How to Syringe Feed a Rabbit –
Vet-Approved Guide to Assisted Feeding
February 23, 2022
When we humans are unwell, we may not feel like eating for a couple of days and still be fine. Unfortunately, rabbits are not the same. If they stop eating even for a relatively short period, they will quickly become ill.
If your rabbit stops eating, sometimes syringe feeding is the only option to keep getting food into their systems and their digestion working. It may also be the only way for your rabbit to get the energy and nutrients it needs.
Unfortunately, almost every bunny owner will need to syringe feed their pet at some point.
– Dr. Edele Grey, DVM
But what do you need to know about syringe feeding, and how do you do it?
This article will answer all your questions about how to syringe feed a rabbit. This is what you need to know:
Syringe Feeding a Rabbit – The Basics
As a rabbit owner, you have probably noticed your bunny is constantly munching on hay. Because hay is not very high in calories and energy, rabbits must eat a lot of it. What this means is that their digestion is used to getting more food consistently throughout the day. It keeps your rabbit’s digestion moving and prevents it from slowing down.
See, if your bunny does not get food constantly, they are at risk of gastrointestinal (gut) stasis. This is a condition where the bowel movements slow down or stop altogether, causing bacteria and gas to build up and even a blockage to form in the digestive tract. Gut stasis can be lethal, so it needs to be treated as soon as possible.
Because rabbits are used to eating regularly throughout the day, even a short period of time without food may cause their digestive system to shut down, quickly leading to deteriorating health.
Also, if your rabbit is not eating, it is not wearing its teeth down, leading to dental problems.
As you can see, bunnies need to keep eating. If they are not eating by themselves, they need to be assisted by using a syringe to feed them.
Related reading: How Long Can A Rabbit Go Without Eating?
When is assisted rabbit feeding necessary?
Rabbits have very fast metabolisms, which means that they need to eat often and regularly to keep their digestive system going. If they don’t eat, they will develop severe problems very quickly. Therefore, assisted feeding is necessary when your bunny refuses to eat.
If you notice your rabbit is not eating, try to get them to eat by offering them some of their favorite foods. If they still continue refusing food, contact a vet. Rabbits should not go without food for more than 12 hours, so you may need to start syringe feeding fairly quickly if the problem is not resolved.
Not eating could be due to issues like
- dental problems
Always get approval from your vet before syringe feeding your rabbit because a professional will be able to assess whether moving forward with assisted feeding is the right choice, or your pet should get another type of medical help. For example, if your bunny has a gastric obstruction, it needs to be treated before your pet can be syringe fed.
Also, your vet will be able to tell you the right amount to feed based on your rabbit’s size and weight.
Risks of syringe feeding a bunny
Although you may be wondering about the risks of syringe feeding, it is often vital for your rabbit’s survival if they have stopped eating.
Because rabbits need to be constantly eating, if they are not consuming hay and their usual food, you need to assist them with eating, which basically means feeding them with a syringe.
However, although syringe feeding is sometimes necessary, it does come with a few problems that need to be taken into consideration:
- The biggest concern when syringe feeding a bunny is that they may aspirate some of the food into their lungs which may cause pneumonia, says Dr. Edele Grey, DVM. You need to be careful with the right technique to prevent your bunny from aspirating the food and even choking. Keep your rabbit’s head straight, don’t force the syringe down their throat, only feed only about 1-2ml at a time, and make sure your bunny swallows in between. Also, make sure the consistency of the paste is not too runny to prevent aspiration.
- Because your rabbit isn’t chewing on hay, they aren’t wearing their teeth down. This means that syringe feeding can lead to dental problems if continued for a long period of time. If your rabbit doesn’t start eating regular food within a week, contact a vet for help.
The Feeding Guidelines for Syringe Feeding a Rabbit
Rabbits are very sensitive animals and may react to things like stress or illness by not eating. Actually, most bunnies will be syringe fed at least once during their life.
Luckily, it is common that the problem is not severe, and you may be able to coax your bunny into eating by syringe feeding for a couple of days and encouraging them with their favorite foods.
However, sometimes there may be a serious health complication that needs to be addressed first. Therefore, it is important that you have your pet checked by a vet before starting assisted feeding.
Yet, if your rabbit is not eating, you must start syringe feeding as soon as possible to avoid gut stasis and other health complications.
Here is what you need to know about assisted feeding:
What can I syringe feed my rabbit?
There are many products available for syringe feeding a rabbit. They are usually mixed with water to form a paste you can either feed with a syringe or a spoon. You can alter the consistency of the paste by adding more water to make it flow easily through the syringe.
You can also add some pureed baby food to the mix to make it tastier for your bunny.
The product we recommend is Oxbow Critical Care.
You can also make your own mixture by blending food pellets and water, but we recommend talking to your vet first to see which ingredients need to be added to the mixture.
When mixing critical care or your own slurry, be sure to find the right consistency so that it flows through the syringe, but your rabbit will not inhale it.
Also, keep in mind that young bunnies should be fed kitten milk replacer or goat milk instead of a pellet mixture.
How much should you syringe feed a rabbit?
The general rule of thumb is that you should feed 8-12ml/kg four times a day. If you are using commercial critical care, the package will have instructions for you to follow.
The amount you should syringe feed your rabbit daily depends on their size and weight, so it’s best to consult a vet, especially if you’re providing your own mixture. Some rabbits may require smaller amounts fed more frequently, so monitor your pet to see what is ideal for them.
How often should I syringe feed my rabbit?
Rabbits are used to having high-fiber food moving through their digestive tract all the time, so to keep their digestion working correctly, syringe feeding should be done several times a day.
In general, rabbits should be syringe fed at least four times a day. However, if your pet is poorly and is eating only small amounts at a time, you may need to feed them every 2-4 hours and through the night as well.
How long should you syringe feed a rabbit?
You should not syringe feed your rabbit for more than 5-7 days. Although commercial critical care is formulated with your rabbit’s dietary requirements in mind, syringe feeding cannot replace regular food for long.
Because your bunny is not chewing on hay, its teeth are growing, and its digestion is not getting all the fiber it needs. If they haven’t started eating regular food within 24-48 hours, it is critical to get them to a vet immediately to assess their situation.
Also, if your bunny refuses to swallow any food you are trying to syringe feed them, you need to take them to the vet immediately.
Related: How Long Can Rabbits Go Without Water?
How to Syringe Feed a Rabbit?
Step 1. Remain calm
First of all, syringe feeding can be very stressful for your rabbit in a situation where they already feel sick and unwell. To make syringe feeding as easy as possible for both you and your rabbit, do it in a quiet area with no distractions. Also, make sure to remain calm and patient because your rabbits will be able to sense your tension and become more stressed.
Step 2. Have everything within arm’s reach
Secondly, make sure you have everything you need ready before you start feeding. Getting up to get something will distract your bunny and make it more difficult to keep things calm.
You will need:
- Feeding syringes filled with critical care
- Towels to wrap your bunny and to cover the table
- Paper towels or baby wipes for cleaning
- Baby bibs (to minimize the mess)
- Some of your rabbit’s favorite food
You can get feeding syringes at a pet store, order online, or get a pediatric syringe from the pharmacy. However, they come in different sizes and with different types of nozzles, so you may need to try out a few syringes to see which size and type work best for you and your pet.
We recommend you fill the syringe or syringes with fresh formula each time you feed to prevent bacteria from building up. Follow the instructions on the package and add lukewarm water to the powder until the paste has the right consistency. It should not be too runny, so it won’t make a mess, but it should run through the syringe easily.
A cloth baby bib may be more comfortable for your bunny than rustling paper towels to keep the mess to the minimum. It will protect the dewlap area from wetness and mess, helping you avoid any issues that may arise with wet and dirty fur.
Step 3. Holding your rabbit
Some people prefer to stand and have their rabbit on a table, while others find sitting down with your bunny on your lap more comfortable. Having someone to help is always a good idea as one person can hold the rabbit while the other takes care of feeding.
Make sure the rabbit feels safe and secure so they are comfortable with being fed.
Stand your bunny on a towel or wrap them inside one to keep them calm and relaxed. Keep them in a natural sitting or standing position with their head slightly raised. Never attempt to place them on their back or make them tilt their head backward. Also, make sure your bunny is not able to reverse or jump off the table.
If your rabbit is nervous and jumpy, wrapping them in a towel to make a ”bunny burrito” and supporting their legs will help keep them relaxed. You can also talk to them quietly, softly stroke their head, or cover their eyes.
Keep the rabbit close to your chest and cradle them with one arm while using the other to feed. Make sure the rabbit feels safe and secure so they are comfortable with being fed.
Hold the rabbit’s head softly but firmly to keep them from turning away from the syringe. However, never force or try to fight the rabbit because it will only make them resist you more. Instead, remain calm and gentle so your rabbit will trust you.
Step 4. Insert the syringe
If you have pre-filled the syringes, give them a shake to ensure the mixture is not separated. Then, gently insert the nozzle of the syringe into the rabbit’s mouth from the side. Their head should be kept straight, and the syringe inserted into the middle of the rabbit’s mouth. Never push the syringe down their throat.
It’s better not to touch your rabbit’s nose or try and feed them from the front between the incisors. This is a blind spot for bunnies, so they may find it stressful. Instead, insert the nozzle of the syringe from the side using the gap behind the incisors to guide the syringe.
You can also dip the nozzle into honey, juice, or sugar to get your rabbit to take it.
Step 5. Administering the food
Gently administer the food one mouthful at a time and remove the syringe in between to encourage swallowing and chewing-also, stroke your bunny’s head between mouthfuls to reward them for eating.
You mustn’t give too much critical aid with each mouthful or rush with the feeding. Instead, administer only 1-2ml at a time, and make sure your bunny swallows it before giving more.
It is important to make sure the rabbit’s head remains in a natural position and is not tilted backward to prevent aspirating any of the food (inhaling so that the food gets into the lungs).
It is a good idea to have fresh hay and some tasty veggies available in the cage when syringe feeding as it can stimulate your rabbit’s appetite, and it’s good to get them eating as soon as possible.
Step 6. If the rabbit refuses to be syringe fed
If the rabbit refuses to take the syringe in its mouth or swallow the food, stop the feeding. Forcing your bunny to continue may lead to them aspirating the critical care and choking.
Try again after your pet has calmed down. Maybe dip the syringe into some sugar and try talking softly to see if they would take the syringe.
If your rabbit refuses to be syringe fed, you can also try a spoon. If you are still unable to assist them with eating, contact a vet for advice.
Step 7. Discontinuing syringe feeding
When your rabbit starts to eat small amounts of food by themselves, you can slowly reduce the quantities of food you syringe feed. In addition, you can encourage eating by offering your rabbit their favorite foods.
Bottom Line – How Do You Syringe Feed Rabbits the Right Way
The bottom line is that syringe feeding is necessary if your rabbit refuses to eat its hay and veggies. Bunnies require an almost constant intake of food as they are used to munching on hay all day, and their digestion may quickly shut down if they are not getting enough of it.
What you need to remember is:
- Have your pet checked by the vet as soon as possible. Do not start assisted feeding before a gastrointestinal obstruction is ruled out.
- Syringe feed several times a day to make sure your rabbit is getting enough critical care.
- By using the right technique, you can avoid your rabbit aspirating the mixture or choking on it.
- Always remain calm and never force-feed your rabbit.
With everything you have learned in this article, you are prepared to syringe feed your pet safely and successfully. And once you get them eating, don’t forget to treat them with the best hay and best food for rabbits.
Unfortunately, almost every bunny owner will need to syringe feed their pet at some point. If your pet stops eating for more than 12 hours, has reduced numbers of fecal pellets, isn’t eating their cecotropes, or isn’t moving around as much as normal, then you should take them to see your veterinarian.
Bunnies are prone to gut stasis which can be fatal, so syringe feeding is essential in many of these cases. Always take your pet to your DVM first to ensure that they don’t need more intensive methods or that they don’t have an obstruction that could be made worse by syringe feeding.
I always advise making a ”bunny burrito” to provide support and help reduce bunny stress and wriggling during the process. The biggest concern when syringe feeding a bunny is that they may aspirate some of the food into their lungs which may cause pneumonia, so your veterinarian will help you with your bunny’s first feeding to fine-tune the technique and ensure your bunny is swallowing.
– Dr. Edele Grey, DVM
NOTE: Advice provided within this article by FeedingMyPet.com is not a substitute for veterinary advice. Please discuss your pet’s specific dietary needs (based on his breed, weight, age, and health status) with a veterinarian.