Flesh Erosion Disease

Written By: | Date Posted: 06/24/2004 | 5 Comments |
Post-mortem photo of seahorse with flesh erosion disease.

Post-mortem photo of seahorse with flesh erosion disease.

The purpose of this guide is to provide a reference, or starting point, in identifying and treating some of the most common diseases and medical conditions of seahorses in home aquariums. It is not, however, set in stone; constant scientific research and anecdotal evidence cause the seahorse hobby to evolve every day, furthering our understanding of these diseases and conditions, how they manifest themselves in our fish, and how we can best treat them. This guide should be used responsibly and not as a sole reference. If ever presented with diseases in your seahorses, use this guide first, but always trust your own knowledge and common sense when treating your seahorses.

Causes/Symptoms/Problems

Raging bacterial infections such as those associated with the consumption of seahorse flesh are spread through contamination of uninfected seahorses with infected seahorses. Often the causative agent, the bacterial genus Vibrio in most cases of flesh erosion, will lay dormant unless given the opportunity to become active. This opportunity usually coincides with a deterioration of water quality. With proper quarantine and treatment, however, this disease can be avoided altogether.

Symptoms

  • erosion/sloughing of the flesh
  • cloudy eyes
  • rapid breathing
  • swelling

Infections of this type, almost always bacterial, can cause an awful death for seahorses. The disease manifests itself by consuming the seahorse’s flesh all the way to the bone, causing irreparable damage that leads to death.

Treatment

The best treatment for bacterial infections is always preventative quarantine, but if an infection is present in the tank, hospitalization of the infected specimens and treatment with antibacterial agents is the only solution.

Combination drugs such as Furan II and Paragon II are often most effective at combating bacterial infections. These drugs cover both spectrums of bacteria (gram+ and gram-), and can usually halt progression within days. Use the marine dose per the manufacturer’s instructions. Drugs from the tetracycline family may also be of some help, specifically doxycycline and oxytetracycline, though they may be somewhat difficult to get ahold of. (Editor’s note: doxycycline and oxytetracycline must be administered via food or injection as they are ineffective in salt water.) Topical treatments such as neomycin (Neosporin) and iodine or formalin solutions (1 cup water to 15 drops of either or both) used three to four times daily on the affected area can also help in controlling the progression of the disease. Mercurochrome has been a very effective treatment if the disease isn’t too far advanced, but it is no longer available in many countries.

Advances are being made in the way of creating seahorse vaccines that could possibly eliminate the occurrence of infections of this type. The most likely causative agent in most cases is Vibrio sp., a bacterium with high resistance to most drugs available to hobbyists and institutions alike.

If the disease returns, the infected horses will need to be requarantined, the display tank may have to be scrubbed down, and all equipment may have to be sterilized with bleach. Be careful not to allow any sterilization chemicals to make their way back into the aquarium as this will destroy the essential denitrifying bacteria present in the aquarium’s bacterial filter bed. If this does not arrest the occurrence of flesh-eating bacteria, the seahorses may have to be relocated to a new display system.

Update 11/21/2009: Cooler temperatures have been shown to slow the progression of the disease. During treatment, the temperature should be lowered to 68 degrees for tropical species.

Flesh Erosion disease on tail tip.

Flesh Erosion disease on tail tip.

5 Responses to “Flesh Erosion Disease”

  1. Julienne Says:

    So this can be taken from seahorse to seahorse? So do they need to be check and monitored every time? Very good information for those who have seahorse as their pet.

  2. Deirdre Says:

    I just bought 2 seahorses, they are my 3rd set of seahorses. One has snout rot, and I believe the other has the flesh eating disease. How can I help them to eat while they are being treated. I have a product called bio-bandage i apply to the one with snout rot. Is this helpful? please help me to help my seahorses.

  3. GEORGE Says:

    I THINK ALSO MY SEA HORSE IS GOING TROUGH ALL THIS DISEASES HO CAN I HELP HIM IS MY LITTLE FRIEND I DON’T WANT HIM TO SUFFER LIKE HE SEEMS TO BE . PLEASE HELP ME TO HELP HIM.

  4. admin Says:

    Can you tell me a little more about what is happening? Give the water conditions, temperature, how long you’ve had him, if there were any irregularities in behavior, etc . . .

  5. sue Says:

    I have a seahorse with a swollen tail,a little bit of his tail seems to be missing.He is in a h t and being treated with furan2 and bio-bandage,bio-bandage it being done twice a day and furan2 is every day(doing a small water change each time).

    I lost one last year with the same problem,but hope i can save this one,i have had him almost 2 years.

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