Force-feeding a bunny might seem an easy feat.
But remember, they have a small fragile body.
Plus, they’re naturally fearful too.
This is why they’re more prone to injuries than other bigger animals.
So, what’s the proper way to handle them?
And how should you do this without compromising their safety?
Keep reading to discover:
- 13 safety tips on how to force-feed your rabbit.
- Ways to keep your bunny relaxed while doing this.
- Signs you should look out for when syringe feeding them.
- Why they refuse to eat and why you should be worried about it.
- And a lot more…
Why won’t my rabbit eat?
Your rabbit won’t eat because they’re sick. The most common causes are stomach issues. As well as stress and dental diseases. Diet changes can upset a rabbit’s stomach. And they’ll also suffer from diarrhea. While gut stasis or the slowing down of the stomach is possible too. And this can be fatal.
But did your rabbit undergo surgery?
If so, it’s also normal for them to have a lack of appetite.
Now, for bigger animals like dogs and cats…
Skipping a meal may not immediately put their lives at risk.
However, for smaller pets such as rabbits, it could be life-threatening.
Specialists say that bunnies eat to keep their stomachs going.
This is why you often see your fur baby graze hay from time to time. As it also helps with their digestion.
So if they consume nothing for long hours, they’re at risk of many illnesses. Such as:
- Liver diseases.
- Stomach blockage.
In this case, you need to force-feed your bunny. And using a syringe is the best way to do it.
This is to make sure that they’re getting enough nutrients every day. While they’re recovering from an illness.
But how will you do it?
Let’s dive right in.
13 tips to safely force-feed a rabbit (rabbit syringe feeding)
#1: Consult a vet first
As I said earlier, there are many reasons why rabbits stop eating.
One of those is an intestinal blockage.
And adding more food to the system of a rabbit who has this will only worsen their condition.
“How do rabbits develop it?”
It’s caused by eating a huge amount of non-food items. Like cardboard, fur, carpet fibers, or plastic.
Bunnies groom themselves a lot. So they may ingest a lot of hair while doing it.
But Merck Vets also say that this could be due to boredom.
“What are its symptoms?”
PetMD says that bunnies will usually show these signs:
- Small droppings.
- Excessive drooling.
- Having a distended abdomen.
This is a serious medical concern. And it could even lead to death.
So before proceeding, it’s best to seek help from an expert first. Specifically from an exotic veterinarian.
First, vets can rule out an obstruction through an x-ray. And surgery will be needed to remove the foreign object inside.
If this isn’t the case (which I hope so!), they’ll also give your bunny the right medication for their problem.
Your vet will also tell you how much food your bunny needs. Which is based on their size and weight.
As well as the kind of rabbit food formula that suits your rabbit best.
And lastly, they’ll give you some advice on how to syringe feed your bunny too.
Note: Usually, vets will also let you know of a treatment plan. This includes your bunny’s feeding schedule. So, you can print or write the schedule down. Or you may set a reminder in your phone.
You may also like: 21 Effective Tips To Treat A Sick Rabbit At Home (How-To)
#2: Prepare the items needed
Next, if you have your vet’s go-signal, you may now buy the items and tools needed in force-feeding.
The most important one is the syringe.
Oftentimes, you can get this from your vet. But if not, it’s also available at a pet shop or a pharmacy store.
Now, syringes come in many sizes.
So you might wonder,
“What kind of syringe should I get for my bunny?”
Your vet will also give you advice on this.
A large plastic syringe can hold a big amount of food. And it also has a huge bore. So it permits a thicker formula.
However, it’s important to feed your rabbit only small amounts of food at a time.
So if it’s your first time, using a large syringe might not give you the best control.
For this, and also if your bunny is hard to force-feed, you’ll have to go for a 1 ml syringe instead. And it looks like this.
Some pet-owners will cut its barrel off to make the bore a bit larger.
However, be careful as the rubber bung inside may come out. And your bunny might ingest it.
Also, unlike the larger one, you’ll have to refill the 1 ml syringe many times.
But, it’ll be wiser if you have them pre-filled before you feed your rabbit.
Other tools needed
- Vet-prescribed rabbit food formula (e.g., Critical Care).
- Clean towels (at least 3 – I’ll discuss where you’ll use them shortly).
Note: Buy at least 2 pieces of syringe. So that you have a backup if the other one gets blocked. And if you’re going to use a 1 ml syringe and fill it beforehand, calculate how many pieces you need. Based on the dosage that your vet gave.
#3: Mix the food formula well
In creating the mixture for your bunny, make sure that it isn’t too thick or watery.
The first one will make pushing the syringe harder. And the formula may not also come out well.
While the latter might cause aspiration.
Or when the liquid enters your rabbit’s lungs or airway by accident. And this could result in pneumonia.
What to do?
- Blend the formula by following the instructions on the product’s packaging. As well as your vet’s orders about the dosage.
- Mix the ingredients well. (Make sure to create a fresh formula every feeding time.)
- Slowly add a small amount of water. Until you achieve the right consistency. (We’ve talked about this earlier.)
- Then, fill your syringe with the recommended dosage.
#4: Find a peaceful feeding area
Syringe feeding is surely not an enjoyable activity for bunnies.
It’ll be stressful.
So, they may try to escape or show frustration. Either by digging or biting you.
And you certainly want to avoid this kind of behavior while feeding them. To make the process safer and faster.
So, how can you prevent this?
By keeping them calm.
The first step that you have to do is to look for a quiet area to feed them.
Preferably a place with minimal distractions. Say, external noises and other animals or people.
It’s because rabbits have incredible senses. And these help them survive in the wild as prey animals.
So, they can be distracted by even the slightest sounds. As well as get startled by one quick movement.
Some more reminders
- In other cases, feeding your rabbit in an unfamiliar place may help them focus.
- You may shut the curtains or close the doors to block external sounds and views.
- Make sure to put all the materials needed in your chosen spot. And that they’re all within your reach.
Interesting fact: Research says that rabbits have extra sensitive ears. And they also have a wide field of vision. Which is an overlapping 190°.
#5: Calm your rabbit and yourself
Keeping your bunny calm doesn’t end with finding a quiet spot.
You still need to make them feel comfier. This is to ensure that they’re relaxed before feeding starts.
Remember, your rabbit doesn’t feel well right now. And they’re probably grumpy too.
So, keep your composure as well. Then do your best to make them feel calmer.
Rabbits don’t usually feel safe when touched or picked up.
So, get down to their level and talk to them with a soft voice first.
Then avoid moving fast or creating loud noises.
If they seem fine, try to rub their forehead and ears gently. Doing this can help lessen their stress. As well as anxiety.
Note: You’ll know if a rabbit is anxious if they display these signs as per PDSA:
- Leg thumping.
- Flattened ears.
- Trying to run away.
- A stiff or crouched body.
- Absence of nose twitching.
#6: Place them on an elevated surface
Most fur parents and vets recommend placing rabbits on a high surface.
Because in this way, you can easily show their mouth while feeding them. And you’ll also hold them still a lot easier.
This can be a table, countertop, or washing machine. Or any height that’s up to your waist.
Before putting your rabbit down, place something with a good grip first. Like a clean towel.
Tables and countertops have slippery surfaces. So putting a towel down will make them feel safer. As well as comfier.
Note: Be careful when picking up your bunny. Although they’re already used to being held before. They might not be in a good mood at the moment. So they may be shocked.
While holding them, ensure that you support their back. As well as their limbs. And hold them firmly – but not too tight.
#7: Take their temperature
I know you’ve already gone to the vet.
But, it’s also best if you can get your rabbit’s temperature again before feeding them.
This is to make sure that they can swallow well.
According to experts, rabbits have a normal body temperature of 102 °F to 103 ° (38 °C to 39 °C).
And if your bunny has a temperature lower than 99 °F (37 °C), they might have trouble swallowing food.
So if this happens, call your vet at once for advice.
Note: Watch this short clip to know how to get a rabbit’s temperature:
#8: Make a ‘bunny burrito’
If your rabbit is still nervous and resisting…
You could also wrap them securely in a towel.
This will be helpful if your bunny’s wiggling nonstop. As covering their body with a soft towel can restrict their movement.
What to do?
- Just lay down another clean towel on the surface they’re on.
- Keep them in a normal standing position.
- Then wrap all the sides of their body with it securely but not too tight. (Like you’re making a cute bunny burrito!)
#9: Assume the right feeding position
Syringe feeding a bunny is already a challenging task.
But it’ll be a lot harder if you’re not in the right feeding position.
“So, what’s the correct or easier way to do it?”
Follow these simple steps:
Now that your rabbit is placed on a higher surface…
- Position your rabbit horizontally. (Or you can also put their head facing away from you.)
- Move them closer to you. Then slowly push your chest on them.
- Place both of your arms on the surface of the table.
- Surround your rabbit on both sides.
- Hold the syringe with your dominant hand.
- Then put your less dominant one under their chin.
- Gently hold and lift up your rabbit’s head. (Until you can see their lips.)
- Introduce the tip of the syringe on one side of their mouth. (Not in the front because their incisor teeth are there.)
#10: Ensure to give them the correct dosage
While feeding them, you should stick to your vet’s orders.
This includes the amount of food your bunny needs in one feeding.
And this is because those were calculated based on your rabbit’s daily fluid needs. As well as calorie intake.
So, the dosage for a different bunny will not work on your fur baby. And vice versa.
What to do?
If you’ve already inserted the syringe in their mouth, slowly push it. Then watch the measurements closely.
I repeat, monitor the measurements as you feed your bunny.
This is because you may overfeed them. And the formula might enter their lungs instead.
Usually, the first dose of food is only 0.2 ml.
Then the next ones will be 1 ml. Until you complete your vet’s prescribed dosage.
How often should they be fed?
This will depend on your vet’s feeding schedule.
But to give you an idea (don’t only refer to this), doctors usually say that rabbits must be fed every 2 to 6 hours.
Smaller bunnies may need more frequent feeding times.
So if you could only give your rabbit a little amount of food as they’re refusing or resisting…
You can halt the mission for now. Then attempt to do it again after 10 to 15 minutes.
(Don’t let your rabbit starve any longer than this. As they need to intake food from time to time.)
Note: Rabbits will mostly object to the syringe at first. But when they realize that there’s food and it’s repeated again, they’ll take it well.
Reading recommendation: 17 Weird Reasons Why Baby Rabbits Die Suddenly + 5 Tips
#11: Go slow and be patient
Now, this is also one of the most important tips to ensure your bunny’s safety.
This might be called ‘force-feeding.’
But, you don’t need to use force to do this.
Instead, try to be as gentle and patient as possible. As rushing your rabbit to eat will only make things worse.
You already know that they should be fed only in small amounts at a time. To avoid overfeeding.
But, it’s also advised to take it slow.
Let your rabbit rest in-between each dose.
This is to give them time to swallow and chew the food you injected. Which prevents them from being choked.
You’ll know if your bunny is still eating if their nose is wiggling.
Then, check if they’re already finished before you give them the next dose.
Also, be patient.
This syringe feeding can take a lot of your time. As well as your patience.
So make sure that you’re free. And that you shouldn’t expect it to finish early and go exactly the way you planned it.
Note: This is also going to be messy. So prepare another towel to wipe your bunny’s face after the session.
#12: Talk softly and praise them
You may have already done this before feeding your rabbit.
But still, don’t forget to speak to your bunny as you feed them.
Say positive phrases in a soft and sweet voice. Like “good bunny” or “great job.”
Especially when they’re taking the formula well.
Again, be gentle. And do your best to make your rabbit feel less stressed while feeding them.
#13: Watch them closely as you feed them
Last but not least, monitor your rabbit during the process.
Look out for any signs of aspiration, like:
- Frothing from their nose.
These are symptoms that may tell you that your bunny is in trouble. And they’re at risk of pneumonia.
Note: If your bunny shows any of the signs above, bring them to the vet immediately. As well as if they keep refusing to eat from a syringe. Even after trying all these tips.
Remember, it’s better safe than sorry. So take fast actions for your rabbit’s safety. 🙂