Tube Feeding Puppies
One Easter Sunday I taught an 11 year old boy to tube feed a litter of beagle puppies. If he could do it, so can you! The following instructions and supplies will allow you to be a confident and successful tube feeding person.
When it comes to tube feeding a puppy, first you’ll need to get together your materials:
- Commercial puppy milk replacer preferred such as Breeder’s Edge Foster Care.
- Feeding tube, silicone or red rubber feeding tube 8 to 14 French based on the size of the puppy.
- Rectal thermometer and Vaseline.
- Permanent magic marker.
- Syringe of appropriate size with tip that fits the tube (10 to 60 cc).
- Puppy scale that weighs in grams and ounces.
Once you have these supplies, you can begin the process of tube feeding. Puppies can be tube fed until they refuse the tube. We’re going to show you how tube feeding is done using this stuffed animal, diagrams and video I’ve taken of tube feeding being done.
12 Steps For Tube Feeding a Puppy:
- Establish a well-lit warm location where you can hold the pup comfortably and all materials are within reach. Be attentive and do not rush.
- Take the puppy’s temperature rectally – do NOT feed unless the rectal temperature is between 96 degrees F and 99 degrees F. If the puppy’s temperature is below 96 degrees F, slowly warm the pup before feeding.
- On a safe surface, hold the pup with the neck extended. Hold the tapered end of the feeding tube even with the last rib of the largest pup to be fed. Lay the tube along the side of the pup, mark the tube with a permanent magic marker, even with the tip of the pup’s nose.
- Fill the syringe with the calculated amount of formula or milk (20 cc/16 oz body weight or approximately 1 cc per ounce) plus 1 cc of air. Warm the formula to body temperature in a warm water bath – avoid microwaving the milk or formula.
- Attach the syringe to the feeding tube.
- With you and the pup fully awake and warm (pup over 96 degrees F rectal temp) lying horizontally on the chest, gently pass the tube on the left side of the center of the pups tongue, applying gentle pressure to slide the tube up to the mark. If resistance is met, remove tube and start over.
- With your left hand if you are right handed, cup your left hand around the back of the pup’s head and hold the tube between your index and middle finger to prevent it from moving out of the correct position while feeding. Reverse if you are left-handed.
- BEFORE FEEDING, firmly pinch the pup on the foot or tail. If you can hear the pup vocalizing, the tube placement is correct and you can proceed with feeding. If the tube is mistakenly in the trachea, the pup will struggle but will not be able to make any sound – STOP IMMEDIATELY, REMOVE THE TUBE AND START THE PROCESS OVER.
- With your right hand, depress the plunger on the syringe, NOT too quickly, delivering the calculated amount, stopping sooner should milk reflux out of the pup’s mouth or nose.
- Flex the tube on itself to prevent milk from being aspirated in to the pup’s airway. Repeat for each pup.
- Wash syringe and tube with hot soapy water and allow to air dry until next feeding.
- Stimulate the external anal and urinary orifices to effect defecation and urination with a warm moistened cotton ball or washcloth.
So just remember to follow the 6 P’s of successful tube feeding. If you follow these six guidelines, you too can be successful in raising pups who are off to a rough start in life.
- Premeasure tube – from the tip of the nose to the last rib, mark the tube.
- Prewarm – puppy and formula.
- Pass with chin down
- Pass down side, prefer left
- Pinch vocalize before feeding
- Place tube end in bowl of water to check for bubbles (I personally don’t do this step but it can be reassuring at 2:00 in the morning when you are not quite sure and all alone.)
Fear not – you will lose more pups to starvation than to an error in tube feeding.
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Written by: Marty Greer, DVM
Director of Veterinary Services
Marty Greer, Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, has 40+ years’ experience in veterinary medicine, with special interests in canine reproduction and pediatrics. She received her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine from Iowa State University in 1981. She’s served as Revival’s Director of Veterinary Services since 2019. In 2023, Dr. Greer was named the Westminster Kennel Club Veterinarian of the Year.