Pet Connection

Tube Talk

A feeding tube can save a sick pet’s life and make it easier and less stressful -- for both of you -- to give special diets and medications

By Kim Campbell Thornton

Andrews McMeel Syndication

Franny had a benign mass that ruptured, almost causing her to bleed out. Emergency surgery saved her life, but her recovery was rough. It was a struggle to get her to eat enough.

Veterinarian Julie Fischer placed a feeding tube in the 12- or 13-year-old beagle-mix, allowing owner Eliza Rubenstein to keep her dog medicated and at an appropriate weight.

“It removed the stress from her mealtimes and made food something we could enjoy together as a positive experience during her senior years,” Rubenstein says.

Placing a feeding tube may seem invasive, but most pets accept it well -- possibly better than their humans do. One of the major hurdles is convincing owners that the short anesthetic procedure to implant one will be beneficial for their sick, feeble companion, says Gary Marshall, DVM, of Island Cats Veterinary Hospital in Mercer Island, Washington.

A feeding tube can provide good quality of life and nutritional support during an illness that prevents pets from eating adequately: conditions that cause mouth pain, for instance, such as tumors, ulcers and trauma; postsurgical recovery, as with Franny; or chronic pancreatitis or kidney disease. In the latter case, cats may eat well enough but need the tube for medication and additional fluids. It’s often impossible for owners to give these effectively without increased stress to the patient and possible injury to the human, Dr. Marshall says.

“If we then look at these tubes as medication and hydration delivery ports, they can save that life and the relationship.”

Cara Quinn cared for her mother’s dog, who had pancreatitis, kidney failure and irritable bowel disease. The dog refused to eat, so a feeding tube in place for six weeks allowed her to recover without stress.

“She totally accepted it and was very calm about the entire process,” says Quinn, who also had to give the dog 12 medications daily through the tube. “It has been a year, and she is stable and doing great.”

Susan Rosenau’s dog Bacon had a functional ileus, meaning his digestive system was paralyzed. He couldn’t take food, water or medication by mouth, vomiting it back up right away, so he lost a lot of weight, Rosenau says. A feeding tube saved his life.

Dr. Fischer, who placed Franny's tube, says pets tend to tolerate esophageal tubes well. They can be placed quickly and easily and used immediately for as long as necessary, and they are easily removable. She has implanted some 300 esophageal feeding tubes in dogs and cats over the last 20 years.

“I’ve had maybe a dozen where either the pet or the owner -- or both -- did not do well with the tube, which I think is a pretty good success rate,” she says.

Pet food can be blended into a slurry that is then placed in the tube. For pets with kidney disease, liquid therapeutic renal diets are available, which pass easily through even narrow feeding tubes.

There are several types of feeding tubes, each suited to different conditions or circumstances. Depending on the type of tube and the pet’s needs, placement can require only local anesthetic or brief general anesthesia. Commercially available washable wraps to hold the tube in place make long-term maintenance easier. And certain types of tubes allow pets to eat naturally as well if they choose.

The most common complication is tube-site infection, easily treatable and minimized by good tube hygiene. Tubes can become clogged, so it’s important to flush them thoroughly before putting in food and water.

Franny later developed a predisposition to pancreatitis, and a feeding tube again allowed Rubenstein to give her the bulk of her calories through special liquid or blended diets and supplement with foods the dog enjoyed.

“I know that we had a couple of happy years together that we wouldn’t have had otherwise, and I would cheerfully do it all again for another beloved dog friend,” she says.


Can outdoor cats

live happily indoors?

Q: We hope to move in a couple of years. Are there any steps to prepare our four outdoor farm cats to become permanent indoor house cats? They do come inside the house in the wintertime.

A: If your cats are already used to spending some time indoors, it’s possible that they could adjust to living indoors full time. Planning and indoor enrichment beforehand will help, especially if you have a couple of years to prepare. These tips from Fear Free can help.

Since it’s winter now and your cats are spending more time indoors anyway, start making your home a more interesting and exciting place for them. Cats like to survey their living area from on high, so place a cat tree or two in areas that give them a view, either of the outdoors or of areas where you and your family enjoy spending time.

Turn mealtime into hunting time. Using commercial or homemade puzzle toys (see for ideas), hide meals around the house to give your cats the opportunity to use their keen sense of smell and feline hunting techniques to find their food.

Institute regular playtime. Using fishing-pole toys, large peacock feathers and other interactive toys, spend a few minutes a couple of times daily to give your cats some fun activity combined with attention from you.

Use feline pheromone sprays or diffusers, catnip and silver vine to give your cats a sense of calm and comfort inside the home.

Continue these activities throughout the year, not just in winter, to encourage your cats to spend more time indoors. When you move, make sure you have the new home set up with their familiar-smelling cat trees, beds and toys before bringing them in. Finally, if possible, build a “catio” so they can still enjoy the sights, scents and sounds of the outdoors in a safe way. -- Dr. Marty Becker and Mikkel Becker

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Overweight pets have

more health problems

-- People with fat cats and dumpy dogs should make a New Year’s resolution to help their pets lose weight, according to statistics from pet health insurance provider Nationwide, which says more than 20 percent of the pet health claims it fielded in were for obesity-related conditions. Arthritis was the No. 1 obesity-related condition in dogs. Others were bladder and urinary tract disease, liver disease, hypothyroidism, torn knee ligaments, spinal disc disease, diabetes, chronic kidney disease, heart failure and high blood pressure. In cats, bladder and urinary tract disease topped the list of obesity-related conditions, followed by chronic kidney disease, diabetes, asthma, liver disease, arthritis, high blood pressure, heart failure, gall bladder disease and spinal immobility.

-- Even in Southern California, unusually cold temperatures are prompting warnings to pet owners to protect their pets. No matter where you live, protect pets from the chill factor by decking them out in sweaters or coats if they are small or have thin coats. Booties can protect sensitive paws from salt or other chemicals used to melt ice, as well as from snow or ice balls that form between toes.

-- A sighthound called the Azawakh is a new addition to the dog show world. Originating as companions to nomadic Tuaregs, the sleek and beautiful dogs move with a floating gait described as breathtaking. Azawakh bond strongly to a single person or family and do best when placed as puppies in lifelong homes. Older dogs who are rehomed can find it difficult to switch their affections. Azawakhs are protective of their property and people, barking at approaching strangers. Their aloof nature can make them unsuited to families with young children. They do well in any type of home as long as they have access to an area where they can safely run off-leash. -- Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker


Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by "The Dr. Oz Show" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Kim Campbell Thornton. They are affiliated with and are the authors of many best-selling pet-care books. Joining them is dog trainer and behavior consultant Mikkel Becker. Dr. Becker can be found at or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker. Kim Campbell Thornton is at and on Twitter at kkcthornton. Mikkel Becker is at and on Twitter at MikkelBecker.

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