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Feeding And Medication Tubes

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I want to use this space to share my method for tubing my snakes, both for feeding and medication. There are many methods and systems available, but this has worked for me for many years. I prefer it for feeding over the pinky pump for two main reasons: first it is a lot cheaper and easier to clean up; second I don't like having to squish up mice, nor do I like the lumps which are inherent in the process, and which occasionally jam the tube.

The system is simple: a syringe of the appropriate size with a catheter tube of the appropriate size affixed to the nipple on the syringe. Syringes I get from drug stores or feed stores. The catheters I get at a medical supply house. The syringes cost $0.25 to $0.80, depending on size. The catheter tubes cost $1.97 to $4.50 (appx) depending on size. This beats the heck out of paying $75 or so for a pinky pump.
NOTE: some syringes have a "cage" around the nipple, which makes it harder to get the tube on. Try to find syringes with just the nipple, no ring around it.

I just cut off a piece of the catheter tube to the desired length and affix to the syringe. It is sometimes necessary to expand the end of the tube a bit so that it will fit over the nipple on the syringe. To do this I use the larger round tip on my soldering iron. Just warm up the soldering iron a bit or you willl melt the tubing, then insert the tip of the tubeing over the tip of the soldering iron and gently slide it up until a sufficient portion of the tube has been enlarged. I like to run the warmed portion under water before removing so it doesn't shrink back up.

The tubes in the top picture are #8 catheter tube. The clear one, which is my preferred type, is a #8 FR (for French) feeding tube. There are many types of catheters, but avoid the rubber ones and go with the PVC tubing. My local medical supply house lets me browse - I hope yours is as nice. The Syringes in the top picture are 12 CC and 6 CC.


The picture above is a close-up of the tips. The red tip has been cut from a length of tubing and the end angled for easier insertion into the mouth of the snake. The sharp tip resulting from slicing it at an angle has been smoothed off, slightly rounded. In the clear tip, the holes can be seen as pointed to by the white lines.

The syringe in the bottom picture is 35 CC, obviously for larger snakes. I also have a 65 CC tube, but haven't had to use it yet. It is eiterh a #16 or #18 FR catheter, 3/16 inch outside diameter. As the nunber gets larger, so does the tube diameter. I like the clear tubes which have a rounded end with slots in it - it doesn't require cutting and the rounded end is less likely to harm the animal.

Make sure that you don't put the tube too far down the snake. Get it past the throat and into the stomach, but don't go far enough to puncture the stomach. It is usually fairly easy to get the tube into the snake (other than those which like to twist and coil) but it must be done gently and carefully, using very little pressure. If you aren't sure, take it out and start over again. I find that if I get the tip of the tube into the tongue slot in the front of the mouth and gently work it, they will open up. I hold the snake behind and on the sides of the head for control. With larger snakes it helps to have someone to control the body. I also use a bit of cooking oil on the tube so it will slide in more easily. Then gently slide the tube down the snake until it is in far enough, then gently depress the plunger until the desired amount of food or medication has been administered.

NOTE: use very little pressure. I barely grip the tube. If I feel ANY reistance, I pull it out and start again. Baby snakes particularly are fragile. Also, it is possible to get it into a lung, which is not a good thing.

Once you have adminstered a sufficient amount, gently pull out the tube and set the snake down and let it crawl around. Once in a while one will regurgitate, but it doesn't happen often. DO NOT put in too much. For an 8 inch snake I usually start off with 1/2 CC. If it seems that it can take a bit more, next time I increase the amount. Please, don't expect to see a lump as you do when you feed them a rodent. If you put in enough to see a lump, you have either put in too much or have filled a lung.

Because of the nature of the food, it will be rapidly digested. You should be able to repeat in 2-3 days, but why? I consider pumping to be a last resort for a non-feeder, to keep it alive. I always offer rodents again before tubing again.

For food I prefer to use Gerber's beef baby food. One jar ($0.64) is equivalent in bulk to around 35 pinkies. Other types such as turkey and pork are also available. I add in a bit of osteoform, but you can use finely powdered calcium/vitamins to suit yourself. I spoon out a bit of the baby food into a cup, add in the suppliments and then add JUST A BIT of water, bit by bit, until is is a sufficient consistency. You will want to play around a bit until you get it where you want it. I like it liquid enough so that a clump will slide off the end of a spoon and roll down into the syringe. I don't like it too liquid, though.

When you have the mixture into the syringe (loaded with the open end of the syringe up (I assume you took the plunger out) then put the plunger in just a bit (moistening the tip of the plunger helps.) Then tunt the syringe so the tube is up and tap the syringe to get the mixture to the bottom, then depress the plunger until the mixture begins to come out the tip of the catheter - to remove the air.

When filling it with medication, I suck up the medication through the tube, then invert it and depress the plunger to get out the air.

Anything else you can figure out for yourself. I'm done here. I hope you find it helpful.

John O. Hollister, March 2002

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