Florida Vet School Thinks Outside the Box to Save Seahorse

Seahorses aren’t your typical pet, but for Carol Benge of Chiefland Florida, it was precisely the kind of animal she wanted. To deal with the pressures of COVID-19, Benge would sit and watch her tiny friend (who she named Louie) swim around her aquarium tank. Unfortunately, she noticed a few gas bubbles forming around the seahorse’s tail – the sign of something known as gas bubble disease. Fish Pathology informs us that gas bubble disease happens in environments that are supersaturated with specific gases, such as oxygen.

No Help From the Local Vet

The first thing she aimed to do was get expert advice from a vet in her area. She sought out the best local vet, but the disease wasn’t something they had ever handled before. They were ill-equipped to deal with the situation. Benge was distraught since she grew attached to her marine friend. The connection between them was so strong that she had no problem loading Louie and his tank up and making the hour-long drive to the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine.

Experimental Approach Necessary

When she got there, the vet technicians asked her if it would be okay to perform a simple experimental technique to help Louie, at no cost to her. The vets realized that Louie was suffering from a condition similar to the bends in divers. They decided to approach the problem using a similar apparatus – a hyperbaric oxygen chamber. The chamber had been used before in other cases, but this was the first time it would be used to treat this type of illness in a marine animal. Benge agreed but wasn’t able to follow Louie in since the chamber followed strict isolation methods in line with COVID-19 protocol.

A Remarkable Recovery

Louie is a member of a fragile species, and as such, the vets had to be extra careful in dealing with him. This treatment would be the first time the staff was treating a marine animal in the chamber. To make things as easy for Louie as possible, his handler, first-year resident Tatiana Weisbrod, transferred him and his home environment to a Pyrex container. She then placed the container inside the hyperbaric chamber and shut it. Over time, Louie recovered folly. The pressure decrease allowed Louie to absorb the gas and recover without leading to the reformation of the bubbles.

Gas bubble disease is a common illness among marine animals placed in aquariums, but experts aren’t exactly sure why seahorses are so prone to it. Louie’s success as a test case means that there’s now hope for many of these animals. Instead of having to face certain doom because of depressurization, they now have some chance of recovery. Louie managed to be cured after just one treatment. Some might see this as a waste of resources, but not Carol Benge. For her, this successful treatment means that she gets to enjoy more time with Louie, proving that she’s a fantastic pet parent in the process.

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