Tube-Feeding a Sick Cat
I visit a wonderful veterinary clinic with three skilled and creative veterinarians, and a helpful and compassionate staff. They’re all lovely people, but I’ve had to spend way too much time with them during the past three weeks.
In a nutshell, both of my cats, Eddie and Priscilla, had loose stools for a couple of days. Priss recovered, but Eddie ended up with stools of just blood and mucous, so I took him to the clinic. Eddie is also diabetic, which means his health is somewhat fragile to begin with. And, to make a very long story short, a few days after I first took him in, I dropped him off first thing in the morning so he could go on an IV. I expected to be called to return so that he could have that last injection we never want to give our pets.
Instead, our veterinarian called later than planned to tell me she’d stabilized him and to ask what I wanted to do. The thought was that if she and the other vets and staff could get him through the next several days, they could send him home with some chance of a full recovery. But I would have to tube-feed him for at least a couple of weeks. She asked if I would be willing to do this. I said yes. She asked how I would feel if, after tube-feeding him, he died anyway. I said I’d feel terrible, but I’d at least have the satisfaction of knowing that I’d fought for him.
Since then, I’ve learned that people are often reluctant to tube-feed their pets in a medical crisis. So I feel like I have to take a stand. As Dr. Pierson says on her page discussing tube-feeding, this is a very valuable method of getting a cat through a temporary medical crisis. Just as you can’t leave a pet in the veterinary ICU forever, you can’t tube-feed long-term. If your cat has incurable cancer, for example, that’s not likely to be a situation appropriate for tube-feeding. But if your cat is likely to recover, then why not do it?
So I’m going to detail my experience of tube-feeding Eddie, complete with pictures. Tube-feeding is not for wimps, but it’s not hard, either. I am easily frustrated, so if I can do it, most people can do it as well. After you give a couple of tube-feedings, you start to figure out what works and what doesn’t. It is somewhat time-consuming, and it will dictate your schedule for 2 to 3 weeks. But if you have some flexibility, it’s worth it.
The first couple of times I did it this time, I was very frustrated. Tube-feeding has potential to be messy, and I got food and water all over the place. I also had trouble getting food into the syringe without a lot of air. But I quickly got past those issues, and now it’s just routine.
Here is a picture of Eddie sleeping in the bay window, which is about 3 feet from the floor, and which he jumped onto himself. Notice that you can’t see his feeding tube, which goes into his esophagus through his neck. He’s sleeping on the tube, in fact, which is one of many indications that it doesn’t really bother him.
In this picture, there’s the basic “stuff” that I need for the tube-feeding. On the left is a red t-shirt, machine washable and baggy enough to throw over whatever I’m already wearing. The potential for mess is always there, and instead of changing clothes, it’s easier to keep using the same large shirt as a sort of smock. There are also syringes, one for food and one for water, plus a mortar and pestle for grinding up pills that go into Eddie’s food. This time the food is already liquified, but you may end up having to use a blender.
Dave took a few pictures of me tube-feeding Eddie. It has to go slowly, because you can’t dump a lot of food into a cat’s stomach all at once. I’m giving him about five 25-30 cc feedings a day, since the usable food from his can comes to about 140-155 cc’s of high-calorie, high-quality, prescription cat food. A 25-30 cc feeding takes me about 12-15 minutes, plus 3-5 minutes of preparation time. So we’re talking about just over an hour and a half a day. Eddie is worth it.
I am looking forward to Eddie’s full recovery. He’s begun licking but not eating the regular cat food, which is Wellness canned food. He’s behaving normally and seems to be regaining his energy, although his weight is still down from the trauma of his medical ordeal. The veterinarians are optimistic, so I’m optimistic, though it will be a huge relief to have him eating on his own again. And if for some reason that doesn’t happen and I lose him, at least I will have made the effort.
Update, 6/8/2010: Turns out the tube-feeding gave me just shy of two more years with Eddie. For a while, we suspected he had some digestive system ailment that defied diagnosis. He began losing weight a few weeks ago, quit eating altogether on June 3, and died in my arms after being euthanized at the vet yesterday, June 7. Tube-feeding was not an option this time for several reasons, one of which is the fact that we had no diagnosis, which meant there was no roadmap for recovery.
I will miss him terribly — there is a huge hole in my heart now — but I will also admire his spirit and cherish his love. As Dave said, he was intrepid. And I believe that by being cooperative in allowing me to tube-feed him, he helped create a resource that appears to be of assistance to other cat owners trying to extend their kitties’ lives.
Rest in peace, little one.
Update, 7/21/2010: I still miss Eddie — and Priscilla, and Hillary and Rabbit. But I am happy to announce that I have adopted two new cats, Sasha and Paris. A post and pictures will follow in the next couple of weeks. For now I’ll just note that they are rescues, 1-year-old siblings with silky medium-length charcoal-colored hair, who were born into a feral colony and socialized as kittens. They’re shy but also sweet and playful, and I look forward to many years with them.