South Florida Sun-Sentinel (Sunday)
Florida vet school uses novel approach to save seahorse
ST. PETERSBURG—In February, Carol Ben ge of Chief land, Florida, purchased a seahorse for her home aquarium as a reward for markingfive years cancer-free.
She named the little black-andsilverfish Louie. As the corona virus pandemic swept the nation, Benge, aschoolteacher, relaxedwhenever shewatched the 3-inch (7.6-centimeter) creature float around the tank and fed him tiny brine shrimp.
In September, Louie seemed to have trouble swimming. He moved horizontally and appeared listless. Evenmore troublingwere the small, pearl-like bubbles clustered on his tail. Benge had done a lot of research on seahorses and suspected he had something called gas bubble disease, similar to a human scuba diver getting the bends fromsurfacing too quickly.
She knew she had to act quickly andworried thatshehadfailed the creature.
“I wanted to save my little friend. He eats out of my hand. He’s a precious little thing. If I bring him intomy home he’s part ofmy family,” she said.
First, she called her local veterinarian’s office. The receptionist thought Ben ge owned a dog or a cat named Sea horse. Once that mis understanding was cleared, Benge’s vet office said they did not have the knowledge to help Louie.
Benge felt like 2020 was too difficult of a year to cope with the possibility of her fish dying so she made the decision to put Louie in a temporary tank and drive him an hour to the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine.
There, the experts asked if they could do an experiment, at no cost to Benge: puttingLouie in ahyperbaric chamber, just like a human diver suffering from the bends. The hyperbaric oxygen chamber at the school is normally used forwound care inmammals. Its first patient was a dog bitten by a rattlesnake in 2012.
Benge agreed. Because of the coronavirus, she was not allowed back to the treatment area with Louie, so she handed him over to TatianaWeisbrod, a first-year resident with the hospital’s aquatic animal medicineprogram.
Weisbrod gently transferred Louie into a Pyrex glass container along with water and an aquatic plant Benge brought from his home tank. Thiswas the first time the school hadattempted to treat a fish in the tank and it was a gamble.
“We’re definitely on high alert when we’re dealing with fragile species,” said Weisbrod. “When hewent into the chamber, hewas pretty quiet and floating sideways.
We did monitor him closely, to make surehe didn’t look agitated.”
For Louie, Weisbrod and the veterinary team used a treatment protocol devised by the U.S. Navy. They put Louie and the glass container inside the hyperbaric chamberand shut it tight.
“Pressure and time are used to shrink the volume and diameter of gas bubbles in the tissue and allow them to resorb into the animal,” Weisbrod said .“Then, the pressure is released in a slow, controlled manner to allow sufficient time for degassing without bubble re-formation.”
Gas bubble disease is common in aquariums, th eU F veterinary team said. Seahorses are particularly vulnerable to the illness, although experts are not surewhy.
But it appears the UF veterinarians have come up with a successful treatment, thanks to Louie as a test case.
“Immediately after taking him out, he seemed to be swimming around, more interactive,” said Weisbrod.
With one treatment, Louiewas cured.
For the vets at the University of Florida, it means they can offer this treatment for professional and hobby fish owners. Few vets are equipped to treat gas bubble disease in thismanner, nevermind seahorses with the problem.
“Very little is published on successful treatment for this important disease, so every small success could lead to improved outcomes,” Weisbrodsaid.
For Benge, Louie’s successful treatment meant something sweeter, especially in 2020. Louie made a full recovery and Ben ge has returned to hand feeding him brine shrimp.
“Some people would say it’s a fairly in significant life, butifthere’s one thing you can do to add something positive to the world, why not do it?” she said.