What Are Subcutaneous Fluids?
Fluid administration is a regular part of veterinary medical care. Any time that a patient is dehydrated or needs fluids, your veterinarian determines the best way to provide them. Fluids can be given by mouth, injection into a vein (known as intravenous fluids or IV fluids), or injection directly under the skin – a procedure known as subcutaneous fluid administration.
If a pet is able to eat and drink, giving fluids by mouth may be an option. However, if the pet is vomiting, unwilling to drink, or unable to obtain enough fluids through drinking, other methods of fluid administration must be considered. To receive intravenous fluids, pets generally need to be hospitalized because only a small amount can be given at a time and the IV catheter (through which the fluids are given) requires special care and maintenance. However, subcutaneous fluids can be given in larger amounts over a relatively short period of time, so hospitalization is frequently not required. The injection of sterile fluid is given under the skin and absorbed slowly over the next several hours. Advantages of the subcutaneous route include a lower cost (no catheter is required, and hospitalization is often not necessary) and ease of administration.
When Are Subcutaneous Fluids Necessary?
Cats being treated for chronic kidney disease are the most likely to receive subcutaneous fluids on a regular basis. Your veterinarian may also recommend subcutaneous fluids for pets that are vomiting or unable (or unwilling) to drink adequate amounts of water. Examples may include cats receiving chemotherapy, cats with liver disease, or cats with a high fever.
Depending on the medical condition being treated, your veterinarian may recommend fluid injections daily, every other day, or a few times a week. The frequency of injections and the amount of fluids given at each injection may change over time, so be sure to keep a notebook detailing when fluids are given and how much.
Before you get started, your veterinary health team will work with you to make sure you know how to give the subcutaneous fluid injections without injuring yourself or your cat. If you aren’t comfortable or need additional training sessions, don’t be afraid to ask!
Here are a few things to consider:
The new fluid bag, fluid line, and needles are sterile until they are opened. It is important to handle these items properly to avoid contaminating them. Your veterinary care team will show you how to assemble the fluid line and bag and to attach a fresh needle without breaking sterility. Be sure to change the needle after each injection; the fluid line can be changed when each bag of fluids is completed.
For the fluids to flow from the bag and into your pet, the fluid bag must be suspended over the area where your pet is sitting. Many pet owners use a bent wire coat hanger to hang the fluid bag over the top of a door; you can then sit in a nearby chair and hold the cat while fluids are being given.
Your cat may be happy lying or sitting on your lap while you administer the fluid injection. However, you should place a towel or blanket across your lap (to avoid getting scratched) in case your cat tries to jump down. Some cats do better on a smooth surface, such as a table; the top surface of a washing machine can simulate the smooth metal table at your veterinarian’s office, which might encourage your cat to remain still during the procedure. Additionally, some cats do better with two people administering the injection – one person to hold the cat, and the other one to give the injection.
Giving the Fluid Injection
Your veterinary care team will show you how to administer fluids before you have to try it alone at home:
Ask your veterinary team to teach you how to administer fluid injections safely. If you aren’t comfortable giving injections, ask about scheduling outpatient visits for the fluid injections to be given.