Early feeding of hospitalized veterinary patients is critical for prevention of malnutrition and recovery from systemic illness. Enteral nutrition may be preferred to parenteral nutrition when there is adequate GI tract function. Enteral nutrition helps maintain the structure and function of the GI tract and acts as an immunologic barrier. Recovery from such conditions as parvoviral enteritis is faster with enteral nutrition.1 Patients should be given a chance to eat on their own before tube feeding is initiated.
Enteral nutrition is commonly delivered via a nasoesophageal (NE), nasogastric (NG), esophagostomy, gastrostomy, or enterostomy tube. NE and NG feeding tubes are relatively inexpensive, can be placed quickly and easily, do not require general anesthesia, and are generally well tolerated by cats and dogs (Figure 1). The small tube size allows patients to eat or drink around the tubes. Although NE and NG tubes are normally used for short-term feeding, they can be retained for several weeks2; however, unlike gastrostomy and enterostomy tubes, NE and NG tubes can be removed within hours of placement. Evidence that NG tubes can cause signs of reflux esophagitis is lacking (possibly because of their small size), despite the fact that they cross the lower esophageal sphincter.3,4