Sign Up for Cat Talk
Get the latest health and behavior news and
advice from the veterinarians at Tufts University.

Feature June 2019 Issue

When You’re Advised to Deliver Fluids Subcutaneously

Hydrating your cat with a needle and a drip sounds scary, but you can do it.

© Susan Wilson

This cat relaxes while getting fluid on the kitchen counter.

The day may very well come when your cat cannot take in enough water by mouth or urinates excessively, and your veterinarian tells you to combat the threat of dehydration through your pet’s skin. After all, a number of diseases that befall cats can rob their bodies of fluid. These include diabetes, liver disease, pancreatitis, and chronic kidney failure. Chronic kidney disease alone affects half of all cats between the ages of 10 and 15 and almost 70 percent of cats over age 15, according to research conducted at the North Carolina State University College of Veterinary Medicine.

You might think you’re too squeamish to pass a needle through your pet’s skin to deliver needed fluid subcutaneously. You’re not. Untended dehydration is fatal, and your love for your pet is going to supersede any fear of pricking your cat’s skin. Besides, you’re not drawing blood; you don’t need to locate and penetrate a vein. You’re just going right under his skin to deliver the fluid and electrolytes that will keep him alive. And it won’t cause him pain.

The procedure

Delivering fluid subcutaneously at home requires three things you will get from your veterinarian: a bag containing the prescribed fluid, which will contain not just liquid but also minerals including sodium and potassium (water alone could prove very dangerous); a drip set — a long tube that runs from the bag to the “hub” of the needle into which the tube is inserted; and the needle itself. Your vet will show you how to connect the components and will also send you home with a number of bags so you don’t have to keep running back to the doctor’s office.

At your house, the bag must be suspended above the cat to allow gravity to let the fluid flow in the right direction. You can place it on a hook above the couch, for instance. Then you place the cat where you want him — perhaps on your lap — and either you or another person, depending on your cat’s friskiness, will insert the needle into a thick fold at the back of his neck that you hold up with your fingers to create a “tent” into which the needle is inserted. Once that’s in place, you release a clamp on the tube so the fluid will begin to flow. That’s it.

The whole procedure lasts a few minutes to a half hour, depending on how much fluid has been prescribed and how large the needle. The narrower the needle (some cats will not tolerate a big needle prick, at least not at first), the longer it will take. Depending on the disease and the progression of the disease, subcutaneous fluid can be prescribed anywhere from two to three times a week to several times a day.

Most owners will come to find that the hardest part isn’t inserting the needle. It’s keeping the cat still until all the fluid goes in. Cooing to your cat, stroking him, and giving him a food treat will help.

Comments (3)

I'm glad you did well. My cat also had to have treatment that I learned from my veterinarian, and he made it to 23. It's wonderful that you were able to give the treatments yourself to prolong his life.

Posted by: letarosetree | June 3, 2019 4:43 PM    Report this comment

Good for you, you did well. I did the same treatment with my cat, who made it to 23; he also took the treatment in stride; it felt so good to be able to help him myself.

Posted by: letarosetree | June 3, 2019 4:38 PM    Report this comment

My husband and I did sub-Q fluids 3x a week on a cat with kidney disease for more than 2 years. She tolerated it very well. I had visions of having to chase the cat around the house and such, but she never seemed to mind it at all. It probably helped that she got lap time and a treat afterwards.

Although kidney disease is progressive and eventually fatal, we bought her 2 more years with a good quality of life - she ran around, played, ate well, and had no behavioral changes during that time. We eventually and sadly said goodbye to her, aged about 17. I would definitely do it again if necessary.

Posted by: Tripleransom | June 3, 2019 11:00 AM    Report this comment

New to Tufts Catnip? Register for Free!

Already Registered?
Log In