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Esophagostomy Tube Feeding in Cats

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

Nutrition, Pet Services

What is an esophagostomy tube?

An esophagostomy tube is a small rubber tube that enters the esophagus through a surgical incision on the side of the neck. This allows food to be placed directly into the esophagus (the muscular tube that transports food from the mouth to the stomach) so that it can flow down into the stomach, by-passing the mouth and pharynx (the back of the throat). The feeding tube is not placed directly into the stomach.

An esophagostomy tube is used in cats that have jaw fractures or other mouth injuries that prevent normal or adequate eating, or in cats with diseases that have anorexia as a symptom.

How do I feed my cat through the tube?

You will syringe a special liquid diet or a homemade mixture through the tube two to five times per day. This food is formulated to meet your cat's nutritional needs; it should not cause vomiting or diarrhea. To feed your cat, follow these steps:

  • Prepare the food by combining the recommended canned diet and 10 oz (300mL) of water in a blender. Run the blender at high speed until the food is uniformly mixed. After mixing, pour the food through a kitchen strainer to remove any chunks or clumps of unblended food.

OR follow these instructions provided by your veterinarian:

______________________________________________________________________________

______________________________________________________________________________

  • Flush the tube with 2-3 ml of water to ensure it is not clogged.
  • Using the syringes provided, inject _____________ ml of the food into your cat's feeding tube _____________ times per day for a TOTAL of _____________ ml PER 24 It is helpful to inject the food slowly, about 1 ml per second. Elevate your cat's front feet so that the food easily goes into the stomach.
  • After you have given the appropriate amount of food, inject 5 ml of tap water through the tube to flush any remaining food from the tube. Replace the cap on the tube.
  • Any remaining food should be stored in the refrigerator. Before the next feeding, you should 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 mix the contents thoroughly prior to feeding because of the potential for 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 cat through its esophagostomy tube.

NOTE: Technically, a cubic centimeter (cc) and a milliliter (ml) are slightly different. However, for our purposes, a cc is the same as a ml. Syringes are often marked in cc's.

When and how is the feeding tube removed?

Some cats require several weeks of tube feeding before healing occurs and/or their appetite returns. At least twice weekly, offer your cat a small amount of its favorite food by mouth so that you will know when its appetite is improving. The esophagostomy tube will not hinder chewing or swallowing. After your cat has been eating well for three to four days, you should book an appointment for a recheck examination and tube removal. The decision to remove the tube depends on the condition being treated. You will be instructed when to return for a recheck examination. Removal of the tube is simple and does not require anesthesia; however, do not attempt to remove the tube on your own.

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