Feeding tubes save lives and are not used as often as they should be for
Unfortunately, when most
people hear the term "feeding tube", they tend to panic - feeling like
this is the end of the road for their cat. However, feeding tubes
should not necessarily be viewed as a doom and gloom 'last ditch
effort' or as a 'heroic measure'.
I often hear people say
"oh, I would never put my cat through that!" Unfortunately, these
folks are not recognizing the tremendous value of feeding tubes to
support ill patients while they heal from a temporary illness or
injury. Most cats are not bothered by the tubes at
all! The human is the one who is bothered by it as the cat
just goes about its daily routine.
Anyone who has ever tried to
syringe-feed an ill cat for very long recognizes the stress that is
involved for both the cat and the human. Not only is it very
time-consuming, but the critical issue is that it is often very
difficult to meet the caloric and hydration (water) needs of the cat with this method.
Feeding tubes are not right
for every situation and case selection requires thoughtful consideration
- keeping the patient's best interest in mind - not the
human's. For cats that are suffering from a chronic, terminal
illness such as renal failure or cancer, it is my feeling that a feeding
tube is not necessarily appropriate to use in these cases. It is a
matter of personal choice to prolong the inevitable in our pets
and caregivers need to think long and hard before they put a feeding
tube in a patient with a terminal illness when euthanasia may be a much
more humane and loving decision to make.
Feeding tubes do require a
short period (~10 minutes) of general anesthesia to place and this is
often a concern when the patient is very debilitated. This is why
it is better to put a feeding tube in an anorexic patient sooner rather
See below for some pictures of feeding tubes that can be used to
reduce the stress to both the feline patient and the human caregiver.
Please note that most cats don't even notice them and they can eat and
drink with them in if they choose to do so.
The first tube that is shown is a pharyngostomy ("P") tube. It goes into
the side of the neck as shown and enters the back part of the oral
cavity and then heads down the esophagus. Some veterinarians prefer to use an esophagostomy
("E") tube which goes in lower down the
neck. Either tube works well but E
tubes are the most common feeding tube
Another type of feeding tube is called a PEG tube and is shown at the
bottom of this page. This type of tube takes more
expertise to place and must stay in for a minimum of 2-3 weeks unlike P
or E tubes which can be removed at any time. PEG tubes also have a
higher risk for complications associated with them.
Each case has to be considered individually when deciding which type of
tube to use.
Here are some pictures of some of my recent patients/foster cats with
Poor Chase (abandoned by his owners) was very sick with hepatic lipidosis ("fatty liver"
disease), pancreatitis, and IBD. His hepatic lipidosis made it
critical that he receive adequate nutrition to save his life but given
his illness, he was unwilling to eat.
If syringe feeding was
attempted, he would salivate copiously and would not swallow the food.
(Note the thick, ropey saliva coming
from his mouth in the picture below.)
It would also trigger more vomiting causing a great deal of stress for
both of us so a feeding tube was put in place and he was fed a very
small volume of pureed canned Wellness every 2 - 3 hours.
highly doubtful that he would have survived without a feeding tube. You can see
the tip of it hanging off to his right. Chase did vomit many times
with this tube in place but, fortunately, the tube never came up which
can be a complication when feeding tubes are used in vomiting cats.
update: Chase is now healthy and in a loving home.
update: Chase is still healthy and
Here you can see
the tube entering the side of his neck
and the sutures holding it in place.
This area needs to be kept clean and neosporin,
or another antibiotic ointment, applied.
Above and below are
two pictures of a makeshift collar that I
used to keep Chase's tube in place. It is fashioned in such a way
that it will breakaway if caught on anything. You can also use
body wraps like shown below but if the weather is too hot, I prefer to
just use a safety type of collar.
Another option is
to order a
Kitty Kollar which is designed to
use with a feeding tube. Please
visit the Kitty Kollar website to view a
very helpful video that shows how to: 1)
remove the collar, 2) clean the area
where the tube exits the neck, 3)
replace the collar.
Chase would never have had the pleasure of wearing
his Santa hat had it not been for a feeding tube. This very
handsome boy posed for this picture December, 2006.
Here is Misty with her feeding tube in place after
she had to have a kidney removed. She is wearing a 'Critter Wrap'
that held her tube in place but these wraps keep the cat too hot and do
not allow them to groom
themselves...and basically annoy the heck out of the poor cat.....so I prefer to use an Elastikon tape collar rigged so it
would break away if caught on anything. (See Chase's and Bennie's pictures.)
The other option, as mentioned above, is
Misty is shown here eating with her tube still in
place. Once she was eating well on her own, I removed the tube.
(By the way...I had her 'dress' on up side down in this picture....oops....no wonder she walked funny since it was goosing her in
the armpits...) Misty is now back in her adoptive home. (She was
my original rescue and in order to keep the costs down, I did the
surgery aftercare at my home before sending her back to her
Molly was extremely obese and it was drastically
affecting her health. She could barely walk and could not clean
herself and was, in all probability, headed for diabetes. The
problem was that she absolutely refused to eat canned food and getting
her on a healthy diet was her ticket to a happier and healthier life.
She had already been returned to our adoption agency because of her lack
Molly was being fed a small amount of a very low
quality and species-inappropriate diet of Hill's dry r/d and a shock collar was being used to keep her away from
her housemates' food. Since dry food is a very unhealthy and illogical diet
for a carnivore and is the type of food that led to Molly's debilitated
physical state, it was critical
that she be transitioned to a canned food diet.
had other ideas and wanted to continue eating dry food so a feeding tube was
put in when she was under anesthesia for a dental cleaning. She was then
fed pureed Wellness for the next 2.5 weeks. At that time, she started
eating canned food on her own and the tube was removed. She
eventually lost 7 lbs (going from 20 lb
to 13 lb) and enjoyed the next several
years as a happy and active
kitty.....even jumping with ease on to a
very high bed to sleep with her 'mom'.
Feline Obesity page:
It is with great sadness that I announce
the passing of our sweet Molly. Molly
was a very special girl. She was
incredibly kind, affectionate and very
gentle. Molly was a wonderful companion
to Maurine's 90+ year old mother -
providing Mrs. H with great comfort in
her remaining days as the elderly woman
dealt with advancing Alzheimer's
disease. I know that Maurine will
always be grateful for the comfort that
Molly provided for her mother.
Thank you, Molly, for all that you
taught me during our journey to find
your inner svelt and healthy cat.
Molly looks grumpy in the picture to the left but
she really was a very sweet and gentle little girl. Shortly after
these pictures were taken, I figured out how to make a nice
breakaway collar so that she would not have to wear this awful dress.
As you can see by
these pictures, a feeding tube does not
restrict their activity. Molly was
able to hang out with her buddies like a
Some of you
may have seen Bennie on my Feline Obesity
page. Bennie had his feeding tube in for about 5 weeks. I
only used it for the first 2-3 weeks but I kept it in for another ~2
weeks just to make sure that he was going to eat well on his own.
When it came
time to feed him, he would crawl in my lap and purr away. He
was not bothered by the tube at all and would play like a normal cat
during the 5 weeks that the tube was in place.
This is not a very good movie but it was the best that
I could do without help.
note that the tube is not left long and
flopping around like
shown below. Otherwise, it could get caught on
something. The end of the tube is
poked through a hole in the collar on
the right side of the neck to hold it in
place. (See the third picture on
this page - Chase's picture above.)
The next two
pictures were taken just a few hours after Bennie had the feeding tube
put in. As you can see, he is none the worse for wear after his
trip to the clinic which also included a dental cleaning - which I
always do if I have any of my cats under general anesthesia.
soon as I brought him home from the clinic and gave him a meal through
his tube, he was much brighter and more alert than he had been prior to
the tube placement. After his first feeding, he rolled over for a
And finally, my much loved Sundance.....
Even though these are not good pictures of a PEG tube, I had to put them
on this page to honor my precious boy. I rescued Sundance from the
'euthanize list' at our local shelter. He weighed a nice 10 pounds
at the time. He was then adopted out to what I thought was a
loving home but the people returned him to me 2 years later as an emaciated
4.5 pound cat.
They had not sought any veterinary care for what
turned out to be lymphoma. I immediately put a PEG tube in him and
within a couple of months he returned to a robust 10 pounds of pure
love. Unfortunately, Sundance lost his battle with cancer and I
had to put him to sleep which darn near killed me. I still cry
over him and that was 10 years ago....
You can see the PEG tube port near Sundance's shoulder. This tube
went directly into his stomach entering from the left side just behind
the ribcage. Sundance was never bothered by this tube and lived a
normal life for the 3-4 months that it was in.
I do want to comment that if the diagnosis of terminal lymphoma would
have been made prior to the tube placement, I would have opted for
euthanasia rather than to prolong the inevitable with a feeding tube.
This is because he was experiencing
occasional severe pain when eating.
The lymphoma was in his head/sinus area
which made it hard to diagnose.
If your veterinarian
recommends a feeding tube for your sick kitty, please do not hesitate to
utilize this life-saving tool.
Information on this site is for general informational purposes only
and is provided without warranty or guarantee of any kind. This
site is not intended to replace professional advice from your own
veterinarian and nothing on this site is intended as a medical diagnosis
or treatment. Any questions about your animal's health should be
directed to your veterinarian.