Ocean Rider Seahorse Farm and Tours | Kona Hawaii › Forums › Seahorse Life and Care › Seahorse Regurgitates its meals
- This topic has 4 replies, 3 voices, and was last updated 11 years, 7 months ago by Pete Giwojna.
October 21, 2011 at 1:54 pm #1909tjdouglasMember
I have an Ocean Rider female Sunburst that has been with me for several months. She has always been a slow, picky, deliberate eater compared to her seahorse tankmates, but she has (thankfully) been consistently interested in food despite her finickiness about what she consumes.
However, over the last two or three days she has been regurgitating everything that she eats. She is hungry and eats food, maybe even eats more than usual, but then regurgitates it a minute or two after swallowing it. She then tries to eat it the same food again, but has the same response. She seems unable to keep anything down for long, though she keeps trying to eat. She is growing thinner and I am getting worried.
I have been offering her both frozen mysis and enriched live brine shrimp. She has even been chasing around the live ghost shrimp that I put in to feed my substantially larger Brazilians. Obviously she is hungry. She eats, but ends up regurgitating everything a minute or two later.
Any suggestions on what I might do to help her? I have several other seahorses in the tank and they are all fine.
Thanks so much for your advice!
TomOctober 22, 2011 at 12:23 am #5363Tucson ReefGuest
What does or did feces look like, any mucusy stringers? Breathing, gills?October 22, 2011 at 9:17 am #5364Pete GiwojnaGuest
Wow, that’s a very unusual problem, sir. It does not sound like your female is suffering from a lack of appetite or that she is afflicted with weak snick or any of the other feeding disorders I am familiar with, since it sounds like she has no problem slurping up her food and swallowing it, but simply cannot keep it down when she does so.
If I had to guess why this is happening, I might think that your female has developed an obstruction of some sort in the esophagus which may be preventing the food she swallows from entering her stomach. I would normally suggest offering her softbodied adult brine shrimp, which are easier to slurp up and swallow them frozen Mysis or hard bodied crustaceans, and a case like this, Tom, but it sounds like you’ve already tried that with no better luck than the frozen Mysis.
The only thing I can suggest under the circumstances is that you consider force-feeding your female in order to get some good nutrition into her one way or another. If you could tube feed your female and inject the food directly into the stomach/gastrointestinal tract of the seahorse, perhaps she may be able to keep it down and benefit from the nutrition it provides. At least that would keep her strength up and buy some time so that she might be able to eventually recover from whatever is causing this problem on her own.
Here is some information regarding tube feeding that will explain how to proceed if this problem continues to persist, Tom:
Force-feeding — a last resort when all else fails
Force feeding can save a seahorse’s life in an emergency, but it’s best reserved as a last resort. It’s not a long-term solution, but rather a stopgap measure to provide desperately needed nutritional support for a seahorse when all else fails.
Tube feeding is appropriate when a seahorse has gone without eating for a prolonged period and has exhausted its energy reserves. This can happen when a seahorse is beset with internal parasites and stops eating, or perhaps when a seahorse is undergoing extended treatment with a medication that suppresses the appetite. And, of course, it is very common — perhaps even the rule — in wild-caught seahorses that have run the gauntlet from collector to wholesaler to retailer before finally reaching the hobbyist (Lidster, 1999). In such cases, tube feeding can help strengthen the seahorse and keep it going until it has a chance to recover and resume feeding on its own.
The most common method of force feeding seahorses is better referred to as tube feeding since no force is involved. The following description is based on Leslie Leddo’s tube-feeding technique, as discussed in her online article (Leddo, 2002b). It is similar to the previous technique, except that a very fine catheter is attached to the syringe and inserted into the seahorse’s snout before the food is injected. Basically a small amount of food, very thoroughly mashed and diluted in distilled water, is very gently injected via a very small gauge plastic catheter inserted into the horses snout no further than the trigger. It works best if only a small amount of food — no more than 1-2 mm on the barrel of the syringe — is squirted into the seahorse’s mouth at one feeding. It’s invasive, but actually very gentle, and the seahorse is much more likely to keep the food down this way.
Whichever method of force feeding you try, it’s helpful to hold the seahorse cupped in your hand for a minute or two after a feeding session before you release it. Doing so makes it much less likely that the seahorse will regurgitate the food you so painstakingly put into it. Here are detailed instructions for tube feeding, as explained by the author (Leddo, 2002b):
<begin quote> "Tube Feeding: When All Else Fails, an Alternative to Starvation"
by Leslie Leddo
Is your seahorse on a hunger strike? Have you tried all the non-invasive methods and various of types of foods to no avail? Are you concerned you may lose him to starvation? There is another alternative that may help to jump-start his feeding response. Tube feeding is an option when all else has failed. It is actually easier than you might imagine. Sit back, relax, and read on.
What you need:
* Someone with access to medical supplies. A local sympathetic veterinarian is a good option.
* A high quality food. Frozen Mysis or a high quality flake can be used. My preference is Mysis relicta from Canada. It has an outstanding nutritional profile. It is 69.9% protein and rich in HUFAs.
* A very narrow catheter. I use a plastic intravenous catheter with the introducer needle removed from the center and properly disposed of in a Sharps container, perhaps prior to leaving the vet’s office with your supplies. I would suggest an 18 to 25-gauge depending on the diameter of your horse’s snout. I used a 20-gauge on my 6"-7" erectus. The smaller the horse or the narrower the snout, the smaller the catheter you will need. The catheter size is inversely proportional to the # gauge it is assigned. So an 18-gauge catheter has a wider lumen than a 24-gauge catheter
* A 1 cc syringe.
* A bowl. It should be wide enough and deep enough to allow for your horse to remain submerged while your assistant holds him and you administer the feeding.
* An assistant. Preferably someone who is not too squeamish.
* Tank water.
* A spoon.
* A small bowl.
* Distilled water.
* An area to work that is well lit.
What to prepare:
* Gather all your supplies.
* Review the anatomy of the GI tract of the seahorse, paying particular attention to the esophagus, stomach and intestines.
* Clear and clean a well-lit workspace.
* Wash and rinse your hands well.
* Prepare the food by placing a small amount of previously defrosted and enriched Mysis in the small bowl. With the convex side of your spoon, mash the Mysis into a smooth paste.
* Add a few drops of distilled water and mix thoroughly. You will need to experiment and play here a bit in order to get the paste to a consistency that will easily, smoothly, and consistently flow through the tip of the catheter when gentle pressure is applied to the plunger of the syringe. The smaller the diameter of catheter (the larger the gauge number) you are using, the more dilute and thinner the gruel will need to be.
Once you have a consistency you think is appropriate, draw some of the gruel into the syringe and attach the catheter to the syringe. The tip of the syringe is usually threaded and the catheter will screw on to it. Gently apply pressure to the plunger of the syringe to be sure the gruel flows through the tip of the catheter easily, smoothly and consistently. Adjust the consistency of the gruel as necessary by adding more distilled water or more Mysis paste until it flows smoothly through the catheter with VERY gentle pressure on the plunger. No force should be exerted at all.
* Flush the syringe and catheter several times by drawing a small amount of distilled water into the syringe and pushing it back out.
* Draw into the syringe a little more gruel than you intend to feed. I fed between 0.2cc and 0.25cc to a 6"-7" erectus. You are going to have to estimate the appropriate amount based on the size of your horse. This is where refreshing your knowledge of the seahorse’s internal anatomy will come in handy. Since the seahorse’s digestive tract is basically a straight tube from snout to anus, you can use their length as a general guideline to estimate the portion size.
* Start with the plunger of the syringe fully depressed, pull up on the plunger and draw about 0.3cc to 0.4cc of the Mysis mixture into the syringe. Any air in the syringe will need to be removed. Invert the syringe holding it vertically tip up, plunger down. Gently tap on the syringe several times. The air will displace the gruel appearing as a bubble at the tip of the syringe. Gently depress the plunger with the syringe remaining in the inverted position, so you will be pushing up on the plunger. Continue to depress the plunger until all the air has been expressed from the syringe and a small amount of gruel appears at the syringe tip.
* Attach the catheter to the syringe and prime it by depressing the plunger until a few drops of gruel emerge from the catheter tip.
OK now you are ready to actually feed the little bugger… whoops… sorry… your sweet little hunger-striking horse.
How to proceed:
Round up your assistant. Take a few deep breaths and relax.
Fill the large bowl with your horse’s tank water.
Remove your horse from the tank by gently scooting him into a small container and gently release him into the bowl of tank water.
Have your assistant firmly but gently hold the horse, keeping him submerged at all times. His head and neck should be between their thumb and forefinger, snout pointing up, with his body lying across their palm. Encourage him to curl his tail around their pinky. This will help to keep the horse calm. If you have never held a seahorse in your hand you may be surprised at how strong they are. He may struggle or even snick. Boy, oh boy — was I surprised at how powerful their snick is!
Take the previously filled and primed syringe into your dominant hand.
Loosely hold the horse’s snout between the thumb and forefinger of your other hand.
Closely observe the snout tip. It will open and close in synchrony with his respiration.
As the snout opens, insert the tip of the catheter into the snout about ½ way between the snout tip and trigger.
Slowly and gently depress the plunger. Try to time injecting tiny bits of the gruel just prior to the closing of the snout. If he is ingesting the gruel you will actually see him swallow and pass some of the food through his gills. He may snick, it will feel strange but don’t be alarmed. The first time my boy did it I thought for sure the catheter would break off in his snout. It never did. He did however dent it a bit. That snick is powerful!
If the gruel is coming back out of his snout either you are injecting the gruel too quickly, the catheter tip is not far enough into his snout or you are close to the end of the feeding and his GI tract is full. First check to see if you are close to the end of the estimated amount of the feeding. If so, he is probably full and you are done. If not, try injecting the gruel a little slower, taking care to try and synchronize advancing the plunger just prior to the closing of the snout. If the gruel continues to come back out try advancing the catheter tip just a tad further. Finish the feeding. You may need to give him and yourself a little break if either of the above situations occurs and too much of the feeding is lost. Refill the syringe and give him the rest of the estimated amount.
Wooooooo-Hoooooooo!!! That’s it! You did it! Tell him what a good boy he was, return him to the tank, give yourself a big pat on the back, thank your assistant and take the rest of the evening off in front of your tank with a cup of tea… well… OK, if you insist a cold beer, a glass of wine, or a good stiff drink of your choice. It wasn’t that bad now was it? I bet it was easier than you had anticipated. I thought it was.
Practice pushing the gruel through the catheter. If it is too thick it will stick and you will need to push harder. You will need to thin it with some distilled water so that it flows out smoothly.
Ask your veterinarian for several size catheters. Use the one with the widest diameter (lowest # gauge) that will easily insert into the horse’s snout.
Have the vet remove the introducer needle in his office, so you do not have to worry about needle disposal.
It may be necessary to do this several days in a row until the feeding response is initiated or returns. I would suggest offering a variety of foods prior to each daily tube feeding. If you have been tube feeding for several days and he shows no interest in eating, you may need to gradually decrease the amounts of the feeding so he is actually hungry or possibly fast him for a day or two. It is my feeling that, if at all possible, allowing him to remain in his own tank with other horses and offering a variety of foods (live as well as frozen) may be beneficial in helping to encourage him to eat.
I hope you never need to use the information I presented here, but if you should I would like to wish you good luck and hope this information has proved useful (Leddo, 2002b). <end quote>
Force feeding can save a seahorse’s life in an emergency, but it’s best reserved as a last resort. It is appropriate when a seahorse has gone without eating for a prolonged period and has exhausted its energy reserves. 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 barb, Tom. It’s best used as a last resort, but in a case like yours, it can sometimes be a real life saver.
Some hobbyists feel it’s easier to tube feed their seahorses after they have been sedated, while others feel that sedation only complicates the procedure. Sometimes sedating the seahorse can make tube feeding a little less stressful for both the patient and the caregiver, but it is quite possible to sedate a seahorse to death so you must weigh the risks involved carefully and proceed with caution. If you would like to give such a procedure a try, Tom, there is an excellent discussion of the procedure with step-by-step instructions and photographs available online at the following URL:
Best of luck resolving this problem, Tom!
Pete GiwojnaOctober 23, 2011 at 6:36 am #5366The CataloguesGuest
Cindy and I have a little problem as well. Our male is a little challenged this morning and does not want to eat much. He did take a mices off the sand and acted very strange with gyrations and looked as if he was choking. All day he just laid around at the bottom and tonight he did not want to eat at all. I read this below and wondered if it was a similar issue.
Please reply as soon as possible. I can only assume that he is blocked a little and will be fine in the AM?
Al DeNapoliOctober 23, 2011 at 7:46 am #5367Pete GiwojnaGuest
Dear Al & Cindy:
I’m sorry to hear about your male seahorse that is off its feed, sir. It is possible that the seahorse had some sort of an internal obstruction and that when he slurp up the frozen Mysis from the bottom of the tank, it temporarily blocked his esophagus until he was able to swallow it completely and caused him a great deal of distress in the meantime. But I think that’s rather unlikely, since such internal obstructions are very rare in my experience.
However, I have seen seahorses react just as you describe when they were feeding from the bottom and inadvertently inhaled a foreign object as well as the Mysis they were targeting. The offending particle is often a piece of gravel or crushed shell. When a hard, sizable foreign object such as this is ingested, it can lodge in the throat or snout, and the seahorse may have difficulty expelling it again. (The seahorse’s feeding mechanism is much better suited for sucking things in than spitting them out again.) When that happens, the seahorse is almost always able to clear the offending object eventually, but sometimes not before it causes considerable irritation or the repeated efforts to eject it cause a muscular strain to the hyoid trigger mechanism. The seahorse then acts as though it has a very bad sore throat. The suction it generates is weak and both the act of pulling the trigger and the act of swallowing appear to be painful. The seahorse feeds reluctantly or halfheartedly as a result, and may eventually stop feeding altogether. Such mechanical injuries can also open the door for snout rot.
Suspect a mechanical injury such as this is responsible for the reluctant feeding when you witnessed the seahorse ingesting or struggling to expel a foreign object. In such cases, most often the problem clears up on its own after two weeks to two months as the injury heals. No treatment is necessary and the key to a successful outcome is keeping the patient eating while the healing takes place. That’s what treatment should concentrate on.
When these feeding difficulties arise, it’s a good idea to try tempting the affected seahorse with live adult brine shrimp. Seahorses suffering from weak snick induced by an injury may have better luck slurping up smaller, lighter, soft-bodied prey like brine shrimp; if so, that will be enough to keep them going while they heal. You’ll want to enrich the brine shrimp to maximize its nutritional value, and gutloading the shrimp with an enrichment product high in HUFA such as Vibrance is a good way to fortify it beforehand. Brine shrimp are filter feeders that will ingest whatever is suspended in the water with them, so all you need to do is add a pinch or two (or drop or two) of the enrichment formula to a small container of saltwater swarming with brine shrimp at least 30 minutes before you offer the shrimp to your seahorse.
Some hobbyists dealing with weak snick have had good success in coaxing the affected seahorse to feed by transferring the seahorse to a critter keeper or breeder net or similar enclosure that can hang within the main tank itself, and then adding a generous amount of live adult brine shrimp to the container. Within the enclosure, the affected seahorse does not have to compete with its tankmates for the live food, and it is easy to maintain an adequate feeding density within the confined space so that there is always a big juicy brine shrimp passing within striking distance of the hungry seahorse. Add one or two hitching posts within the critter keeper or breeder net so that your male can anchor in place and wait for a tasty brine shrimp to pass within easy reach, and give him an hour or two within the enclosure to eat him fill of the softbodied adult brine shrimp. You can monitor his progress from a nonthreatening distance away from the tank to see how she is doing. In most cases, the seahorse quickly becomes familiar with the routine of being transferred to the special enclosure at feeding time and associates it with tasty live foods and a full belly — positive reinforcements that make it a very nonthreatening, stress-free procedure for the affected seahorse — and, as a result, it may actually come to look forward to it after a few feedings. You can repeat this feeding process two or three times daily in order to fatten him up again, if your schedule allows.
On other occasions, Al, the offending particle that is accidentally ingested from the bottom is not an inert object at all but rather a small bristleworm. The bristleworms are also attracted to the uneaten frozen Mysis that settles to the bottom of the tank, and it is not at all uncommon for a hungry seahorse to accidentally slurp up a small bristleworm along with a piece of frozen Mysis when both the pony and the prickly pests were after the same piece of food.
As you can imagine, when that happens, the seahorse is temporarily traumatized, in great distress because of the irritating spicules on the bristleworm, and such an incident may make the unfortunate seahorse very reluctant to feed until the irritation has passed and any resulting injury has healed. If you have noticed any bristleworms in your seahorse tank, it’s possible something like this could be what is bothering your stallion.
In general, bristleworms are benign, even beneficial inhabitants of an aquarium that perform a useful service as scavengers. For example, although they are unwelcome hitchhikers in a seahorse setup, bristleworms are often considered to be desirable and valued as scavengers in reef tanks. The difference is that the nutrient loading in reef tanks is very low, which keeps the bristleworm population very well in check. The bristleworms tend to be relatively few and to stay relatively small in a reef system.
However, in a seahorse tank that received daily feedings of frozen Mysis, the abundance of nutritious food that is available can sometimes result in a population explosion of bristleworms. And when their numbers get out of control or they grow too large, there comes a point when an overabundance of bristleworms becomes problematic as far as seahorses are concerned. That point is generally when the exploding population of bristleworms become too large and aggressive at feeding time, actively seeking out the frozen Mysis even during daylight hours, no longer content with cleaning up leftovers, and begin invading the feeding station. Too many bristleworms lingering too long at the feeding station brings them in direct contact with the hungry seahorses who come to the lunch counter for their favorite food as usual. The galloping gourmets may accidentally brush up against the encroaching bristleworms, or even attempt to perch on them, and they may get a snootful of bristles when snicking at the same mysid a bristleworm has taken an interest in. Even if the seahorses don’t inadvertently snick at them, the bristleworms may shed a few of their irritating spicules while they are at the feeding station, and the hungry seahorses can then accidentally ingest such loose spicules when slurping up frozen Mysis. Captive bred seahorses are aggressive eaters that are accustomed to slurping up food from the bottom, and it seems at times this may also lead them to strike at baby bristleworms. I’ve also heard a few reports of seahorses that snicked up a tiny bristleworm and got them lodged in their snout or throat. It’s unclear in these cases whether the bristleworm was accidentally sucked up while the seahorse was targeting a piece of nearby Mysis or whether the seahorse actually mistook the tiny worm for something edible and deliberately struck at it, but this is another potential danger the seahorse keeper should be aware of.
I have seen pictures of seahorses with bristleworm spicules embedded in their tails and snouts as a result of such close encounters. These injuries are usually minor, easily treated by removing the spicules and administering antibiotics orally via gut-loaded shrimp to prevent secondary infections, but the more bristleworms there are, the more likely such incidents and problems are to occur.
I have seen a few seahorse tanks that were overrun by them to the extent that the bulk of the total biomass in the aquarium consisted of bristleworms! When that happens, they are detrimental simply because of their effect on the water quality. Under certain circumstances, the total metabolic activity of the countless bristleworms may have a greater impact on the nitrogen cycle that all of the seahorses and their tankmates.
So when you start to see bristleworms in your seahorse setup, it is a good idea to start thinning them out. It’s possible that your stallion may have accidentally slurped up a small bristleworm or ingested one or more spicules shed from a bristleworm, which are irritating’s snout, buccal cavity, or esophagus.
In short, Al and Cindy, it’s impossible to say for certain whether your male may have developed some sort of an internal obstruction or if it may have accidentally ingesting a foreign particle are even a tiny bristleworm well feeding on the bottom, and that that is what has triggered its reluctance to feed.
In either case, your best course of action is to try to keep the seahorse eating by offering it soft-bodied adult brine shrimp that are easier to swallow, as previously described. If you can keep the seahorse eating in this way as it gradually heals and recovers from the mechanical injury to its feeding mechanism, that’s often all that’s required for it to recover on its own.
In addition, it’s often a good idea to gutload the adult brine shrimp with a good antibiotic prior to feeding them to the affected seahorse, which will help to stave off any secondary infections that might result from an embedded bristleworm spicule or the abrasion from accidentally ingesting a foreign object.
Accidentally ingesting foreign objects is one of the reasons it’s best to train your seahorses to take their frozen Mysis from a feeding station or feeding tray, rather than allowing them to slurp up frozen Mysis from the bottom of the tank. Since the substrate is also where the seahorses’ fecal pellets and detritus tend to accumulate, it is far more sanitary and safe or for them to take their meals from a feeding station instead.
In fact, for best results, I recommend elevating the feeding station, which provides several benefits for our galloping gourmets:
(1) First and foremost, it isolates the feeding trough from the bacteria-laden substrate and provides the seahorses with a sanitary lunch counter from which to feed.
(2) Secondly, it keeps the feeding station beyond the reach of bottom scavengers such as bristleworms, Nassarius snails and hermit crabs, which are attracted to the frozen Mysis.
(3) Finally, it provides a sterile feeding surface for the ponies that is easy to remove and keep clean, thereby making it a breeze to dispose of leftovers, which safeguards your water quality. Keeping the feeding tray elevated makes it convenient to clean and sterilize between feedings.
Hopefully, your mail will be feeling much better tomorrow and resume feeding normally again, Al and Cindy. But if not, you’ll want to concentrate on maintaining optimum water quality in the aquarium, providing good surface agitation to promote better oxygenation and gas exchange at the air/water interface, which will ensure high levels of dissolved oxygen, and try feeding the affected seahorse with softbodied adult brine shrimp rather than the usual frozen Mysis.
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