Thanks to Dr. Melissa Cirinna for sharing this story of her own cat, Galileo, and his recent health challenge. Our veterinarians approach each case individually, and even when it is their own pet, they often face many of the same challenges to care and diagnosis as with a client's pet. Read on to find out how Dr. Cirinna handled this rather tricky case from her own household.
Last post we met Galileo, Dr. Cirinna’s kitty who was suffering from anorexia. He had been sent home after 24 hours of intravenous fluids to see if his appetite would hold up with a new canned food.
Unfortunately, Galileo showed a complete aversion to the new food once at home. Galileo had now been anorexic for 72 hours and it was time to implement assisted feeding. Assisted feeding comes in many forms, the simplest being syringe feeding a soft diet. The downsides to syringe feeding are you need a cooperative patient and they often will develop a complete aversion to eating. Much better options include nasoesophageal, esophagostomy and gastrostomy tube feeding. Nasoesophageal tube feeding is the easiest to start with, it involves placing a tube through the nose into the esophagus. Nasoesophageal tubes do not require sedation for placement, but can only remain in for a short period of time and require the feeding of a liquid diet. Gastrostomy tubes are placed directly into the stomach and can stay in place for months; however, they require surgery to be placed safely. The esophagostomy tube enters the esophagus through the neck and can be placed during a relatively short anesthetic procedure. I decided to place an esophagostomy tube in Galileo as it can be left in for a prolonged period, requires minimal anesthetic time and allows for the feeding of canned food as well as the delivery of oral medications.
Once at home, Galileo was fed a canned recovery diet 3 times daily - this was administered through his tube via a syringe in order to meet his caloric needs and water intake. After 2 days of assisted feeding he began to show an interest when the can of food was opened and soon his appetite was back! The best thing about feeding tubes is that the patients can eat normally even with the tube in. For the next 2 days I carefully monitored how much Galileo ate on his own and topped up his caloric needs through the esophagostomy tube. I also administered his medications through the tube as he is not a fan of oral meds. After 7 days of eating his full caloric requirement on his own, Galileo’s esophagostomy tube was removed. Further diagnostics will give us a definitive diagnosis and prognosis for Galileo, but in the meantime he is happily enjoying being back with our family rather than separated for nursing care.
If you suspect that your cat has stopped eating, we recommend calling your veterinarian. As mentioned in our Part 1 post, cats who have stopped eating have a short window of opportunity to get them back on track before the situation can become dire. If your cat has access to food at all times, it can be hard to know if they have stopped eating. Watch for other signs of behaviour changes which could include hiding (perhaps in a place where they wouldn't normally go), lethargy or not wanting to interact with other pets or members of the family.