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Feeding a cat through an e-tube with Hills z/d food

Posted on July 30, 2011

My cat, Inara, has recently found herself in need of some pretty major medical help. Without going into the details, she has developed a severe food aversion due to a kidney injury. Cats are often times picky eaters, and with a food aversion it’s far worse – she won’t even eat on her own, although she is starting to after many weeks.

When the feeding esophagostomy tube was first placed, she had to be fed once every 4 hours, and water provided between each feeding. Yes, we love her enough to lose a lot of sleep. Luckily, at this point, she’s on a four hour schedule without the water requirement (she gets enough water with her food) so life is better.

Her food source is a 1:1 mixture of prescription canned cat food and water, to make it possible to feed through a syringe. At first, we used Hills a/d, which is a pretty standard item for this sort of use. However, Inara tended to vomit a lot. Our vet then switched us over to Hills z/d, which I feel is much harder to work with.

I thought perhaps sharing some experiences would make it easier for anyone else finding themselves in this situation, with Hills z/d.

While Hills a/d is basically a finely minced pate-like consistency, it does have chunks. To properly mix the water in a blender is used. After it is throughly mixed, I pour it into a “jelly” size mason jar for easy use later. Once mixed, the food is good for about 48 hours when properly refrigerated.

I once mixed two cans at once, but later found it easier to just do it twice a day. It was better for all of us; Inara got fresher food, and the smaller quantity fit into a smaller jar for easier retrieval. Remember that you are adding a lot of air into a high potency food, which is a very bacteria-friendly environment. You are also putting the tip of a mostly-clean syringe into this jar multiple times. Food safety applies to cats, too, so err on the side of caution.

After switching to Hills z/d, however, things got trickier. With Hills a/d, I found I could reduce the added water down to about 2:1 food:water ratio and still feed it through a syringe. It came out thicker, but still quite liquid enough. Hills z/d has a gelatinous consistency in the can, and when mixed with water in 1:1 proportions, maintains a very thick gel-like consistency. Reducing the water by only a small amount caused it to be too thick to feed without causing Inara to vomit. I chose to maintain the 1:1 ratio and not experiment further.

Another problem with using Hills z/d is that its gel-like consistency caused the blending process to add a lot of air into the mixture. While warm, the air bubbles would join with other bubbles and eventually get large enough to float to the top. When put in the ‘fridge, they would stay put. The first time I mixed up a can I estimate it was 50% air in the syringe! Not good.

One tactic to remove the air bubbles was to let a room-temperature syringe sit upright for about 10 minutes, when a large bubble would form at the top. I would then slowly rotate the syringe, and this large bubble would pop the smaller ones. Eventually I could squeeze out the large bubble and get to the feeding part. This took quite a bit of time with the food at room temp, and I really didn’t like this approach much.

What I found that seems to work well is to pour the food from the blender through a small kitchen strainer. Not only will this remove the larger chunks that might escape the pounding, but it tends to remove a lot of the air. It won’t get all of it to be sure, but I’ve found it helps a lot.

If you find yourself needing to syringe-feed Hills z/d, I hope this helps make it easier on you and your cat.