Seahorse and Pipefish Care Sheet

Maria Zayas, DVM
By Maria Zayas, DVM on Oct. 26, 2023
Seahorse close-up

In This Article

Species Overview

Seahorse and Pipefish Species Overview

Seahorses and pipefish are both members of the Syngnathidae fish family, which can be found in temperate and tropical habitats in the Indo-Pacific and Caribbean oceans. This care sheet outlines basic care needs for a variety of seahorse/pipefish species, including: 

  • Kelloggi seahorse 

  • Lined seahorse

  • Kuda seahorse 

  • Brazilian seahorse 

  • Tiger tail seahorse 

  • Banded pipefish 

  • Bluestripe pipefish 

  • Dragonface pipefish

  • Green pipefish  

Seahorses can be found in a variety of vivid hues and patterns, including black, brown, reddish-maroon, cream, yellow, and gold. Seahorses do not swim well and will grab onto branches and other decorations with their prehensile tail to keep themselves in place. 

Pipefish have straight bodies that resemble sticks. Unlike most seahorses, pipefish have a tiny tail fin that helps them swim. 

Seahorses and pipefish are best suited for more seasoned hobbyists due to their maintenance and feeding requirements. Because they aren’t strong swimmers, pipefish and seahorses cannot tolerate strong currents. 

Seahorses and pipefish are unique in that males carry and care for their offspring’s eggs until they hatch. 

Seahorse and Pipefish Characteristics 

Difficulty of Care 


Average Lifespan 

Depends on species 

Average Adult Size 

Seahorse ½ to 11+ inches (vertical); pipefish up to 18” long, depending on species 



Minimum Habitat Size 

29+ gallons, depending on species 

Water Temperature 

74–80 F 

Specific Gravity 



Varies from 8.1 to 8.4, depending on species; pet parents should research the pH range recommended for the specific species of seahorse/pipefish they’re caring for 

Seahorse and Pipefish Supply Checklist

To keep a seahorse/pipefish happy and healthy, pet parents should have these basic supplies on hand: 

Seahorse and Pipefish Habitat

Choosing the Right Enclosure 

Depending on the species, adult seahorses and pipefish should be housed in a 29-gallon aquarium or larger. All tanks should be covered with a fitted lid or aquarium hood to prevent escape. Always provide the largest habitat possible, especially as smaller aquariums are more sensitive to changes in water conditions than bigger ones. 

Recommended Products:  

Selecting Tankmates 

Seahorses and pipefish can be housed in the same aquarium as gobies, blennies, cardinals, filefish, and peaceful invertebrates. Be sure to research each new tankmate’s species to ensure their compatibility before adding them to the same aquarium. 

Note: Tankmates should be removed from the aquarium immediately if they show any sign of aggression or if the seahorse/pipefish is not eating, as they are not competitive eaters. 

New tank mates must be introduced to an aquarium gradually, and pet parents should remember that their tank’s ammonia, pH, and nitrate levels will change when a new fish is introduced. These parameters need to be monitored carefully after adding new fish.   

Fish should not be kept in overcrowded aquariums, as these conditions often lead to stress and disease in the tank. 


A filter system is an essential addition to any aquatic habitat. Aside from keeping tanks looking clean, filters remove harmful toxins like ammonia from the aquarium's water and add oxygen to the water so fish can breathe.   

Since seahorses and pipefish are not strong swimmers, pet parents should look for a filter with an adjustable flowrate that can create slow to moderate currents in the water. Power filters (also known as “hang-on-back" filters) and external canister filters are recommended because they offer effective mechanical, biological, and chemical filtration and do not take up any space inside an aquarium. 

Tip: The aquarium’s filter should be powerful enough to process all the water in the tank at least four times an hour. For example, a 30-gallon tank should ideally have an aquarium filter with a flow rate that’s at least 120 gallons per hour (GPH). If only a 100 or 150 GPH filter is available, pet parents should purchase the 150 GPH option.   

Recommended Products: 

Water Health and Salt Content  

Pet parents should test their aquarium’s water regularly to ensure its pH, ammonia, nitrate, and nitrite levels are stable and within a safe range. An aquarium test kit can be used to measure key water parameters quickly and accurately. A protein skimmer can also be used to maintain the tank’s water quality. 

Recommended Products: 

As saltwater species, seahorses and pipefish need salt in their aquarium to survive. When setting up their tank, pet parents should add small amounts of marine salt to their marine puffer's habitat until the water’s specific gravity is between 1.020 and 1.025. The specific gravity reading should not change more than +/- 0.001 in 24 hours. A hydrometer or refractometer (salt level tester) should be used to measure the salt concentration and specific gravity of the aquarium’s water. 

Recommended Products: 

  • Marine Salt 


Seahorses and pipefish prefer warm water that’s between 74–80 degrees F. The water’s temperature should not fluctuate more than +/- 2 degrees in 24 hours.  

You should install an aquatic heater that’s controlled with a thermostat in the aquarium to keep the water’s temperature in the ideal range. An aquarium thermometer should be used to check the tank’s water temperature daily. 

When selecting a heater for their tank, pet parents should keep a few things in mind: 

  • Some modern heaters have built-in thermostats, while others need to be paired with a thermostat that’s purchased separately. 

  • As a rule of thumb, aquarium heaters need between 2.5 and 5 watts of power for every gallon of water in a tank. This means that a 10-gallon tank needs a 25- to 50-watt heater. 

  • Larger aquariums with a tank volume over 50 gallons may need two small heaters, placed on opposite sides of the tank, to prevent cold spots from developing in the water. 

Recommended Products: 

  • Heaters 

  • Aquatic Thermometers 

Décor & Accessories 

Graspable plants and décor: Seahorse and pipefish tanks need “hitching spots” that the fish can latch onto with their tails and hold onto while resting. Artificial coral and plants are recommended. 

Avoid live coral, which can sting and irritate a seahorse/pipefish’s skin. 

If more than one seahorse is housed in the same habitat, make sure at least one hitching post is large enough for all the seahorses to use at the same time. 

Recommended Products: 

Live rock: In addition to acting as a food source, live rock will improve biological filtration in a seahorse or pipefish’s tank. 

Live rock is not actually alive; “live” refers to the good bacteria and macroscopic life that live inside and on the surface of the rock.  

Live rock should be cured, which means tested and treated to remove dead or decaying microorganisms living in and on it. These microorganisms can increase the ammonia levels of the tank which should be removed before the rock is added to the tank. Several resources for curing rocks are available online.  

Always wear gloves while handling live rock or performing any maintenance on the aquarium. 

Recommended Products: 

Protein skimmer: Adding an appropriately-sized protein skimmer to an aquarium can improve water quality and increase dissolved oxygen levels in the tank.  

Recommended Products:  

Seahorse and Pipefish Maintenance

Maintain the condition of your seahorse’s or pipefish’s tank by performing routine water changes (no more than 10–25% of the aquarium’s total water volume) every two to four weeks. Uneaten food should be removed from the aquarium daily with the help of a fine mesh net. 

Draining and replacing the aquarium's entire water volume should be avoided, as doing so will remove the beneficial bacteria in the tank that keep the habitat’s ecosystem healthy. 

Most aquariums will need a full cleaning once a month, depending on the number of fish/invertebrates in the tank.

Seahorse and Pipefish Diet

As carnivorous creatures, seahorse and pipefish will need a well-balanced diet that consists of: 

  • Frozen mysis shrimp 

  • Frozen brine shrimp 

  • Live baby brine shrimp, as an occasional treat. 

Seahorses and pipefish should be fed in small amounts, two to three times daily. To avoid overfeeding and keep tank water clean, remove any uneaten food from the aquarium after about one to two minutes. Frozen foods must be thawed before feeding. 
Remember: Never use a microwave to thaw or warm frozen food, and never offer food that's still frozen to a pet. Frozen food that is not consumed should never be re-frozen for future use, as this encourages bacteria to form in the food. 

General Tank Care

Pet parents should change 10–25% of the total volume of their aquarium’s water every two to four weeks, or more often if needed. Newly added water should be at the same temperature and have the same salinity (salt concentration) as the existing water in the tank. 

After a new fish or new equipment is added to an aquarium, it’s important to test the tank water’s quality once a week for at least two months to ensure that its pH, nitrite, ammonia, nitrate, carbonate, and general hardness levels are in the ideal range. If the tests’ results are safe and consistent after two months, pet parents can decrease water testing to once a month. 

Water test kits expire and should be replaced yearly.  

Recommended Products: 

Pet parents should monitor their aquarium's water level and top it off as needed. Before being added to an aquarium, water must be treated with a water conditioner to remove toxic chemicals like chlorine, chloramines, and heavy metals.  

Recommended Products: 

An aquarium’s filter, water temperature, and other equipment should be checked daily to ensure they’re working properly. Filter media should be replaced monthly or rinsed in old tank water during water changes, depending on the water condition and the number of fish in the tank. Follow the use, care, and maintenance instructions provided by the manufacturer of the filter system.  

Do not use hot water, bleach, or chemicals while rinsing filter media. This will kill the beneficial bacteria that helps keep aquatic habitats safe, clean, and stable.  

Avoid replacing all the filtration media in an aquarium at the same time, as this can also remove beneficial bacteria from the tank.  

Uneaten food should be removed from an aquarium daily. Food can be removed using a fine-mesh fish net or siphon vacuum. 

Seahorse and Pipefish Veterinary Care

Annual Care

In a properly maintained tank of appropriate size, in which you perform your own water quality tests and water changes weekly, it’s OK to only utilize a veterinarian if there is a problem with your seahorse or pipefish. It is recommended to have your fish and your setup assessed by a veterinarian within a week of establishing them in your home and potentially again if they are moved from a quarantine tank to a larger tank with other fish. While a seahorse or pipefish can be transported to a vet, it is recommended to find an aquatics veterinarian who will more than likely make house calls, as transport is a major stress event for fish.

Signs of a Healthy Seahorse or Pipefish

  • Bright, appropriate coloration

  • Able to both swim and grasp or “hitch” to items to rest

  • Good buoyancy control

  • Strong appetite

  • Intact skin

When to Call a Vet

  • Cloudy eye(s)

  • Color changes—particularly becoming dull, focal spots of change, stripes or bands of color change

  • Lethargic swimming potentially with an abnormal pattern such as circling, listing to the side, staying on the top or bottom of the tank, etc.

  • Decreased appetite for more than a day

  • Itching—usually looks like rubbing on tank substrate or architecture

  • Rapid breathing

  • Gill color changes and/or flared gills

  • Presence of lumps/bumps/masses

  • White growths/spots of any kind

  • Inability to grasp with tail (seahorse)

  • Skin lesions

Common Illnesses in Seahorse and Pipefish

Seahorse and Pipefish FAQs

Can you have a seahorse as a pet?

Yes, you absolutely can. Though they require special care when choosing tank mates and adding aquarium décor, seahorses can be great aquarium pets.

What is the lifespan of a pet seahorse?

Seahorse lifespans vary based on species, with smaller species generally having shorter lifespans and larger species having longer ones. Generally, they can live between one and five years based on species, in captivity.

What is the easiest seahorse to care for?

Larger seahorse species are generally considered easiest to care for as smaller seahorse species may be difficult to keep with other fish species and succumb to illness more quickly. Some examples of good pet seahorse choices include the Tiger Tail seahorse, Kuda seahorse, and Yellow seahorse.

Are seahorses saltwater or freshwater?

Seahorses are saltwater fish, except for a small number of brackish water species.

Are pipefish good pets?

Keeping saltwater fish is not for beginners but pipefish do make a good choice of pet for experienced aquarium keepers.

What can pipefish live with?

Pipefish are incredibly docile fish that move slowly and behave cautiously. Due to this they don’t do well competing for food with other fish and do best with other calm and relatively slow-moving fish like seahorses.

What do pipefish eat?

Pipefish are carnivores and commonly eat small crustaceans.

How much is a pipefish?

Pipefish costs can vary greatly by species but generally cost at least $50 and up to several hundred dollars per fish.

Featured Image: AMR Image/iStock / Getty Images Plus

Maria Zayas, DVM


Maria Zayas, DVM


Dr. Zayas has practiced small animal and exotic medicine all over the United States and currently lives in Colorado with her 3 dogs, 1 cat,...

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