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What is the benefit of Subcutaneous fluids in Pets?2013/07/02

Subcutaneous (SQ) fluid administration is the phrase used to describe giving fluids into the space under the skin (subcutaneous tissue) from where it can then be slowly absorbed into the blood and body.

It’s an excellent way of providing additional fluids to pets and helping to manage and also prevent dehydration. In particular, for patients with renal failure, it appears to help prolong their life and keep their quality of life greatly improved. Most commonly it’s used in cats, but canine patients also find it helpful for some conditions.

Personally, we have lots of first-hand experience of pets who have had subcutaneous fluid injections for a year or more, and really benefitted from it. It’s much more ‘low-tech’ than for example renal dialysis machines which are used in people. But, it’s cheap, its simple, and its effective. And if it really helps the pet’s quality of life, as we have seen time and time again, then it must be worth trying.

With chronic renal failure, cats usually produce more urine than usual, and can become dehydrated as they may not drink enough to compensate for the fluid loss- even if they appear to be drinking adequately. This can make the kidney disease worse, and so regular fluid administration can be a real aid for these cats. SQ fluids may be given by our veterinary team at Homevet, and can often be given in the home environment quite easily. Sometimes we can help give you further support so you can try to do this procedure yourself, under our close veterinary supervision.

Subcutaneous fluids may be given as often as is needed, but for many cats that do require fluid supplementation, it is given between once a week and once a day (2-3 times weekly being common).

We can only use fluids specifically meant for this purpose. The fluids are the same as those for intravenous administration, and we ensure that they are sterile (free of any bacteria etc).

Normally the fluid is administered using a ‘drip bag’ (the bag containing the fluid for administration) and a length of ‘drip tubing’ attached to a needle which is placed under the skin. Most cats accept being given fluids.

The drip bag is hung from a hook above the level of the patient so that the fluid can run into the space under the skin under gravity. It usually takes several minutes to administer the fluid, and it is helpful to cuddle, stroke or gently groom your cat during this period, or try to offer them some food to distract them.

Generally around 100 ml is given  for an average sized cat, but the volume depends on different factors such as patient size, hydration, other medical conditions, age etc.

A soft bump or hump will develop under the skin at the site where the fluid has been given. This is not painful, and this fluid is gradually absorbed over several hours. The fluid is usually given under the skin over the shoulders or back, but gravity will often cause the fluids to move slowly down on the chest or abdomen.

This article is designed as a general guide for information purposes only, detailed instructions on fluid administration should always be given by the regular veterinary surgeon.