Rabbits naturally eat all throughout the day and night. However, a sick bun or a rabbit in pain may not eat as much as they should, or stop eating completely. Those recovering from surgery or coming out of anesthesia may lose their appetite, too. In dogs 🐕 and cats 🐈, a missed meal or two is usually no big deal. But for small pets like rabbits and guinea pigs, it can become a matter of life or death. While syringe feeding a rabbit can be messy, it's surely necessary in some situations.
Why Syringe Feeding is Necessary
Even a few hours without food can cause a rabbit's digestive system to shut down. Once this happens, you have a much bigger problem on top of what caused the disinterest in food in the first place. Getting food moving through as soon as possible after they come home from surgery, or when you notice your rabbit isn't eating, is vital to recovery.
A word of warning: If a blockage is suspected, do NOT force feed a rabbit. Your vet will usually rule out a blockage with an X-ray, but be sure to tell them if your rabbit possibly got into something he shouldn't have.
Talk to your vet about ready-to-mix feeds made especially for syringe feeding. These formulas usually contain all the nutrients a recovering rabbit needs to survive until he starts eating a full, balanced diet on his own again. These formulas are user-friendly and easy to prepare, but we all know rabbits have a secret (so they think) pact to only stop eating after 5 p.m., on holidays, and on weekends when their exotic vet isn't on duty.
In a pinch, try soaking some of your rabbit's pellets in warm water to make a mash. You can add some 100% pure canned pumpkin or vegetable baby food to make it more palatable. Mixing in little banana puree or blending the pellet mash with some of his favorite fresh greens may entice your bunny to take the syringe feed willingly. Add water to your mixture until you find a consistency you and your rabbit can agree on.
Or try some of our Nutri-Recovery or Nutri-Rescue. Nutrition support that's easy to administer, and more complete than anything else on the market. Comes in an easy dial-a-dose syringe, and has a paste consistency making it easier to syringe-feed. ⬇️⬇️⬇️
Tips and Tricks
This is going to get messy. Probably not fun-messy either. There's no way around it, but it needs to be done. Your vet can demonstrate proper technique for syringe feeding your rabbit... and they'll probably calmly cooperate. Once you get home, they'll then proceed to throw a fit. Your rabbit may say things he doesn't mean right now, but they will feel better, recover faster, and thank you in the end. Your rabbit is already grumpy and not feeling his best, so remain patient, tell him he's handsome, and take your time. It'll get easier for both of you. Promise.
Many find it easiest to place the rabbit on a table and sit in front of him for feeding sessions. Always keep your rabbit calm and in a natural standing position so he doesn't choke. Putting your finger and thumb on either side of the jaw can give gentle control of the head in case he tries to turn away from the syringe. Don't let him bite off more than he can chew to avoid aspiration. Approach from the side, not too far back, and aim for the gap next to the front teeth. As a general rule, give no more than 1 ml at a time. If you avoid angling the syringe directly down the throat, you'll prevent the slurry from going into the lungs if too much comes out at once.
Many rabbits find smaller syringes less annoying being stuffed behind their incisors, but see what works best for you and your rabbit. Allow plenty of time for him to chew and swallow. You may find your rabbit cooperates more as he gets used to the process (and starts to feel better), and the process will take less time.
Enticing Your Rabbit to Eat Again
If your rabbit isn't eating at all, he will need to be force fed every few hours, even throughout the night. Rabbits don't eat a few meals a day like we do. They need to have high-fiber food moving through continuously to keep their GI tract functioning properly.
Syringe feeding can stimulate your rabbits appetite. Offer fresh parsley and other fragrant, tasty herbs throughout the day. He may eventually take a nibble. Even waving tempting treat foods in front of him can entice your annoyed rabbit to take a bite and decide food isn't so bad after all. Make sure a big pile of fresh hay is avaialble at all times for when he does decide to give eating a go again.
Syringe feeding rabbits by hand can make a world of difference when they are under the weather. Always make sure the cause of the appetite issue is identified with your rabbit's exotic vet. Not eating is a symptom of an underlying problem. A rabbit that isn't eating is usually sick, in pain, or maybe even having a bad reaction to a medicine. Your vet will come up with a treatment plan to go hand-in-hand with syringe feeding until he's on the mend.