Seahorse are vulnerable to many fungal, bacterial and parasitic ailments and infestations and few seahorses ever recover from a serious illness. Seahorses should be inspected every day for changes in their health and any ailment treated immediately; one seahorse’s illness usually hits all seahorses in the tank very quickly. Any ill seahorse should be isolated at once. If in doubt, I risk treating them with a wide-spectrum antibiotic.
Buoyancy problems are fairly specific to seahorses. Any seahorse staying constantly near the surface is almost certainly an ill seahorse. You should react at once as buoyancy problems are serious and often fatal. Again, prevention is better than cure. Try to ensure that you have no dissolved gases in your system (in contrast to suspended gases) as these appear to be a major trouble source. Symptoms are the following:
1. A grossly distended body – by then, the problem is far advanced (c)
2. Inflated pouch not due to pregnancy – avoid wishful thinking if the animal hasn’t been near a female (a)
3. A constant head down position when swimming (a, b, c)
4. The tail curled well back and up behind the trunk (b)
5. Small bumps on body surface (b)
6. Tightly curled position (when trying to descend), held for an unusually long period with little progress (a, b, c)
7. Immediately bobbing to surface after release from holdfast (a, c)
8. Lying approximately horizontally at water surface, even if the tail is holding something (a, c)
The letter(s) in brackets refers to possible causes and solutions below.
a) Air trapped in the pouch (males). You can try the following to release the air. Do not lift the animal out of the water. Keep the seahorse underwater and massage the pouch gently. Hold the head upwards so the air can escape. Stretch the pouch between your thumb and forefinger. Manipulate gently and insert a hollow, blunt small-bore object (e.g. plastic tubing). Exert gentle pressure on the pouch. The gas may escape via the tube. Move the tube gently around if needed. You may need to suck on tube as you massage pouch (yuck!). Ensure that you get the air out. Then monitor that animal as buoyancy problems tend to reoccur in the same animals. This problem is especially prevalent around courtship periods and occurs if males dilate the pouch opening in air streams.
b) Air trapped under the skin is a more acute problem. Use a sterile syringe needle (with a tiny diameter). Slip it gently (at an angle) under the skin to pierce a small hole. Remove the needle and then massage the bubbles out while the animal is under water. Pierce all the bubbles you see because they are usually interconnected and missing once causes a repeat performance. Keep the animal in a very clean tank after puncturing the skin.
c) Air trapped internally is very serious and generally results in death. I am unable to suggest anything useful to do in this case. Try to detect this condition early on as it only worsens. Seahorses appear to have no solutions of their own and become very stressed by such buoyancy problems. Seahorses in this condition have massively bloated bodies and get several related problems such as sores, skin cracks, frayed and tattered tails, bony plate separation and internal injuries.
The following are problems common to many fishes and can be pronounced in seahorses:
Bacterial ailments result in greying body parts with ensuring skin sloughing and secondary ailments. Treatment does not seem to be effective and most animals die within days. A dip may help seahorses combat such illnesses. I have found that if bactrial infections do take hold, they are distressing and incurable. An ultraviolet sterilizer can be enormously helpful in combating bacterial infections.
Fungal infections are quite common. If any area develops a white “fuzzy” look and begins to look soft and spongy, treat for fungus. ISOLATE. See aquarium manuals for precise instructions. One possible method is to add malachite green to a treatment tank. Be warned, though, that seahorses can suffer ill effects from too much malachite green so remove the seahorse after a few days or change much of the water. Otherwise, you can dip the seahorse in more concentrated malachite green, or try swabbing the affected part with 1% malachite green. Be certain that you are using zinc free malachite green. Wear gloves because this stuff stains.
Parasites on seahorses are usually a Glugea microsporidian but other parasites may also afflict them. Most parasites appear initially as small, white dots on the seahorse and can be confused with the natural markings on the seahorse. Know your seahorses’ markings well and check them regularly. Sometimes, if things have gone too far, the parasites clump into “cauliflower” or “wart” groups. One possible treatment is to place seahorses in a freshwater bath and then dip them in a formalin bath. You can also treat with copper sulphate. Follow instructions in a good manual. Seahorses surprisingly, need not be considered very delicate when treating their ailments and can be subjected to reasonably strong cures…
Wounds are not common in seahorses as they are very passive fishes. If something does happen, try to leave the wound alone. Many things solve themselves if left alone in a clean tank. Otherwise treat according to a good manual. Dilute iodine on seahorse wounds appears to cause more trouble than it solves.
Protozoan or crustacean infections happen in seahorses. If a seahorse is gasping, panting, or lethargic, it may be a protozoan infections or crustacean infestation in the gills. This can be treated by dipping in a freshwater bath and then in a formalin bath. You should see little white things fleeing from the respiratory spiracles/pores etc. on top of the head.
Finally, please be realistic about your chances of curing an ill seahorse. If a seahorse is deteriorating rapidly or suffering evidently, please do not insist that the animal dies slowly, and perhaps painfully. It is far better to make the decision and kill the animal quickly. If you can’t do that, you should not be keeping seahorses.
Seahorses eat a great deal but are rather particular so feeding them is one of the most difficult aspects of keeping them. Seahorses eat live fresh food. They need a variety of foods and cannot be fed solely on an unbalanced diet of Artemia.
With patience and effort, you can convince seahorses to eat some frozen foods. However, frozen foods alone are not a balanced diet and will eventually result in malnutrition and illness.
Feed small amounts frequently rather than a lot at any one feeding. Twice a day feedings are probably adequate but three times a day is much better. Best feeding times seem to be as the full lights go on, and at mid-day, and again one to two hours before the main lights go off. If giving them live food, ensure they always have something to chase.
Seahorses are very poor competitors. They are ambush predators and wait until an interesting prey item appears – and then they use a powerful suction to draw it through their snouts. Some possible food options are:
A. Frozen Food
Frozen food is easy to use and sometimes highly acceptable to seahorses. Initially, introduce only a little frozen food at a time into a water current so the food seems to be alive – once one seahorse has started to eat, others follow.
1. Frozen mysids a favored food
2. Frozen gamma shrimp (only for big species)
an excellent, nutritionally balanced food but seahorses don’t enjoy their hard shell.
3. Frozen Artemia
seahorses aren’t keen on this food – probably because after freezing and thawing, there isn’t much recognizable form.try to avoid using them.
B. Live foods
4. Artemia a very useful food although a bit tedious to rear and expensive to buy.
provide the stage (hence size) of nauplii most appropriate to the size of seahorse.
5. Gammarids some seahorses go wild over these – particularly the larger species.
they hide and move suddenly so the seahorses get excited watching for them – this may result in odd, worrying, postures as the seahorses try to peer under rocks, etc. freshwater Gammarus are okay if the seahorses are keen on the food. they last long enough in salt water to be eaten alive – some seahorses will even eat dead Gammarus, so it’s worth a try.marine Gammarus are very expensive to buy but can be obtained on the coast. Gammarus can maintain a self-sustaining colony. Put some into the coral gravel of a tank and leave them alone. They feed on the algae and reproduce and grow well, although the culture may have to be restarted from time to time.
6. Baby guppies and mollies etc. Seahorses vary in their response to these but sometimes they get wildly excited – especially the larger species. Use new born fish and only place a few in the tank as fresh water fish die quickly in salt water.
7. Plankton If you live on the coast, get a fine mesh plankton net to catch wild plankton.
Plankton is probably particularly important for brooding males.
8. River shrimp Available locally or from aquarium shops (very expensive).
Give size appropriate shrimp to seahorses.
9. Daphnia Available from ponds in summer.
Seahorses are not usually very interested in them and only take the larger ones.
There is a danger of Daphnia fouling the tank because the Daphnia die quickly in salt water.
10. Tubifex, chironomid larvae etc. Basically ignored by seahorses.