What are Feeding Tubes?

A feeding tube is a flexible length of piping that allows food to be directly placed into an animal's stomach or intestinal tract. Feeding tubes become necessary for dogs when they are either unable or unwilling to swallow or chew food themselves. 

Placement of a feeding tube may be done by manually running the tube through the nostril and into the esophagus (naso-esophageal or nasogastric placement). A feeding tube may also be placed surgically: 

  • Esophagostomy: The tube is fed through an incision the neck and into the esophagus
  • Gastronomy: The tube passes directly through the abdominal wall into the stomach 
  • Jejununostomy: The tube passes through the abdominal wall into the small intestine

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Feeding Tubes Procedure in Dogs

The dog will first have to be placed under a general anesthetic, and shaved (if a surgical implantation is being carried out) before an endoscope is inserted down the esophagus and into the stomach. This will allow the surgeon to see when the feeding tube has reached its target. In a surgical implantation, the next step is to make the incision through which the tube will be passed. While in the neck this is a relatively straightforward procedure, cutting into the stomach itself will require a series of clamps to prevent tearing of the stomach lining as the tube is passed through. If the tube is being placed nasally, the next step is to simply guide the tube down the esophagus and into the stomach before fixing it in place. For a gastronomy, the last step is to properly secure the tube to prevent accidental dislodgement, before suturing the incision closed. In all, the whole operation should take roughly an hour.

Efficacy of Feeding Tubes in Dogs

Placement of a feeding tube will provide an almost instant capability to start ingesting and digesting food again. Whilst nasal feeding tubes can remain in place for many weeks at a time, surgically implanted ones are usually only used for a limited period - usually four to six weeks in total. That said, there are options available for animals that require a more long-term solution, including lower-profile gastronomy-placed tubes which allow for a higher level of exercise and nasal tubes that require less frequent changing. Instead of having a feeding tube placed in their dog, some owners opt for force-feeding to administer food. Although effective, this method can be very stressful for the dog and can condition them to react negatively when the same foods used during force feeding are offered to them after the treatment period has ended.

Feeding Tubes Recovery in Dogs

Whilst owners will be able to start feeding their dog right after the installation of a feeding tube, they will have to spend time with the vet going over the specifics for their particular case. It is also important to note that the dog will require regular follow-up visits and possible endoscopies in order to make sure that the feeding tube is working well and that the dog is in good health (especially if the tube is surgically implanted). It may also be necessary to limit the dog's exercise to prevent dislodging the tube or tearing a surgical incision - and whilst low-profile tubes that sit almost flush with the skin are available, owners should still be vigilant.

Cost of Feeding Tubes in Dogs

The price of a feeding tube varies by location and also depends on the type of tube being used and the age of the dog receiving the treatment. For nasal tubes, the cost can be roughly $400, while surgically implanted tubes can run as high as $1,000.

Dog Feeding Tubes Considerations

Whilst a feeding tube is possibly the most effective and straightforward way to deliver food to a dog that cannot or will not eat, there are some risks that owners should be aware of. The foremost amongst these is the use of general anesthetic, which can cause respiratory failure. This can be especially dangerous for older dogs, who also happen to be the main users of feeding tubes. The second problem is the risk of infection. Although surprisingly small, the risk of infection (especially in surgically implanted tubes) can give some owners pause for thought. Fortunately, this can be mitigated to a large degree by maintaining a sanitary living area for the dog, thereby preventing them from coming into contact with harmful bacteria on a regular basis.

Feeding Tubes Prevention in Dogs

Most dogs that require feeding tubes do so purely as a consequence of old age and congenital problems. Thus, there is little that can be done to avoid their use aside from maintaining a good standard of health and fitness. That said, injury to the esophagus is preventable, and by being mindful of what objects their dog is investigating or chewing, owners can prevent such avoidable damage.

Feeding Tubes Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

Max
Labrador Retriever
9 Years
Serious condition
0 found helpful
Serious condition

Has Symptoms

Regurgitating
Megasophegus

Medication Used

metaclopromide

My 9 year old Lab has megaesophagus. A myriad of tests have been given and the cause is idiopathic. He has lost 30 pounds from his slightly overweight high of 90 pounds. We get a food from the vet that holds together well and we feed him this food rolled into meatballs. He hasn't always been successful in keeping the food down and would vomit after holding him upright for 1 hour. And sometimes he could regurgitate this foamy, mucousy, slime up to 8 hours after feeding, but no food. They want to euthenise or a feeding tube. He has been getting acupuncture and I thought it started to work. If He gets the feeding tube will he possibly be able to eat again if I continue with the acupuncture? Or do you have any recommendations for me. Thank you!

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
977 Recommendations

Unfortunately in as you know, in most cases of acquired megaesophagus the cause is determined to be idiopathic. Like you have been doing, balling up food into meatballs and feeding is the best method; however some dogs with megaesophagus require a feeding tube. There are different options for feeding tube placement which would need to be discussed with your Veterinarian. I cannot guarantee that acupuncture would ‘cure’ Max or not but it certainly wouldn’t do any harm. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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Trevor
Redtick coonhound
9
Serious condition
0 found helpful
Serious condition

Has Symptoms

Refusal to Eat
Depression

My dog had an esophagus feeding inserted, a day later his neck swelled to breathing difficulties so the vet rewrapped the bandage looser. My dogs neck was looked like a guppy fish swelling under head. I ice/heat packed for a day. Next day feeding tube came out, it was a nasty infection. My question is what is the best way to care for the infected oozing wound? I can put a head guard on him and he is trying to itch it. Also is it ok to use the diluted wet dogfood we were giving in feeding tube as a syringed into mouth (slow and no force)? I feel this was worst for him than letting him go over the rainbow bridge. I just don't want him to suffer more.

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
977 Recommendations

I am assuming that the tube was removed and the oesophagus was closed at the insertion site. Feeding very slowly with wet food mixed with water should be OK, but it will be a tedious drop by drop feeding allowing Trevor to lick small amounts as swallowing may be difficult or painful. The wound itself should be cleaned and kept free of dirt and debris using a dilute chlorhexidine solution; I wouldn’t recommend any collar to stop scratching as depending on the insertion point, it may ride up and irritate the wound. I would recommend to speak with your Veterinarian or another Veterinarian (if you wanted another opinion) to see the best way forward as these cases can be complicated and may require long-term supportive care. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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