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Ask the Vet: Feeding Tubes for Dogs

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Feeding Tubes for Dogs

Feeding tubes for dogs may be necessary at some point of a dogs life. It's unfortunate, but many sick dogs may not want to eat and the loss of calories may negatively affect them in many ways, putting a dent in their recovery. What strategies can dog owners use to convince their dogs to eat? When are feeding tubes for dogs appropriate? These are all important questions. Veterinarian Dr. Ivan shares some tips and strategies on convincing a sick dog to eat and discusses the use of feeding tubes in dogs, the different types and potential costs.

Dog Gasping for Air Before Dying

Types of Anorexia in Dogs 

The loss of calories and nutrients is detrimental even for healthy dogs. If sick dogs lack calories and nutrients, their overall state additionally declines and the chances for improvement are decreased. Anorexia in dogs (the medical term used to depict a loss of appetite for food) leads to delayed healing and further weight loss. Simply put, if a sick dog refuses to eat, things can go really bad really fast.

Generally speaking there are 2 types of anorexia: true anorexia where the dog does not want to eat, and pseudo anorexia, where the dog wants to it but it is unable to do so.

True anorexia can be caused by a variety of disorders such as systemic disease (diabetes), stress and pain, nausea, immune system issues, high environmental temperatures, ulcers, GI blockages and cancer.

Pseudo anorexia can be caused by stomatitis, gingivitis, esophagitis, advanced periodontal disease, pain in the temporomandibolar joint, inflammation of the masticatory muscles, salivary glands issues, cancer in the mouth and chronic pain.

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How to Treat Anorexia in Dogs

First and foremost, treating anorexia includes two important steps: addressing the underlying cause and providing proper nutrition during the healing period. Proper nutrition can be provided in several manners. Although highly effective, force feeding is quite stressful and therefore not recommended. (It may be therefore a good idea trying the first options first before resorting to force-feeding, but consult with your vet for specific advice based on your dog's condition).

Changing the Diet

Sometimes simple changes, like adding a canned formula or switching to a different protein source can do the trick and increase your dog’s appetite (ask your vet first how to switch if your dog has a sensitive stomach). Alternatively, to make things more palatable, you can add low-sodium broth (chicken, beef or vegetable) to the dog's regular food.

Warming Up Food

Warming up the dog's food to an approximate body temperature (38C) can make it more appealing.

Hand Feeding 

Some dogs are more spoiled than others and prefer the owner to put some extra effort in the feeding process.

Using Appetite Stimulants

The most commonly used appetite stimulants are: cyproheptadine, mirtazapine and Capromorelin (Entyce).

Force Feeding

Although highly effective, force feeding is quite stressful and therefore not recommended. Force feeding can cause food aversion and delay the spontaneous and voluntarily eating.

I.V. Feeding

It goes without saying that this option requires effort and usually hospitalization of the patient. Additionally, it should be mentioned that I.V. feeding provides water and not nutrients.

Types of Feeding Tubes for Dogs

life expectancy of addison disease in dogs

Feeding tubes are used when the dog is either unable or unwilling to eat on its own. Feeding tubes are made of soft silicone and are quite flexible. Their role is to bypass the mouth and eventually the stomach and to provide proper nutrition in spite of the dog’s anorexia.

Based on the specific needs, feeding tubes can enter the gastrointestinal system in various locations. The tube’s entry point and the type of food that will be passed through the tube depend on the dog’s illness and needs.

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There are several types of feeding tubes for dogs:

Naso-gastric Feeding Tube (NG tube)

The nasogastric tube is placed through the dog's nostril down into the esophagus. Placing a nasogastric tube requires minimal sedation and some local numbing agent. Once placed the nasogastric tube is secured with stitches. Using a nasogastric tube has both its pros and cons.

The pros of using a nasogastric tube is that it is easy to place and it is the least invasive method. The cons of using a nasogastric tube is that it is not suitable for long-term use, due to its small diameter, it only allows using liquid food and it can easily get clogged.

Esophagostomy Feeding Tube (E tube)

Placing an esophagostomy tube requires general anesthesia because it involves making a small incision on the patient’s neck. Using an E tube has both its pros and cons.

The pros of using an esophagostomy tube is that, due to its larger diameter, the E tube expands the variety of feeding options and it is suitable for longer use. The main con of using an esophagostomy tube is the fact that it requires general anesthesia.

Gastrotomy Feeding Tube (G tube)

The gastrotomy feeding tube is placed directly into the stomach with the help of an endoscope or in an open belly surgery while the patient is fully anesthetized. Using a gastrotomy tube has both its pros and cons.

The pros of using a gastrotomy tube is that it is suitable for long-term use (several weeks to several months) and it allows using regular food as long as it is chopped in a blender. The cons of using a gastrotomy feeding tube is that it requires general anesthesia and it's a more complicated placement procedure.

Jejunostomy Feeding Tube (J tube)

The jejunostomy tube is used when it is necessary to bypass the stomach. Jejunostomy tubes are very narrow and they are placed directly into the small intestine’s portion called jejunum. These tubes are placed during an open belly surgery. Using a jejunostomy tube has both its pros and cons.

The main pro of using a jejunostomy tube is that it is suitable for conditions that require bypassing the stomach. The cons include the fact that its placement requires general anesthesia, it can easily become displaced, it is not suitable for long-term use, it can easily get clogged and allows using only liquid diets.

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Feeding Tube Warnings and Considerations 

Feeding tubes are not without complications, as with any other procedure complications are therefore possible. The most common complications include: infection of the placement site, accidental displacement or removal and the potential for clogging.

Regardless of the potential complications, feeding tubes are a lifesaving tool. Plus, with some small preventable measures (wearing Elizabethan collar, limiting the level of physical activity, using appropriate food type and keeping the placement site clean) the risk of complications can be minimized.

Before deciding on using a feeding tube, several factors need to be considered. Some of those are patient-related and some are owner-related. Patient-related factors to consider is that anesthesia can be risky, particularly in old and sick dogs and although low, the risk of infections and other complications must be mentioned.

What's the Cost of Feeding Tubes For Dogs? 

Owner-related factors to consider is that dog owners need to take a few lessons from the vet on how to properly use and care for the tube and the fact that feeding tubes can be quite pricey. What's the cost of feeding tubes for dogs? Depending on where you live and what type of tube will be used, the cost varies from $400 to $1000.

The Takeaway Message

To make the right and educated decision, talk to your trusted vet and do not hesitate to ask everything you want to know. In addition of indicating that something wrong is going on, consider that your dog's anorexia contributes to a more serious outcome. Therefore, all anorexia cases should be taken seriously and warrant a trip to the vet’s office!

When should a feeding tube in dogs be used? Whenever the GI tract is capable of digesting, a feeding tube should be used. Placing a feeding tube not only allows proper nutrition but it also promotes faster healing. It goes without saying that feeding tubes are not a permanent solution. Placing a feeding tube is considered a bridge procedure – just until the patient can eat on its own.

ivana crnec

About the Author

Dr. Ivana Crnec is a graduate of the University Sv. Kliment Ohridski’s Faculty of Veterinary Medicine in Bitola, Republic of Macedonia.

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