Tube Feeding

By | 2011-06-13

If a bird refuses to eat or drink on its own, tube feeding might be necessary. Before doing this, however, try to hand-feed your bird.

Warmed baby food or oatmeal may be sufficiently enticing to stimulate an appetite. To encourage drinking, add sugar or honey to your bird’s water, and offer it with a dropper or small syringe. This is especially helpful if medications are to be administered in the water. (If you decide to add sugar or honey to the water, be sure to change the water twice a day to prevent bacterial growth.) Commercial electrolyte replacement fluids can also be administered to help prevent dehydration.

If tube feeding becomes the only solution, you will need some special supplies. A soft rubber feeding tube and plastic syringe are ideal for the job and can be obtained from your veterinarian. As an alternative, a metal feeding tube can be acquired and used for tube feeding purposes. The main advantage that the metal tube has over the rubber tube is its rigidity. However, a big disadvantage is that too much pressure applied with a metal feeding tube during passage could actually damage or perforate the crop. They are also more expensive and not as readily available as rubber ones. A speculum will be needed if a rubber tube is used to keep the mouth open during the feeding and to prevent the bird from biting off the tubing. For small birds, a paper clip inserted into the mouth horizontally, and then turned up on its side, works great. For larger birds, an empty syringe case with a hole punched in the sealed end large enough for tube passage functions as an effective mouth speculum. Again, your veterinarian can provide you with one of these.

To allow for easier tube feeding if only one pair of hands is available, keep rubber tubes in your freezer between feedings. This will make them rigid, making them easier to pass into the crop.

Numerous nutritional formulas are available for tube-feeding birds. A limited number of premixed commercial formulas are available on the market, yet they might be difficult to find. One formula for tube feeding that can be blended right at home includes the following:

Dog food (adult formula) 1 cup
High-protein baby cereal 1 cup
Banana 1
Honey 1 teaspoon
Vitamin-mineral supplement 1 teaspoon

These ingredients should be blended with water to form a slurry that passes easily through the feeding tube. Feedings should be performed every 6 to 8 hours. Consult your veterinarian as to amounts to feed your bird. As a general rule, finches and canaries should receive ¼ to ½ milliliter of formula per feeding; budgies should receive ½ to ¾ milliliter of the formula per feeding; cockatiels, 3 milliliters of formula per feeding; small parrots, 5 milliliters of formula per feeding; medium to large parrots, 10 milliliters of formula per feeding; and macaws, 15 milliliters of formula per feeding.

Refrigerate homemade formulas between feedings, and replace them every day. Always warm the formula to room temperature and double-check the temperature before feeding. Formula that is too hot could burn the esophagus and crop, whereas formula that is too cold could actually cause a detrimental drop in the bird’s body temperature.

The steps involved in tube feeding are as follows:

1. Gently restrain the bird with one hand using a towel and extend the neck. Use your other hand to control the speculum and the feeding tube. Measure the approximate length of tubing it will take to pass from the bird’s mouth to its crop and mark the stopping point directly on the tube using tape or a permanent-ink marker.

2. Attach the feeding syringe filled with the desired amount of formula to the tube, and expel any air present within the tube. With the bird held upright, insert the speculum into its mouth. Pass the feeding tube through the speculum starting from the left side of the bird’s mouth and progressing toward the right side of the throat. As you pass the tube, feel for the tube in the esophagus as it passes down. This will help ensure that the tube is in the correct place and not in the airways. Insert the tube the premeasured distance.

3. Slowly administer the desired amount of food. Palpate the crop for fullness. It should not feel tight, but rather still slightly fluctuant to the touch. Once finished, withdraw the tube. If the bird regurgitates food at any time during the feeding, withdraw the tube immediately. Be sure to clean and disinfect the equipment after each feeding and put leftover formula back into the refrigerator. Discard any unused commercial formula after 48 hours.