Syringe Feeding Herbivorous Small Mammals


Mild to moderately ill herbivores are often syringe fed, and proper syringe-feeding technique is an essential skill in the care of the rabbit, chinchilla, and guinea pig.

Gastrointestinal stasis is one of the most common medical problems seen in small herbivores. A cornerstone of treatment is delivery of food containing high dietary fiber. Aggressive fluid therapy, often in the form of oral and subcutaneous fluids, is also crucial for successful management. Always address dehydration before beginning nutritional support.



Video produced by Dr. M. Scott Echols and narrated by Dr. Susan Orosz.

Equipment needed

  • High-fiber diet such as EmerAid Herbivore
  • Towel
  • Hard, flat surface like an exam table
  • Syringes of appropriate size

Some prefer to use 1-ml syringes while others prefer 10-ml oral syringes or 60-ml catheter tip syringes. When using a catheter-tip syringe, attach a short, cut segment of red rubber catheter so that administration of food is gentle and controlled.


Potential complication

The most important potential complication associated with force-feeding is aspiration of formula. Depending on the volume inhaled, aspiration can result in acute airway obstruction and death, or aspiration pneumonia, which will complicate recovery and can also result in death.


Step-by-step instructions

  1. Prepare formula fresh for each feeding. Follow label directions since formula that is too watery will increase the risk of aspiration.
  2. Place a towel on a hard, flat surface, then place your patient in the center of the towel.Create a rabbit or rodent “burrito” by first covering the rump, then fold toweling over each side. Tuck any remaining material under the chin and over the forefeet.Step 2 - "bunny burrito"
  3. Tuck the pet against your side using your forearm.Step 3 - Tuck into elbowGently grasp the head with that hand, placing an index finger directly under the chin, and a thumb at the base of the skull. Place remaining fingers on the chest to prevent the animal from moving forward.
    Grab head
  4. Although the animal’s head may be gently elevated, it is less stressful for your patient if you lower your head in order to visualize the mouth and to monitor chewing.
  5. Gently insert the syringe into the diastema, or the gap between the incisors and cheek teeth.Step 5 - insert the syringe into the diastema
  6. The first mouthful fed should be no more than 0.2 to 0.5 ml of formula to make sure the animal actively chews. Never feed more than 1 ml of formula at a time, and never dispense food while the animal is vocalizing since these practices increase the risk of aspiration.
  7. Go slowly. Syringe feeding is typically a time-consuming process that requires patience.
  8. Follow the meal by syringing at least 5-10 ml of water. If the gut is moving slowly, this will minimize the risk of the food bolus drying out as it sits within the stomach. Additionally, subcutaneous fluids can be administered to ensure hydration.

Small herbivores need more roughage or “scratch factor” in their diet long-term. EmerAid Intensive Care Herbivore should not be fed for more than 7 to 10 days, however EmerAid Sustain Herbivore can be offered long term.



Ackerman N. Companion Animal Nutrition: A Manual for Veterinary Nurses and Technicians. Butterworth Heinemann Elsevier , St. Louis, 2008.

Howell CM, Brown C. Assisted feeding for small herbivores. Lab Anim 37(6):251-252, 2008.

Paul-Murpy J. Critical care of the rabbit. Vet Clin North America Exotic Animal Practice 10(2):442, 2007.

Vennen KM, Mitchell MA. Rabbits. In: Manual of Exotic Pet Practice. Mitchell MA, Tully TN (eds). Saunders, St. Louis, 2009. P. 400.

To cite this page:

Pollock C. Syringe feeding herbivorous small mammals. LafeberVet website. December 11, 2010. Available at