Instead of viewing anorexia as a secondary problem that will improve when the primary disease has resolved, it is better to
be proactive and administer nutrients early. The major consequences of malnutrition are decreased immunocompetence, decreased
anabolism, and altered intermediary drug metabolism. In chronic illness, loss of muscle mass is commonly observed before serum
protein levels become subnormal because muscle wasting is less life threatening than decreased serum protein concentrations.
Survival rates of human patients have been directly correlated with available muscle mass. Loss of more than 25 to 30% of
body protein compromises the immune system and muscle strength, and death results from infection, pulmonary failure or both.
As in human medicine, malnutrition in veterinary patients is thought to increase morbidity and mortality.
Any sick dog or cat with voluntary food intake significantly below the calculated daily resting energy requirement (RER) for
more than three days is a good candidate for assisted feeding. Fasting for longer than three days results in enterocyte deterioration
and decreased gastrointestinal immunity. Translocation of enteric bacteria may occur across a compromised intestinal mucosal
barrier. Enteral infusion of even small quantities of a liquid diet (microenteral nutrition) has proven beneficial in preventing
intestinal mucosal deterioration during parenteral nutrition in piglets and in human infants and adults
Selection of Feeding Route
Nutrients can be supplied either enterally or parenterally. Enteral feeding is preferred to parenteral feeding, whenever possible,
because using the gastrointestinal tract is less expensive, stimulates the immune system and avoids most metabolic complications.
Nutrients must be administered parenterally when the small intestine is not functioning sufficiently well to meet the patient's
nutrient requirements enterally. When enteral access cannot be safely acquired for several days, parenteral nutrition can
be used initially. An indwelling feeding tube is the method of choice if enteral feeding is necessary for more than two days.
Nasoesophageal, esophagostomy, gastrostomy or enterostomy are potential tube placement sites. Pharyngostomy tubes are no longer
recommended due to the risk of aspiration pneumonia. Because of frequency of insertion and ease of use, this talk will focus
on placing and using nasoesophageal tubes.
Nasoesophageal (NE) tubes are generally placed to feed cats or dogs that are anticipated to need feeding for less than a week,
such as for patients with facial trauma that may be unable to eat initially, or to precede placement of a more durable tube.
Nasoesophageal tubes are occasionally used to feed a patient for several weeks, such as some cats with liver disease. General
anesthesia or tranquilization is not necessary to place an NE tube, therefore these tubes provide enteral access to patients
considered anesthetic risks.
Indwelling NE tubes are placed so that the tip lies in the distal third of the esophagus, not in the stomach (hence, the term
"stomach tube" is not used). The reason for this is that gastric acid will reflux back into the distal esophagus if a tube
is holding open the lower esophageal sphincter, causing esophagitis. A distal esophageal placement is accomplished by measuring
the tube along the approximate course of the esophagus from the nose to the 10th rib before placing the tube. Polyurethane
tubes (with or without a tungsten-weighted tip) and silicone feeding tubes may used. An 8-Fr. tube will pass through the nasal
cavity of most dogs; a 5-Fr. tube is more comfortable for most cats.
Contraindications to using an NE tube include neurologically impaired patients (recumbent and/or lack of gag reflex), patients
with primary gastric disease, gastric outflow obstruction, or gastric paresis (i.e. conditions causing profuse vomiting),
and animals with severe facial, maxillary, or nasal trauma or disease. Severe debilitation/lateral recumbency may provide
a relative contraindication.
5 French 36" or 8 French 42" feeding tube with a 0.025" or 0.035" angiography guide wire stylet
Topical anesthetic such as ophthalmic anesthetic drops
KY jelly or anesthetic lubricant
Mineral oil (lubricant for stylet)
Suture (3/0) and 20 gauge needle
Sterile saline, 12 cc syringe, and stethoscope for testing placement