Tips for Living with an E-Tube

Esophagostomy tubes (e-tubes) have saved countless feline and kanine lives. Here are a few tips I learned from the long-term use of an e-tube in my cat afflicted with intestinal lymphoma. None of these tips are meant to replace the advice of your veterinarian.

Download printable PDF version here

Establish a feeding place and stick to it

Cats do best with routine. I found that putting a washable blanket on a table works best. You can sit comfortably at eye level with the cat so both of you can relax. The cat is less likely to wiggle and try to run away. If your cat will take a treat or belly rub you can do it here, after his feedings. Soon the cat will know the routine and will wait by the table to be picked up and fed. Trying to feed the cat on a couch or chase him down results in spilled formula, dropped caps, avoidance behavior and worse.

Know where the cap is

Establish a routine of where to put the cap when you are feeding, in a special dish or cup. Otherwise, you will eventually go to cap the tube and not be able to find the cap. If you have not yet had the tube placed ask your veterinarian to order a tube that has a cap attached via a dangler so the cap cannot be lost.

Have an extra cap

Sooner or later, you won’t screw the cap on tight enough and the cat will manage to shake it loose during the day, never to be found again. You should always have a spare on hand (we have them available here). Some veterinarians will order one for you, but you may have to purchase the entire tube apparatus. If the worst happens, it gets lost and you don’t have another, use tape to close the end temporarily. Not recommended but you don’t want to ever leave the tube end exposed to air and pathogens.

Have a supply tray

Put everything for a feeding on a portable tray. A cup with water for flushing, paper towels, wound cleanser, the cup the cap goes in, all the medications already prepared, and one last item should be on hand-the “de-clogger”. This can be as simple as a large-sized paper clip formed into a straight length that can be inserted into the tube in case of a mild clog. If the clog occurs farther down in the tube, you can syringe in a small amount of regular coke and leave it there for a couple of hours. The bubbles and natural acids will usually clear the clog; if not, contact your vet.

Keep the site shaved

You cannot inspect the site properly if hair is growing around or into it. Your veterinarian will shave the area on request, or if you have a longhaired cat like mine that grows hair quickly, you can purchase clippers (human hair clippers available at drugstores are sometimes cheaper than ones labelled for pets).

Flush and fill

At one point, I thought I’d save time by just flushing after feeding with 5 ml of water. Within a day or so the tube developed a sour smell. It is imperative to get all the food out of the tube to keep food from pushing back up the tube. No need to overdo, 10-20 ml of water should do it. (ask your vet for specific amount)

Keep the site clean, dry and loosely covered

This is what Kitty Kollar® was designed to address. Your vet may give you products to clean the site. Or, you may use Betadine® or Chlorhexedrine® solution 10% to water 90% to gently wipe or pat the area when you change the bandaging. Bandages or coverings should be placed loosely so that the site can breathe, and never let the area stay wet or moist. Do NOT use Triple Antibiotic ointment (“Neosporin”) unless directed by your veterinarian. Some cats have adverse allergic reactions to one of the ingredients. Your veterinarian can prescribe a different ointment if it is needed, but usually just keeping the site clean is adequate. Never use alcohol or peroxide for cleaning.

Mark the “skin line”

Your collar should have sutures placed in the cat’s neck at skin level. You may want to mark that spot on the tube with a Sharpie pen, in the event that kitty breaks or pulls out the sutures (fairly common) and the tube slides out slightly. Most of the time, a tube that is out slightly can be gently eased back into place, but you must NOT go past that original line. It is not always necessary to have sutures replaced and in fact some animals do better without them; this should be discussed with your veterinarian.

Use the best syringes for feeding

There is definitely a difference in feeding syringes. The ones with black rubber plungers will become “sticky” and hard and fail after a few feedings. It is better to use the European silicone “o-ring” syringes. They are long lasting and virtually never stick. If you have small hands it is much easier to use a 20 or 35cc syringe than the monster 60cc size. I eventually found the “perfect” syringes and made them available on this website for purchase.

Use the right blender

If the food is too thick you are not going to be successful. You don’t need an expensive blender, it just needs to be small or food will just stick to the outside of the blender and not get pureed. I love the Magic Bullet (available online, at Costco, and drugstores, around $50). You can microwave your food to warm it right in the cup, then attach the blade part and blend for a few seconds to the perfect consistency. (If you warm your food, you must check it with a thermometer to make sure it is not above 100 degrees. It is extremely serious and deadly if you tube hot food into your cat and can result in esophageal and stomach burns that may not be repairable.)

Use the right food

If your vet has requested that you use a certain food, of course use that. But if not, know that not all foods blend alike. Some have grains, chunks, shreds or flakes that make it nearly impossible to blend them up finely enough. For example; if you are going to use Fancy Feast, only the “Gourmet” (also called Classic) flavors will blend smoothly. They are “pate-style”, without chunks, and blend into a smooth puree without much effort (added bonus: there is no gluten in those flavors). Anything with whole shrimp or fish or pieces of “real meat” is not a good candidate for blending. You can strain some of those foods, but that adds a lot of time and labor and may remove some of the protein source. I never needed to strain using pate-style food. Dr. Elsey’s cleanproteinTM pate-style foods blend well and use high quality animal proteins or fish as the primary ingredients. In addition, two flavors (duck recipe and pork recipe) are single-source protein foods which may be beneficial for cats with IBD.

Be prepared for emergency

If your kitty does manage to pull out his tube, it can usually be reinserted by a veterinarian non-surgically if you get the cat to them within a couple of hours. If not, your cat will have to undergo another surgery. So be sure you have the name of the closest emergency facility that does tube insertions, to be able to take your kitty right away if needed. It is much less expense and much less trauma for your kitty to use the same site and avoid a second surgery.

Give Kitty a chance to eat

Some people prefer to draw up all the formula in syringes so it is ready to go. This is certainly the method of choice when your cat is debilitated or having severe aversion to all foods. However, once he begins to feel a little better and may be beginning to investigate food, try this. Pour your warm, blended formula into a ramekin type cup and place in front of him and fill your syringes as you feed to see if he will try the food. I discovered this by accident; my cat tried to “muscle in” on the formula while I was filling the syringe and started to lap up half of the formula before being done and ready for me to tube the rest.

Leave it in

Time after time my cat would eat great for a week, only to stop again for a week. I have spoken to many owners who have had the same experience. While it would be awful to have the tube removed and have to have it reinserted; it hurts nothing if it is there and not used for a while. Vets sometimes recommend leaving it in until the cat eats on his own for a week; I recommend waiting a month.

Be grateful

This tube enables you to know that your kitty goes to bed with a full tummy and is receiving all the nutrition he needs. Whatever trouble it is, it is completely worth it.