Feeding tubes are a veterinary tool used to provide your pet with food and water in the event that it can’t eat or drink normally. This can be because your pet is undergoing a surgical procedure, or because it is recovering from a previous condition. The tube passes through the neck into the oesophagus or directly into the stomach through a small opening in the skin and the wall of the abdomen, allowing nutrients to pass through uninterrupted.
Below, we’ve assembled the answers to some frequently asked questions we get about feeding tubes.
Why does my pet need a feeding tube?
A pet may need a feeding tube if it is not eating enough on its own. Other reasons to place a feeding tube would be if there is an injury to the mouth making it difficult to eat or if a part of the gastrointestinal tract must be bypassed, like the oesophagus (due to a foreign object injury) or stomach (because of severe and protracted vomiting).
What type of food will be used to feed my pet through the feeding tube?
Usually, normal dog or cat food is pureed to feed through the tube. If there are specific dietary requirements for liver, kidney or heart disease, the food can be changed to cater to those diets instead.
It is important to know the nutritional components of the diet being fed so that we can determine the appropriate amount. In smaller animals, particularly ones that require a high caloric content, one of the concentrated diets (like Hill’s A/D) are fed.
Will my pet need to be hospitalised while the feeding tube is in, or can I continue this at home?
Generally, patients can be discharged with some types of feeding tubes, but this is going to depend on the comfort level of both the owner and the veterinarian, as well as the health status of the patient. We are generally happier sending home pets with oesophagostomy tubes.
Will my pet still eat if there is a feeding tube in place?
Generally, pets can eat with a feeding tube in place. That is often how we decide when to remove the tube and switch back to oral feeding exclusively.
Will my pet need another anaesthetic to remove the tube?
Most patients can have the tube removed without the need for a second anaesthetic. If the pet is painful or fractious, sometimes, sedation is required.
What will I need to check with the tube while it is in?
- Discharge around the tube
- coughing while the pet is being fed
- blockage of the tube and vomiting
These are all signs to look out for in a patient that is being tube fed. It is critical that the patient wear an Elizabethan collar while the feeding tube is in place so that it is not removed prematurely.
What kind of maintenance does a feeding tube require?
We generally like to flush water through the tube before and after feeding. It is important that the pet not be allowed to chew on the tube or lick the opening.
Are there situations where tube feeding is not possible?
Feeding tubes are appropriate for most patients that are not able to get enough nutrition orally. The exception would be a patient which does not have any functional gastrointestinal tract. In that case, feeding is performed intravenously and this is called parenteral nutrition.
What are the possible complications of feeding tubes?
Complications that can stem from feeding tubes include:
- Premature removal. This is particularly serious if the tube is entering the stomach or passing through the abdominal wall. If this occurs it can result in a serious and sometimes fatal infection. Premature removal is not as much of an issue with oesophageal feeding tubes which are placed in the neck.
- Irritation of the skin around the tube opening. This can occur because of leakage around the tube to the outside. This can be avoided with meticulous cleaning of the stoma around the tube.
- Aspiration pneumonia can occur if the tube is inadvertently placed into the trachea (windpipe) or if the patient has a poor swallow reflex, causing aspiration. Pneumonia is always serious and if a patient coughs even once during feeding the feeding should be immediately stopped and the veterinarian should be consulted.
- Obstruction of the tube can occur, particularly with smaller feeding tubes. This can be avoided by feeding diets which have been sufficiently liquified to make them thinner.
- Refeeding syndrome can occur in some patients which are fed too quickly following a period of starvation.
How long can a dog or cat be on a feeding tube?
Dogs and cats can be fed for months with a feeding tube. This depends on:
- the type of feeding tube
- the patient’s response to feeding
- the size of the tube
- if the tube gets obstructed
Stomach tubes can be replaced with a low-profile valve which is flush against the skin with no external tube at all.