Tube Feeding

Tube Feeding Exotic Cats and Cubs

Tube feeding an exotic kitten should be a last resort and under the supervision of your Veterinarian. If a kitten is refusing to eat there is always a reason and the source must be determined before tube feeding will be of more benefit than harm. Most commonly, a cub will refuse to eat because it feels sick to it’s stomach. It may appear hungry and bite the nipple, but then gag or spit it out when it tastes the formula. If you are sure that the formula has not spoiled and that it is the same formula offered and accepted before, then the problem is probably internal. You should be keeping a feeding chart and should refer to it to see if there was anything unusual at the last feeding. See Figure “A”. Check to see if the formula was changed, what the stool sample was like, if the kit urinated and whether he ate more or less than usual. Check the temperature of the formula to make sure it is not too hot or too cold. Try feeding the cub directly from a syringe, just one drop at a time on the tongue. Sometimes, conditions such as Candida can make the tongue hurt too much to nurse, but they will eat from a syringe. If not and If nothing weird has been going on and the kit is otherwise vigorous, then it probably won’t hurt to tube feed a smaller, diluted portion of formula and then see how the cub acts at the next feeding.

If you are not using Calcium Carbonate in your formula, then you should be sure to add it when tube feeding. There are several heartburn tablets available such as Tagamet or Tums that you can use in a pinch. Crush a small part of a tablet into the formula and dilute the formula with an electrolyte solution such as Pedialyte. Determine how many syringes you will need to fill to accommodate 75% of a regular feeding and boil them and a rubber catheter. The size of the catheter should be determined by your Veterinarian and should be proportionate to the size of the cubs esophagus. If the catheter is too small, it may slip down into the lungs and you will drown the kitten. Before using any catheter, you should fill a syringe with sterile water and pump it through the catheter to check for holes. Except for the holes down close to the very end, there should be no other leaks, that could cause seepage into the lungs. Another possibility for disaster is if the kitten should bite the tube during the process causing a leak or at worst, biting the tube in half. If the kit has teeth and any strength at all, this will happen. If there is any potential for this, then we use a hard rubber juice nipple and cut the hole large enough for the catheter to pass though and then holding this in place in the cub’s mouth, insert the catheter, through the center. For really big, sharp teeth we have used the soft rubber tip of a spatula, cut down to fit across the cat’s mouth, with a hole in the middle for the tube. This sounds like a lot of bother, but if the cub swallows the severed catheter, you won’t believe how hard it is to fish it back out.

Measure from the mouth to the furthest rib back on the kitten and mark this on the tube with a piece of tape, so that when you insert the tube you will know if it has gone down into the stomach. If it stops short, it may be in the lungs. You may have to re-tape each time because boiling can loosen the tape and the kitten should be growing as well. Once everything is boiled, fill the syringes with warmed formula, so that you won’t have to stop.

Securely wrap the cub in a towel and if possible have someone assist. Even a very sick kitten is going to fight with renewed strength when you start shoving a tube down it’s throat. Keep the kit in an upright, belly down position with the head elevated a little. Lubricate the tube with a little cooking oil, or formula so that it will slide down easier, but only on the part south of the tape, so that you don’t have a hard time holding the tube. Push the tube against the roof of the mouth and let it slide down the back of the throat. Continue gentle pressure up towards the roof of the mouth to help facilitate the tube going into the stomach and not the lungs. When the tape reaches the lips, attach the syringe and very slowly inject the formula, listening very closely for the sounds of gurgling or choking. If the kitten is screaming, clearly then you are not in the lungs and if you can hear him breathing, it is a good sign that you are not in the lungs. Continue to slowly inject formula, switching syringes as necessary, without removing the tube. When you switch syringes, keep the open end of the catheter up, or the contents of the stomach will run back out of the tube. With one hand you will be holding the tube in place, so that the kitten does not gag it back up and with this same hand you should loop up the slack, so that the cub cannot jerk the tube out with his front paws. This is also the hand that will hold the end of the tube up, while removing and replacing syringes. You must hold the tube and the cub securely as the milk could drain from the tube as it is creeping up the windpipe and into the lungs. When you are finished, pinch the catheter as it is being removed to keep any milk from dripping into the lungs. See Figure “B”.

If the kitten starts to choke, discontinue immediately, pinch and pull out the catheter. Stand up and sandwiching the kit between your hands (to support his neck), face down, swing him downward, sharply, between your legs, to force out the inhaled milk. Wipe the milk from his nose and mouth and repeat as needed. When he sounds clear, re-insert the tube and try again. The tube rubbing the throat and touching the stomach can cause ulcers and compound your problems, so use this procedure only when all else fails.

If food has curdled in the stomach, this procedure in reverse can be helpful. When the intestines cannot digest the food it quickly backs up into the stomach and the abdomen may feel tight, when it should be reading empty. You can insert the catheter and draw out the spoiled food, more safely than allowing the kitten to vomit and take the chance of choking. If you are pumping food in and nothing is coming out between meals, there is a good chance that this is the case. To put good food in on top of bad will only complicate the problem. If curdled food is the problem and you are not equipped to give IV fluids, then I would suggest removing the old food and replace with just electrolyte solution or sterile water and get the kit to the Veterinarian as quickly as possible. This condition will not remedy itself. For more information on this subject refer to the Chapter on Bacterial Overgrowth.

The kitten needs fluids more than it needs milk and electrolytes are the safest bet if you don’t know what is going on with the cub, just until you can get to your Veterinarian. All of this is said in preparation of the fact that exotic cats never get sick while your Veterinarian is on duty and you may need to sustain the cat a while before you can get it to the care it needs.

Big Cat Rescue has evolved since its inception in 1992. By 1997 we had seen enough of the abuse and abandonment caused by the pet trade that we had previously engaged in to know that there was no reason to breed exotic animals for lives in cages. As a result we increased our efforts through spaying, neutering and cage building to ensure that we would no longer be a part of the problem. As we have continued to learn about the causes of so much suffering we have become active in stopping the exotic pet trade through education and legislation.  The following is provided only for those who have already made the mistake of supporting the pet trade so that the animal in your care does not suffer even more after being ripped from his mother.

Note: I am not a veterinarian. If your exotic cat has ingested a toxic plant please consult a licensed veterinarian.

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