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FAQ: Syringe Feeding


Staff member
Syringe Feeding - Not Something to be Undertaken Without Consulting a Vet
By Jane & Christabel, Feb 2008

Syringe feeding an anorexic rabbit should only be undertaken as a *supportive* measure and *never* forced. It should also only be under-taken after your rabbit has been examined by a vet to determine the cause of the anorexia. There are several conditions where syringe-feeding is contraindicated. For example if your rabbit’s stomach is distended (bloat), syringe feeds should not be given, because if the stomach cannot empty, putting more food into it will just make the bun more unwell. If the caecum (hind-gut fermentation vessel) is full of dried ingesta (food), then syringe-feeding will not help, as the guts will just be too full: giving fluids would be much more helpful in this situation.

If you find that your rabbit has stopped eating it is always helpful if you have some idea when he/she last ate and whether he/she has passed the ‘normal’ amount of faeces. As a ‘First Aid’ treatment should you find your rabbit has stopped eating giving *fluids* is going to be more helpful until your bun has been examined by a vet. So syringing cooled boiled water is OK (10ml/kg/hour). This will help rehydrate the gut contents.

Once your rabbit has been assessed by a vet and if supportive feeds are prescribed then wrapping bun up securely in a towel will help him/her feel safe. It is better to use a small syringe (1ml) as you have better control of the amount going into bun. Insert the syringe into the side of the rabbit’s mouth and very slowly dispense the feed horizontally across the rabbit’s mouth: do not squirt the feed backwards towards the back of the rabbit’s throat as this may cause bun to aspirate (breathe in) the feed, which would cause bun to choke.

There are several things you can do to ensure that you are prepared for an episode of anorexia:
1. Be sure you know the normal food intake of your rabbit, so that you can tell whether it has decreased.
2. Make sure you know the normal faecal (poo) output of your rabbit: it can help to ‘store’ one day’s poo in a box so that you have something to refer back to if you’re not sure of the normal size or amount.
3. Regularly monitor your rabbit’s weight so that you can tell if it changes.
4. Get a one or two ml syringe from your vet: you never know when you may need it! Also getting some Critical Care (Oxbow) or similar to enable syringe feeding, can avoid time wasting at a critical moment.

Just remember these basic facts about syringe feeding bunnies:
1. Always get your rabbit checked by a vet and only syringe feed if they suggest it: some conditions can be made worse by syringe feeding.
2. Syringe feeding can be a stressful procedure for some rabbits. Wrapping your rabbit in a towel can help to make bun feel secure and make syringe feeding easier: DO NOT turn bun on his/her back as this may prevent them from swallowing properly, and may increase the chances of inhaling the food.
3. NEVER force a feed into your rabbit: syringe feeding will only work if your rabbit will swallow the food.
4. Using a 1 or 2ml syringe, access the mouth from the side and gently suppress the plunger of the syringe to avoid too much feed going in at once. (It can help to widen the hole of the syringe by sticking the prong of a fork into it – this will help to stop the lumpy bits getting stuck in the hole.) If the food is difficult to suck up into the syringe, just add a bit more water.
5. Always feed little and often – no more than 5ml at a time in a small bun and 10ml in a big bun. Feeding every 1-2 hours is generally recommended to ensure constant throughput.

Anorexia is always a symptom of another condition: the most common conditions are overgrown teeth and gut stasis, so it is imperative to get your rabbit checked by the vet before embarking on syringe feeding. Having said that, syringe feeds can be a valuable part of the nursing care of a sick rabbit: they can often get a rabbit through an illness. Always seek veterinary ASAP if your rabbit stops eating.
I always find it hard syringe feeding using an actual syringe. As an alternative, an eye dropper with the end cut off works well and is less prone to blockages.