If a cat who cannot eat by mouth is sent home, it may be with either an E-tube or a G-tube. But sometimes cats who will be “off” their feedings only for the days they will be in the hospital are given a different type of apparatus to administer meals.
Called a nasoesophageal or nasogastric tube, it starts just outside one of the nostrils and goes through the nose and into the esophagus or stomach. “It’s typically used short-term,” Tufts veterinary nutritionist Dr. Freeman explains, “often as a bridge while an animal’s not eating for a narrow period right after surgery.”
Another type of feeding tube for hospitalized cats is called a jejunostomy tube. The jejunum is the middle of the small intestine, which is further along the gastrointestinal tract than either the esophagus or the stomach. “We use it if there are problems with the stomach or pancreas,” Dr. Freeman says, but it’s not ideal. One reason is that placing a jejunostomy tube typically requires surgery. In addition, a liquid diet has to be administered continuously over 24 hours, which is why the hospitalization is necessary.
Any tube feeding that allows food to enter some part of the GI tract — called enteral nutrition — helps keep the entire tract functioning normally while the animal cannot take food by mouth. That’s important. You always want the gastrointestinal tract to function as close to normally as possible because otherwise it atrophies, which in turn affects “motility, the absorptive structure of the gut, and the gut’s immune function,” Dr. Freeman says.
But if the gastrointestinal tract cannot be used at all and must be bypassed — for example, if the cat is vomiting or has nausea that can’t be controlled by medications — a specially prepared solution of calories and other nutrients can be administered directly into the bloodstream. This is called parenteral nutrition. Parenteral nutrition is used only for the sickest of hospitalized patients who cannot take food by mouth — or esophagus, stomach or small intestine.