Some illnesses that your cat might suffer from like kidney failure, liver disease, or severe digestive issues are associated with chronic dehydration. If your cat suffers from this, it has to receive fluids parenterally (non-oral administration).
This can be done at the vet's office, where the fluids are typically administered in an IV, but this can only be performed a limited number of times. Of course, an owner cannot take it's cat to the vet daily for financial and daily life reasons, and on the other hand, going to the vet very often is traumatizing for the cat, both physically and mentally. The ideal solution is do subcutaneous fluid administration, which can be performed at home.
How to give a cat fluids:
I am currently giving Caymus, my parents' 16-year-old seal mitted Ragdoll cat, who is in renal failure and needs subcutaneous fluids on a daily basis, sub q fluids. You can see the video demonstration of administering subcutaneous fluids to a cat that I did with Caymus.Some illnesses that your cat might suffer from like kidney failure, liver disease, or severe digestive issues are associated with chronic dehydration. If your cat suffers from this, it has to receive fluids. Click To Tweet
What You Need for Subcutaneous Fluid Administration -
Please note: We order all of our fluids, IV lines, and needles from Chewy.com's Pharmacy because it's cheaper than buying from our veterinarian.
Your Checklist ✔️
- The subcutaneous fluids prescribed by the vet - saline solution, Lactate Ringer's solution, and/or other - which tend to come in bags of 1000 mL.
- IV infusion set (it needs to be with the needle)
- Needles to attach to IV infusion set for each new administration.
- IV hanger - this can be portable or fixed - you can also improvise this step by hanging your fluid bag from the chandelier or a shower curtain.
- A pillow or a cat bed - something that the cat will feel comfortable sitting on.
What You Need to Do
Step 1 - Get your subcutaneous fluid system ready
Before you can administer the fluids to the cat, you have to connect the bag to the IV infusion set. Here's what you have to do:
- Get the infusion set and the fluid bag out of the wrapper.
- Uncover the spike on the infusion set and insert it into the fluid bag via the outlet port. Make sure to insert it all the way through (it may take a bit of effort).
- Hang up the fluid bag to the IV hanger.
- Connect the needle at the other end of the IV infusion set.
- Roll down the v-track controller to start fluid flow through the IV infusion tube. At first, you can set the flow to the maximum. You will see a direct flow in the drip chamber.
- Let the fluid run through the entire length of the tubing and make sure there is no more air inside. Take out the protection from the needle to permit the fluid to get out and have a bowl ready because you will have to collect the exiting fluid.
- Once all the air is out, roll up the v-track controller all the way up to stop the flow and put the protection back on the needle.
If you administer a few bubbles of air with the fluids under the skin (sub q), do not worry, the cat is not in danger. This is dangerous (deadly) in IV administration. If you get a lot of air in when you administer fluids subcutaneously, the cat will feel some discomfort in the area for a few hours, but the air will eventually be absorbed.
Step 2 - Have everything set up
Start with the cat bed or pillow. Choose something that your cat enjoys because making it comfortable during this procedure is very important, especially for anxious cats. I even put my flip flops (thongs) on his bed because Caymus loves shoes.
The cat bed should be placed on a table or an elevated place, where it will be easy for you to administer the fluids.
Keep in mind that placing the cat on the floor is not a good idea because it will be much more difficult to bend down to administer the fluids. You also need to have a place to hang your fluid bag that is higher than where the cat will be sitting. This is crucial because hanging the bag above supports the flow of the fluids.
Step 3 - Warm up the fluids
Before you administer the fluids, you may want to warm them up (some cats prefer warmed fluids - Caymus, definitely does - but his brother, Murphy, doesn't seem to care if they are warmed or not).
Take the bag and put it in a clean bowl. Fill the bowl up with the warmest water you can get from the tap. You can use a meat thermometer, for example, to determine the water temperature. For me, the highest was 120°F. Let the fluids sit in the warm water bowl and wait until the water drops to 100°F and by then it will be warm enough to administer. Ideally, the fluids should be at the cat's body temperature so that your kitty doesn't waste energy for thermoregulation.
Why this is important - Administering cold fluids to your cat should be avoided because it feels unpleasant to the cat, and it will decrease its body temperature, which must be avoided in chronic illnesses because these already cause their body temperature to drop, so taking it even lower with administering cold fluids is not in the cat's best interest.
Step 4 - Bring the cat
Bring the cat and sit it on the cat bed or pillow you have set up and pet it to make it comfortable. It's important that the cat is steady when you administer the fluids. If you notice that the cat is restless, bring in some reinforcements. You need somebody to hold the cat while you perform the subcutaneous administration.
Step 5 - The fluid administration
For this part, you will need to use the needle and put it across the cat's skin. Subcutaneous means under the skin. Skin is elastic - grab a small crease on your arm to feel that virtual space between your skin and your muscles and bones. Now grab a crease of your cat's skin to notice the difference in elasticity. Cats have extremely elastic skin, which permits the administration of a large quantity of fluids subcutaneously.
Important - Always administer the exact quantity of fluids that your doctor has prescribed and no more than that. We will not discuss the quantities indicated for fluid administration because these differ greatly according to the disease(s) that the cat suffers from. The correct quantity must be prescribed by a doctor.
The fluids get absorbed from under the skin quite quickly, so you can administer fluids daily. After you administer the fluids, you will see a bump under the cat's skin (smaller or larger according to the quantity of fluids you've administered), which will disappear after a few hours, according to the cat's absorption rate.
What You Have to Administer
Make sure you know the quantity of fluids you have to administer beforehand. Check the fluid bag (hanged vertically) and determine the current quantity inside (keep in mind that you will use the same bag for several administrations). Then, subtract the quantity you have to administer and use a marker and draw a line where you need to stop.
Where to Administer the Fluids
The best places to administer fluids subcutaneously to a cat are on the lateral parts of its shoulder blades and after the ribcage. Avoid administering them above the spinal cord (from neck to tail base) or close to the heart or lungs. The ideal place is right after its ribcage.
How to Administer the Fluids Subcutaneously
Remember that this is not a difficult procedure. You only need to do it a few times to get comfortable performing it. It is minimally invasive for the cat, it is not painful, and it is quick. IV fluid administration takes a lot of time, but when you do it subcutaneously, administration speed is not important - the fluids can flow in, they don't need to drip.
Have the IV ready (check again that there is no air in the tubing), and take out the protection from the needle. If you are right-handed, use your right thumb and index finger to grab a generous crease of skin in the administration area. Our vet described it as making a "tent" (as you pull up their skin, there is a tent of skin that you can then stick the needle into).
Feel where the rib cage ends and aim for the area next to it, toward the hips. As you pull the skin, pull parallel to the cat (not up or down). Then grab the needle from the protective plastic hub using your left thumb and index finger and make sure it is parallel to the cat.
Important -Your needle must be parallel to the cat at all times. This way, it will not puncture any organs. Don't hold your needle towards the cat ( 90-179° angles are dangerous) because when you insert it, you could puncture the organs in that area.
As you hold the skin crease with your right hand, gently insert the needle (oriented parallel to the cat) through the skin, just below where you are holding it. Puncturing through the skin requires you to push the needle in using a bit of force. Don't be afraid to do this because it is not very painful for your cat.
As long as you keep the needle parallel to the cat, the worst thing that can happen if you push too hard is to get your needle all the way through the crease. If this happens, don't panic. Just pull the needle out, change it with a new one, and try again.
You will feel resistance as the needle punctures the skin, but then, it will slide in easily. The trick is to feel when the tip of the needle goes inside and to put it in just a little bit. Then you can slowly let go of the crease, and put the needle all the way through. You will feel the needle under the skin. You are now ready to administer the fluids. You can do this in two ways:
1. Administering using the IV infusion set
Roll the v-track controller all the way down and let the fluids go in. You can set the speed to medium if the cat is calm so that it goes in slower. But if the cat is agitated, you can administer the fluids at full speed because it will not harm the cat in any way. Once the correct amount of fluids has gone in, roll the v-track controller up to stop the flow.
2. Administering using a syringe and an IV infusion set
You can use a syringe to administer fluids or other substances prescribed by the doctor, such as vitamin B, through the IV infusion set. To draw fluids from the bag into the syringe, use the needle port. Then, to administer them to the cat, insert the syringe needle in the injection port, and push the fluids in.
Once the entire quantity of fluids is in, all you have to do is pull out the needle from the cat's skin. This is the last step. Grab the needle from the protective plastic hub and orient it parallel to the cat. Then, just take it out in a straight line, and you are done. Keep in mind that it is possible that a small quantity of fluid (maybe even tinted with some blood) leaks out right after you pull the needle out. If this happens, don't worry, it is perfectly normal.
The Water Pouch
The fluid you administer subcutaneously will form a pouch under the cat's skin, which is easily noticeable, especially in cats with short hair. The pouch is initially located at the site of the administration, but after a while, it migrates in the virtual space under the cat's skin due to gravity.
This unrelated video shows Caymus' fluid pouch. I put his fluids back, so they don't fall to his leg, but rather to his belly and that's what you can see here.
If you've administered the fluids in the shoulder area, it will migrate down to its leg and if you've administered them after the ribcage, the fluids will go down to its abdomen. The pouch takes a few hours to be absorbed (up to 24 hours, depending on the cat's metabolism and state of health).
Tips for Administering Subcutaneous Fluids Safely to Your Cat
- Always wash your hands before and after you administer the fluids. You should also disinfect the area where you will be performing the procedure - the table or place that you have chosen.
- Use a new needle every time you administer the fluids. After you puncture the cat's skin, the needle might not be as sharp anymore, and using it again might be painful for your cat. Also, when you take out the needle, you might touch its fur and contaminate the needle. It is safest to dispose of it after each administration.
- If you have to administer fluids subcutaneously to your cat more than once, then remember to switch sides between administrations. This is very important if you have to do it daily because always putting in the fluids on the same side can be traumatizing to your cat.
Do subcutaneous fluids make cats feel better?
Yes, they do. This is very useful in treating chronic dehydration because it is a less invasive way of administering fluids. Getting a cat to drink water is difficult and in some cases, the cat can't drink water, such as digestive issues that cause nausea. In these cases, the subcutaneous fluids help cats get rehydrated quickly and safely.
How long does it take for a cat to absorb subcutaneous fluids?
The exact time depends on the cat's metabolism and its current state of health, as well as the quantity of fluids administered. It can take a cat up to 24 hours to absorb the entire quantity of fluids administered subcutaneously, but some cats absorb it faster.
How often should you give subcutaneous fluids to a cat?
You can administer fluids subcutaneously to your cat as frequently as once a day, but the correct administration schedule must be determined by the veterinarian according to the condition that the cat is suffering from.
Can you give a cat too much subcutaneous fluids?
Yes, you can. The administration rate is 10-20 mL/kg, which means that an average-sized cat should receive 100-150 mL of fluids per day. However, the correct quantity will be determined by your doctor, as there are plenty of factors to take into consideration. Do not exceed the quantity of fluids prescribed by your doctor.
How do you give subcutaneous fluids to a difficult cat?
The procedure you have to follow remains the same, but if the cat becomes agitated, make sure you have somebody to help you hold it. You can also place the cat inside a carrier (provided that it has a top opening that is generous enough) to keep it steady. However, if the cat is restless, it is best to consult your vet to find the best way to deal with this because you risk hurting the cat and yourself in the process.