Hand-rearing Spectacled Bears  (Disease Investigation & Management - Treatment and Care)

Summary Information
Type of technique Health & Management / Disease Investigation & Management / Techniques:
Synonyms and Keywords Hand-rearing Tremarctos ornatus - Spectacled bear
Initial Care
  • [No species-specific information available]
General Care (including warmth and hygiene)
  • Placed in an incubator maintained at 90 F. (D253.w1)
Milk Replacer
  • Esbilac powder (one part powder to two parts water), plus baby multivitamins (16 drops Poly-vitamin, Rugby Laboratories Ltd., per 4 oz Esbilac powder), plus two teaspoons Karo syrup (corn syrup) .
    • From day 15 with added Multimilk (PetAg), (55% fat content, mixed one part Multimilk to one part water): 4 oz Esbilac powder, 8 oz water, 2 teaspoons Karo syrup, 16 drops multivitamins, 6 tablespoons liquid Multimilk. (D253.w1)
    • Lactase enzyme added (5 drops Lactaid per mixture of formula indicated above, stored in refrigerator for 24 hours before use). (D253.w1)
  • [No species-specific information available]
Feeding Frequency
  • For two cubs hand-reared at Henry Vilas Zoo, Madison, Wisconsin: (D253.w1)
    • Days 1,2; every three hours;
    • Days 3,4: every four hours;
    • Days 5-10: every four hours;
    • Days 10-20: every three hours;
    • Days 20-24 every three hours;
    • Days 25-45 every four hours;
    • Days 45-58 every six hours;
    • Days 58-100 every eight hours;
    • Days 100-115 every 12 hours.


Feeding Technique
  • Bear cubs must be fed lying on their front with the head slightly elevated holding the nipple of the bottle. A bear cub fed lying on its back may inhale milk and this may result in aspiration pneumonia (Aspiration Pneumonia in Birds, Elephants and Bears). (B123.19.w19)
  • [No species-specific information available]
  • For two cubs hand-reared at Henry Vilas Zoo, Madison, Wisconsin: (D253.w1)
    • Days 1,2 only 2.0 -10 mL taken each feeding.
    • Days 3,4: 4 - 12 mL taken every four hours. 
    • Days 5-10: 15 mL taken every four hours
    • Days 10-20: 15 mL taken every three hours
    • Days 20-24: gradual increase to 20 mL every three hours
    • Days 25-45: increasing quantity by 1 mL daily, feeding every four hours
    • Days 45-58: 50 mL (formula plus 7 mL rice cereal) increasing by day 50 to 50 mL liquid formula plus 10 mL baby rice cereal mush, every six hours.
    • Days 58-100: every 8 hours:
      • 60 mL liquid formula plus 15 mL baby rice cereal mush;
      • increasing by day 66 to 90 mL formula plus 40 mL baby rice cereal mush;
      • day 80 baby banana and apple added.
    • Days 100-115: 300 - 400 mL formula with rice and banana/apple mush every 12 hours.
    • Day 115: fed free choice.


  • Bear cubs require stimulation of the anal area with a warm damp cloth in order to urinate and defecate. (B16.9.w9, B64.26.w5, P85.1.w4, P85.1.w8)
  • Weigh daily. (D253.w1)
  • At 43 days, rice cereal added to the milk formula (three part formula to one part Gerber's baby rice cereal a few hours before feeding). (D253.w1)
  • At 81 days, apple and banana mush added, to the formula sweetened with honey to increase acceptance. (D253.w1)
  • At day 115, ground puppy chow added to the formula. (D253.w1)
  • [Cubs were not being reared for release.]
Appropriate Use (?)
  • For cubs which are being neglected by their mother, or if the mother has previously neglected cubs and is expected to do so again. (D253.w1)
Notes --
Complications/ Limitations / Risk
  • Because of the risks of cubs becoming too tame and not integrating with other bears, bear cubs should not be hand-reared routinely; parent rearing is preferable. (D247.6.w6, J23.14.w3)
Equipment / Chemicals required and Suppliers
  • Esbilac powder (Pet-Ag)

  • Multimilk 55% fat (Pet-Ag)

  • Poly-vitamin, Rugby Laboratories Ltd.

  • Karo syrup

  • Gerber's baby rice cereal

  • Baby banana/apple

Expertise level / Ease of Use
  • Rearing bear cubs is time-intensive and requires dedication and experience.
Cost/ Availability
  • Hand-rearing of young bear cubs requires a considerable time investment.
Legal and Ethical Considerations
  • Zoo-born bear cubs should not be hand-reared as a matter of routine. Failure of females to rear cubs usually occurs due to disturbance; every effort should be made to avoid the female being disturbed.
  • Orphaned/abandoned wild-born bear cubs should not be taken for hand-rearing if they are of an age where they are likely to survive alone.
  • Hand-rearing should not be started unless the carer is prepared to give the time and effort required for rearing to release, or to ensure that appropriate care will be continued through to release. 
  • Consider whether hand-rearing is the best option for the individual compared with leaving it in the wild. 
  • Consider whether euthanasia is a more humane/kinder option for the individual than attempting hand-rearing. 
  • If wild-born cubs are hand-reared, every effort should be made to rear them with conspecifics, and to ensure that the cubs are maintained suitable for release, preferably not habituated to humans, dogs etc. 
Author Debra Bourne MA VetMB PhD MRCVS (V.w5)
Referee --
References B16.9.w9, B64.26.w5, B123.19.w19, D247.6.w6 D253.w1, J23.14.w3, P85.1.w4, P85.1.w8

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