Tube Feeding Cats

Tube feeding cats is an excellent option for cats who can't or won't eat due to sickness or injury. Unlike some other animals who can go days without food, cats can develop serious medical complications if they don't eat for more than 24 hours. Several days of not eating can lead to failure of major organs, like the liver.

Reasons Why Cats Won't Eat

There could be many reasons why your cat won't eat. Bacterial and viral infections, a broken jaw, fever or even tooth decay could cause lack of appetite. More serious causes of anorexia in cats include liver disease or hepatic lipidosis, renal failure, diabetes mellitus and feline leukemia. Even the most minor of ailments can damage your cat's appetite, but failure to eat properly can compound his medical problems.

Syringe-Feeding versus Tube-Feeding

If your cat's ailment is minor, you might be able to syringe-feed him in the short term. However, syringe-feeding isn't an option for the seriously ill cat who might need a much longer recovery period. Syringe-feeding is stressful and difficult for both cat and owner, and it's very difficult to satisfy your cat's caloric and hydration needs through this method.

For cats suffering major organ disease or serious injury, tube feeding can be a life saving measure. Feeding tubes take about ten minutes to put in place under anesthesia. However, general anesthesia poses health risks for cats, which can be compounded if your cat is seriously weakened by malnutrition and illness. If your cat stops eating for any reason, see your vet as soon as possible to determine if a feeding tube is needed. The sooner the tube is placed, the lower the risks from use of anesthesia.

Types of Feeding Tubes

A nasogastric tube is a feeding option that can work for cats who need to be force-fed for several days. This tube passed through the nostrils into the esophagus, and is taped and sutured in place. It's easy to place and maintain, but its small diameter requires a liquid diet.

The PEG tube or gastronomy tube is a long-term option. This tube passes through the abdominal wall into the stomach. It's difficult to place and requires general anesthesia. It also carries a higher risk of infection.

An esophagostomy tube is one of the best long-term options. It passes through the neck into the esophagus, and can be placed with only light sedation. Complications are rare and usually non-serious.

Feeding Your Cat through a Tube

Veterinarians usually recommend A/D (prescription diet marketed by Hill's Pet Nutrition) for tube feeding cats. Your vet will tell you how much food to give and what supplements, if any, you should add. You may need to add some water to the food to make it pass through the tube more easily.

You'll need to tube-feed your cat several times a day. You can use a special syringe to put the food into the tube. Feed slowly to avoid clogging; the food should be at or slightly above room temperature. After feeding, flush the tube with warm water.