A few months ago I brought home three new cats. They were all about 2 years old, and had lived together their whole lives. They were in need of a new home, as their previous owners had split up and moved away, and the owner’s mother was trying to clean their apartment, get rid of what was remaining of their possessions, and find homes for the three cats.
These poor critters had been left mostly alone in the apartment for a few weeks, with daily visits from the mother to feed them and clean their litter box. When I came to see them, they looked to be in good health, but were all rather timid. With their lives in turmoil, that was understandable, so I decided to bring them all home.
A few weeks ago, one of the cats, Chanel, started to lose some weight. She was quite listless, not wanting to eat or be around anyone. I contacted the local vet, and brought her in for them to look at.
The initial visit resulted in the need for some blood work. Then x-rays. We had to leave her at the vet so they could put her on an IV, and get some fluids into her, as she had also become dehydrated. Unfortunately, the test results didn’t clearly show what the problem was, so the vet wasn’t sure of the best way to treat her. After a couple of days at the vet with not much improvement, they recommended we take her to a specialist who would be able to perform an ultrasound on her.
The new vet had a look at her, and was pretty certain that she had a liver disorder of some kind, especially given the test results, and the fact that the inside of her ears, eyes, and mouth had turned yellow (which indicated she was jaundiced). He thought the most likely possibility was hepatic lipidosis, a condition of the liver, but there could also be a blockage somewhere, in which case she would need surgery to remove it.
The vet performed the ultrasound, and determined that (thankfully) there was not a blockage, so we proceeded with treatment for hepatic lipidosis. He felt she had a good chance of recovery from this, so after discussing with the vet, we proceeded with his recommendation of inserting a feeding tube.
A few things we quickly learned about this:
- Hepatic lipidosis is often caused by separation anxiety, stress from moving, or general changes in environment. These issues can lead to a cat not wanting to eat, and as the vet pointed out, the cat’s metabolism is very quickly affected if they stop eating.
- The feeding tube is a temporary solution, which could be required anywhere from two to six weeks (or until she starts to eat regular food again).
- The feeding tube is inserted through her neck, directly into her esophagus. It is stitched in at her neck incision and held in place with tape as well.
- She is fed a liquid food diet (canned, high-calorie food mixed with water into a liquid slurry), which is inserted by a syringe through the tube, several times a day. The vet had started off with four feedings, slowing progressing to 50cc per feeding.
- After each feeding, 10cc’s of water is flushed through the tube to clean it out, and prevent any buildup of food that could block the tube.
- If successful, this aggressive feeding schedule allows the liver to start working properly again, and the condition should eventually reverse itself.
Once the vet got the feeding tube inserted, they had to keep her for a few more days. He didn’t want to let Chanel come home yet, as she had developed a bit of a fever after the surgery. He did call us daily though, and kept us informed of her progress.
After several days, her temperature had come down to normal, so we brought her home and started our new feeding regimen with Chanel. Things started off fairly good, and the kids were great at helping hold her for each of the feedings.
We ran into a few issues though:
- We found the food was quite grainy after mixing it up with water, and it would get stuck a lot during the feedings (it would block up the syringe, so we’d have to keep stopping to shake it up a bit).
- Occasionally, we’d have to stop and flush out the feeding tube with water as well, whenever food particles started to block it up a bit.
A couple days after we had her home, we noticed during one of her feedings that there was food coming out around her “collar” (a fabric collar around her neck in which the tube was inserted through). This was NOT good, as it meant that the tube had come out!
Fortunately, the specialist vet had a 24-hour clinic, so I called and told them what was happening. They said I needed to bring her back in. So, off I went for the two hour drive back to the vet (it was Friday evening when this had happened). The vet needed to re-insert the tube, and since the opening was so new, food had gotten under her skin, so he wanted to flush all that out too. What an ordeal (for both Chanel and us!).
I left her at the vet and came home.
The re-insertion of the tube went well, but the vet wasn’t sure what would happen with the food under her skin. He had not seen this happen before, and hoped it wouldn’t cause any infection or other issues. Again, she had developed a bit of a fever, so he wanted to keep Chanel there for a couple of days. This time though, we were all a little more hesitant to bring her home too soon, especially after what had happened. I decided to ask the vet if they could keep her there for a few days longer, to give her a little more time to recover and make sure the feedings went smoothly. The vet was great – they only charged us a “special-needs boarding” rate for these extra days (instead of their regular hospital rate). I won’t even mention what the bill had come to at this point for everything. But, we have always taken care of our animals, and even though Chanel was such a new member of the family, we agreed that if she had a good chance of recovering, then we would do what we needed to help her.
Fortunately, there was no sign of problems with the food under her skin. Her temperature was back to normal, and she was gaining weight. After a few more days, we brought Chanel home again (this was a Thursday). However, that didn’t mean we weren’t in for another surprise.
This time, the vet had taken extra measures to secure her feeding tube. He had also marked the tube so we could see if it started to pull out at all. He told us to call if it moved by more than an inch. We had a couple days of feedings with Chanel, then Sunday morning we went to feed her and noticed the mark had moved out by 1.5 inches!
We had no idea what she could have done to pull out the tube, as the tape and the stitches still seemed fine. I called the vet’s office again, and again, they said I should bring her in. This time, the vet that saw Chanel happened to be the wife of the vet who we had been working with. She had a look and agreed it didn’t look like the tube was out, based on its position in Chanel’s neck. She even tugged on the tube, and it didn’t seem to budge. But she talked to one of the technician’s who was there when they initially inserted the tube, and she agreed the mark had moved out. They did a quick x-ray, and compared the position of the tube to the previous x-ray, and indeed it had pulled out by almost 2 inches. However, she was able to push it back in WITHOUT any further surgery. She taped it up again and put an extra layer of vet wrap around the tube to keep it from getting snagged on anything.
We are all HOPING that her feeding tube doesn’t pull out again!
I brought Chanel back home, and we are trying this again. She is getting about four to six feedings per day, at 60cc per feeding. The vet had given us some larger syringes, which seem to help (we previously were using several smaller ones, which was challenging having to use three syringes per feeding). The food still gets stuck a bit, but I’m just loading up the syringe a bit more, and I don’t push through the last 5cc’s or so. This really helps to not get those grainy bits stuck in the tube. So, we seem to have a pretty good system going now. Chanel has been great through all of this, and has really started to seem like “her old self” again (even after today’s ordeal). She is active, and purrs whenever we get close. She also seems to like the extra attention she is getting with all the feedings!
Tonight, Chanel even started to nibble on some regular cat food. Keep your fingers crossed for her, and maybe the next time the feeding tube comes out, it will be because she doesn’t need it anymore!