Syringe Feeding A Dog –
A Vet’s Guide to Assisted Feeding

syringe feeding dog

February 24, 2022

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Is your dog sick and refuses to eat? Or did you find an orphaned puppy, and you don’t know how to feed it? Or maybe and you’re thinking of a temporary solution until you get to the vet? Feeding dogs with a syringe for a while can be a life-saving solution.

Syringe feeding can be the life-saving solution.

Just like us, dogs cannot survive for long without food. A dog, on average, will survive three days without water and 5-7 days without food (depending on its body mass).

What this means is that if you have a dog that refuses to eat or is not able to do so, you may need to assist them by syringe feeding. But how do you syringe feed a dog, and what do you need to know to do it safely and successfully?

In this article, we will tell you everything you need to know about syringe feeding a dog.

Syringe Feeding For Dogs – The Basics

Syringe feeding involves the administration of food, water, or medicine to a dog that cannot or does not want to drink, eat, or take its medicine on its own.

This method of (nutritional) support is recommended by veterinarians when:

  • The pet suffers from a temporary health problem that has impaired their appetite or made it impossible for them to eat, or
  • The owner is having a hard time giving medicine to their beloved pet.

Administrating water or food with a syringe helps provide a minimum of essential nutrients a dog’s body needs until it regains its appetite and energy or can do the basic activities on its own (drinking and eating).

When is assisted dog feeding necessary?

Most cases in which dogs are required to be fed with a syringe are when you have unweaned and orphaned puppies or when medicines should be given with a syringe.

Other medical problems where syringe feeding may be helpful are ones in the oral area, such as dental or oral problems (ulcers, stomatitis, cancers, or the presence of non-cancerous tumors).

Also, this method can be helpful when the dog is recovering after surgery or when it is too weak to eat on its own.

1. Unweaned orphaned puppies

Puppies that have not yet been weaned should be fed in short intervals (2 hours) and kept in an environment with a temperature of at least 25℃ (77℉). They should also be massaged to digest, defecate, and urinate.

Syringe feeding unweaned puppies regularly will help them grow enough to be able to eat on their own.

dog needs syringe feeding

2. Syringe feeding a sick dog – Oral medical problems

Dental problems – if your dog has tartar and plaque, suffers from gingivitis, loses teeth, or grows new teeth, it may have trouble chewing and swallowing food. These conditions are usually followed by pain.

Periodontitis is another oral disease that silently invades the mouth. The symptoms appear when the condition becomes widespread. It is accompanied by chronic pain, gum erosion, and tooth loss.

Stomatitis – represents the inflammation of the gums and oral mucosa and can be caused by irritants, bacterial or fungal infections, allergic reactions to some drugs, autoimmune diseases, and tartar. It can lead to mouth ulcers (which erode the mucosa), bleeding, and pain. The gums are inflamed, full of swelling and lesions, the dog salivates excessively and refuses to eat or has difficulty eating. Other clinical signs include halitosis (bad breath), weight loss, blood in the saliva.

Oral ulcers – these can occur due to dental diseases, too many skin folds in some breeds (e.g., Shar Pei), oral papillomavirus, tumors, gingival hyperplasia (excessive growth of the gingival tissue), kidney disease, or autoimmune diseases. Ulcers can cause pain and bleeding, and the pet will stop eating.

Oral cancers – are abnormal growths of tissue in the oral cavity. Oral tumors can appear in/on the tongue, gums, lips, or lymph nodes. The appearance of lesions and/or nodules, but also a strange odor or gingival bleeding are symptoms that can indicate oral cancer. These tumors can cause pain and bleeding, especially if they are close to the teeth, and the dog can bite into them.

Vet’s Tip

Until you get to the vet to treat the problem, it is best to try feeding and hydrating your dog with a syringe if it does not eat or drink on its own. Do not let your dog be unfed for more than two days!

3. Convalescence after surgery

Convalescence after surgery  it represents the period in which the body of a pet that has undergone surgery recovers. In this case, many times, even the veterinarian will recommend feeding the dog with a syringe until it recovers completely and is able to eat on its own.

4. Giving medicine with a syringe 

If the dog has a medical problem and can’t swallow pills, there is no hard form (pill) for that medicine, or maybe the dog doesn’t like to take medicine on its own, syringe feeding medicine is the only option.

Benefits And Risks Of Syringe Feeding a Dog

As with everything, syringe feeding a dog has its benefits but also its risks. It can be a lifesaver, and often it is the only way to keep a dog with critical health issues nourished and help them survive. Yet, you should also be aware of the risks before you start assisted feeding.

Benefits

  •  It is an easy way to give your dog medicine, water, or food when the situation requires it.
  • It will provide a minimum of essential nutrients until the dog regains (at least) its appetite.
  • This way, you will know how much water or food your pet has taken.
  • In unweaned puppies, it can help them learn to coordinate their breathing, sucking, and swallowing.

Risks

  • The dog might oppose and bite the syringe or, in the worst case, bite your finger or hand.
  • If you are not careful, the tip of the syringe can scratch the dog’s gums and cause bleeding.
  • Feeding a dog or puppy with a syringe must be done with caution because if you rush and push the piston too suddenly and too hard, you risk releasing too much fluid in the dog’s mouth. The bad part is that the dog might aspire the liquid into its lungs, which can cause aspiration pneumonia, which can become a serious health condition if left untreated. Aspirating can be avoided by regulating the composition and quantity of the liquid.

The Feeding Guidelines –
Syringe Feeding a Dog That Won’t Eat

What can I feed my dog through a syringe?

Water, food, or medication may be administered with a syringe as the case.

The food will consist of wet food (especially the gravy) or pate. Dry food (even if soaked) or canned chunks of meat will not pass through the tip of the syringe. If the gravy or pate is too thick, it can be diluted with water until it becomes runnier and can pass through the tip.

You can also cook some beef or chicken soup for your dog and feed only the broth. It will be packed with vitamins and minerals and help your dog get on its feet faster.

Another option is to blend the soup (all the ingredients, without the bones) or the canned dog food until it becomes a smooth paste. You can add water to dilute it.

Puppies should always be fed with a milk formula designed especially for them. This is one of the top products to keep the puppy nourished and help them grow:

PetAg Esbilac Powder Milk Replacer for Puppies and Dogs

Medications are generally syrups, various substances for oral use (antibiotics, vitamins), or crushed pills mixed with water or chicken broth. There are also some liquid supplements that are intended for convalescent pets, which can be administered with a syringe.

How much should you syringe feed a dog?

This aspect depends on the animal’s size and the veterinarian’s recommendations. Please get in touch with a vet to ask for advice, so your dog will get the nutrients it needs while unable to feed on normal food.

Medications should be administered only on prescription, so again please follow the instructions on the package and advice from your vet when medicating your dog.

If your dog is not able to drink and you need to syringe feed liquids, you should do it often and in small amounts at a time. This will help the fluids absorb and prevent your dog from vomiting due to too much liquid in their stomach.

Also, when syringe feeding puppies, you should keep the quantities small and the feedings frequent. Puppies will eat once every two hours or less.

Depending on the dog’s health condition, the food will vary. There are dogs that can still eat the same diet, only now it will be in liquid form, and dogs that will require special diets.

Vet’s Tip

Regardless of the type of food, never feed a dog more than 100 ml of liquid at a time!

How long to syringe feed a dog?

In general, you need to syringe feed a dog until they regain their appetite or are able to eat on their own.

However, syringe feeding is not the same as having their regular diet, so if syringe feeding is continued for more than a few days, make sure to contact a vet. You will need assistance in assessing how much food needs to be fed and how often, and what you can do to avoid any health issues that may arise from syringe feeding for long periods.

Medications will be given as long as the treatment lasts and as long as the veterinarian has recommended (this goes for both medications as well as for food and water when your pup is sick).

If you found a puppy or your dog has stopped eating, and you can’t get to a vet right away, you can syringe feed your dog for two days before you must get an appointment at the vets! Never leave your dog without food or water for more than two days.

Vet’s Tip

Syringe feeding is not the same as having their regular diet, so if syringe feeding is continued for more than a few days, make sure to contact a vet.

How To Syringe Feed a Dog?
Step-By-Step Instructions

Step 1. Prepare the food

First of all, you need to prepare food (or water/medicine).

  • Use a blender, and add water if necessary.
  • Make sure you have all the amount of food you want to give your dog per meal (it can be more than 1 syringe).
  • The consistency of the food should be runny enough for it to flow through the syringe easily but not too watery so your dog will not aspirate it. 

 Step 2. Prepare the syringe

  • Wash the syringe before use and fill it with liquid.
  • Make sure you push out all the air before feeding.

You can buy different types and sizes of feeding syringes from pet stores or get a syringe from the pharmacy. Make sure the tip is wide enough for what you are planning to feed.

This Lixit Syringe is a great option for feeding dogs. 

Step 3. Be prepared

Next, have everything you need ready and within arm’s reach. This includes

  • Syringe or syringes filled with food or water
  • Paper towels or baby wipes to clean your dog
  • A towel to put under your dog to minimize the mess
how to syringe feed a dog

Step 4. Stay calm

It is critical that you take a deep breath and stay calm while syringe feeding your dog. It may take some time, your dog may refuse to take the syringe into its mouth, and it can get messy.

Still, it’s important to remain calm, as the dog will sense when you tense up and become more stressed.

Step 5. Feed slowly

  • Hold your dog firmly but gently to make them feel safe.
  • Place the tip of the syringe behind the canine’s fangs or at the corner of the mouth inside the cheek. Do not push the syringe down your dog’s throat.
  • Slowly push the piston of the syringe and allow the dog to swallow on its own. If the dog cannot swallow, you will lift its head slightly and massage its neck after pushing the liquid into its mouth.
  • If the dog is struggling, you will have to keep its head in a fixed position, but not with its chin too high to avoid choking.
  • You should be firm but gentle and never force your dog to take the syringe.
  • A 20 ml syringe should be emptied within 3-5 minutes.
  • Repeat if the dog needs to eat more than one syringe.

Vet’s Tip

Remember to reward your dog with praises after every mouthful. If your dog is allowed to eat normal food and you’re trying to restore its appetite, have some treats and its favorite foods at hand. Sometimes syringe feeding may encourage your dog to eat, and having their favorite snack ready may help them start eating again.

Bottom line – Syringe Feeding Dogs

Syringe feeding is an easy and temporary method of providing a minimum of nutrients and water (or medication) to a dog that does not want or cannot eat on its own.

It is a temporary “treatment” because you have to take your pet to the vet as soon as possible to establish a correct diagnosis and an appropriate treatment.

Still, syringe feeding can save your dog’s life, and with these instructions, you will be able to do it safely and successfully. 

Vet’s Comment

Having pets is a big responsibility that must be fulfilled every day! It’s excruciating to see your beloved pet suffering.

This is why it is necessary to take good care of your pet and have regular vet check-ups, so hopefully, you can avoid health issues that require syringe feeding.

Because a pet is a responsibility just like a child is, syringe feeding can be the life-saving solution when it refuses to eat. You can do this for up to two days until you have the opportunity to see a veterinarian.

Never let your pet go unfed for more than two days!

– Dr. Iulia Mihai, 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.

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