Cat Feeding Tubes

by Elisa Black-Taylor

If you’re like me, the words “cat feeding tubes” conjures up images of a cat about to die. Many people associate feeding tubes with a last attempt to prolong the suffering of a beloved cat. This simply isn’t true.

While cases involving potentially terminal cancer and chronic renal failure, the use of a cat feeding tube must be evaluated as to what is best for the cat and not for it’s human companion.

Otherwise, the tube can be a lifesaver for a cat facing a short term illness or injury. Internal organ diseases like liver disease hepatic lipidosis, infections, FeLV, and fevers, along with anatomical problems caused by a birth defect or injury can all prevent a cat from taking in adequate nutrition.

In addition, all of these diseases increase caloric needs, so a lack of appetite in a diseased cat is an important problem to address.

Cat feeding tubes make it easier to ensure the caloric and liquid needs of the cat are met. I know from experience how difficult it is to syringe feed a sick cat. A lot of them gag or it’s difficult to administer enough nutrition to keep the cat alive.

A feeding tube allows the cat caregiver to mix nutritional supplements and medication and deliver it right into the cats stomach. The vet will instruct what and how often the cat should be fed.

Here are the main types of cat feeding tubes available.

An esophageal tube, which can normally be inserted with sedation only (about 10 minutes), is inserted at the neck and runs down to the esophagus.

The gastronomy tube (sometimes called a PEG tube) is placed directly through the cat’s side into the stomach. It normally has to be inserted using a general anesthetic. It also has a higher risk of complications must remain in place for a minimum of 2-3 weeks.

A naso-gastric tube, which is used for short term needs, is inserted thru the nose without sedation and only liquids may be fed using this type of cat feeding tube.

One of the main dangers associated with esophageal feeding tubes is the possibility it will be spit out if the cat is vomiting a lot. Otherwise, the tube seems to pose more of a concern for the cat owner than for the cat. Most cats go on about their day and hardly notice the tube at all.

Also many tubes are made so the cat can also eat on it’s own as well as receive nutritional supplements thru the feeding tube.

This article shows several photographs of cats with feeding tubes in place and has a lot of information written by Lisa A. Pierson, DVM.

Dr. Pierson urges a tube be place before the cat is extremely emaciated. In other words, don’t wait until it’s the only option left to save your cat. Use it as a medical implant to give your cat a chance at life that probably wouldn’t be there without the use of the tube.

Get rid of the stigma that only a dying cat will be fitted with a tube. If you trust your vet and the procedure is suggested it’s because your vet is trying to help you save your cats life.

Have any of the readers at had any experience using a cat feeding tube? Do you feel it saved your cat. And can you offer any advice for cat owners facing the decision on whether or not to use this as a means of nutritional support.



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Cat Feeding Tubes

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Sep 17, 2011
by: Elisa Black-Taylor

OOps! Sorry!

Sep 17, 2011
naso-gastric tube
by: Grahame

My Sasha tolerated his naso-gastric tube very well. Likewise the associated Elizabethan collar. Sash had gone off his feed and hepatic lipidosis [note correct spellings, Ms Taylor-Black!] had set in.

I wish to emphasize urgently that rotund cats are at great risk for hepatic lipidosis if they go off feed. After this horrible experience I now portion control my surviving cat’s feedings carefully by weight. I feed EVO and put each day’s ration in a little jar such as used for urine specimens at a GP’s.

Note: I have amended the spelling. This was my fault for not proof reading properly…Michael

Sep 16, 2011
great topic
by: Ruth (Monty’s Mom)

Feeding tubes are sometimes seen as a sign death is around the corner for humans also, so there can be a resistance to using them. But in reality, as with the cats Elisa wrote about, the feeding tube is a tool to help someone get better. Each case is different, but I’m sure there are lots of instances where the feeding tube is just going to ensure the cat gets enough nutrition, which is a good and necessary thing on the road to health. One danger might be if too much food is given through the tube– I know in humans this can lead to the food ending up in the lungs, causing pneumonia. For this reason, any patient with a feeding tube must have the head of his/her bed elevated to at least 45 degrees. It is more of a danger of something ending up in the lungs if they are positioned flat on the bed. Since cats will not be positioned flat on their backs, perhaps the danger of aspiration is reduced, even if too much food is given through the tube.

For humans the feeding tube is often needed because a patient who had a stroke will have muscle weakness and this can include the muscles involved in swallowing, allowing food (more often thin liquids) to be aspirated, or deposited into the lungs instead of the stomach. A person can be a silent aspirator, ending up with liquid in the lungs without the person ever coughing. If the speech therapist working with the patient suggests a feeding tube is necessary, this recommendation is to prevent aspiration pneumonia, which is a killer. I have seen patients, with the help of a speech therapist (they specialize in swallowing as well as speech) regain their ability to safely swallow food and liquids, get off the feeding tube and go on with their lives. If they or their families had rejected the use of the feeding tube the patient most likely would have died of pneumonia. A feeding tube can be a temporary lifesaving device during recovery from a stroke. Thickened liquids also aid in a safe recovery, though many people refuse these also, because they find them unpalatable. I don’t know if thin liquids are ever withheld from cats with swallowing difficulties.

For human and animal there is a time when a feeding tube is not needed or desired, such as when organs are shutting down and the body can no longer process food. Elisa makes a good point that there are many, many times that this is not the case and the temporary use of the feeding tube can help to facilitate an eventual recovery.

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