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Seahorse Infections


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An Alternate Method for Treating Bacterial and Fungal Infections in Seahorses
By Chris Burns

This article is intended to provide a possible alternative remedy for the bacterial and fungal infections common in captive seahorses.  It must be noted that any results put forth in this article are purely anecdotal and not empirical.

As keepers of seahorses, we may find ourselves, and our charges, battling dermal bacterial and/or fungal infections.  Often times, bacteria, being highly opportunistic, will cause a secondary infection to an existing fungal infection, or any wounds suffered from erosions, bites, scratches or tears of the epidermis for that matter.  Commonly, we treat with broad-spectrum antibiotics that have the ill effect of decimating the nitrifying bacteria culture present in an established tank, which create a toxic ammonia spike that can, at the least, cause serious stress on an already sick animal and at worst, outright kill the patient.  Hospital tanks are sometimes set-up and used to remove the sick animal and treat it in isolation, but with seahorses, the lack of companionship and natural environment associated with the sterility of a hospital tank can be equally detrimental.

This idea was born when I purchased a female yellow Brazilian horse (Hippocampus reidi) from my LFS that had the telltale pinkish eroded spot of Snout Rot.  Although my LFS is very good, she had been there for at least 12 days and I was sure she would not make it in their holding tank, so I took her home.  I observed this spot for 3-4 days while she was in my care and after noticing that the spot was growing and darkening slightly, I decided to treat her.  Within 14 hours of the commencement of treatment (3 total treatments), I noticed the pink spot losing color and diminishing in size.  I must admit that I ended up losing her several days later to an unknown cause, but at the time of her demise, the visible signs of the Snout Rot were all but gone.  It must be noted that she may have died as a result of formaldehyde or iodine poisoning or from unseen complications due to the Snout Rot.  I find poisoning in this case to be very unlikely as I was very careful not to allow any of the solution to enter her mouth, and there were no signs of any distress for a few days after the treatment.  She was in my care for a total of 10 days.

As an alternative method of treating these bacterial/fungal infections, I propose the following topical solution, to be administered directly to the effected areas with a cotton swab:
1. Take 1/8 cup of tank water
2. Mix in 10 drops of 2% tincture of iodine solution (I used Brite-Life brand which is 2% iodine, 47% alcohol, 2.4% sodium iodine and 48.6% purified water)
3. Mix in 10 drops of Formalin  (I used Kordon brand Formalin3 which is a < 3% formaldehyde solution)

Using a cotton swab to deliver the solution, the seahorse can be removed from the tank by gently grasping its body.  Exercise caution not to touch infected areas that you will not spread the infection.  The solution should be given approximately 5-10 seconds to absorb into the wound.  After this time, the horse can be released back into the tank.  If your horse is affected on the body or tail, you can hold the animal underwater with just the infected area exposed to the air.  This will help to keep them calm, and allow more time for the solution to work.  Treatment should be performed 3 times a day until noticeable improvement is shown or 5 days have elapsed.  If your patient is not showing signs of improvement after 5 days, but is still hanging on, then the treatment is too dilute.  You may wish to make a 50% to 100% stronger solution and continue.  In this event, it is highly recommended that you begin a course of antibiotics in order to improve your chances of restoring the animal to full health.

As of the writing of this article, I have had the opportunity to treat another horse for bacterial/fungal infection.  Another female H. reidi developed a pinkish-gray spot at the base of her tail, where it meets the body.  I immediately began treatment with a new revision of the solution (see formula below), and within 4 treatments, administered over 2 days, the spot was beginning to recede.  Again, I must note that on the 5th treatment, I noticed two other spots adjacent to the original, which could have been due to my own spreading of the infection or natural spreading.  I opted, after losing my other female H. reidi, to place this one in a med tank.  My observations of her in the tank are that she is much more stressed and less happy than she was in her home even with me occasionally removing her to apply the solution.

The new solution is mixed by the following recipe:
1. Take 1/8 cup of tank water
2. Mix in 15 drops of Kent Marine Tech-D coral dip
3. Mix in 15 drops of Formalin  (I used Kordon brand Formalin3 which is a < 3% formaldehyde solution)

The Kent Marine Tech-D product has Potassium Iodide and Potassium Bromide, which are both excellent anti-microbial agents, and are much stronger than elemental iodine or sodium iodine.  If this product is unavailable, it is recommended that you use Betadine, which is iodine/povodine in a solution that liberates more free elemental iodine to the wound, making it much more potent than the originally mentioned medicinal iodine solution.

It should be noted that these mixtures should be diluted to reduce the chances of chemical burns to the patient.  I recommend that a minimum of 1/7 of the solution be tank water (i.e. 3 parts Formalin, 3 parts iodine/betadine/Tech-D and 1 part water).  Chemical burns could easily exacerbate the wound and allow more surface area for the infection to attack.

UPDATE 10/10/00
It has been observed that even stronger solutions of this medication are not only non-harmful to the fish, but allow for even greater efficacy.  A revision to the above recipe follows:
1. 10ml tank water
2. 2ml TechM or 6ml Betadine
3. 4ml Formalin3 or 1.3ml stronger formaldehyde solution up to 36%

Be VERY careful when administering this solution to areas around the eyes and mouth, as both iodine and Formalin are poisonous when ingested (in high doses, not medicinal dosage).  The dilute nature of this solution minimizes this risk, but care should still be taken, as the solution, at the very least, cannot taste too good!

The reasoning behind this treatment is to reduce undue stress on the patient as well as the tank.  Many may think that handling the horse will cause undue stress, but given a gentle touch and short contact duration, this will be easily handled, and is my opinion that it is much less stressful than hospitalization.

The two components to the topical solution treat two separate microorganisms.  Iodine is an effective, but somewhat weak, anti-bacterial.  I say weak because it is not a contact killer, but requires bacteria to be exposed several times for a longer than instant duration.  Formalin is the treatment for fungal infection and is also proven effective against various protozoans as well.  Thus, the topical solution provides a double-edged sword to combat dermal infection.

The author takes no responsibility for any injuries or losses suffered from readers pursuing the use of the suggested solutions.  Please use the solution carefully and conscientiously.

Please, if you do attempt this remedy, send any information and observations to:

· Chris Burns

so that I may collect them and hopefully provide some more profound indications for this potential remedy.

I would like to wish all of your charges health, prosperity, and longevity.  In those unfortunate cases where illness arises, I wish you good luck whatever remedies you choose I hope they fare well!


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