The Feeding Tube
It became clear very quickly that Luckie was not eating enough to regain her health. She was never a fan of "wet food" and essentially turned her nose up at everything we offered her. She was segregated in the spare bedroom because the other cats happily would have wolfed down anything that we offered Luckie. After an attempt at syringe feeding failed miserably, Dr. McClellan talked to us about a feeding tube. I came home and scoured the Internet for information, for pictures, for anything that would help me to anticipate what this would be like. An Esophagostomy Tube (E-Tube) is placed in the neck and feeds directly into the esophagus. Blenderized cat food is loaded into large syringes which attach to the external end of the tube and food is slowly pushed into the cat's esophagus. The picture to the right shows Luckie shortly after she came home from having the tube put in. Her neck is wrapped and you can see a small portion of the tube curved behind her head. As I had already proven, I am a bit squeamish, but the tube site never bothered me. There were some stitches holding the tube in place, but other than that, she just looked like one of those Borg creatures from Star Trek: The Next Generation that have tubes coming out of their necks.
One of the greater challenges of the E-Tube was determining the optimum tightness of the wrap that held it in place. Too loose and she would scratch at the tube site. Too tight and she was uncomfortable. Her greatest pleasure during this time was to have someone scratch her neck under the bandage. We made sure to do so often. She was still quite lethargic at first, so I could put her on the arm of the chair, hook a syringe with food and medicine up to her and play a computer game while I slowly administered the food. She threw up a lot. I wore a lot of food. So did Renée. I have a deep and abiding dislike of the smell of A/D canned cat food which is what she was on at the beginning. As she began to feel better, she would suddenly decide she was done with a feeding in the middle of it and take off like a shot with the syringe full of food trailing her until it fell off and food spewed all over her and the carpet and whatever else was in range. So, I had to give up the computer games and keep a firm hold on her throughout the feeding.
Initially, we were feeding her four times a day. I was fortunate to have a job that was very close to home and very flexible. It's not easy fitting in four hour-long feedings and a trip to the vet into your day's work schedule. Somehow I did it. Luckie seemed to like being tube fed. She would settle in my lap, curl up and doze through the feeding looking completely content. When we offered her food orally, she would just look at it like "why would I eat that?"
Eventually, we changed over to a kidney diet that was better for her. It took a little more blenderizing, but we adjusted. Her kidney values had improved, she was less anemic, and she was obviously feeling better because she started to get really nasty at the vet's. She still didn't show much interest in eating on her own, and her weight was better, but still not great. We decreased the amount and frequency of the tube feedings, but didn't feel comfortable letting her go without them. That was also the method of administration for all her medicines, so it was convenient in that way. The tube feeding gave me a sense of control over the situation because I knew I could get food, water and medicine into her whenever I needed to.