Syringe Feeding - Tips & Tricks

Syringe Feeding - Tips & Tricks

Syringe Feeding - Tips & Tricks

Syringe feeding is something most rabbit owners will have to do at least once during their little ones’ lifetime - unless their little ones are very lucky and have perfect health (fingers crossed!).

Syringe feeding is something that, whilst being a necessity, can be very stressful for owner and rabbit alike … and which can result in the contents of the syringe being flung (or squirted) pretty much all over an entire room!

It’s worth noting here that syringe feeding should only be carried out on vet advice; any illness or injury warranting syringe feeding also warrants veterinary treatment first. If you’ve never syringe fed before, ask the vet to show you how, or ask if you can assist the veterinary nurse in a feed so they can guide you.


Here are a few tips that may help, should you find yourself in the position of having to syringe feed your little one during illness or injury.

Don’t Panic!

Stay calm - your little one WILL pick up on any stress you feel and become more stressed as a result, so it is important to stay calm. The key to being calm is being prepared and clear in what you are doing.

The key to Syringe Feeding is preparation - and staying calm too. By following these few simple steps, the process should be less stressful - for you both!

Preparation.

Get everything ready before you start; you will need:

  • more than enough formula for the feed

  • Water - to clean mess with, and to offer if hydration is also an issue (your vet will advise if this is something you need to offer in addition to the syringe feed)

  • Cloth for spills - paper towel is great. There WILL be spills!

  • A suitable syringe (or two - a backup in case of blockage is good)

  • Are you also administering meds? Get them ready in advance if they’re to be given at the same time as the feed. Check you’re sure on dosage too.

  • What else can you do if your little one is normally not easy to handle? Do the toe nails need cutting, any grooming required? You may as well take the opportunity to do a few things at the same time if you can. But do any ‘extras’ after the feed/meds as this is the most important thing, and some rabbits will only tolerate being contained for a short amount of time.

  • A table with secure top (not slippy), a comfortable place to sit or a safe area on the floor

  • Something to help contain your little one if needed - such as a towel to wrap them in, carrier with removable lid etc.

  • An extra pair of hands if at all possible!

  • Uninterrupted time - syringe feeding a rabbit can take quite a while, and is dependant on you being patient; your little one will dictate the pace.


The patient.

Most rabbits don’t like being held, and may also be extra sneaky at hiding if they are poorly - rabbits are prey animals and try to hide their illness or keep themselves out of danger if they feel extra vulnerable.

You’ll probably already know the best way to collect your rabbit up, ready for their feed, but if not, the following may help:

  • Ensure the area you need to collect your rabbit up in is enclosed with no possibility of them bolting out. Rabbits can jump impressive heights, and scramble through almost anything if they feel the need, so enter their area and then secure it safely behind you.

  • Decide the method of restraint you are using - if using a towel to wrap your little one in, make sure it is to hand, so you can scoop and wrap in one go. Alternatively, make sure your carrier is near, or you have someone to help with opening and closing doors - you’ll need both yours to keep your little one safe and secure.

  • It is best to approach them at their level if at all possible. They will be afraid anyway, and an approach from ‘human’ level may make matters worse.

  • Some rabbits will stop in their tracks if their eyes are covered - a hand gently over their eyes or a towel gently over their head may give enough time for you to gently scoop them up without fuss. But for your own safety, don’t put your hand in front of their mouth….it will become a threat and something quite possibly to be bitten!

  • Be calm, talk in a quiet voice, and try to avoid the temptation to quickly grab and go as this could raise their perception of threat. Calm and slow is more beneficial.


The Messy Bit!

Once you’ve gathered your little one up, and have got yourself and your little one in a secure, yet comfortable position, you are ready to go.

Remember that a rabbit should be sat right side up for a feed, and never on their back or leaning backwards.

Each rabbit will take to syringe feeding in a different way, and in addition their ability (or desire) to feed will depend on their issue. If they’ve recently had dental surgery, for example, they may be reluctant to eat or not want anything near their mouth. Or if they have a mobility issue and are hungry, you may have to hold onto the syringe for dear life!

If you have been given instruction by your veterinary professional, follow their advice and get in touch for further advice if things are not going well.

You may find some of the following tips useful too:

  • Before starting with a syringe, try offering the feed on the end of a rounded spoon - you may just find this works if your little one is hungry, enjoys the feed and is feeling comfortable

  • Initially offer the syringed food to your rabbit slowly and gently - squeezing a little from the end of the syringe near their nose so they get a wiff. If luck is on your side they will start to lick, and if so, gently continue to squeeze the syringe, slowly and consistently. Take a few breaks to allow your little one to chew

  • If there’s little interest, touch a little feed into their lips to give them a taste - avoid the whiskers as this will result in your rabbit quickly moving its head away.

  • If there’s still no interest you may have to put the food into their mouth for them. This may be as a result of their reluctance to be fed from a syringe or their health. Either way, this must be done gently in order not to increase stress or fear. Depending on your rabbit, it may be possible to lift the top lip on the side of your rabbits’ mouth a little. When you do this, you’ll see the gap between the front and back teeth, and this is where you can gently aim the syringe. Lifting the lip helps to prevent bruising or response to the touch of the syringe on a very sensitive area. Introduce a small amount, and allow time to chew, then repeat.

Depending on your little ones' condition, it may be appropriate to ‘tart’ the feed formula up a little - making it more appealing to them and tasting more familiar, though if your little one is recovering from a gut issue, adding anything sweet such as fruit may NOT be appropriate - check with your vet first. There’s nothing wrong with blending up a bit of their favourite veg or food and adding this to the syringe feed if it helps them to start eating.

If you find the branded recovery feeding syringe a little big for your little ones’ mouth, try a smaller syringe - a 1ml syringe with part of its’ tip removed makes for a slightly smaller aperture which is still big enough to handle the formula without blocking.

The syringe feed products are designed to be able to pass through the end of a wide syringe (see above), but they are also designed to introduce ‘big’ pieces of indigestible fibre into the gut to help got motility. Sometimes this can lead to a syringe blockage - have a few syringes on hand in case one blocks. If you find the syringe is blocking continually, add a little water to the formula as this may help. If still blocking, use a prong on the end of a fork to open the end of the syringe up a little - but not too much as it wont fit into your little ones' mouth. If still a problem, consider using Critical Care Fine Grind, particularly if feeding is not going well and intake of food is poor.

The quantity you should feed is dependent on a number of factors - type of illness/injury, age and weight of rabbit, type of recovery feed being used, etc. You should follow the advice given by your vet, or in the absence of this, the feeding rates on the product being used.

Do not force feed - this could lead to inhalation and choking, plus increase stress levels, making it more difficult to feed the next time.


What to Feed

There are a number of syringe feed products available, and if your little one is not feeding well on one type, try another. Our current range includes:

  • Oxbow Critical Care - in a range of bag sizes. Aniseed flavour

  • Oxbow Critical Care Fine Grind - designed for vets to use in nasogastric tubes, but can also be appropriate for syringe feed use if things are not going well and intake low.

  • Supreme Recovery - in handy sized sachets, available in single sachets from us or in boxes of 10. Fenugreek flavour

  • Supreme Recovery Plus - a coarser grind than Supreme Recovery - includes a good amount of indigestible fibre to help gut health.

  • Excel Dual Care - provided in 1kg bags as a pellet which can then be used in a syringe with the addition of water - great for transitioning between syringe feeding and solid food feeding

  • And don't forget the syringes..! Both 1ml and Supreme Recovery Syringes work great.

These feeds can be used in conjunction with other pro and pre -biotics to help promote good gut bacteria, including products such as Pro Fibre pellets, Bio Lapis and Fibreplex. All are stocked by The Hay Experts in the Medicine Chest section of Health & Hygiene

The Hay Experts stock a wide range of recovery products for your little ones
A selection of the healthcare products stocked by The Hay Experts for rabbits and small animals

Not sure where to go from here?
Contact our Animal Medicines Advisor for general advice or speak with your vet for any immediate health concerns.

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