Subcutaneous Fluids and Cats
Subcutaneous fluids or "Sub-Q's" for short are a prescription only medical treatment that can be done at home. They MUST ONLY BE DONE UNDER THE GUIDANCE OF A VETERINARIAN. DO NOT TAKE ANY ADVISE LISTED HERE WITHOUT CONSULTING WITH YOUR CAT'S VETERINARIAN. SUB-Q'S CAN BE DANGEROUS IF GIVEN INCORRECTLY.
The treatment is primarily used to help with non-emergency dehydration by depositing sterile fluids with a precise amount of electrolytes under the skin via a needle so that the fluids can slowly be absorbed into the body, thus helping to prevent dehydration. It can be very effective way to help your kitty to feel better if he or she is dehydrated. Sub-Q fluids are commonly prescribed for cats with kidney disease, as kidney disease often causes dehydration as the kidneys lose their ability to concentrate the urine. In cats with kidney disease, they are usually prescribed for the rest of the cat's life. However, sub-q's are also used in cats with other diseases, both for acute (short term) and chronic (long term) diseases.
It can be an intimidating process to first learn how to give your cat sub-q fluids. But, know that most cats will learn to accept and even like their fluid treatments. But, it takes patience and commitment. Your veterinarian will show you the basics, but, I also have a few tips based upon my extensive experience giving sub-q fluids to my own cats and our client cats. Here is a YouTube video that shows the basics of how to give fluids.
Here are a few tips that I have found to make the process easier:
1) Positive Association:
Create POSITIVE ASSOCIATION for your cat! Positive association training is not just for dogs. It can work great for cats. Make sub-q's a treat, not a threat! Your attitude will influence how your cat feels about it. My attitude is that this is something special we do for you so that you can feel good. Give your cat treats every time you give sub-q's. But, it has to be a treat that your cat LOVES. Many people think that their cat doesn't like treats. Usually this just simply means that you have not yet found the right treat, the jackpot treat. Try lots of different ones until you find one your cat goes crazy for. Start with Friskies Party Mix treats from the super market. These are the potato chip of cat treats. They aren't healthy, but they are super tasty and this is the number one treat I have found for cats. Also give your cat pets and if your cat is a lap cat, hold your cat in your lap and give them lots of affectionate attention.
The needles you choose can make a difference for your cat's experience. I recommend using human-grade, Terumo brand needles in either a 18 or 20 gauge size. Your vet should be able to special order them if they don't normally stock them. These needles are better for two reasons. The first is that the needle is sharper and your cat is less likely to feel the needle as it enters the skin. The second is that these needles are "thin-walled." This means that the fluid flows just a tiny bit faster than the standard needles your vet stocks without being larger. If your cat notices the needle prick, I recommend getting the smaller needle; 20 gauge. If your cat doesn't notice the needle prick very much, but gets restless during the fluid treatment, get the larger needle; 18 gauge so that it flows faster. I notice a big difference when I use these needles and I hope that they become standard needles at some point. They are not more expensive than the other needles.
3) Warming the fluids:
Warming the fluids can help improve your cat's experience with sub-q's. Room temperature fluids can feel uncomfortably cold inside the body. A cat's body temperature ranges between 100.5 F and 102.5 F. Vets often recommend warming the fluids up in a hot water bath. If you use a hot water bath, make sure you don't get the line wet to prevent water from accidentally entering the fluid bag or line. But, if you are doing fluids regularly, a much simpler solution is to keep your fluid bag warmed up on a heating pad. This trick will keep the fluids above room temperature without extra effort on your part. Plus, it prevents the risk of tap water accidentally entering the line and contaminating your sterile fluids. There is only one brand of heating pad that stays on. This is the one that I use. To make sure the fluids are not too warm, keep it on the lowest setting. Do NOT wrap the fluid bag in the heating pad. Double check the temperature of the fluids with a thermometer gun. You don't want the fluids to be too warm. I fold the heating pad into thirds and store the fluid bag on top. Below is a link to the always on heating pad:
Find a quiet, comfortable spot to do the fluids. Different cats need different things. Some cats will feel much calmer if wrapped in a towel, "kitty burrito style." Some cats also feel calmer in a smaller space, such as the bathroom or a walk-in closet. If your cat is a lap cat, hold the cat in your lap. Many people may find it easier to start out with two people, one to hold the cat and a second to do the fluids. But, some cats may also be more intimidated by having a crowd around them. Try different things until you find what works for your cat. Make sure that the fluid bag is sufficiently high enough above you to get a good flow going.