Seahorses are extremely sensitive creatures, much more so than fish. In their natural habitat of the oceans, they have adapted to conditions which allow them to live symbiotically with parasites and otherwise ward off disease and illness. However, it is not so easy for them to do this in a captive environment. In fact, it is nearly impossible. From the stress of capture (if that is the type of seahorse you have) to the often harsh and dangerous quarantine conditions to the precarious home aquarium conditions, it is vital that much care and attention is given to these fragile pets. If you are not a diligent seahorse owner, they can be quickly and dangerously affected by poor aquarium conditions, bacterial parasites, and infection.
There are several potentially fatal and unfortunately common illnesses/diseases that can affect your pet seahorse.
Often found on wild-caught seahorses, parasites can coexist on the seahorse in the ocean without causing harm. But the stress of capture and quarantining in poor conditions can weaken the seahorse’s immune system, giving parasites the opportunity to take over and leach vital nutrients from them, cause other infections, suffocate them, or even starve them.
Look for white spots or blisters on the seahorse’s body, clouded eyes, washed out coloring, and/or wild behavior.
Treatments are readily available and often successful if used according to directions. Chemical dips such as malachite green, methylene blue, and formalin, used in conjunction with a period of quarantine, can be very successful if used as soon as signs and symptoms are noticed.
Internal parasites are rather common in seahorses, and must be treated quickly. Parasites such as tapeworms, flatworms, and roundworms will attach themselves to the digestive tract of a seahorse, leaching all of the vital nutrients from it. If left untreated, malnourishment will lead to certain death. Fortunately, the signs are easily spotted, and include sudden weight loss and the appearance of the worms coming from the anal opening of the seahorse.
As with internal parasites, there are readily available treatments for this problem. Anti-worm agents such as metronidazole can be loaded into the seahorse’s food and easily administered that way.
Caused by stress and/or a bacterial infection, pop eye is unsightly and probably very unpleasant for your pet seahorse. Treat it by treating the cause; for bacterial infections, provide medicated food. To eliminate stress, provide a stable tank situation with clean water, regular food, and no predatory fish.
Internal/External Gas Bubble Disease
Caused either by supersaturation of the water with gas (when it is not properly filtered) or by the production of waste gases from infectious bacteria, either of these can be extremely uncomfortable and stressful for the seahorse. The disease can put a great deal of pressure on the seahorse’s internal organs, and if not treated in a timely fashion, can cause organ failure and death. Bubbles can form directly under the skin or inside of the seahorse’s gut. Look for severe bloating, over-buoyancy, and difficulty moving through the tank.
For external gas bubble disease, diamox baths are very effective. Unfortunately, it is difficult to treat internal gas bubbles. Treatment involves decompression, much like when a SCUBA diver suffers from the bends. Diamox can also be used to treat internal gas bubbles, if caught very early on.
Flesh Erosion Disease
Bacteria can lay dormant on a seahorse without ever causing problems. However, if the quality of a seahorse’s living environment becomes compromised, such as the water quality is allowed to degrade, the bacteria can grow and begin to degrade and erode the skin off the seahorse and cause a very slow, painful death. Signs to look for include the sloughing off of the seahorse’s skin, swelling, clouded eyes, and the appearance of rapid breathing. Treatment for this is largely preventative, allowing for proper quarantine time and maintaining ideal tank conditions. Topical treatments like Neosporin or iodine can be given, as well as anti-bacterial drugs such as Furan II and Paragon II.
Caused by the same bacteria that causes flesh erosion, snout rot can also be largely prevented through preventative maintenance. It is treatable, however, if the signs are discovered and addressed quickly. Look for swelling, discoloration, or erosion of the snout, lockjaw, and no appetite. Much like flesh erosion, snout rot can be treated with topical medicines such as Neosporin and iodine. Quarantining and treatment with combination medications such as Paragon II are also effective.