Experiment Cures Pet Seahorse

Hyperbaric chamber treatment solves gas bubble disease
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Dec 1, 2020 6:09 PM CST

(Newser) – In February, Carol Benge of Chiefland, Florida, purchased a seahorse for her home aquarium as a reward for marking five years cancer-free. She named the little black-and-silver fish Louie. As the coronavirus pandemic swept the nation, Benge, a schoolteacher, relaxed whenever she watched the 3-inch creature float around the tank and fed him tiny brine shrimp. In September, the AP reports, Louie seemed to have trouble swimming. He moved horizontally and appeared listless. Even more troubling were 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 from surfacing too quickly. She knew she had to act quickly. "I wanted to save my little friend," she said. "He eats out of my hand. He’s a precious little thing." A local veterinarian couldn't help. So Benge put Louie in a temporary tank and drove him to the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine.

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Experts there suggested an experiment, at no cost to Benge: putting Louie in a hyperbaric chamber, just like a human diver suffering from the bends. Benge agreed. Tatiana Weisbrod, a first-year resident in the aquatic animal medicine, gently transferred Louie into a Pyrex glass container along with water and an aquatic plant Benge brought from his home tank. Weisbrod and the veterinary team put Louie and the glass container in the hyperbaric chamber and 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 reformation." With one treatment, Louie was cured. The team can now offer this treatment for professional and hobby fish owners. Louie, whom Benge said is part of the family, made a full recovery, and she's returned to hand-feeding him brine shrimp.

(Read more seahorse stories.)

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