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Complete Syringe Feeding Guide

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Senior Guinea Pig
Jan 27, 2010
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If your guinea pig is not eating, it is important that you step in with syringe feeding as soon as possible to ensure that:
· Your pig does not lose weight
· The gut does not shut down
· They have enough energy to fight the health issue that has caused them to stop eating in the first place
It is advisable to always have some syringes, pellets or recovery food, probiotics and vitamin C ready at home, as most illnesses and many operations happen as an emergency. It is also important to weigh any healthy pigs weekly and ill pigs daily in order to catch any problems as early as possible.

Any guinea pig that is not eating properly or losing more than 60g/2 oz of weight needs to be seen by a vet as soon as possible. Syringe feeding plays an important part in the recovery and can make the difference in whether a pig survives. However, please note that hand feeding should not replace medical care.
Overview of recovery foods

The following products can be used for syringe feeding and can be obtained from your vets or online, mix according to the instructions on the packet:

· Oxbow Critical Care for Herbivores
also available as fine grind version, which is easier to syringe: Oxbow Animal Health | Critical Care Fine Grind Critical Care Fine Grind®

· Supreme Science Recovery for Herbivores

- Emeraid Herbivore: best liked by guinea pigs and can really help in an emergency and during the acute phase of a serious illness. For longer use it may be best used in combination with another product like Critical Care fine grind.
Emeraid Herbivore

· Any pelleted brand of dry food, soak in warm water, mash and leave to cool until about hand warm or room temperature
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Preparing for syringe feeding

You will also need a 1ml syringe as follows:

1ml syringes can be obtained from your vet or online. To use a 1ml syringe, cut the tip of the syringe off as shown below and if the syringe has a black plunger make sure that this is not able to go into the pig’s mouth.

Please do not use a syringe bigger than 1ml, especially if you are not experienced at syringe feeding. There is a risk of aspirating or choking the pig due to it being difficult to control how much food goes into the mouth with a bigger syringe.

Before you start feeding make sure that you have the following to hand:
· Mixed up syringe food
· Cut-off 1ml syringe
· Cup of water for rinsing the syringe as needed
· Cup of water for fluids (I will cover this later)
· Tissue or kitchen roll to mop up any spills, wipe chin etc
· Probiotic and Vitamin C (I will cover this later)
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How to handle and hold the piggy

Place the pig somewhere comfortable such as on a pillow on a smooth and stable surface. You can feed with the pig sat on your lap but this is not always the most practical position. It is, however, important to find a way that works best for you and your pig.

Very ill guinea pigs are usually not cooperative until they realise that syringe feed is contributing to making them feel better in themselves.

Alternatively, if your pig is likely to fidget or struggle, wrap the pig in a towel or use a product designed specifically for feeding or giving medication such as the following. A sealable medication pouch is better as guinea pigs are master wigglers!

How to syringe feed

Once everything is set up you are ready to start feeding. Please remember that syringe feeding is not a race and you need to go at the pig’s pace and not yours.
First of all, fill the syringe with food as shown:

Insert the syringe into the mouth from the side so that the tip of the syringe goes behind the front teeth.

This means that you are not syringing the food straight down the pig’s throat, which minimises the risk of choking.

Release the plunger slowly, aiming to give no more than half of the syringe at a time. Allow the pig to chew and when you think they are ready, insert the syringe again and give the other half. If you are experienced it is possible to give 1ml in one go but care needs to be taken not to give the pig more than they can cope with.

If you struggle to get the syringe into the mouth, gently place your hand over the top of the pig’s face so that your fingers are either side of the mouth, this makes the pig open their mouth enough to get the syringe in.

Here is a video courtesy of Cavy Corner sanctuary from one of their practice sessions for new intakes with water or the juice of veg, like cucumber, to get their guinea pigs used to the syringe. It pays to practise, as that is going to make it a lot easier when you have to syringe feed and medicate an uncooperative ill guinea pig.

It is also important to keep the pig hydrated whilst syringe feeding , therefore, for every 5ml of syringed food, give 1ml of fluids (this can include probiotics as mentioned below) or as much more as a guinea will willing take.

Please syringe fluids slowly, from the side of the mouth so that you don’t aspirate the pig. Make sure that you give to time to swallow. If your guinea pig is very small, weak or struggles to swallow, don't give more than 0.1 ml - max. 0.3 ml at once. A mouthful of water for adult guinea pigs is about 0.3 - 0.5 ml; anything more goes into the nose or the lungs where you do not want it!
How much and how often to syringe feed

A piggy needs different amounts of syringe feed and a different feeding regime depending on what kind of situation you are dealing with. If your guinea pig has still got its appetite, it may accept syringe feed in the cage and doesn't need to be taken out.
There are other recommendations for feeding higher amounts at the beginning of an illness, but in our experience this is not practicable.

Whilst feeding, use the separate cup of water to rinse the syringe so that it does not become clogged up.

Please weigh the pig daily when syringe feeding as this will enable you to monitor whether you are feeding enough to maintain their weight. Make a note of their weight and the amount of syringes given, together with any probiotics or vitamin C and fluids.

Severe illness and total loss of appetite:
This is an emergency situation! Your aim is to keep your piggy alive and the guts from closing down until it has been seen ideally as an emergency case by a vet and the medication is kicking in. Please check with your vet whether your piggy will additionally need painkillers and a gut stimulant.

Find more tips for post-operation care in this guide here: Tips For Post-operative Care

Feed little but often round the clock. 3-5ml is often what you can realistically feed in one session every 2-3 hours with a guinea pig that is in major discomfort and that may struggle to swallow. It is also very uncooperative at this stage, so brace yourself that it can be a rather messy affair!
Make sure that you do not give more than 0.5 ml (i.e. one mouthful) at once in order to avoid anything going down the wrong way, but be aware that a piggy may only be able to cope with as little as 0.1 ml in one go. When dealing with a very poorly piggy you are aiming to give about 2ml over the course of 10-15 minutes whilst giving the piggy plenty of time to swallow and be ready for more, but depending on the severity/weakness of a piggy, it could be less. Always make sure that a piggy has swallowed the previous lot before giving more.
Also syringe as much water as the piggy will take; it is very likely not drinking either! In severe cases, you may want to use dioralyte to help rehydrating a piggy. Have the vet check your piggy for dehydration when you have it seen.
Any bit of feed you can get in during this stage can make the difference, even if you cannot make the full 40-60ml in the course of 24 hours. You may find that your piggy is a bit more willing to eat familiar tasting mushed up pellets; it can also help if you use still hand-warm boiled water when feeding the syringe mix and when watering.

Illness or recovery with reduced appetite:
Please see a vet as soon as reasonably possible if your piggy is not eating properly and is losing weight! It will likely take a few days for your piggy to recover fully from their illness or an operation, and the tummy can stay tender afterwards for some time, especially with digestive problems. The appetite can return only slowly.

Unless you are dealing with a gut problem when veg needs to be introduced very slowly and carefully only after the guts have stabilised, you can start offering a little fresh grass, herb or veg treat either at the beginning of the feeding session or to give a few syringes of feed first in order to stimulate the appetite to encourage your piggy to eat for itself; try which method works best with your piggy!
Top up with hand feed as much as necessary. Aim for about 60-90ml and up it slowly in the degree your piggy is getting better until your piggy is eating the (healthy) equivalent of about 120ml in either hand feed or solids; old guinea pigs may need a bit less; the daily weigh-in will tell you. Keep on offering water with each session. You can also reduce the feeding interval to about 3-4 sessions in the course of a full day and night depending on how well a piggy is eating. 10-20ml is about the average amount you can feed in one session.

Weigh daily at the same time in the feeding cycle until your piggy has fully recovered, then go back to a weekly weigh-in.

Dental guinea pigs or guinea pigs on long term syringe feed:
These guinea pigs are generally not ill as such and are often very hungry. Aim for about 120ml in the course of a day; older guinea pigs will need less to maintain their weight. If necessary, weigh them daily to find out how much they need to maintain/regain their normal weight.

You may need to continue syringe feeding after dental treatment at the vets, as the mouth can be very painful for a while and a piggy needs to learn to chew again. It may also need a second round of treatment until the teeth are grinding down evenly again. Please open a thread in our health/illness section for advice and support by our dental expert.

You can feed juiced or grated veg, but please keep in mind that this shouldn’t make more than 10-15% of the daily intake; the rest should be fibrous for good gut and general health. It can cause gassing in some cases.

What to do in an emergency:
- always check for out-of-hours services in your area and see a vet as soon as you can; you will have to continue syringe syringe feeding and watering until the medication is kicking in and your guinea pig is well enough to hold its weight again; that usually takes several days.

- make up feed with mushing pellets that you have to hand (see above). Try to feed as much as your guinea pig will take; little but often around the clock. See tips for severe illness.

- if you can't get to a vet or a night pharmacy to get a syringe straight away and don't have one at home in your guinea pig first aid kit, try a spoon or an artist's brush that you dip into into the syringe feed mix. Get a syringe as soon as possible, please!
First Aid Kit For Guinea Pigs
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Probiotics and vitamin c (with product links)

During syringe feeding it is also a good idea to give both probiotics and vitamin C. The following products are suitable.

Avipro Plus (available online):

Bio Lapis (available from the vets or online):

Fibreplex (available from the vets or online):

Pro C (available from pets at Home and other pet shops):

For Vitamin C, the Daily C tablets from Oxbow are excellent:

Probiotics should be given as much as possible throughout the day. However, if the pig is on antibiotics there needs to be at least an hour gap between the two.
Aim for at least 5ml of probiotic each time it is given. This dose applies to Avipro, Bio Lapis and Pro C. For Fibreplex, give as stated on the tube.
Probiotics can be given for as long as needed and ideally should be continued for at least 10 days after a course of antibiotics has finished.

Easy to come by home products:

Alternatively or additionally to probiotics, you can give 'poo soup' - the water in which very freshly made poos from a healthy piggy have been soaked. This mimics natural behaviour in which recovering piggies pick poos straight from the opening of their healthy comrades. Redigested poos would be ideal, but are hard to come by, but even normal waste poos will do. If the poos are pretty much fresh from he source, poo soup can be very effective; more so than probiotic powder!

For Vitamin C, in an emergency it is possible to give a vitamin C tablet from the supermarket at a dose of 1/4 to 1/8 of the tablet.
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Additional information

Further information on hand feeding and recovery care can be found here:

You are most welcome to ask any questions about care at home and get ongoing support from knowledgeable forum members in this section. Guinea pigs are small animals that go downhill quickly when not eating. Please do not dither and wait! See your vet as an emergency as soon as there is a deterioration or if a piggy is not showing any signs of getting better.
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