Critical Care Tips and Tricks

Written by Oxbow

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January 22, 2020🞄

Authors: Dr. Cayla Iske and Dianne Cook, LVT

Updated: March 18, 2024


As a pet parent, you’re no doubt familiar with everyday nutrition in the form of hays, fortified foods, and healthy treats.  But, what about those unexpected, more critical situations that sometimes occur in a pet’s life?  Some critical situations your pets might encounter could include:

  • Recovery from surgery
  • Gastrointestinal issues
  • General lack of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Injury
  • Additional illnesses

Any time a pet is experiencing one of the above scenarios, the animal should always be taken to an experienced exotics veterinarian for a complete physical exam and potentially additional diagnostics to determine the underlying problem.

In some instances, your veterinarian may determine that a product specially-formulated to provide complete nutrition in times of illness or convalescence (such as Oxbow’s Critical Care) may be appropriate to improve your pet’s health.


Rabbit eating Critical Care from syringeGetting to Know Critical Care

There are three distinct formulations in the Critical Care line:

All three Critical Care formulas are designed to meet the unique nutritional needs of their intended species – herbivores (rabbits, guinea pigs, chinchillas, tortoises, iguanas, and others), carnivores (ferrets, cats, hawks, monitors, snakes, and others), and omnivores (bearded dragons, rats, hedgehogs, chickens, reptiles, and others).

Critical Care – Herbivore comes in three flavors, including anise, apple & banana, and papaya to stimulate your animal’s appetite. As mentioned before, our Critical Care products are most commonly used to provide complete nutrition for your sick, geriatric, and/or convalescing friends.

In these times when animals can’t or won’t eat, Critical Care products can be mixed with water and fed to aid in recovery by providing complete nutrition in a nutrient-dense format.


Why is Critical Care Only Available Through My Veterinarian?

Your veterinarian is the appropriate expert to determine if Oxbow’s Critical Care products are appropriate for your pet’s current condition.  In some cases, a pet’s visible symptoms are symptomatic of a more serious underlying condition.  Without a proper diagnosis, your pet runs the risk of having their condition worsen.


Different Ways to Offer Critical Care to Your Pets

One of the biggest benefits of Critical Care is the versatility of the product. Depending on your animal and their willingness to eat, the feeding method can be adjusted. Common feeding methods include:

  • Sprinkle dry as a top dressing
  • Combine wet with pet’s food
  • Offer wet in a bowl or by spoon
  • Syringe or tube feed


Offer Critical Care as a Top Dressing

In some cases, offering Critical Care can be as simple as using the product as a topper by sprinkling the dry powder on your animal’s usual food. This can offer added flavor and stimulate appetite.

Combine Critical Care with Your Pet’s Existing Food

You can also use wet Critical Care in the same way by mixing it with water and stirring into your pet’s food.

Ferret eating from saucer

Offer Wet in Bowl or by Spoon

If your animal is refusing to or can’t eat any of their usual food but still has an appetite, Critical Care can be mixed with water to create a paste that can be offered in a bowl or on a spoon.

Syringe or Tube Feeding

For those animals who won’t eat on their own, Critical Care can be assist-fed via syringe or tube feeding. For these methods, you can find suggested feeding volumes based on weight on the package and it is always best to divide this volume into 4-6 daily feedings.

Tube feeding is most often conducted by your veterinarian, but you may be asked to syringe feed your animal once they leave the vet’s office. This may seem intimidating if you’ve not done it before, but there are some tips and tricks to make it easier.


White guinea pig eating Critical Care from syringe

Syringe Feeding Tips and Tricks

Use a syringe with the largest tip possible.

This will help prevent clogging, helping you avoid mess and frustration in the process. Feeding syringes with a large, smooth opening made specifically for administering gruels or Critical Care-type products are typically most effective. Most veterinary hospitals will have these syringes on hand or can order them upon your request.

Mix the dry product and water in a bowl and draw product up through the syringe.

If the product seems overly thick during mixing, you can add additional water to achieve a thinner consistency. The extra water also provides the added benefit of additional hydration. Though many pet parents take the plunger out of the syringe to “spoon” the mixture in through the top, you can actually “suck up” the product from the bowl.

Find the right “flavor fit” for your pet

If you are having difficulty syringe feeding or your animal doesn’t like the anise or apple banana flavor, you may want to request Critical Care Fine Grind (papaya flavor) from your veterinarian. Fine Grind provides the same nutritional profile as our anise and apple-banana products but is ground into an ultra-fine powder, which often makes administration of the product a bit easier.

Avoid slick surfaces and administer from a stable position

Many pet parents find it easiest to syringe feed their kiddos while sitting.  This allows their little ones to securely sit on their lap or the floor in front of them. Others find it easiest to stand with their pet positioned on a table or countertop.

Regardless of the surface, it is important to remember that slick surfaces should be covered with something that will provide traction, so your pet doesn’t slip and increase the risk of injury. If you opt to feed on a counter or table, it is essential that you keep a gentle, yet secure hold on your pet to prevent them from startling and bolting off the surface.

Aspire Not to Aspirate

  • Remain relaxed and gentle during syringe feedings. Assist feedings can be stressful for all involved, so speaking softly and continually reassuring your pet throughout the feeding can help make the experience as positive as possible.
  • You may choose to gently wrap them in a towel. The act of receiving nourishment from a plastic syringe is unnatural and some pets will instinctually resist no matter how tasty the food. Wrapping them in a towel can provide a calming effect and make them easier to handle.
  • Always keep your pet in a natural position during syringe feeding. All four feet should be in contact with the ground, and their spine should be in a natural, neutral position.
  • Keep your pet’s natural line of sight in mind. Many prey species have laterally placed eyes, leaving them with a blind spot directly in front of the nose. So, try to avoid touching their nose or prying open their incisors with the syringe. Instead, insert the tip of the syringe into the side of the mouth, in the space behind the incisors/canines and in front of the molars.
  • Administer very small amounts at a time, aiming for the center of the mouth and not the back of the throat.
  • Don’t rush! Remove the syringe between mouthfuls to allow your pet time to chew and swallow. Forcing too much food into your pet’s mouth or not allowing them time to swallow is the most common cause of aspiration. Additionally, if your syringe clogs in the middle of a feeding, remove the syringe from your pet’s mouth and dislodge the clog before continuing the feeding.
  • Practice makes perfect! Until you get the hang of syringe feedings, practice before feeding your pet by loading a syringe with a small amount of mixed Critical Care and testing how much pressure is required to get the desired amount of food to come out.


Don’t Let the Leftovers Go to Waste!

If you find yourself with extra Critical Care once your animal has recovered and your vet gives the ok to stop syringe feeding, there are some fun and unique ways to use the leftover powder.

Critical Care can be mixed with water, formed into shapes, and left out to dry overnight to create treats for your little ones. While you may want to bake the treats, it is best not to expose them to such high heat to keep the vitamins and other nutrients from degrading. These treats can be stored for 1-2 days and are a great way to get creative to provide nutritional enrichment for your pet.


How to Store Critical Care

All Critical Care products are best when mixed fresh at each feeding. Product mixed with water should be used within 24 hours of mixing and may need some added water to reach desired consistency after sitting.

Opened bags of Critical Care Herbivore and Critical Care Omnivore can be stored sealed at room temperature for up to 30 days.

Critical Care Carnivore has a very high level of fat and should be stored in the fridge and used within 7 days after opening.

Unopened bags of Critical Care can be stored in a cool, dry location for up to 2 years after the manufacturing date (see Best By Date on the bag).

Freezing any Critical Care Product is not recommended due to the effects freezing can have on vitamin stability.


Critical Care: There for Pets in Life’s Critical Situations

Proper nutrition is always vital, and especially so for a sick or recovering animal. This is precisely why our Critical Care products were created 20 years ago. These products provide the correct nutrition using the highest quality and most biologically correct ingredients for their intended species. So if your pets are ever under the weather, know that Oxbow’s Critical Care products are there to help with a fast and safe recovery.

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