Living with an E-tube: A Dog Owner’s Perspective and Advice
By Shelby Deering
“We should move forward with the feeding tube.”
Those are the words my husband and I were dreading. It all started in early November 2016, when our sweet, energetic corgi, Ginger, suddenly displayed out-of-the-ordinary symptoms. After several accidents on the floor and noted lethargy for a couple days, we didn’t waste time and took her to our vet right away. And at first, she was perplexed.
Then came the tests. The near-unending tests that lasted a month—blood tests, urine tests, an ultrasound, and finally, a liver biopsy, the suspected cause of Ginger’s symptoms. Preliminary tests determined that the liver had taken a hit, but no one was sure why.
The biopsy went to a top university, and the results showed that Ginger had something called Copper Storage Disease. From what I understand, it’s a reasonably rare condition, and isn’t that common in corgis. It’s a condition she was born with, and thank goodness, we caught it early.
With our vets’ help, we developed an aggressive treatment plan, which included several medications and chelation therapy to remove the copper from her liver. As we had waited for tests, she became less and less enthusiastic about her meals. The liver disease had affected her appetite. And the vets warned us that chelation can diminish a dog’s appetite even more.
Before we started chelating, they gently mentioned the possibility of a feeding tube. My husband and I tried everything to avoid it—creating excitement around mealtime, turning it into a game, cooking her favorites—nothing worked. So, we resigned ourselves to the fact that our lives, Ginger’s included, were about to dramatically change.
Like other dog owners who might be reading this, the experience certainly was scary. When we dropped her off for surgery, I wasn’t sure what kind of dog would be waiting for us later that day. Would she be in pain? Would the tube be exposed? I had never seen a dog with a feeding tube, so I didn’t know what to expect.
We were also wrestling with the fact that Ginger’s disease must be dire if she won’t eat. The concept of an e-tube can be daunting to dog owners. Cats seem to stop eating at a drop of a hat, so e-tubes among felines seem a bit more common. But if a dog stops eating, it’s assumed that she is in very bad shape. As it turns out, e-tubes are more routine than one would think. They are often used to help a dog’s kidneys heal, and in our case, for Ginger’s liver to heal.
My husband and I waited for a very groggy Ginger to appear in the room at the veterinary hospital. When I heard the door creak open, I braced myself. But then I saw it. Something I wasn’t expecting. Something cute and reassuring.
Ginger was wearing a Kitty Kollar. Although there are Kanine Kollars available, Ginger is small so a Kitty Kollar worked best for her. It was plaid, plush, and comforting. Except for the loop poking out at the top of her neck, we wouldn’t have known that she was a dog with a feeding tube.
The vet said, “We chose the most stylish one for her,” and stylish it most certainly was. He then gave us a walk-through of the Kitty Kollar website, showing us all of the invaluable resources about e-tubes. As I looked at her in her adorable collar and saw all of the wonderful information available on the website, a wave of comfort washed over me. Everything was going to be OK.
The next morning, I sat down to thoroughly read through the Kitty Kollar website. The tips written by vets and by people who have lived through this were amazing. I have searched the Internet thoroughly for a website that’s comparable, one that also shares a wealth of e-tube information. And there isn’t a better one than KittyKollar.com.
In the first few days, my husband and I noted that bringing home a pet with an e-tube is a lot like bringing home a newborn baby. You don’t quite know what you’re doing yet, and you don’t have a routine. Honestly, it was quite scary at first. We didn’t want to hurt her or feed her incorrectly. And we lived in fear that the tube would get hooked on something and it would pop right out.
With the help of our vets and the Kitty Kollar website, we have implemented several tips and tricks that have truly streamlined life with an e-tube.
- Before you bring your dog home from surgery, do a sweep of your home to check for things that he or she can get hooked on—décor, artificial plants or branches, doorstops, etc.
- Gather helpful items for your feeding routine. For us, we put all of our supplies (syringes, etc.) on a tray with a small towel and we got a special, soft blanket to wrap Ginger in as we feed. We basically swaddle her like a baby. The blanket provides comfort and prevents wiggling and moving.
- In our house, we have a small table we’ve set up in our dining room called “the battle station.” That’s where we lay out all of our supplies—meds, syringes, gauze, an extra Kitty Kollar, etc.
- Since Ginger’s treatment plan is a bit complicated, my husband created a document on Microsoft Excel that we print out for each day. It includes checkboxes for her pills and the steps of the tube feeding. Being organized has made things a lot less overwhelming.
- Once your dog is feeling better, he or she will naturally want to go on walks and play outside again. Since Ginger can no longer wear a traditional dog collar, we use a harness instead—Petsmart has a great selection of sturdy harnesses. If it’s a muddy day or you’re worried that other dogs might bite the tube, we’ve found that lightly covering the tube with a dog bandana offers a little extra protection.
- Yes, dogs do tend to get dirty faster than cats. We purchased a second Kitty Kollar as soon as we brought Ginger home from the hospital. About once a week, we switch out her Kollar for a clean Kollar. I would recommend purchasing two or three Kollars.
- And lastly, don’t lose heart. A fulfilling and wonderful life is possible for your dog, even with an e-tube. Ginger still loves to run and play, snuggle up to us, and play “guard dog.” Getting her the proper nutrition she needs is helping her to be herself again. Don’t think of an e-tube as an inconvenience or a sad state of affairs—think of it as something that will impact your dog’s health in a positive way.
- We’re coming up on our third month of life with an e-tube. We’ve now gotten comfortable enough to watch episodes of Parks and Recreation while we feed Ginger through the tube. More testing will be necessary, but for now, her energy has come back in a big way and she’s even started to eat some kibble. Life is good.
My husband and I both agree that the Kitty Kollar has been a lifesaver. It keeps everything clean, sanitary, and in place. And it looks adorable. With it, she’s not a dog with an e-tube—she’s a happy dog living her life. And that makes us as dog parents happy, too.*
*These comments have not been evaluated by a veterinarian. They are the personal recommendations of the author. To find a routine is medically appropriate for your dog, always check with your vet first.
Shelby Deering is a lifestyle writer and business owner from Madison, Wisconsin. She regularly contributes to national magazines and creates content for brands, small businesses, and non-profits, in addition to being a dedicated dog mom. To learn more, visit her website shelbydeering.com.