinity component and a calcium component when they’re pH has been intractable. You’ll want to thin out that forest of Aiptasia rock anemones, too (more on that in a separate post)…

    Also, considering the problems you’ve had recently with your H. barbouri and reidi, installing ultraviolet sterilizer on your seahorse enclosure might be a wise precaution.

    Best of luck restoring your H. reidi’s appetite, Don. Here’s hoping she makes a full recovery. If you want to give the hyposalinity a try, just let me know and I will provide you with complete instructions for administering osmotic shock therapy safely and effectively, sir.

    Pete Giwojna

    Pete Giwojna

    Dear Don:

    A few isolated Aiptasia rock anemones won’t pose a serious threat to any of the larger seahorses such as Mustangs and Sunbursts (Hippocampus erectus). As you said, they will be careful to avoid them.

    However, Aiptasia rock anemones can rapidly increase in number and become a threat to seahorses when they are so numerous it is difficult for the seahorses to avoid coming in contact with them. The danger is not that the Aiptasia will capture and consume a small seahorse, but rather that their stinging cells or nematocysts can penetrate the integument of the seahorse and leave it vulnerable to secondary infections. For this reason, I would strongly suggest that you take measures to deforest the orchards of Aiptasia that have sprung up on your live rock.

    Aiptasia rock anemones can easily be killed by injecting them with a number of solutions — Kalkwasser, boiling water, lemon juice, a number of commercial products — and in a severe case like yours, I suggest using a combination of such injections and biological control to eradicate them.

    Peppermint Shrimp (Lysmata wurdemanni) will do a fine job of controlling Aiptasia rock anemones and they do great with seahorses. They are popular additions to a seahorse tank because hobbyists like to use them to augment their cleanup crews and add a splash of color and activity to their tanks. Aside from their utility as attractive scavengers, they often perform a useful service by grooming the seahorses, which is fascinating to watch, and regularly reproduce, releasing swarms of nauplii many seahorses love to eat. Peppermint Shrimp are especially popular because they are natural predators of Aiptasia rock anemones and do a wonderful job of eradicating these pests from the aquarium.

    One rule to keep in mind when buying your Peppermints is to select the largest possible cleaner shrimp for your seahorse tank(s). Seahorses will actively hunt small cleaner shrimp and they are quite capable of killing shrimp that are far too big to swallow whole, so the cleaners need to be large enough that they are not regarded as potential prey. Add a few good-sized peppermint shrimp to the seahorse enclosure and they will happily clean up all of the smaller Aiptasia rock anemones.

    If you pitch in by periodically injecting the largest Aiptasia, you will soon whittle down that forest of rock anemones. As the number of Aiptasia are reduced, they will become easier and easier to eliminate. There will be fewer of the large anemones for you to inject and the peppermint shrimp will eventually work their way through all of the smaller ones.

    Best of luck controlling your explosion of Aiptasia rock anemones, sir!

    Happy Trails!
    Pete Giwojna


    OK, a quick update.

    I killed off (or greatly shrunk) most of my aiptasia anemones by injecting them with Joe’s Juice. Seems to have been effective.

    Last night I hand-caught my ailing seahorse, and put her in a 10-minute freshwater dip (with buffer for pH, 1hr water circulation for oxygen, RO/DI water, and temp equalization). I did get the "laying on the bottom" for awhile. Actually kind of funny, as she forced herself up a few times, and clearly gulped air from the surface of the water. I realized in hindsight that seahorses must be able to control buoyancy this way. By the end of ten minutes, she was floating kind of normally. Then I put her back in the main tank, and she bobbed like a cork at the surface! Until, about 5-10 seconds later, she seemed to take a huge gulp of saltwater, and then started sinking normally. Kind of interesting to observe an animal adapt so consciously to the difference in buoyancy between saltwater and fresh water.

    Anyway, that was last night. Checked again this morning, and unfortunately there’s basically been no change. She’s still breathing rapidly. She’s basically lying horizontal in a single location, near the bottom of the tank. I put a huge collection of frozen mysis right under her nose, about 1cm away, and she showed zero interest — or even awareness. Eventually bristleworms wandered over the sand and started dragging the shrimp off, and the seahorse basically never moved.

    I’m disappointed that her breathing and activity haven’t improved at all after the freshwater dip, and a night of "rest". It does seem that starvation is the biggest threat.

    I’ll see what I can do about setting up a hospital tank. But getting the live food before she starves to death (and whether she’ll even try to hunt the live food) seems like the biggest worry.

    Anyway, thanks for all your advice.

    Pete Giwojna

    Dear Don:

    Sounds like you did a fine job of cutting that forest of Aiptasia rock anemones down to size, sir! (Joe’s Juice is also my preferred weapon of choice for injecting Aiptasia.) Well done! Get a couple of good-sized peppermint shrimp (Lysmata wurdemanni) in there now and you should have no more worries with regard to Aiptasia. That’s one potential hazard under control, which should pay nice dividends for your seahorse enclosure in the long run.

    I’m sorry to hear the freshwater dip did not have the desired results. But I still think treating the female H. reidi with hyposalinity and Furan 2 is your best bet for a good outcome. Reducing the salinity and gradually lowering the water temperature in the hospital tank will conserve her bodily resources and slow down her metabolism, buying the time you need to line up some choice live foods and get her eating again.

    A basic hospital tank can be set up pretty quickly and easily, Don. A bare-bottomed, 10-gallon aquarium with plenty of hitching posts will suffice for a Quarantine Tank (QT). Ideally, the hospital tank should have one or more foam filters for biofiltration along with a small external filter, which can easily be removed from the tank during treatment but which can hold activated carbon or polyfilter pads when it’s time to pull the meds out. It’s important for the hospital ward to include enough hitching posts so that the seahorse won’t feel vulnerable or exposed during treatment. Aquarium safe, inert plastic plants or homemade hitching posts fashioned from polypropylene rope or twine that has been unraveled and anchored at one end are excellent for a hospital tank. No aquarium reflector is necessary. Ambient room light will suffice. (Bright lights can breakdown and inactivate certain medications and seahorses are more comfortable and feel more secure under relatively dim lighting.)

    So just a bare 10-gallon tank with hitching posts is all you need for your hospital ward. No heater. No reflector. No lights. No substrate. You can even do without the sponge filters or external filter in your case, just adding a couple of airstones to provide surface agitation and oxygenation. That’s it.

    In a pinch, a clean 5-gallon plastic bucket (new and unused, NOT an old scrub bucket!) can serve as a makeshift hospital tank. It should be aerated and equipped with hitching posts and perhaps a heater, but nothing else. This makes a useful substitute when the Quarantine Tank is occupied or in use and a seahorse needs treatment.

    Stay on top of water quality in the hospital tank/bucket with water changes (using hyposalinity water if you will be administering OST) as often as needed during treatment, and redose with the medication according to directions after each water change.

    If you’re having trouble obtaining suitable live foods, Don, you can always consider tube feeding the affected seahorse. 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.

    Just let me know if you want to try hyposalinity in the hospital tank, and if you feel tube feeding is appropriate in your case, Don, and I will send you explicit directions complaining exactly how to proceed in detail.

    Best of luck restoring your female H. reidi’s appetite, sir!

    Pete Giwojna


    Aiptasia: I’ve got a peppermint shrimp in my reef tank, and at one time I had one in my seahorse partition, but the shrimp in the seahorse side somehow escaped, and I’ve since found him in my refugium. So I need to capture him and return him to the seahorse partition; but there’s so much caulerpa in the refugium (and it’s in an awkward place to access) that I haven’t had much luck catching the thing yet.

    Hospital tank: I’ve got a 5g spare that I can use. I have an extra heater and pump, as well at hitching posts, so this part shouldn’t be a problem. I can do filtration by water changes.

    But: I don’t have medicine or live food. At this point, I doubt my seahorse will last another night. I suppose lower temperature and salinity in the hospital tank might delay things a bit. So perhaps it’s worth a shot.

    I guess I’d be interested in your suggestions for tube feeding. Surely at this point, starving to death is the #1 concern.

    Thanks again for all your detailed help.

    Pete Giwojna

    Dear Don:

    You’re very welcome to all the information I can provide, sir!

    I agree with your assessment — providing the ailing seahorse with some nutritional support at this point has to be a priority. Here are my usual instructions for force feeding/tube feeding seahorses:

    Force Feeding

    The easiest technique for force feeding a seahorses is to thaw and enrich some frozen Mysis as usual and then locate an implement such as a blunt toothpick on which you can impale one frozen shrimp. (Some hobbyists like to use a clean plastic fork for this and break off all the tines but one, which will then be used to manipulate the frozen Mysis; Carol Keen, pers. com.) Simply spear the mysid on the end of the tine or toothpick, hold your seahorse under water, and gently work the morsel into its mouth.

    It helps to watch the seahorse’s breathing, and when it opens its mouth to inhale, then gently insert the Mysis into its mouth. Each time it breathes, push the mysid a little further down its snout on the inhale, while it’s taking in water. Keep gently working the mysid further down the snout this way until you get it past the hyoid-bone "trigger." Once you get the Mysis past the trigger, you can withdraw the tine or toothpick and the seahorse will usually swallow the shrimp on its own. Depending on the size of the seahorse, you can repeat this process several times in one feeding session, until the seahorse has swallowed 4-5 enriched Mysis (Jennifer Myerscough, pers. com.).

    If you feel this method is too intrusive or too intimidating, there is a less invasive method you can try, but it’s not as effective, in my opinion. It involves using a small syringe (no needle!) to squirt a thin mash of food or gruel into the seahorse’s mouth. Basically, you mash the food up very fine, until it’s almost liquefied, mix in some vitamins or other enrichment product to fortify it, load the gruel into the tube of the syringe, and squirt a small amount into the seahorse’s mouth when it inhales as it breathes. Give the seahorse a chance to swallow (or reject) the mash you’ve injected before you repeat the process. It’s an uncertain technique at best, since the seahorse can spit out some or all of the food after each squirt and you never know for sure how much it’s actually ingesting, but it’s a very safe method and certainly better than nothing.

    There’s a third method of force feeding seahorses that 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.

    Some tips:

    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>

    Finally, I should point out that many people feel it’s easier to tube feed a seahorse if you sedate it first using clove oil or another anesthetic. Sedation can often make the whole experience a little less stressful for both the seahorse and the person performing the tube-feeding, but there is a certain amount of risk involved since it is entirely possible to sedate your seahorse to death. There is an excellent description of how to sedate a seahorse with clove oil and tube feed it at the following URL, including photographs of the entire procedure, so you may want to refer to that as well before you decide how best to proceed, Don:

    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 reidi, Don. It’s best used as a last resort, but in a case like yours, it can sometimes be a real life saver. Good luck!

    Pete Giwojna


    Update [8pm local time]: my hospital tank wasn’t quite ready, but I had to dump the sick seahorse in it a little early. She spent the evening resting horizontal on the sand bed. A few minutes ago I saw her on the sand next to a coral. I watched a bristleworm venture out, and eventually grab on to her snout. She fought it off and jerked around, but for awhile she was up in the open water with a long red bristleworm stuck to her snout. After it dropped off, she fell back to the sand again.

    I immediately grabbed her and tossed her in the hospital tank, with no acclimation.

    Main tank is 79 degrees, 1.024 salinity. Hospital tank is 72 degrees, roughly 21 or 1.016 salinity.

    But she’s in there now. Still, no medicine, and no food.

    I’d have to guess that it’s unlikely she’ll be alive in the morning. Very sad.


    Update [9pm local]: Never mind. She didn’t survive the panic transfer to the hospital tank. Stopped breathing about ten minutes later. Surely it was just the final shock after days of sickness and no eating and a very weakened state.

    All the information is very helpful, though, thanks. If I ever have a problem like that again, I can jump on it much quicker. Freshwater dip within a day of noticing this kind of abnormal behavior. And I should probably stock some of the medicine you mention, so I have it in house if I ever need it again. And lastly, I now have confidence to forcefeed a seahorse if it stops eating. I never would have tried that on my own. Almost sounds like fun (if under difficult circumstances)!

    Ah well. Thanks for the multiple replies. My long delay before even starting treatment probably doomed this particular specimen from the start.

    Pete Giwojna

    Dear Don:

    Rats! I hate to hear that your female didn’t make it, but things were sounding very grim based on your last report. She must have been awfully, awfully weak to be resting prone on the bottom and barely able to fend off an attack by a bristleworm. All my condolences on your loss, sir!

    If it’s any consolation, I don’t think you had any option but to attempt an emergency transfer to the hospital tank under the circumstances. If the bristleworms were already taking an unhealthy interest in her, like vultures maintaining a vigil over their dying victim in the desert, she never would have survived the night in your main tank once the bristleworms came out in full strength after lights out.

    Yes, sir — it would be very prudent to line up some of the most useful medications to keep on hand just in case they are ever needed. Furan 2 is a good combination medication to keep in your fish room, and if you will do a quick search of this forum for the phrase "medicine chest," you will find a detailed discussion of other medications that are very useful and can comprise a first aid kit for the seahorse keeper. Just type in "medicine chest" in the search window in the upper right-hand corner and press "Enter" on your keyboard.

    In the meantime, keep the five-gallon hospital tank you set up running to serve as a hospital ward-quarantine tank in the future. Install a sponge filter to provide some biological filtration for the tank when you’re using it to quarantine new specimens or to treat ailing specimens with medications that won’t impair the biofilter. And I would adjust the water in the hospital tank to the proper level for hyposalinity (1.011-1.012 if you have a refractometer or about 1.015 if you’re relying on pet shop hydrometer to measure specific gravity) and maintain it at that level for best results.

    Since you’ve lost seahorses with similar symptoms in the past 2-3 weeks now, I would also give serious consideration to installing an ultraviolet sterilizer on your seahorse enclosure, Don, as discussed below:

    Ultraviolet Sterilizers.

    Although it does not improve water quality to nearly the same degree as an ozonizer used in conjunction with a protein skimmer, UV radiation in the proper range (295-400 nanometers) is known to help oxidize phosphates, metabolites, organic molecules and nitrogenous compounds through the incidental production of ozone (Fenner, 2003a).

    The primary benefits UV sterilization provides, however, are disease reduction and the reduction of nuisance algae. Ultraviolet radiation can be very effective in reducing free-floating algae, bacteria and microbes in general, certain parasites while in the free-swimming stages of development, and other suspended microscopic organisms (Fenner, 2003a). Seahorses are prone to a number of serious bacterial problems such as Vibriosis, and a properly installed and maintained UV sterilizer can be invaluable in reducing the incidence and spread of such infections. When properly used, UV sterilization can reduce microbial levels in the aquarium to the low levels normally found in the wild or below (Fenner, 2003a).

    For best results, the UV sterilizer must be properly sized, operated, and maintained. In order to provide a good kill rate per pass, the effective dwell time (the length of time the water is exposed to UV radiation while passing through the sterilizer) should be maintained at or above roughly twenty gallons per hour flow per watt of UV (Fenner, 2003a). This sounds complicated, but selecting the right sterilizer for your needs is actually very easy. Every manufacturer provides guidelines to help the hobbyist choose a unit and a pump that provide the proper wattage, flow rate and exposure time for any given application.

    To assure efficient transmission of the proper wavelengths, sleeves (i.e., the quartz jacket that shields the lamp) must be kept clean and UV bulbs must be replaced at regular intervals. Equally important, the aquarium water should be filtered before it passes through the sterilizer. For maximum efficiency, make the UV sterilizer the final component of an in-line filtration system, so that the water has already passed through your mechanical, biological and chemical filtration media before it flows through the sterilizer (Fenner, 2003a). Do not operate your UV sterilizer during the break-in period when a new aquarium is being cycled and the biological filtration is becoming established. It is counterproductive to reduce microbe levels and nutrient levels when the aquarium is cycling.

    Ultraviolet sterilizers are not necessary for maintaining seahorses, but nowadays I would not attempt to keep wild-caught seahorses without one. Hardy, disease-resistant farmed-raised seahorses can do just fine without them, and reefers often frown on UV because it reduces the population of microscopic planktonic organisms filter-feeding invertebrates require. But in my opinion a UV sterilizer makes a very useful addition to the filtration system of the average seahorse setup. The fish farms and aquaculture facilities that raise captive-bred seahorses employ UV radiation in their nurseries and grow-out tanks, and there is no reason the home hobbyist should not take advantage of this technology as well.

    Good luck assembling a basic first aid kit for your seahorses, sir!

    Pete Giwojna

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