What is Nasal Catheter?

For certain procedures, a vet may choose to run a section of tubing through the nasal cavity in order to access certain sections of the body. This is because the nasal cavity can provide direct pathways to various organs without requiring surgical intervention. The tubing itself is typically of an inexpensive rubber or plastic construction and can have a variety of attachments and instruments plugged into it. For these reasons, the insertion of a nasal catheter is a fairly common procedure for vets to use.

Nasal Catheter Procedure in Cats

The first step the vet will take is to apply a general anesthetic to the cat and position it on its side. Next, the tube will be lubricated and inserted into a nostril, whereupon it will be fed deeper into the nasal passages and down the throat (depending on its final destination). An imaging machine is typically used to assist the vet in avoiding misdirecting the tube or applying too much pressure (which could potentially cause damage to the tissues of the nasal cavity). When the catheter has reached its intended target, the vet will typically secure the nose-end in place with tape after fitting an appropriate end-piece.

Efficacy of Nasal Catheter in Cats

The tube will normally be able to be used for its intended purpose immediately after installation. Feeding, for instance, can start as soon as the tube is in the esophagus or stomach and has been secured in place. The effects of the treatment delivered via the catheter will also be visible quite quickly, with provision of oxygen usually producing a markedly more alert and energetic animal. An alternative to the nasal catheter is to insert a tube directly through the side of the throat into the esophagus or trachea (known as esophagostomy and tracheostomy, respectively). While just as effective in delivering the food or oxygen to the cat, surgical implantation is significantly more invasive than a nasal tube.

Nasal Catheter Recovery in Cats

While the cat will be able to reap the benefits of the catheter as soon as it is in place, they will still have to spend time undergoing treatment for the underlying condition that necessitated the placement of the tube in the first place. The cat will additionally require regular follow-up visits and possibly endoscopies in order to make sure that the catheter is working as it should. Whilst the catheter itself should not limit normal breathing and ingestion of food, it is important to note that after several weeks it may have to be removed or replaced to prevent infection. 

Cost of Nasal Catheter in Cats

A nasal catheter insertion will by itself typically fetch a price of roughly $300-$400, depending on the health of the cat. A surgically implanted breathing or feeding tube on the other hand, can cost almost $1,000 for the procedure and aftercare.

Cat Nasal Catheter Considerations

While a nasal catheter can be a great tool for delivering minimally-invasive treatment to the cat, it is not without risk. Owners should bear in mind that the tube itself can attract a fair amount of bacteria if it is left in place for a long period of time, which can cause serious infections. That said, it is possible to minimize the risk of this happening by making sure that the cat's living area is kept clean and free of dirt.

Nasal Catheter Prevention in Cats

Though many cats that require a nasal catheter do so because of diseases and genetic problems that may not be immediately apparent to owners, damage to the esophagus is very avoidable. By making sure that the food and toys that their cats interact with are safe to chew (and possibly swallow), owners can eliminate the risk of many potential accidents.