How to tube feed a duck (with instructional video!)

How to tube feed a duck (with instructional video!) thumbnail
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Need to tube feed a duck? This detailed how-to guide and instructional video will show you why, when, and how to safely tube feed ducks and other species of poultry. 

For duck’s sake, please read the important contextual information below before jumping straight to the instructional video or trying to tube feed your poultry!   

Tube feeding ducks (and geese and chickens)

We recognize that the topic “how to tube feed a duck” is pretty niche. However, for the few people who may actually need to tube feed a duck (we’re looking at you!), we hope this tutorial will be extremely helpful!

For a bit of context, we’ve raised ducks for over a decade. During that time, we’ve had to tube feed a few of our ducks for various reasons. Since birds of a feather flock together, we also have other friends who raise poultry and have occasionally asked for our help with their flocks. Thus, we’ve also tube fed geese and chickens. 

In short: the most impressive thing on our resumes is “experience tube feeding various species of poultry” (ha). Also, you’ll be happy to know that once you’ve tube fed one poultry species, you can tube feed any of them because the process is the same

When and why to tube feed a duck (and when NOT to)

If you have a duck who has stopped eating or drinking and is in dire need of calories, nutrients, and water, then you might need to tube feed them to keep them alive and help aid their recovery. However, unless you’re a very experienced duck parent who is confident you’ve correctly diagnosed the problem, we strongly suggest seeing an avian vet BEFORE you initiate tube feeding. 

Why? There’s a chance that the reason your duck isn’t eating or drinking is because a foreign object is lodged somewhere in their digestive system, and they’ve stopped eating due to extreme pain and their body’s inability to continue digesting food.

In that case, the duck would need immediate surgery. Tube feeding would make matters far worse and potentially kill them. There are also other medical conditions that would be equally problematic for tube feeding.

Again, the key takeaway here is that you should never start tube feeding a duck until you’re confident that:

a) you know what the underlying medical condition is, and
b) you’re confident that tube feeding will help your duck recover. 

Involving an avian vet is a great way to accomplish these objectives.

Case study in tube feeding a duck:

She's not exactly a willing participant, but Pippa the duck will help illustrate why, when, and how to tube feed a duck.

She’s not exactly a willing participant, but Pippa the duck will help illustrate why, when, and how to tube feed a duck.

We’ll provide an actual example from our own flock of how tube feeding can save the life of a duck:

Pippa, a relatively small seven-year-old female Welsh Harlequin in our flock, was uncharacteristically lethargic and seemed to be uninterested in food, treats, or water. The whole week prior, we’d experienced sweltering mid-summer heat indexes at or over 100°F (38°C). We’d also recently adopted and integrated six rescue ducks. In short, there were multiple potential factors that could have caused heightened stress, leading to a physiological domino effect. 

We immediately took Pippa to our vet. After a physical exam (including a finger up the cloaca in search of stuck eggs) revealed no obvious problems, our vet drew blood and took a stool sample for lab analysis.

Our vet noted that Pippa was 3.3 pounds and would be healthier at a weight a little over 4 pounds. We still didn’t know what was wrong, but we asked our vet to immediately administer a tube feeding on-site to see how Pippa would handle it. If things didn’t go well, we wanted Pippa to be surrounded by veterinary experts with an office full of equipment. 

Pippa’s vet-administered feeding went perfectly well. Thus, we knew we could take over tube feeding at home without concern while we waited for her test results to come back. 

The next day, Pippa’s bloodwork came back normal and her fecal tests showed no parasites or other problems. So, as we suspected, Pippa had simply gotten stressed and stopped eating or drinking, which likely made her feel even worse and more stressed. 

Tube feeding was exactly what she needed. After two days of tube feeding and being kept indoors (with morning and evening outdoor flock visits to keep her spirits up), Pippa seemed back to normal and resumed eating and drinking on her own. We still kept her inside at night (in duck diapers, of course!) to give her lots of her favorite foods until her weight was up to 4 pounds. 

What type of food should you use to tube feed a duck?

Our avian vet uses EmerAid IC OMNIVORE (not herbivore or carnivore) when tube feeding ducks. We’ve been unable to find that product because it seems to only be available to vets, not the general public.

Thus, we use Oxbow Critical Care OMNIVORE (we bought ours on Chewy), which we actually like better because it uses ingredients we can pronounce, such as squash and black soldier fly larvae. Both of these products come in powder form and have to be diluted with water at the ratios indicated on the package instructions. Also, both of these products are specifically formulated to get optimal levels of essential nutrients into sick and/or malnourished animals even after they’ve been diluted with water. 

We have also put Mazuri waterfowl kibble feed into a blender with water and used the resulting slurry solution in feeding tubes. However, this isn’t as effective as using specifically-formulated recovery powders. Why?

As our vet says, “you have to dilute standard waterfowl feed out with so much water that you lose a lot of the caloric and nutrient-density that your duck needs.”  

How much should you tube feed a duck? 

Here again, it pays to have a vet provide guidance because the ideal quantity of food provided per feeding and per day will likely vary depending on breed, individual duck size, and underlying medical issue(s). 

In Pippa’s case from above, our vet recommended 60 ccs/ml 2-3 times per day – that’s one full syringe. (That’s measured after diluting with water.)  

Supplies you’ll need to tube feed a duck

Supplies you'll need to tube feed a duck.

Supplies you’ll need to tube feed a duck or other poultry species.

Here’s what you’ll need to tube feed a duck:

1. 60 mL plastic syringe (that’s the same as 60 cc). 

2. 18 Fr feeding tube (“Fr” stands for French scale, which is commonly used to measure the outer diameter size of a catheter) x 16″ long.  

Note: We get our syringes and feeding tubes from our vet.

3. Cooking oil for lubrication (we use olive oil or coconut oil). Before using the syringe, you’ll rub the oil on:

a) the rubber seal to make sure the plunger continues to slide easily down the barrel, and
b) the outside of the feeding tube to help it slide down the duck’s throat as easily as possible. 

Note the parts listed on this syringe and feeding tube diagram, so when we refer to certain parts, you know what we're referencing.

Note the parts listed on this syringe and feeding tube diagram. As mentioned previously, before feedings, you’ll want to use cooking oil to lubricate the syringe’s rubber seal and also the outside of the feeding tube where it slides down the duck’s throat. With our duck Pippa, about half of the feeding tube (8″) goes down her throat before we start pushing the plunger to commence feeding.   

4. Water-diluted feeding solution (see recommendations from prior section).

How to tube feed a duck

Ok, now that you have necessary context, we’ll dive into the nuts and bolts of how to tube feed a duck. If you’re new to this process, the written information below will be further clarified when you watch the instructional video at the end.

Step 1. Get two people.

Tube feeding a duck is easier and safer (for the duck) if two people are involved.

One person will pin the duck between their legs while squatting on top of the duck on the floor and holding the duck’s mouth open. The other person will insert the feeding tube and feed the duck. 

Step 2. Prepare syringe and food.

Prepare your syringe by applying oil to the seal and to the outside of the feeding tube. Again, this ensures that the syringe plunger slides easily down the barrel as you push and that the feeding tube slides easily down the duck’s throat.

Next, prepare your liquid food as per manufacturer’s instructions on package. Now, draw the food into the syringe, then attach feeding tube to the tip of the syringe. 

Step 3. Push air out of feeding tube.

Slowly apply pressure on the plunger until the liquid feed becomes visible at the openings on the tip of the feeding tube. If you don’t do this, you’ll pump a lot of air into your duck’s digestive system. 

Step 4. Person 1: Position duck between legs and hold open duck’s mouth. 

Now, the designated duck holder will position the duck between their legs while squatting on top of them. Note: Do NOT put any weight on the duck, you’re simply holding them firmly in place.

We also like to wrap a towel around the wings and underside of the duck to help them feel tightly secured and prevent flapping/moving.  

Use both hands to slowly pry the duck’s mouth open and pull their head and mouth into an upward-facing position. Use the fingers on one hand to slightly pull the tongue forward and hold it in place.   

Step 5. Person 2: Insert feeding tube down duck’s throat being CERTAIN to avoid glottis.

Warning: This part is critically important or you risk killing your duck.

The “glottis” is the opening at the base of the duck’s tongue that leads to the trachea, which then goes to their lungs (see image below). The glottis opens and closes as the duck breathes. 

It's EXTREMELY important to know what a duck glottis is when giving oral medication to your duck. If liquid or a pill goes down their glotis, it can kill them or make them extremely sick.

If you insert the feeding tube into your duck’s glottis or push food into their glottis, you’ll most likely asphyxiate them (aka kill them via oxygen deprivation) or cause a respiratory infection. Instead, you’ll want to slide the feeding tube to one side of the glottis and down their throat.

Do not insert the feeding tube shallowly; instead push it down past their throat until you feel some resistance. (see video) 

If the feeding tube is too shallow when you start pumping in food, you risk the liquid food rising back up and the duck aspirating it (aka inhaling it into their glottis). This could also be deadly. 

This all might sound scary and difficult at first, but don’t worry: once you know where the glottis is located and you’ve tube fed a duck a couple of times, it’s actually quite simple and stress-free.         

Step 6. Slowly pump in food then slowly withdraw feeding tube.

Slowly and steadily apply pressure on the syringe plunger to push food out. It usually takes about 30-60 seconds for us to do a full 60 cc tube feeding.

When the feeding is complete, slowly pull out the feeding tube. Provide some water and/or a favorite treat afterwards, if the duck is willing.  

Step 7. Clean and dry syringe and feeding tube.

Immediately disassemble the syringe and detach the feeding tube. Clean each component with warm soapy water and let it dry.

If you don’t clean these parts shortly after a feeding, you risk the liquid food drying inside, making things much more difficult next time you need to use it.  

Video tutorial: tube feeding a duck

Finally, to help put all the pieces together, here’s a video tutorial showing you how to tube feed a duck:


Note: If video doesn’t display or play, it may be because you’re using ad blocking software. If so, please temporarily disable software to view. Ads helps us keep the lights on and our ducks fed, so thank you for your support!

We hope this information is helpful and that your duck recovers to full health soon! Hit us up with any questions or feedback in the comments. 


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  • Reply
    July 1, 2024 at 11:47 am

    What feeding formula do you use?

    • Reply
      Aaron von Frank
      July 3, 2024 at 11:53 am

      Hi Beverly! We use Oxbow Critical Care OMNIVORE, which you can buy on Chewy.

  • Reply
    October 16, 2023 at 2:37 pm

    Thank you, most informative, and very well illustrated.
    True it is a niche skill but one that us literally a life saver.
    I’m sharing with my rural “friends” on Gab.

    • Reply
      Susan von Frank
      October 16, 2023 at 7:34 pm

      Thanks, Kelly! Appreciate the share. Tube feeding isn’t something you have to do often in duck care, but it’s a life-saver when needed.

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