Although tube feeding is not preferred, it may be necessary if a baby is too weak to nurse. Here are some tips when it comes to tube feeding puppies and kittens.
- The feeding tube should be bigger than you think they can swallow as a tiny tube can fold up in the lung.
- Measure from the corner of mouth to the last rib and mark the tube. If you do not get to that mark, you are in the lung. The stomach is behind and slightly under the rib.
- Pass the tube across the tongue – right to left or left to right and aim for the opposite side, back of throat.
- Position puppy or kitten with head slightly extended as they nurse, not with their head straight up in the air. Straight up causes a straight shot to the trachea.
- I like to dip the tube in milk replacer – they seem to taste and swallow it better.
- Babies do not have a gag reflex until their eyes are open, so do not plan on them coughing if you are in the lungs!
- If you’re not sure of yourself, give 1 cc of saline like you inject. They will absorb it out of the lung if you are in the lung.
- I like to tube feed first with electrolytes, then follow with milk when the tummy is empty. They are usually dehydrated and the electrolytes will help with this. Newborns always start with Breeder’s Edge® Foster Care milk replacer from the first feeding.
- It is good to burp babies after you feed them by gentle tapping on chest and tummy. Air introduced at feeding can cause colic, although this is less of an issue with tube feeding than bottle feeding. Gentle tapping brings those bubbles to the top where they can burp and remove them.
- Don’t forget to stimulate them to eliminate their waste and wash them after feeding.
- Volume: Stomach capacity is 18 cc/lb but you never want to get near that volume. Care must be taken to not overfeed. Tummy should be slightly rounded (full) when finished. Nursing babies will usually stop when they are full. When tube feeding, decide on your total volume and underfeed that amount. It’s better to underfeed and feed one more time than overfeed.
- Neonates determine the frequency of feeding. When hungry, they will cry and crawl searching, which is a sign to feed them. Move them to a bottle as soon as they can suck on their own.
- Mom gives probiotic to babies when she cleans them. If babies do not have mom for care, add probiotic to the milk once daily. Diarrhea at one week when on a bottle is often from lack of good bacteria for digestion. Putting probiotic in the milk will solve this issue.
For kittens or tiny breed puppies, tube or bottle feed 1 cc of warmed oral electrolyte solution. For average sized puppies start small as stomach is empty, 4 cc for a puppy weighing one-half pound and increase 1 cc per feeding. Capacity is 18 cc per pound but that is for a healthy puppy so always start low (one-half of maximum capacity) and work up. A warmed solution of Breeder’s Edge® Puppy or Kitten Lyte can be used and should be in your emergency kit.
Possible Issues & Causes When Tube Feeding Puppies & Kittens
- Food not mixed well (cold or hot)
- Feeding too rapidly
- Over feeding
(Food should be mom’s temperature before feeding. Give slowly.)
- Contaminated instruments (hygiene)
- Incorrect or poor quality mixture
(Wash all feeding equipment each time and mix only enough for 24 hours.)
- Lack of good bacteria in gut
- Usually occurs after one week on bottle
- Probiotic once daily in milk will solve
If you need help, call us at 800.786.4751.
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Written by: Donald Bramlage, DVM
Donald Bramlage, Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, practiced veterinary medicine for 30+ years and is known for his work in managing parvovirus. He received his Doctor of Veterinary Medicine from Kansas State University in 1985. He served as Revival’s Director of Veterinary Services from 2011 until his retirement in 2019.