Syringe Feeding Guinea Pigs
Please be aware that you must seek the advice of a veterinary surgeon as soon as possible to determine the cause of your guinea pig’s refusal to eat. If your guinea pig appears bloated and is not pooping, then please do not syringe feed anything until an emergency consultation with the vet has ruled out a blockage.
Why Syringe Feed Your Guinea Pig?
There may come a time in your guinea pigs life when, for whatever reason, she (or he) stops eating. This is more often than not because of illness, most commonly dental problems and oral infections (fungal and bacterial) and general conditions which cause pain, like cystitis (urinary tract infections/UTIs). Even if the initial problem is nothing concerning the teeth, it is possible that a guinea’s teeth will overgrow while not eating any foods for herself, hence routine checks should be carried out to ensure that any problems with the teeth are caught sooner rather than later.
It helps to identify the specific problem – not only speaking in terms of what illness the pig is suffering in order to treat the root cause of the refusal to eat, but the exact problem that the pig has with eating. Is the guinea pig refusing to eat because?
– She is unable to eat?
Is she picking at foods, showing an interest in them, but quickly giving up after a sniff or a bite of even favorite foods, or starting to chew foods then spitting them out/”gagging” on them?
– She has lost her appetite? This would be indicated by a complete lack of interest in any food, even if favorite foods are placed close by.
Don’t Force Feed
Please note that if your guinea pig is unable or unwilling to chew and swallow anything you put into her mouth, you must not try to force her to swallow and you must stop syringe feeding at once.
Seek veterinary assistance urgently if this is the case, but be aware that if she is not swallowing, there may not be a lot that can be done. However, seeking the assistance of a vet is still important as the vet can administer pain relief and fluids by injection, which will make her comfortable if nothing else.
Getting a guinea pig to start eating for herself again is something that requires patience and perseverance, and depends on the cause of the refusal to eat, the treatment for the cause and how well the pig herself deals with being “under the weather”.
Sometimes it takes days, sometimes it takes months to get her eating again – every pig is different. Something else to remember is that while you need to monitor food intake and fecal output (poops), you don’t want to isolate the guinea entirely as this can have a more harmful effect on her recovery.
If you can keep her in a cage directly next to her fellow guinea pig friends (or the same cage, just divided down the middle), then do. This way she is close by her friends, so her morale is less likely to drop entirely, yet you are able to watch what she has eaten herself and whether her feces are normal. The only exception to this would be if the poorly guinea has an infectious illness that poses a significant threat to the health of your other guineas. Please discuss this with your vet if you are unsure.
What tools are needed for syringe-feeding?
- A bowl and spoon – to mix up the syringe-food;
- A handful of 1ml syringes – you may like to prepare multiple syringes by filling them prior to starting the feeding, or just refill a single syringe as required;
- Soft kitchen roll / small facecloth (flannel) – to clean up any food spilt from the mouth;
- Syringe-feeding chart – to monitor how much you are feeding and how often.
You will need to cut the tip off at the very top of the barrel of the 1ml syringe (as shown in the photos), this creates a hole the size of the actual barrel, making it very easy for the foods to be sucked up and administered. If you are creating your own feed by soaking your guinea pigs plain nuggets, you will probably find that the paste is very smooth and does not contain the small fibrous bits and pieces like the ready-made preparations do, hence the paste may be thin enough pass through the syringe without the need to cut the tip off.
The Importance of Weight Checks – Weigh Daily!
It is another invaluable habit to weigh daily while your pig is unwell. Make sure you weigh at the same time each day (e.g. just before the first feed of the day); do so until your guinea pig is eating well for herself and is able to maintain her own weight.
If your guinea is losing weight, then it’s very likely that you are either not feeding enough, and/or not feeding often enough. There are particular medical conditions whereby no matter how much you syringe-feed, the guinea just won’t maintain or gain any weight – such examples include endoparasitic problems (internal parasites) and systemic mycosis (internal fungal infections, including oral), which can affect the absorption of nutrients through the gut wall.
In such cases, treatment for the medical problem must be started quickly and you should continue with the syringe-feeding until the guinea is able to maintain and/or gain weight by eating independently. What do I feed my poorly guinea pig? There is quite a wide choice, it can be a little confusing about what’s “best” to choose.
The important thing to bear in mind is that you must ensure the food contains a high level of Vitamin C, and a high percentage of fiber. This can be achieved by: buying a ready-made powder preparation for herbivores; using a normal plain nugget feed for guinea pigs containing stabilized Vitamin C; or by adding a Vitamin C supplement (dose: 100mg) or mixing in a safe vegetable- or fruit-based baby food puree.
Tried and Tested Syringe-Foods Include:
Ready-made commercial preparations:
– Oxbow Critical Care;
– Oxbow Critical Care Fine Grind;
– Supreme Science Recovery;
– Galen’s Garden Nutri Powder.
Regular guinea pig dry food (plain nuggets) successfully used:
– Burgess Excel Guinea Pig Tasty Nuggets – original flavor
– Burgess Excel Guinea Pig Tasty Nuggets – Blackcurrent & Oregano flavor
– Supreme Science Selective Guinea Pig nuggets
– Oxbow Cavy Cuisine pellets.
Safe baby food purees to mix in (do not give independently):
– Organix Sweet Potato & Carrot
– Ella’s Kitchen Organic Sweet Potato, Broccoli & Carrot
– Ella’s Kitchen Organic Sweetcorn
Pumpkin & Peas Baby fruit purees may also be used, but as with the vegetable purees, only use mixed in with the fibre-rich syringe food. The technique for making a home-made mash with the usual plain pellets is to place a small handful (10g) of nuggets into a bowl, pour enough boiled water over them to just cover all of them, and allow to soak and cool for around 5-10 minutes. Then use a spoon or a fork to thoroughly mash the soggy nuggets, turning them into a paste that is usually smooth enough to go through a 1ml syringe with the tip still on.
How much and how often should I syringe-feed?
It is much better to feed small amounts frequently than to give large feeds infrequently – although it must be said that any food at all will make a difference to the pig.
It is important to remember that the most benefit is achieved by feeding as “normally” as possible. As your guinea will need feeding regularly, an issue can arise when you have to go to work for a 4+ hour day; in such cases, it is advisable to find someone experienced with syringe-feeding guineas to look after your guinea during the day.
Minimum Amount Per Feed
The minimum amount per feed does depend a little on how often you are feeding and if the pig is eating anything for herself at all, but as a general guideline you should be aiming for an absolute bare minimum 10ml per feed, ideally 20ml.
How Often to Feed
Aim to feed every 3-4 hours at least, more often if feeding less at a feed, and include an overnight feed. You need an absolute daily minimum of 60ml, the ideal minimum is double that at 120ml, and it also must be enough to maintain the guineas weight. In order to maintain their strength and overcome illness, guinea pigs need sufficient amounts of food going in as regularly as possible.
The less food going in, the weaker the pig, the less chance of recovery. How do I feed and how fast should I feed?
How to Syringe Feed a Guinea Pig
To get the food into your Guinea pig, the syringe is inserted into the mouth via the diastema –the gap at the side of the mouth into the space behind the incisors – with the syringe pointing towards the fleshy cheek pads. As a general rule, if she stops chewing at any time then she stops swallowing, so do make absolutely sure she is swallowing the food and not just letting it build up in her mouth. For this reason, you should either feed as the pig takes the syringe for herself, and/or you should give only 0.3ml at a time and allow the pig to chew for at least 15-20 seconds or until you hear her swallow, before feeding a little more.
Over time, when you become more experienced and confident at syringe-feeding, you will generally be able to reach a safe average rate of 1ml per minute – but this will vary depending on the individual pig you are feeding and the condition they are in. Some pigs will require much more careful, slow feeding e.g. pigs with respiratory difficulties, while others will actually “drink” all the food from the syringe and may get through as much as 30ml in as little as 10-15 minutes.
The important thing to bear in mind is the circumstances and habits of the individual pig, never try to give a feed too quickly, but likewise try not to let a feed drag on for so long whereby you’re only managing 5ml over the course of an hour or more.
What about water?
At this stage, syringing fluids (water) can also be mentioned. Fluids are important. Your guinea pig will be getting quite a lot of fluid from her syringe-food preparation, but syringing plain water is still going to be beneficial. It can help to alternate small mouthfuls of food and water, or to perhaps give a syringe of water in between every 1ml of syringe-food you get into her.
Any Other Tips For a Guinea Pig Who Isn’t Eating?
Providing the syringe-food or softened nuggets in a bowl at all times, in addition to the actual syringe feeds, is a worthwhile tip to remember. It’s reassuring to know that, when the pig is ready to start eating more independently, or when the pig feels hungry and you’re not around, then she could figure out to help herself to some food that she is actually able to eat. Don’t let this method replace syringe-feeding though, unless she is able to maintain her weight herself by eating the soft food independently.
It goes without saying that you should always have plenty of hay on offer, along with water and normal dry food, and do keep trying to spark an appetite by offering different types of hay and fresh fruits and vegetables frequently throughout the day.
A B-vitamin supplement, specifically Metatone tonic (sold for humans in most pharmacies and supermarkets) can also sometimes help to stimulate the appetite; the dosage for an adult guinea pig (6 months old plus) is 0.5ml once daily, reduced to 0.3ml once daily from the second week until you’re able to stop giving it altogether.
How do I wean a guinea off syringe feeds?
Most guinea pigs will start eating for themselves as soon as they are able to do so comfortably. However, some will enjoy the ease of being fed by syringe, and this should be carefully monitored as you don’t want her to be too reliant on you when it’s not entirely necessary.
When your guinea pig has received a clean bill of health e.g. any illness has cleared, the teeth are growing in correctly, then it’s time to “test the waters” a little – start reducing the amount you feed, first of all. Instead of giving 20ml every 3-4 hours, give 10ml every 3-4 hours instead. Stick with this for at least a couple of days if possible, and be sure to stimulate her appetite as much as you can by providing the normal foods and introducing new types of hay, and if you wish consider supplementing with Metatone tonic.
Don’t Forget to Weigh Your Guinea Pig
When you are attempting to encourage a much more normal way of eating, weigh your guinea before every feed. This way you are able to see if she has been able to maintain her weight in the time since her previous feed. Once you are able to confirm she is eating something by herself, enough to maintain her weight between feeds, then you can work towards cutting the feeds down to just two a day; one in the morning, one in the evening.
Continue to weigh daily until you know she’s back to normal. It should be said that some guineas will need syringe feeding for many months, perhaps for the rest of their lives, due to chronic dental problems. After the initial dental difficulties have been addressed, and once these guinea pigs are in better physical condition, they can often be sustained on two or three feeds per day in addition to their own attempts to eat soft or hard foods independently.
To summarize all the information in the article and to help you turn it into practical use, the following points should be remembered.
For a guinea pig who is not eating anything at all:
- Feed every 3-4 hours minimum.
- Minimum 10ml, ideal 20ml, per feed.
- Put the syringe in the mouth via the diastema –the gap at the side of the mouth into the space behind the incisors – and aim the syringe towards the fleshy cheek pads.
- Approx. 0.3ml per mouthful; do not try to put the full 1ml into the mouth at once, particularly if the pig is not willingly taking the syringe.
- Let the pig chew and swallow the food before giving more.
- Give small mouthfuls of water (0.2ml) at regular intervals or alternate syringes of food and water.
- Finish every feed with a few mouthfuls of plain water, to prevent the guinea letting the food sit in the back of the mouth.
- Offer the syringe-food and/or soggy nuggets in a bowl at all times alongside their normal food. Refresh the softened food and fresh fruit and veg at least 2-3 times daily.
- Weigh daily. To wean a guinea off syringe-feeds:
- Feed less per feed e.g. 10ml instead of 20ml.
- Feed as frequently as normal at first.
- Weigh before every feed.
- Work towards feeding only twice a day; this can be two larger (20ml+) feeds if necessary.
A demonstration in person is the best way to learn how to syringe feed. However, it is not impossible to teach yourself, and hands-on practice over time is the best way to learn and “perfect” your skill – but having someone show you how it’s done goes a long way when you’re taking the first steps on what can be, at times, a stressful journey.