Esophagostomy Tube Feeding in Dogs

By Krista Williams, BSc, DVM, CCRP; Ernest Ward, DVM

What is an esophagostomy tube?

An esophagostomy tube is a small rubber tube that is surgically inserted into the esophagus (the muscular tube that transports food from the mouth to the stomach) through the skin of the neck. The esophagostomy tube allows food to be delivered to the stomach, by-passing the mouth and pharynx (back of the throat). This type of feeding tube is not placed directly into the stomach.

An esophagostomy tube is placed in dogs that have jaw fractures or other mouth injuries that prevent normal or adequate eating, or in dogs with diseases that have anorexia as a symptom and will not eat enough on their own. Your veterinarian will let you know when it should be removed.

How do I feed my dog through the tube?

The food must be liquefied to pass through the feeding tube. Most dogs that require a feeding tube need a high calorie diet to meet their nutritional needs. Premium brands of puppy food will often meet these needs. Your veterinarian may recommend a different diet, based on your pet’s individual needs. The liquid food mixture is administered by a syringe through the tube three to five times per day. To feed your dog, follow these steps:

  • Place one can of the recommended diet with the recommended amount of water in a blender. Run the blender at the high speed until the food is uniformly mixed.
  • After mixing, if needed, pour the food through a kitchen strainer to remove any chunks or clumps of unblended food.
  • Remove the cap from the feeding tube.
  • Flush the tube with 5-10 mL of lukewarm water to ensure it is not clogged. Stop if the dog coughs or gags. and contact the veterinary clinic.
  • Using the feeding syringe provided, inject the prescribed amount of food mixture into your dog's feeding tube. Inject the food slowly, about 1 mL per second. Elevate your dog's front feet so the food goes easily into the stomach. Giving the food too quickly can cause vomiting.
  • After you have given the appropriate amount of food, inject 10 mL of lukewarm tap water through the tube to flush any remaining food from the tube. Replace the cap on the feeding tube.
  • Store any remaining food in the refrigerator. Before the next feeding, warm the food to body temperature under hot tap water or in a microwave oven. If you heat it in a microwave oven, be sure to thoroughly mix the contents before feeding to minimize uneven heating. To be sure the food is not too hot, always check the temperature prior to feeding by placing food on the back of your hand. It should feel slightly warm.
  • Contact your veterinary hospital if you experience any difficulty when feeding your dog through its esophagostomy tube.
  • Medications may also be delivered directly through the feeding tube and followed with water, as above.
  • To prevent infection, the tube site (stoma) should be cleaned daily with a cleanser recommended by your veterinarian. Change the soft neck wrap or bandage as recommended by your veterinarian.
  • The tube must be capped when not in use.

When is the feeding tube removed?

The tube can remain in place for weeks to months. Some dogs require several weeks of tube feeding before healing occurs and/or their appetite returns. When directed you can start offering food. Start with a small amount of their favorite food by mouth so that you will know when their appetite is improving. The esophagostomy tube will not hinder chewing or swallowing. You will be instructed when to return for a re-check examination. The decision to remove the tube depends on the condition being treated. Removal of the tube is simple and does not require anesthesia; however, do not attempt to remove the tube on your own. The opening will gradually close on its own after removal.

Related Articles