Possible Hand Feeding Problems

Hand feeding can be a trying time for hand feeder and infant. The most prevalent sources of microbial contamination are food, water supply, other birds in the nursery, feeding and food preparation utensils, and the hand feeder. Prior to the introduction of formulated hand feeding diets for neonates, breeders had to make their own formulas, many of which were based on primate chow, baby cereal, cornmeal, Mexican flour, and various baby food vegetables and fruits, as well as the addition of mineral and vitamin supplements and a source of lactobacillus. Today, things are a lot different, and certainly easier.

But not all hand feeding formulas work for everyone. While one hand feeder may have great luck with Roudybush, others may prefer Pretty Bird or Lafeabers for the specific species of infant being fed.

As mentioned before, I have tried many, and have finally settled on Pretty Bird Hand feeding Formula, with 19% protein and 8% fat, as well as a balance of other minerals and nutrients, and a higher fat hand feeding formula is given about once or twice per week.

In any formula, there should be a source of extra digestive enzymes and probiotics, specifically lactobacillus, as well as real processed food.

Initially, many formulas separated once they were in the crop, so to avoid this, a small bit of peanut butter could be added to hold the components of the formula together, or a bit of oatmeal baby cereal to act as a gluten. Some hand feeders choose to add baby food strained vegetables or fruits to meet the requirements of the dietary needs of a specific species. Eclectus hand feeders sometimes choose strained sweet potatoes, squash, carrots, apricots, or papayas for the extra beta carotene. These days, the addition of wheat grass powder or spiralina is also popular, but use caution as there have been reports of bacterial problems in these products, and spiralina ( a blue-green algae) can be toxic. We recommend purchasing only bird-specific spiralina and wheat grass powder.


A slow moving crop does not always mean a bacterial or fungal problem exists in the digestive system; however, a slow-moving crop can cause bacterial and fungal problems to occur. Perhaps the formula was mixed too thick, or if it has been mixed too thick for several feedings in a row, some slight dehydration may cause a slow moving crop. The crop is shaped like a balloon laying on its side, with the food passing to the proventriculus via the opening on the side, with the aid of bile, other digestive juices, and contraction of the muscles around the digestive system.

At our facility, protocol for slow crop is as follows:

1) First, we try administering a small amount of warmed water or saline solution, then gently massage the crop. If the crop does not empty within about 4 to 5 hours, we add lactobacillus, to increase the digestive tract’s micro flora population, and/or digestive enzymes (Viokase or Pancreazyme), which predigests food, to warm water or diluted formula and offer to the infant.

2) It has been written that offering a more diluted formula may help speed digestion, but this is not always true. Bacteria, some of which aid digestion, grow and break down with the help of calories and nutrients, and to dilute the formula will deplete the supply of calories and nutrients, resulting in slower motility through the digestive tract. Also, the calories and nutrients supplied by most formulas mixed as directed help stimulate growth and strength of the muscles surrounding the digestive tract, which contract to help food pass. Again, this process will be retarded if formula is excessively diluted.

3) Only as a last resort would we recommend emptying the crop with gavage, but if all other procedures fail to restore motility, then flushing may need to be accomplished to save the infant’s life. It should only be performed by someone experienced in gavaging or a veterinarian. Once the crop is empty, it may be beneficial to give the infant some Pepto-Bismol, Nystatin, or Raglan syrup to help stimulate motility. Twenty minutes later, add some lactated ringers solution or Pedialyte mixed with some Bird Bene Bac, or other probiotic preferable bird-specific. Then wait 20 minutes before offering a small amount of a mixture of Gerber oatmeal with applesauce and bananas baby cereal, and water, feeding less volume, but more frequently. Once motility is restored, gradually offer regular hand feeding formula.

4) Often, motility is delayed because of dehydration, which is a common occurrence of babies in brooders. I opt to offer electrolyte solutions orally, but in the case of an emergency or failure of the crop to empty, warmed lactated ringers solution can be given subcutaneously. Have a veterinarian or someone experienced in this procedure demonstrate. For oral administration, the solution should be warmed to 100 degrees F., and for subcutaneous administration, it should be warmed somewhat by holding the syringe under hot running water. But remember, never heat any electrolyte solution in the microwave because that destroys its value.

5) If motility does not improve, a veterinarian should be contacted, and you may have to resort to using medication if your veterinarian determines slow crop status is caused by an infection. Many drugs will result in dehydration, so continue rehydrating with electrolyte solutions.


Infections do not just happen, they are secondary to something, such as stress or contamination. I have listened to many hand feeders complain that the hand feeding formula they used caused bacterial infections in their infants, but more likely, the formula became contaminated after it left the manufacturers, possibly during improper shipping procedures where it may have become overheated and/or moist, or the bag may have been punctured. After opening, the container of formula should be immediately closed to prevent contaminants from entering. It is also not out of the question for a hand feeder to inadvertently contaminate the formula by dripping water from his/ her hand into the bag while dipping out mix, then reclosing the bag and refrigerating until the next use, during which time the contamination process has flourished.

Another source of contamination is water. If distilled or bottled water is being used, even if refrigerated, it will grow contaminants after being opened. For this reason, we discard bottled water 3 days after being opened. If tap water is used, the spigot or screen on the faucet should be disinfected frequently to eliminate bacterial growth, and water should be allowed to run for at least 3 minutes before use. Boiling tap water will destroy most bacteria.

All utensils used in the hand feeding process, as well as the feeding station, should be thoroughly washed and disinfected between feedings.

We disinfect our hands, wrists and arms with Betadine before touching the babies or the feeding utensils. Then we spray our hands and feeding utensils with Oxyfresh. While in my opinion, no disinfectant will kill all contaminants and germs, we must still try our best to sterilize feeding utensils and ourselves as completely as possible.

A dirty brooder is another source of contamination, and should be cleaned and disinfected frequently, and substrate or paper towels should be changed at each feeding.

If bacterial infection is suspected, a gram’s stain and/or culture will probably be performed by your veterinarian, but interpretation of cultures is controversial. By this I mean that certain strains of bacteria cause disease, but others are completely normal flora. Not long ago, many veterinarians believed any and all gram negative bacteria and yeast should be viewed as “potential” pathogens and treated with antibiotics prophylactically, while others treated these patients only if other signs or symptoms of illness were apparent. Considering that a nonpathogenic gram negative bacteria can become problematic if the bird becomes stressed, both opinions are valid. But these days, most veterinarians I know opt to medicate only if infections are symptomatic, and have recognized that prophylactic antibiotic therapy in infants can result in all kinds of problems later in the life of the bird, such as digestive problems, feather plucking, and failure to breed. In my opinion, this is a hard call to make and should be left to the discretion of your veterinarian. I, personally, will not put antibiotics into my birds without the advice of my veterinarian, who is antibiotic-conservative.


Eclectus neonates do not bob while being handfed as infants of many other species do, which results in air not being released, so the excess swallowed air must be removed from their crop. This can be accomplished by pushing the air up the esophagus and out the mouth, or by “burping” the infant, just as you would a human baby. If excess air is not removed, the amount of food consumed is restricted. Excess air can be detected by shining a flashlight through the crop.


Reckless tube feeding may result in injuries to the crop or esophagus. Puncture can lead to food leaking into the body cavity, which would require very quick veterinarian treatment, and probably surgery and antibiotic treatment.

Also, crop burns can occur if excessively hot food is given to the infant. Remember, the bird will readily accept the food, even if it is too hot, and the problem may not be noticed for several days after the burn occurs. If one infant in a nursery is recognized as having a crop burn, there is a good chance others in the nursery will also have this problem. If this happens, I suggest you contact your veterinarian immediately.


Regurgitation by the neonate does not always mean there is cause for alarm. If the baby is overfed or slightly dehydrated, it may regurgitate some of the formula, and it is common to see this happen during weaning. However, often, regurgitation indicates a problem, such as sour crop, infection, blockage of the tract by possible foreign bodies, or use of certain drugs.


“Virus” is the one word we breeders and hand feeders don’t ever want to hear our veterinarians say. Viruses can wreak havoc in a nursery and cause the deaths of every single baby. I only mention this in regard to hand feeding because some of the problems aforementioned are symptomatic of viruses. Crop stasis, listlessness, regurgitation and vomiting, are listed in the new Avian Medicine book as problems of polyoma virus, as well as hemorrhages and plucked feathers.

These days, with the advent of formulated hand feeding diets, most of the problems previously experienced by hand feeders have been eliminated. With care and common sense, few problems will surface in the nursery, and with the advice of your veterinarian and experienced aviculturists, hand feeding can be accomplished successfully.

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