Curing seahorses of gas problems

by Owen James

Gas disease in seahorses is seldom seen in the wild

Gas disease is seldom seen in seahorses in the wild

During a recent visit to a local fish store, I noticed a seahorse had a gas bubble visible under the skin on its tail. I got chatting to an assistant, and he said they wouldn’t be treating it. He thought it would go away of its own accord, which it may well do.

I was lucky enough not to encounter gas bubbles when I successfully kept seahorses. But I remembered reading about treating them in an old seahorse book by Peter Giwonja I’ve got here in my library, so I told the assistant I’d type up my findings for him to ponder.

Perhaps it’ll be useful for some other readers, too. Be warned – the treatment is not for the squeamish.

What gas bubble problems affect seahorses?

Gas formation under a seahorse’s skin or in the brood pouch of the male is one of the recurring bugbears of seahorse keeping.

Now that they’re captive-bred, seahorses are much easier to keep than they used to be. The old difficulties of feeding them sufficient live food have gone; seahorses raised in captivity readily eat frozen mysid shrimp. And the incidence of disease is far, far lower with tank-raised specimens compared to wild-caught and stressed individuals.

Gas formation still troubles seahorse keepers, however. It occurs in two forms:

  • Tiny bubbles trapped under the skin, typically around the seahorse’s head or tail. (I’ve read speculation that these bubbles are caused by keeping seahorses in too shallow water).
  • Gas that collects inside the male seahorse’s brood pouch. This apparently occurs more often after the male gives birth, and is diagnosed by a swollen, bloated pouch.

How do you treat a gas-inflicted seahorse?

In his step-by-step guide book, seahorse expert Peter Giwonja proposes two different physical treatments depending on which form of gas the seahorse is suffering from.

Bubbles occuring under the skin should be watched for a day or two to see if they go away on their own accord. (Be sure you’re not just looking at a normal air bubble!) Giwonja says bubbles may be delicated punctured by grasping the seahorse gently in your hand and pricking the bubble with a sterile needle. After the puncture has been made, you can massage the bubble out from under the seahorse’s skin.

You may want to dab the affected area with a piece of gauze soaked in a light iodine solution to sterilize it afterwards. This could be the most traumatic part, since the seahorse needs to be brought to the surface, so you may prefer to let an otherwise healthy seahorse fight off secondary infections on its own.

Bubbles in the brood pouch can apparently be treated as follows (again, I’ve never done this myself). You hold the seahorse in one hand while feeling for the opening to its brood pouch with the other hand. Peter Giwonja advises that you can then insert a dull, sterile probe (he doesn’t specify what kind, exactly) into the pouch orifice to hold it open while you gently massage the pouch to release the gas. It sounds a delicate operation, but Giwonja says it’s fairly easy to perform.

Sounds rough? More recent writing proposes drugs as a cure for seahorse gas problems:

  • Peter Giwonja is now suggesting a drug called Diamox is the best cure, as per this gas treatment advice.
  • has an article on different forms of gas disease. It too suggests drugs are the best cure.

However such drugs aren’t available everywhere in the world. The physical procedures outlined above may just be worth trying if you’re desperate.

(Seahorse image by: Nick Hobgood)

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