So, syringe feeding is more difficult than I imagined…

I started separating Beans and Daisy for meals four times each day.  They started becoming a lot more time consuming.  And a lot more mental energy consuming! 

Daisy would polish off her meals with gusto.  Beans would lick his but not consume that much.  Agh!  I would put a little on his mouth and he would clean himself but then walk away.  He was still not gaining weight.  Additionally, he was slowing down a little.  He was not lethargic, but definitely of lower energy than Daisy or his former self.  My time with the kittens became consumed with consumption (good thing we have four kids who were still available to play and cuddle!).  My time away from the kittens became consumed with the worry about Beans.  It was time to syringe feed.

Syringe feeding seemed like it would be easy.  Insert about 15cc of wet food into the kitten 4 times each day. 

Complications I now know about syringe feeding that I didn’t then:

  1. It is more difficult to get the wet food into the syringe than one would think.  Some wet foods are softer and easier to suction up than others (Royal Canin’s Mother and Baby Cat formula and Recovery are the easiest to suction).  But regardless of how soft and juicy it starts out, once you have suctioned from a can a couple times, it becomes tricky.  I was spooning little bit by little bit into syringes, sometimes even resorting to getting it in there with my fingers (okay, gross, I know! And the smell of wet cat food on the hands takes a few washes to remove, for sure!).  Daisy usually got the remains of the canned food that I couldn’t get into a syringe for Beans.
  2. Kittens do not always cooperate with being syringe fed.  Beans was not interested in this feeding style AT ALL!  He would not open his mouth easily.  I had to insert a finger into the corner of his mouth to get him to open up and then slip the syringe in.  He would try to run away and play at each opportunity.  I started setting him up on a stool while feeding him to reduce his escapes and, while it did reduce them, it definitely did not prevent them.  Most of the resources I found suggested swaddling the kitten for easier administration, but I think that must work best for younger kittens, because Beans was out of his “purrito” in seconds! I needed four hands! While the kids were always eager to cuddle and play with the kittens, they were less excited about helping with the litter box or the now arduous task of feeding.
  3. Syringe feeding is MESSY!  Wet food does not always come out of a syringe in a nice, even fashion.  When Beans had a bite that was too big, it would dribble down onto the floor, over his chin, often on me…  When he felt done (which was usually before we reached the amount suggested by his vet), he became messier.  When wet food smears dry, they are crusty and difficult to remove, from fur, from clothes, even from tile floors.  I tried to be deliberate about tidying up after a syringe feeding session, but there was always mess somewhere! 
  4. Even with a measured syringe, it is difficult to know exactly how much food a kitten is consuming.  Food often dribbles down and sometimes there is air between the chunks of wet food in the syringe, so it can be a guessing game to know precisely how much nutrition a kitten received even when one of the main points of syringe feeding is to know!  Between feedings, I would commit myself to measuring carefully, reducing air by packing the syringe tightly, and then feeding so slowly that there wouldn’t be any waste.  But Beans would sometimes have other ideas! 
  5. So many extra steps are involved in syringe feeding.  I needed to help Beans eat (this usually took about 10 minutes), then clean up (another 5 minutes), then weigh Beans, then cap the wet food and store it in the refrigerator, then clean the syringe.  This extra time was in addition to cleaning the litter box, changing the bedding, freshening their water, and playing with the kittens (mandatory!).  I was spending more time with these fosters than I had with our other ones. 

Beans never grew to love syringe feeding.  As a consequence, I didn’t either.  If he had been gulping down the food eagerly, I think I would have been just as eager to offer it to him.  But I felt like I was torturing him and I started dreading the syringe sessions.  Of course, there were times when syringe feeding Beans went well.  Hey, maybe it went well more often than it didn’t even!  But it definitely wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be.

Syringe feeding redeemed itself though…Beans was growing!  With the appropriate nutrition, Beans was packing on the weight.  He was also full of energy again!  Within a week of starting syringe feeding, Beans was back to the weight and energy perfect for his age.  I was thrilled!

But I was also second guessing myself.  Without the visit with genius vet Dr. Julie, when would I have noticed that Beans wasn’t gaining weight?  I never would have considered that a healthy kitten would just not eat enough to thrive.  I was impressed by Dr. Julie’s knowledge and expertise, but also embarrassed by my own ignorance and inexperience. 

The greatest uncertainty of all crept in:  Am I doing this right?

2 thoughts on “So, syringe feeding is more difficult than I imagined…

  1. As fosters we question ourselves constantly. But as you said in your post – we’re learning! And next time you’ll recognize the signs of a kitten not thriving, you’ll know how to syringe feed, you won’t second guess (much).

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