When we discuss treatment options for the various illnesses that may affect our pets, invariably fluid therapy comes up. The fluid we give pets when they are sick is generally normal saline fluid, sometimes with the addition of sugars and electrolytes, depending on the pet’s medical need. Fluids are imperative in helping a sick pet establish or maintain adequate hydration.
Sick pets often withdraw from their families, eating and drinking very little. Without proper food and water intake, dehydration can occur quickly. And when pets are dehydrated, they feel even worse, thus leading to a cycle of lethargy and decreased appetite that furthers dehydration. Fluid therapy provides liquid nourishment to sick pets, tiding them over until they feel well enough to eat and drink on their own again.
Fluids are part of the supportive treatment for many illnesses, including:
Kidney failure or insufficiency
And fluids are also used in other situations to maintain adequate blood pressure, such as during surgery or in cases of shock.
Typically, fluids are given through an intravenous catheter while your pet is in the hospital. By using an IV catheter, fluids can be given continuously directly into your pet’s bloodstream. If you’ve ever had fluids before, you know that there may be some slight discomfort while the IV catheter is placed, but after that, fluid therapy is painless. Most pets relax comfortably in their cage while receiving IV fluids.
If your pet has a condition that requires fluids on an ongoing basis (weeks or months), your veterinarian might suggest that fluids be given subcutaneously, or under your pet’s skin, instead. You can give fluid this way (also known as sub-Q fluids) in the comfort of your own home. Your veterinarian or veterinary technician will show you how to place a needle under the skin at the back of your pet’s neck and instill a pocket of fluids there that will absorbed over the next 24 hours. This is a particularly popular way for fluids to be given to cats in kidney failure.
Many owners are just not comfortable attempting to give fluids at home, and many pets aren’t necessarily good candidates if their temperaments don’t agree with fluid therapy at home. If giving your pet fluids at home is just not an option, sub-Q fluids can be given quickly and easily in the office by a technician. Cats with kidney insufficiency or failure benefit from sub-Q fluids two to three times a week, and many owners make standing technician appointments for this reason.
Sub-Q fluids have benefits—they don’t require hospitalization, so they are inevitably cheaper than IV fluids. Better yet, they can be given at home, saving your pet a trip to the hospital. But they aren’t practical for large dogs, as the volume of fluid you’d need to give under the skin to maintain hydration is just too much.
IV fluids tend to keep our patients better hydrated, but hospitalization is required, thus adding to their cost. And as you know, hospitalized pets have to spend all of their time away from home. While most pets do quite well while hospitalized, it is a stress to pet owners to have them away from home so long. But very sick pets recover the best under a doctor’s care at all times, making IV fluids the best choice for them.
Fluid therapy is the mainstay of many veterinary treatment plans, because without adequate hydration, pets just don’t feel well and recovery is delayed. If your veterinarian recommends fluids, rest assured that it is not a painful treatment for your pet. And if sub-Q fluids are recommended, why not ask if you can learn how to give them yourself at home? If it is an option and both you and your pet are game, it can be relief to not only you and your four legged family member, but to your wallet as well!