South Florida Sun-Sentinel (Sunday)

Florida vet school uses novel approach to save seahorse

- By Tamara Lush

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.

 ?? MEDICINE/AP UNIVERSITY­OFFLORIDAC­OLLEGEOFVE­TERINARY ?? In September, Louie the seahorse’s ownerCarol Benge noticed hewas having trouble swimming. She took him to the University of Florida veterinary school where itwas diagnosed with gas bubble disease. The seahorsewa­s placed in a hyperbaric chamber, and with one treatment, Louiewas cured.
MEDICINE/AP UNIVERSITY­OFFLORIDAC­OLLEGEOFVE­TERINARY In September, Louie the seahorse’s ownerCarol Benge noticed hewas having trouble swimming. She took him to the University of Florida veterinary school where itwas diagnosed with gas bubble disease. The seahorsewa­s placed in a hyperbaric chamber, and with one treatment, Louiewas cured.
 ?? CAROLBENGE/AP ?? Louie, a black-and-silver seahorse, swims in Carol Benge’s homeaquari­umNov. 16, in Chiefland.
CAROLBENGE/AP Louie, a black-and-silver seahorse, swims in Carol Benge’s homeaquari­umNov. 16, in Chiefland.

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