Surely you have heard that “water is the most important nutrient.” It’s involved in every process of your body, from major to microscopic, and a shortage of it can be deadly. It’s no surprise, then, that fluid replacement and support are such a major part of many illness treatments. Fluid administration is far and away the most important element of treatment for heat stroke, shock, and gastroenteritis. Some long-term disease processes, such as kidney failure, waste water so quickly that no amount of fluid ingestion can keep pace with them.
Because of this, we sometimes find ourselves requesting that a pet owner administer fluids at home. It’s really not as difficult as it might sound. We call this Sub-Q Fluids, and many people are doing it to their own pets on a routine basis. A bag of sterile fluids with a long tube out the bottom is dispensed from the vet hospital. With a needle attached at the end of that tube, one can pierce the subcutaneous space of the patient (that loose area underneath the skin) and administer as much fluid volume as necessary. That subcutaneous space is the source of the term “Sub-Q”, and liquid placed there will gently absorb into the body over the next 12-24 hours. Human skin is attached more snugly than that of a dog or cat, so people don’t respond as well to this kind of therapy and generally must have an IV placed into their arm or hand.
A large-bore needle is usually used for fluid administration, since that helps the process go more quickly. The bag of fluids is suspended above the recipient, allowing gravity to guide the liquid in. When it’s time to stop, one would apply the “brakes” (a clamp on the line) to discontinue fluid flow and smoothly remove the needle. The procedure can be done up to once a day, if necessary, and is very safe as long as the patient has been screened for heart disease and the needle is inserted correctly (parallel to the outer surface of the patient’s body and never directed straight inward like a harpoon). It works really well as long as your pet can be convinced to sit quietly while the fluid is flowing. If that’s a problem, treats, grooming, a towel wrap, or even light tranquilizers might be helpful.
At-home Sub-Q fluids are most often employed when a pet has chronic kidney failure; some of these patients will undergo the routine every one to fourteen days for years, as fluid imbalance is at the crux of their illness. It is occasionally used on a very temporary basis when a sick patient cannot stay in the hospital as recommended by his doctor. If you think you might be in a situation where at-home Sub-Q fluids would improve the life of your pet, be sure to ask at the clinic. There are a number of videos online that can help you with the specifics, but I highly recommend that you get individualized instructions directly from your pet’s doctor.
Dr. M.S. Regan