- This topic has 4 replies, 2 voices, and was last updated 15 years, 1 month ago by Pete Giwojna.
October 26, 2008 at 10:38 pm #1556SchandelmeiersplaceMember
We lost George last night. Wayne noticed 2 solid white pieces of POOP like a grain of rice. Does this mean parasites?October 26, 2008 at 11:10 pm #4497Pete GiwojnaGuest
Dear Wayne & Lisa:
I’m terribly sorry to hear about the demise of George — please accept all my condolences on your loss!
Rest assured that you did not kill him by performing the needle aspiration. It’s a very safe procedure and the first thing that a veterinarian or professional aquaculturist would have done in such a situation is to perform a needle aspiration, examine the fluid from the pouch microscopically, and then culture the fluid to see which bacteria grow out so they can test them for sensitivity to antibiotics and administer the proper treatment. When a seahorse suffering from fluid build up reaches the point where he stops eating and is weighed down so much he lays on the bottom, the aquarist must do something to intervene as soon as possible, and removing the accumulated fluid via a needle aspiration can provide some immediate relief and buy time while you are waiting for the proper antibiotics to arrive or to take affect. A needle aspiration is a one-time procedure; it is done once so that you can examine the fluid that has been removed and hopefully relieve the negative buoyancy, but then it’s up to the antibiotics to cure the infection and resolve the problem. In short, you did the right thing…
George didn’t starve to death. Going two days without eating is not long enough for starvation to result, but it may have contributed to his generalized weakness.
It is not normal for the fecal pellets to be hard and firm — they are normally soft and pliable, not solid like a grain of rice, so it’s possible that George may have developed an intestinal blockage or at least a problem with constipation. Constipation and intestinal blockages will both result in abdominal distention and a loss of appetite, and can also contribute to fluid retention.
When an intestinal obstruction does form, it takes several days for the seahorse to expire since it is unable to digest its food properly and obtain nutrition. They will usually go off their feed and stop eating, and then just gradually waste away over a period of days.
Intestinal blockages are most often seen in dwarf seahorses and juveniles that are being fed baby brine shrimp, and are typically caused by ingesting some of the indigestible egg cases when the empty eggshells or unhatched cysts are not separated properly from the newly hatched brine shrimp prior to feeding the seahorses.
Abdominal swelling and loss of appetite are also symptoms of constipation. Constipation is more common in fishes with laterally compressed bodies such as seahorses and can be caused by overfeeding, a change in diet, certain medications, stress, and rarely an intestinal blockage. The literature reports the following symptoms of constipation in fishes:
"The abdomen swells, the fish has little interest in food, and the fish is sluggish or resting on the bottom. No symptoms of disease is present; a string of feces often trails behind the fish."
The following cures for constipated fish are often suggested, Lisa, but I have no idea if they would be effective for seahorses:
(1) Fast the fish for two days.
(2) After fasting, feed the affected fish with live foods such as brine
shrimp rather than frozen foods.
(3) Soak the fish’s food in cod liver oil or place two drops of cod
liver oil directly in the fishes mouth so that it is swallowed.
(4) induce the fish to eat a single grain of Epsom salt.
Here’s what I would suggest if you ever suspect a problem with constipation:
Stop feeding the seahorse immediately. Fast him for two days and
observe him closely to see if the constipation is relieved and he
produces any fecal pellets.
While he is fasting, obtain some live adult brine shrimp and cod liver
oil. If he is not producing normal fecal pellets after two days of
fasting, soak the live adult brine shrimp in water that you’ve added
cod liver oil to for one hour, and then feed the brine shrimp that have
soaked in (and hopefully ingested) the cod liver oil immediately to
your seahorse, being careful not to overfeed. Feed him a strict diet
of cod-liver-oil-soaked brine shrimp sparingly for a couple of days and
see if that relieves his constipation.
If that doesn’t relieve the abdominal swelling and induce him to start
eliminating fecal pellets again, you could try tube feeding him with
two drops of the cod liver oil, injecting it directly into his
esophagus so it’s sure to reach his gastrointestinal tract.
If there is a silver lining in this whole situation, it’s the fact that if constipation or an intestinal blockage contributed to George’s demise, the rest of the seahorses should not be affected at all.
Best of luck with the rest of your seahorses, Lisa and Wayne.
Pete GiwojnaOctober 27, 2008 at 12:30 am #4499Pete GiwojnaGuest
Dear Lisa & Wayne:
When a seahorse that is eating well begins to produce white, stringy feces instead of its normal fecal pellets, that can be a sign of intestinal flagellates or internal parasites. But I don’t think that’s the case with George. When a seahorse has not eaten for a couple of days, it’s feces will usually be white as a result; under those circumstances, that’s simply indicates an undernourished seahorse that hasn’t been getting enough to eat lately, and is to be expected.
The solidity of George’s fecal pellets is abnormal, however. As I said, normally a seahorse is equal pellets are soft and pliable, and it’s unusual for them to be firm and solid like a grain of rice. That’s much more likely to be an indication of constipation then an indication of a potential parasite problem. I don’t think you need to be concerned about parasites at this point, Lisa.
Pete GiwojnaOctober 27, 2008 at 7:18 am #4502SchandelmeiersplaceGuest
LOL I’m sorry, I got a visual on the tube feeding thing. How do you tube feed it? I have no idea exactly what that means. I hate being new to this. I realize its all part of the experience in raising SHs’October 28, 2008 at 12:23 am #4503Pete GiwojnaGuest
Dear Lisa & Wayne:
Tube feeding is an emergency measure used to get some badly needed nutrition into seahorses in desperate situations when they are in grave danger of starvation. Likewise, when a seahorse is at risk from constipation, and the other treatments I suggested do not resolve the problem, a few drops of cod liver oil can be added to the gruel and fed to the seahorse as a last resort to try to unclog things and get its plumbing working properly again. Here is some information regarding tube feeding in case you ever find yourself in that situation:
Force-feeding — a last resort when all else fails
Force feeding can save a seahorse’s life in an emergency, but it’s best reserved as a last resort. It’s not a long-term solution, but rather a stopgap measure to provide desperately needed nutritional support for a seahorse when all else fails. If the tube feeding has to be continued for more than two or three days, it is apt to do more harm than good. But it could buy you a little more time to line up choice live foods.
Tube feeding is appropriate when a seahorse has gone without eating for a prolonged period and has exhausted its energy reserves. This can happen when a seahorse is beset with internal parasites and stops eating, or perhaps when a seahorse is undergoing extended treatment with a medication that suppresses the appetite. And, of course, it is very common — perhaps even the rule — in wild-caught seahorses that have run the gauntlet from collector to wholesaler to retailer before finally reaching the hobbyist (Lidster, 1999). In such cases, tube feeding can help strengthen the seahorse and keep it going until it has a chance to recover and resume feeding on its own.
The most common method of force feeding seahorses is better referred to as tube feeding since no force is involved. The following description is based on Leslie Leddo’s tube-feeding technique, as discussed in her online article (Leddo, 2002b). It is similar to the previous technique, except that a very fine catheter is attached to the syringe and inserted into the seahorse’s snout before the food is injected. Basically a small amount of food, very thoroughly mashed and diluted in distilled water, is very gently injected via a very small gauge plastic catheter inserted into the horses snout no further than the trigger. It works best if only a small amount of food — no more than 1-2 mm on the barrel of the syringe — is squirted into the seahorse’s mouth at one feeding. It’s invasive, but actually very gentle, and the seahorse is much more likely to keep the food down this way.
Whichever method of force feeding you try, it’s helpful to hold the seahorse cupped in your hand for a minute or two after a feeding session before you release it. Doing so makes it much less likely that the seahorse will regurgitate the food you so painstakingly put into it. Here are detailed instructions for tube feeding, as explained by the author (Leddo, 2002b):
<begin quote> "Tube Feeding: When All Else Fails, an Alternative to Starvation"
by Leslie Leddo
Is your seahorse on a hunger strike? Have you tried all the non-invasive methods and various of types of foods to no avail? Are you concerned you may lose him to starvation? There is another alternative that may help to jump-start his feeding response. Tube feeding is an option when all else has failed. It is actually easier than you might imagine. Sit back, relax, and read on.
What you need:
* Someone with access to medical supplies. A local sympathetic veterinarian is a good option.
* A high quality food. Frozen Mysis or a high quality flake can be used. My preference is Mysis relicta from Canada. It has an outstanding nutritional profile. It is 69.9% protein and rich in HUFAs.
* A very narrow catheter. I use a plastic intravenous catheter with the introducer needle removed from the center and properly disposed of in a Sharps container, perhaps prior to leaving the vet’s office with your supplies. I would suggest an 18 to 25-gauge depending on the diameter of your horse’s snout. I used a 20-gauge on my 6"-7" erectus. The smaller the horse or the narrower the snout, the smaller the catheter you will need. The catheter size is inversely proportional to the # gauge it is assigned. So an 18-gauge catheter has a wider lumen than a 24-gauge catheter
* A 1 cc syringe.
* A bowl. It should be wide enough and deep enough to allow for your horse to remain submerged while your assistant holds him and you administer the feeding.
* An assistant. Preferably someone who is not too squeamish.
* Tank water.
* A spoon.
* A small bowl.
* Distilled water.
* An area to work that is well lit.
What to prepare:
* Gather all your supplies.
* Review the anatomy of the GI tract of the seahorse, paying particular attention to the esophagus, stomach and intestines.
* Clear and clean a well-lit workspace.
* Wash and rinse your hands well.
* Prepare the food by placing a small amount of previously defrosted and enriched Mysis in the small bowl. With the convex side of your spoon, mash the Mysis into a smooth paste.
* Add a few drops of distilled water and mix thoroughly. You will need to experiment and play here a bit in order to get the paste to a consistency that will easily, smoothly, and consistently flow through the tip of the catheter when gentle pressure is applied to the plunger of the syringe. The smaller the diameter of catheter (the larger the gauge number) you are using, the more dilute and thinner the gruel will need to be.
Once you have a consistency you think is appropriate, draw some of the gruel into the syringe and attach the catheter to the syringe. The tip of the syringe is usually threaded and the catheter will screw on to it. Gently apply pressure to the plunger of the syringe to be sure the gruel flows through the tip of the catheter easily, smoothly and consistently. Adjust the consistency of the gruel as necessary by adding more distilled water or more Mysis paste until it flows smoothly through the catheter with VERY gentle pressure on the plunger. No force should be exerted at all.
* Flush the syringe and catheter several times by drawing a small amount of distilled water into the syringe and pushing it back out.
* Draw into the syringe a little more gruel than you intend to feed. I fed between 0.2cc and 0.25cc to a 6"-7" erectus. You are going to have to estimate the appropriate amount based on the size of your horse. This is where refreshing your knowledge of the seahorse’s internal anatomy will come in handy. Since the seahorse’s digestive tract is basically a straight tube from snout to anus, you can use their length as a general guideline to estimate the portion size.
* Start with the plunger of the syringe fully depressed, pull up on the plunger and draw about 0.3cc to 0.4cc of the Mysis mixture into the syringe. Any air in the syringe will need to be removed. Invert the syringe holding it vertically tip up, plunger down. Gently tap on the syringe several times. The air will displace the gruel appearing as a bubble at the tip of the syringe. Gently depress the plunger with the syringe remaining in the inverted position, so you will be pushing up on the plunger. Continue to depress the plunger until all the air has been expressed from the syringe and a small amount of gruel appears at the syringe tip.
* Attach the catheter to the syringe and prime it by depressing the plunger until a few drops of gruel emerge from the catheter tip.
OK now you are ready to actually feed the little bugger… whoops… sorry… your sweet little hunger-striking horse.
How to proceed:
Round up your assistant. Take a few deep breaths and relax.
Fill the large bowl with your horse’s tank water.
Remove your horse from the tank by gently scooting him into a small container and gently release him into the bowl of tank water.
Have your assistant firmly but gently hold the horse, keeping him submerged at all times. His head and neck should be between their thumb and forefinger, snout pointing up, with his body lying across their palm. Encourage him to curl his tail around their pinky. This will help to keep the horse calm. If you have never held a seahorse in your hand you may be surprised at how strong they are. He may struggle or even snick. Boy, oh boy — was I surprised at how powerful their snick is!
Take the previously filled and primed syringe into your dominant hand.
Loosely hold the horse’s snout between the thumb and forefinger of your other hand.
Closely observe the snout tip. It will open and close in synchrony with his respiration.
As the snout opens, insert the tip of the catheter into the snout about ½ way between the snout tip and trigger.
Slowly and gently depress the plunger. Try to time injecting tiny bits of the gruel just prior to the closing of the snout. If he is ingesting the gruel you will actually see him swallow and pass some of the food through his gills. He may snick, it will feel strange but don’t be alarmed. The first time my boy did it I thought for sure the catheter would break off in his snout. It never did. He did however dent it a bit. That snick is powerful!
If the gruel is coming back out of his snout either you are injecting the gruel too quickly, the catheter tip is not far enough into his snout or you are close to the end of the feeding and his GI tract is full. First check to see if you are close to the end of the estimated amount of the feeding. If so, he is probably full and you are done. If not, try injecting the gruel a little slower, taking care to try and synchronize advancing the plunger just prior to the closing of the snout. If the gruel continues to come back out try advancing the catheter tip just a tad further. Finish the feeding. You may need to give him and yourself a little break if either of the above situations occurs and too much of the feeding is lost. Refill the syringe and give him the rest of the estimated amount.
Wooooooo-Hoooooooo!!! That’s it! You did it! Tell him what a good boy he was, return him to the tank, give yourself a big pat on the back, thank your assistant and take the rest of the evening off in front of your tank with a cup of tea… well… OK, if you insist a cold beer, a glass of wine, or a good stiff drink of your choice. It wasn’t that bad now was it? I bet it was easier than you had anticipated. I thought it was.
Practice pushing the gruel through the catheter. If it is too thick it will stick and you will need to push harder. You will need to thin it with some distilled water so that it flows out smoothly.
Ask your veterinarian for several size catheters. Use the one with the widest diameter (lowest # gauge) that will easily insert into the horse’s snout.
Have the vet remove the introducer needle in his office, so you do not have to worry about needle disposal.
It may be necessary to do this several days in a row until the feeding response is initiated or returns. I would suggest offering a variety of foods prior to each daily tube feeding. If you have been tube feeding for several days and he shows no interest in eating, you may need to gradually decrease the amounts of the feeding so he is actually hungry or possibly fast him for a day or two. It is my feeling that, if at all possible, allowing him to remain in his own tank with other horses and offering a variety of foods (live as well as frozen) may be beneficial in helping to encourage him to eat.
I hope you never need to use the information I presented here, but if you should I would like to wish you good luck and hope this information has proved useful (Leddo, 2002b). <end quote>
Force feeding can save a seahorse’s life in an emergency, but it’s best reserved as a last resort. It is appropriate when a seahorse has gone without eating for a prolonged period and has exhausted its energy reserves. This can happen when a seahorse is beset with internal parasites and stops eating, or perhaps when a seahorse is undergoing extended treatment with a medication that suppresses the appetite. And, of course, it is very common — perhaps even the rule — in wild-caught seahorses that have run the gauntlet from collector to wholesaler to retailer before finally reaching the hobbyist (Lidster, 1999). In such cases, tube feeding can help strengthen the seahorse and keep it going until it has a chance to recover and resume feeding on its own.
For example, during one such incident a hobbyist reported that his seahorse hadn’t eaten for over a week. This particular hunger strike started during treatment for internal parasites, so the seahorse was weak and debilitated to begin with. On that occasion, only one tube feeding was necessary before the seahorse began eating on her own again.
Dr. Marty Greenwell notes that syngnathids in general and seahorses in particular are vulnerable to emaciation in captivity because of their rapid intestinal transit time and very limited fat stores (Bull and Mitchell, 2002, p24). At the Shedd, he regularly tube feeds newly acquired seahorses that arrive badly emaciated. In such circumstances, Dr. Greenwell advises, "…syngnathids are at a high risk for loss of body condition. With this in mind, anorectic seahorses and pipefish almost always require nutritional support. At Shedd Aquarium, anorectic syngnathids are tube fed a high quality, commercial fish flake food gruel. Because of the very small, vestigial stomach, only limited volumes of gruel can be administered at any given time, i.e., 0.05 to 0.10 cc for most seahorses and up to 0.25 cc or more for the large Hippocampus sp., trumpetfish, and the sea dragons. Offering nutritional support can mean the difference between survival and death in sick and/or anorectic syngnathids (Bull and Mitchell, 2002, p24)."
That’s a quick introduction to force feeding or tube feeding seahorses, Lisa.
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, and I am sure that your Vet would prefer to do the procedure under sedation. In that case, Lisa, there is an excellent discussion of the procedure with step-by-step instructions and photographs available online at the following URL:
On the other hand, if your seahorses are eating well but losing weight despite their hearty appetites, or have lost their appetites and are producing white, stringy feces instead of their normal fecal pellets, and you therefore suspect a problem with intestinal flagellates or internal parasites, then metronidazole is the appropriate treatment.
Metronidazole is an antibiotic with antiprotozoal properties that is very effective in eradicating internal parasites in general and intestinal flagellates in particular (Kaptur, 2004). It is ideal for this because it is rapidly absorbed from the GI tract, has anti-inflammatory effects in the bowel, and was designed specifically to treat protozoal infections and anaerobic bacterial infections by disrupting their DNA (Kaptur, 2004).
Because it only affects gram-positive bacteria, it will not harm the beneficial bacteria that carry out biological filtration, and it can therefore be added to your main tank safely providing it does not house any sensitive invertebrates.
Best of luck with your remaining seahorses, Lisa.
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