Syringe feeding (or force feeding) your rabbit is a very important part of recovery from gastrointestinal stasis (gut stasis), and in some cases is the most important part of recovering from surgery or illness. If you need to continue syringe feeding your rabbit following surgery or illness your vet will discuss this with you and will show you how to do this before you take your rabbit back home. It is important to be gentle and persistent with your rabbit as providing an adequate intake of food can be the turning point of recovery.
It is important to arrange all the necessary equipment for syringe feeding your rabbit before handling them.
- Equipment required:
- Syringe – a large bore (nozzle) syringe is ideal as it allows you to feed thicker material; these are called catheter tipped syringes and help to prevent blockages of the syringe with the feeding material in smaller nozzles.
- Towel – to wrap or secure your rabbit.
- Food to be syringe fed.
Many people find it easier to place the rabbit on a waist high table with the rabbit either wrapped or secured with a towel placed under them. It may be helpful having a second person to assist. Always undertake all handling calmly but firmly.
There are a few commercial preparations available for feeding rabbits that are not eating by themselves, eg Oxbow Critical Care for Herbivores. Your vet may be able to provide this for you.
If a commercial preparation is not available then other foods that can be used are:
- Soak pellets and blend them with extra water.
- Vegetable baby food.
- Pureed cooked pumpkin.
- Blended green leafy vegetables.
Some rabbits will readily take syringe feeding while sitting on the floor or in your lap. Others resist and you may need to wrap them in a towel.
If your rabbit is wriggling or resisting the food then place them in a towel. To towel wrap your rabbit open a towel out on a table or floor. Place your rabbit on top of the towel with their head at the edge of the long section in the middle. Fold the towel securely from shoulder to bottom on both sides (long sides of towel) making sure both front legs are enclosed. Then fold the remaining section up to cover their bottom. Your rabbit can now be held firmly from behind with elbows at their bottom and hands holding shoulders (and front of towel), lean over your rabbit to provide more security; a second person can now feed your rabbit. If you are on your own, you can hold your rabbit on your lap with one hand and syringe feed with the other.
Always remain as calm as possible and hold your rabbit securely and firmly but not tightly. If you are only able to administer a small amount of food, stop feeding and try again in 10-15 min.
The syringe is placed into the large space in your rabbits mouth behind the front teeth (incisors), this space is called the diastema; the large space between the incisors and premolars. The syringe is angled back into the mouth and the plunger of the syringe is pressed in slowly.
You should only feed small amounts, 2-4 ml at a time and then allow your rabbit to rest (remove the syringe). Your rabbit should show signs of chewing and swallowing. This process can then be repeated until you have fed 5-10 ml. Syringe feeding needs to be done slowly to avoid aspiration.
If the syringe becomes blocked remove it from the rabbit’s mouth and angle away from you and press the plunger firmly.
If your rabbit is stubborn they may not swallow and the food will dribble out of their mouth, please keep trying. However, if your rabbit is very sick (not responding or sitting up) they can be at risk of inhaling the food; in this case your rabbit may require more intensive care in hospital, so please contact your vet if this is the case.
This does depend on the type of food and water content of the preparation being feed but you should aim to provide some feeding every 2-6 h while your rabbit is not eating.