Tube Feeding

Tube feeding can be a life-saving skill when attempting to support very small or weak kittens. Not only is it much safer than bottle and syringe feeding, once the technique is learned it is much simpler and quicker.

The biggest danger from bottle or syringe feeding is the aspiration of fluid from too much flow or a weak suckle reflex. In older kittens, it is often fairly difficult to get a measured amount of food in their tummies as it usually ends up all over their faces, your shirt, and the walls. Tube feeding reduces the risk of aspiration hugely, and allows an exact amount of food to be placed directly into the stomach fairly quickly.

Most people are very afraid of getting a tube into the lungs. Vets spend a lot of time learning how to intubate animals, and rest assured that getting a tube into the lungs of a kitten is no easy feat. As long as the feeding tube is of adequate size, you will not enter the lungs with it. They can easily breathe around the tubes, you will not suffocate the kitten. My vet walked me through this the first few times I had to do it, I would definitely suggest that anyone new to tube feeding have a vet explain it and demonstrate if possible.


The best tubes to use are called French feeding tubes, and are available through most vets and Revival Animal Health online for only a few dollars. They range in size, and it is important to use the right size tube. It needs to be small enough to be comfortable and large enough that the kitten can not bite through it. Newborn kittens will use a #3.5, but after only a week or so they will need a #5. Your vet can help you determine which is the right size for your kitten, and most are willing to demonstrate tube feeding if you feel you need more practice before trying it alone.

Step 1: Preparing the Feeding

How much to feed your kittens depends on size, age, and whether or not you are supplying 100% of their intake. A growing kitten needs 15cc of milk per 2oz of body weight. This should be divided up into 8-10 feedings in a 24 hour period.

Make sure that the formula you are using passes easily through the feeding tube without clogging. Clogs can pop out under too much pressure, so make sure it will not back up. Fill the syringe up with the formula, remove the air, and attach the feeding tube. Clear the feeding tube until there is formula coming out of the tip. You do not want to put air in the kitten's tummy. Of course, make sure the formula is the right temperature. If the kitten needs to be on medication, this is a good time to draw it up into the tip of the feeding tube.

Step 1: Measuring the Feeding Tube

Most important for avoiding aspiration is making sure that the feeding tube is all the way in the stomach and that it does not slip out during feeding. The easiest way to measure is to place the end of the tube along the spine where the stomach is (a little lower than the middle) and measure to the tip of the nose. Mark the tube with a permanent marker at this point. This may be a little longer than needed, but you will be able to see if the tube is slipping out and keep it in place.

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Step 2: Inserting the Tube:

Starting at the back of the mouth, guide the feeding tube slowly down the kittens throat until you see your mark. You will feel two points of resistance: at the back of the kitten's throat and at the opening to the stomach. Just remember, if you have not reached your mark, you are not in far enough, even if it feels like it has stopped. Gently withdraw the tube and try again, using gentle pressure until the tube slides past the resistance. You will also feel the tube stop in the stomach when you near your mark. If you go too far (mostly in larger kittens) the tube will fold around in the stomach and start to come back out.

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Step 3: Administering the Feeding

You don't have to get the mark all the way into the kittens mouth, it's not exact. You just want to make sure that you are at least in the stomach and watch the mark during feeding to make sure the tube does not slip out at all. Once the tube is in, hold it in place with your fingers and slowly depress the syringe. Especially with a #3.5 tube, you do not want to press to fast or the food will squirt out of the end. I imagine this is neither comfortable nor safe in a tiny tummy. You can practice the speed of delivery into a cup before feeding the kitten if necessary.

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Important: NEVER attempt to withdraw fluid from the kitten's stomach with a feeding tube. If the tube clogs, simply remove it, clear the clog, and start over. Creating suction in the stomach is dangerous and may cause serious injury. I have had a vet do this once, but would never attempt it myself.


I would suggest practicing with just the tube a few times before administering a feeding. Kittens can be difficult to hang on to and it takes a little practice. I have found tube feeding to be an absolutely necessary skill, and far preferable to attempting force feedings with a syringe. If you've ever had to support a litter of kittens, you know that oral force feeding can take hours and be a nearly full time job. With tube feeding you are being safer, neater, and can feed four or five kittens in a matter of 20 minutes versus an hour and a half.




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