Dealing With Elderly Cats. Giving Sub Cutaneous Fluids.

You don’t want to do it, she doesn’t want you to do it, but you have to do it.  How to give your cat subcutaneous (sub Q) fluids.

 

Meet Cleo.  The cat I always thought was a Siamese but then found out is actually a Burmese.  I received this information during a trip to the vet when Cleo just seemed “off”.  During that same visit I found out Cleo had a dreaded cat disease. Chronic Renal Disease. Although vets insist on calling it “Chronic Renal Failure” which sounds much more ominous. When my vet told me this news my eyes grew to the size of pumpkins and welled up. I thought he was gently telling me little Cleo would be dead by week’s end.  That was 2 years ago.

Make no mistake about it, renal disease is ominous, but it doesn’t necessarily mean your cat is going to drop dead within weeks or even months. With medicine and treatment Cleo has been living a happy life for 2 years now but she wouldn’t be if it weren’t for Sub Cutaneous Fluids.  

Renal Failure in cats basically means their kidneys aren’t working at 100%. The worse the condition, the less the kidneys are working.  A cat with chronic kidney disease will drink a lot and pee a lot.  In fact they pee out so much of their fluids that they dehydrate themselves.

If you’ve ever been dehydrated you know how awful that feels.

One of the things you can do to make your elderly, chronic renal (kidney) disease cat happier and healthier is by giving them subcutaneous fluids. At home. By yourself.  Even though you’re terrified.

Your vet will let you know if this is a good option for you. Don’t just go out willy nilly and start jabbing your cat with needles and filling them with fluids.

I’ve been doing this every other day for about 6 months for my cat Cleo and after a somewhat inelegant introductory period, we’re both quite good at it now.  We don’t like it. But we get through it with as little pain and biting as possible now.

Why do it?  Cleo is in the end stages of her disease.  Even with the fluids, she’s still dying.  But these fluids make her feel much better.  So when the vet said I could do this for her at home I had a little fainting fit, tried to bite him and then asked him to show me how to do it.  Her vet is Dr. Mark who you might remember from my chicken related Ask Dr. Mark posts.

Like I said, the first few tries were a bit of a shitshow, but Cleo and I now have the hang of it.

How to Give a Cat Subcutaneous Fluids

Remember, always use a new needle.

  1. Hang your fluid bag a couple of feet higher than you will be with your cat. I use a coat hanger.

2. Remove the cap from the end of the tubing.

3. Press your needle (with the protective cap still on) onto the nub.

4. Twist the plastic nut a couple of twists to hold the needle in place.

5. Remove the protective cap on the needle.

6. Find the open hole on the needle.  This should be inserted facing up into the cat.

7. Put your cat where you’ll both be comfortable.  You’ll need to keep your cat in place. I like to squish her between my legs on the floor near her favourite heating vent.  Other people will sit their cat in the corner of a chair or couch to keep them from squirming away.

8. Hold the needle in your dominant hand with the hole facing up.  With your other hand pull the cat’s skin up by the scruff around her shoulder blades, forming a tent.

9. DECISIVELY insert the needle into the tent of skin.  Don’t hesitate.  The first few times it’ll be gross and scary and shocking and you’ll hear the skin crunch and all sorts of awful things. You want the needle to go in the pocket of air between the skin and her muscle.

10. Release the scruff and let the IV fluids flow by rolling the wheel upwards.

11.  Pet your cat to help make the experience a more pleasant one.

12. Your vet will let you know how much fluid to give your cat but chances are it’ll be 100 ml, which will look like the size of a small orange on the back of the cats neck.

13. Once enough fluids have been administered stop the IV fluids by rolling the wheel down, remove the needle and pinch the cat’s skin for a minute to stop the fluids from leaking out.

14. Remove the needle by putting the protective cap back on and unscrewing it.  Replace the blue protective cap to keep the line clean.

15.  Everyone gets a treat!  Seriously.  You and the cat.  Treats for everyone.

Need more instruction? K, here I am giving Cleo her fluids.

 

 

Immediately following this, Cleo got 3 Temptations treats and I got a whiskey.  Cleo always feels much better a few hours after her fluids.  I usually feel a bit wobbly after mine.

 

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Your vet said you should give your cat subcutaneous fluids.  Eep!  Don't worry, you can do it.  Here's how.

74 Comments

  1. Tina says:

    I used to have to do that with a dog. It didn’t bother me and I always thought that lump was sort of humorous. Then I had to do it with a horse. My daughter was better at that so it became her job (or jab).

  2. Lanea Holesinsky says:

    I’m so sorry but I’ve done this and I learned from someone in Australia a much more comfortable way of doing this. The animal will shout receiving fluids instead of these large gauge needles I strongly suggest checking it out. Using bitterly gages used with children . https://holisticanimalremedies.com

    • Lanea Holesinsky says:

      Typos above , where it says shout it’s neant to say enjoy receiving fluids at body temperature. typo above where it says bitterly meant to say butterfly gages . My email is lanealanea@me.com also sorry for your pet and good that your caring to share this is not an easy thing to do.

      • Karen says:

        Yes, cold fluids are jarring. I should have mentioned the post. I use the gauge needles I do (18 or 20) based on the fact that it gets the job done quickly. She gets restless sitting there (as you could see in the video, lol) but I’ll have a look at the other needles to see what they are. ~ karen!

  3. Lauren B says:

    Great post, and I’m sorry to hear Cleo is nearing the end but glad you’re confident enough to do what’s necessary to make her comfortable.

    I give SC fluids all the time as part of my job, and this is a perfect demonstration! Only thing I’d add, that I’m sure you know but might not be clear to others- please make sure to use a new, sterile needle every time 🙂

    • Karen says:

      Yes! Sorry I figured that was implied by … well … common sense, lol. But possibly not. 🙂 I’ll add it to the post. ~ karen!

      • LaurenB says:

        I also teach interns (who are very bright and capable) things like SC injections and I’m always surprised what common sense things need to be spelled out 🙂

  4. Pam says:

    Been there, done that to my kitty with renal disease and other kitties for various ailments. The first couple of times were pretty skeevy, but then it became routine. The robe hook on the back of my bathroom door (which was firmly shut) was the ideal hanging spot. And the cat couldn’t escape! I later had a cat with diabetes and gave him two insulin shots a day for a year. Sadly, my current kitty was just diagnosed with inoperable oral cancer and I’ll have to let him go this weekend. Losing our furry and feathered friends is hard.

  5. Barbara H. says:

    Thank you for this, Karen. My diabetic cat may have this happen to her and I dread that possibility. Still not looking forward to it, if it comes to that, but never thought I’d be able to give her the insulin shots, either. How long does the process take? I’m so sorry for both you and Cleo. She’s lucky to have you.

    • Karen says:

      It only takes a few minutes. 3-5 depending on the size of the needle you use. And for now Cleo is doing really well. Eating like a pig and not drinking nearly as much. But … it’s a funny disease and could change at any moment. ~ karen!

  6. Gaby33260 says:

    Je connais ça aussi malheureusement.. Voilà 1an que je fais ceci tous les jours sur ma persane Coveline ou j’ai cru la perdre car elle était inerte en quelques heures. Elle avait explosé ses taux d’urée et le reste.. car elle avait de tous petits reins qui ne fonctionne pas.
    Je lui donne 150ml à 200ml (quand il fait chaud) . Et suite à sa santé fragile , elle a perdu aussi un œil qui c’est fait attaquer par des bactéries.
    Pendant sa piqûre :elle se blotti contre moi et me fait des câlins, des bisous d’esquimau, et des gros ronrons ; comme si elle savait que c’est pour son bien. Après elle a droit à ces bonbons (friandises pour chats sujet aux problèmes rénaux) et à une gamelle de pâtée spécifiques aussi (tout comme ces croquettes)
    Elle a enfin repris du poids mais elle a encore des vomissements et des coliques
    Elle va avoir 11 cette année et des que je pars elle me suit en train ou en avion maintenant car je suis la seule à lui faire la piqûre, tout le monde ne peux pas le faire

  7. Toby Earp says:

    Karen, of all your DIY projects this one looks like the hardest, to me. Lucky kitty, lucky kitty person.

  8. Pam'a says:

    As the daughter of a veterinarian, I’ve tackled various medical tasks on my own over the years. Sooner or later, there’s a sick, old, beloved fur baby that needs you to make a decision you don’t want to make. And you might, in an effort to put it off, find yourself going to great lengths to keep your baby alive, spending house payments on treatments.

    Your baby wouldn’t want you to; nor does s/he see the point of overly painful things that prolong the inevitable, when there are dog bones and tuna bushes waiting just over the rainbow bridge. Promise them that you won’t keep at it if you’re really just trying to make YOU feel better. You’ll see them again– frolicking! I just know it.

    • Karen says:

      Yeah, no, this isn’t a case of that. Speaking for only myself, of course. Cleo isn’t on life support, she’s on life enhancer. 🙂 ~ karen!

  9. Cleo is beautiful! This is an important post Karen. Knowing the signs of Chronic Renal Disease (not failure!) as you’ve described helps people catch it early which is key. Two of our cats have needed these fluids and it also prolonged their life comfortably for 2 years. Love Cleo’s little black ears. I always said “There’s 2 types of people, dog people and cat and I’m a dog person.” Presently we have 2 cats and a dog and I’m obsessed with both types of animals. They both make you laugh so much each day.

  10. liz says:

    oy! wow! no
    ugg
    eww
    thank you? one day i may have to be a grown up…
    hopefully my daughter will be home from college
    i’m not old enuf
    you are so brave
    i love your manicure
    can we talk about chickens now?
    i dont have chickens

  11. Kathy Salley says:

    I’ve given sub-q fluids to 2 of my greyhounds so far. It is terrifying at first, but once you realize how helpful it is for your pet it becomes a gift. I have a 10 year old greyhound, Gigi, with renal failure. I have been feeding her a raw diet of ground meats, rice, and veggies for about 4 months now and her values are improving. I’m not saying it’s a cure, but she seems happier and has more energy. I found several recipes online.

  12. Kathleen O Hartzell says:

    Just had this experience, too. My precious little feral adoptee developed the renal decline some two years ago and vet had me start the subQ recently. She did say that that area of the shoulder has no nerve endings – my furbaby didn’t even squirm – until about 1/2 way into the job, and she’d shoot off my lap and I’d be there with the fluid squirting all over myself and the chair until I could manage to get to the wheel to shut it down. Another time my husband was holding it and gazing off and he didn’t think to just lower the bag! Or the time I stabbed myself….
    Furbaby Sunshine is over the bridge now. She told me she was ready when she went straight to her behind the computer bed rather than erasing my work on the screen….I miss her and my husband says he still goes twice a day to the catbox corner to …….
    They are such a part of us…..

  13. Stephbo says:

    I’ve had to do that for two of my cats in the past. I found it easiest to put them on the counter so they were at an easy height, and I have them wet food as a treat while I was given by the fluids. It distracted them just enough so I could get the job done.

  14. Thandi says:

    I have a confession to make.
    Hi, my name is Thandi and I watch veterinary surgery videos online for fun. So basically this post was awesome! When my bird had to have a pin put in her leg to try and save it after a break I went online to better understand the procedure. Then I sort of became hooked. You, and all the people here who have given their furkids shots and fluids, are crazy brave. My vet offered to teach me how to inject Birdbird when she had a severe calcium deficiency and needed shots every day, but she’s just so tiny. I couldn’t do it. But I did watch with great enthusiasm when the vet did it (#freak).

    • Karen says:

      Yes, birds are MUCH more difficult to work on. ‘Cause you know … tiny. ~ karen!

      • Thandi says:

        This is why our nicknames for the birds are (in order of smallest to biggest) The Pops, The Nuggets, and The Schnitzel. Because they’re just tiny little mouthfuls of joy.

  15. whitequeen96 says:

    Is it just me, or is there a missing video? I don’t see one of you giving Cleo her treatment. I looked on youtube, and I don’t see it there either.

  16. diane says:

    Great post. My daughter did this for her beloved cat and it bought him 2 more years.

  17. Dave says:

    Had to do that with our cat Savannah for almost 2yrs on and off. At the vet she sat perfectly still, at home she was a whirlwind of claws and screaming. My wife had to make a cat bag to put her in with only her head and neck sticking out.

    Things you do for the love of your animals.

  18. Wilma says:

    We do whatever we can for our beloved furbabies, don’t we? I just lost my sweet Abby last week from stomach cancer & renal failure. She was ready to go, but I wasn’t ready to lose her, and it broke my heart. She was 18, my first cat, and turned me into a kitty lover. I hope you and Cleo have a lot of time together yet. She’s lucky to have you.

    • Pam says:

      I’m so sorry about your loss, Cleo. I’m making the hard, but right, decision to let my sweet Jack go on Saturday. After many kitty friends this is my first cancer and it’s a nasty aggressive oral tumor. I’ll miss my boy.

  19. Eileen says:

    This is great info Karen, super documentation.
    One of the best sites I found when my girls were diagnosed was:
    https://www.felinecrf.org/
    She’s done (and put together) an amazing amount of research and info about kidney disease in cats.
    Best to you and Cleo – of course we know she’s in the most capable loving hands with you (even if they’re a little wobbly after the treatment).

    • Jennifer says:

      That website was extremely helpful and encouraging to me, as well, when my dear Spice (who had been with me since university) was diagnosed.

      Karen, thank you for making this video. I know it will also help a lot of people. You’re doing great to be able to give the fluids on your own. It always took both my husband and I to manage it (and I was the one that had to do the needle). Hugs to you and Cleo.

  20. whitequeen96 says:

    Karen! Calling Karen!
    Several of us are unable to see the video. We want to see you in action!

  21. Jenni says:

    This post could not have come at a better time. My cat was diagnosed over the weekend after a scary trip to the emergency vet, and subcutaneous fluids was mentioned as a possibility down the road. Now I’m a lot less nervous about it, and hope I can get another 2 years with my buddy, too.

  22. Dawn says:

    What a fabulous Kitty mama you are! She’s a lucky kitty.

  23. Shawna says:

    I’ve lost two cats to renal failure. One at 11 and it was totally out of the blue, unexpected and fast! The other lived until she was almost 19 and we did subcutaneous fluid as well with her for a bit. She tried to hang on but it was time to go and she passed in our arms at home. It was a sad experience and was a tough lesson for our three kids and we miss her still (it’s been four years).

    Hugs to you and Cleo. I know that’s weird, but since we have met in real life I think the hugs won’t be that weird!

  24. Dawn says:

    As a trained Veterinary Assistant (and a farmer) this doesn’t bother me one twit. I’ve done so many grosser things in the name of saving an animal. But you are brave and I congratulate you on doing this for your kitty.

  25. Claire says:

    We had to do this with both our Burmese (one longhair, one short – sisters) as well. Luckily, we had two of us to do the job, so one got to hold the bag up. The lump is, in my mind, the most alarming part just because it looks so weird and takes awhile to dissipate.

    My dad also has an 18 year old black cat who has had diabetes pretty much his entire life (and thus most of mine as well) so I’m well used now to jabbing kitties.

  26. Diana says:

    Thanks for that information.

    My 17 year old cat has been dealing with hyperthyroidism for a few years and recently has developed renal problems. Besides the fluids, is there anything else your vet recommended? Just curious if I’m doing all I can for now. We’ve switched to a k/d dry and wet food.

    If we ever get to the point of needing subcutaneous fluids this will be a big help. Thanks!

  27. I’m impressed beyond words! What an incredible person you are! Your heart is so beautiful to do this for your furry family member. We have had dogs our entire married life and it’s so difficult to see them grow old. But you always have to keep things in perspective… you’ve given them a wonderful life and they’ve given us unconditional love. So we do whatever is necessary to complete their lives. Blessings to you and yours, Sherry @ Edie Marie’s Attic

  28. LibrarianNancy says:

    Yep, did this for one of my foster golden retrievers every morning for a year and a half. I foster medical and hospice dogs for golden retriever rescue, and Teddy was 15 when he came into the rescue program with late stage kidney disease. The vet expected him to live about a month. One of the vet techs gave me a five minute lesson (and yes, the first few times I did it myself were scary, especially the lump afterwards). After doing sub-cu fluids daily for 18 months, I could show most vet techs how to do it! Your demo was spot on – the only thing I did differently was that after the needle was attached, I was told to open the rheostat (i.e., the wheel) to let the fluids flow through to the needle and clear the tube. I had the same kind of coat hanger arrangement, hooked to a vent high up on the kitchen wall, with a dog bed on the floor. When they heard the Keurig start brewing, Teddy and my golden boy would both come in the kitchen and lay down together. Other people have told me that they could never give fluids or shots because it’s gross or icky (that’s a technical term), and my response is, would you be able to do it if it was your child or your partner? Bless you, Karen and all the other commenters, who do what’s needed to keep our fur-kids comfortable.

  29. Ev Wilcox says:

    Had to give my sweet Reilly, a black lab that still lives in my heart after nine years, weekly injections to help fight the autoimmune disease that plagued him for years. We did many expensive things to try to help him, but he had a hard time of it. We never regretted a cent, and I send hugs to anyone who goes the extra mile for their beloved animal friends.

  30. Ev Wilcox says:

    Karen, I forgot to thank you for this. You are a good person. Ev

  31. Suzanne Herbruck says:

    Thanks Karen. Been there, tho not happily!

    Hoping this post will bring up the video, as it did Monday.

  32. Kris Wilson says:

    You never cease to impress me with your willingness and capability to “do stuff”. You’re a good person, Karen.

  33. Chelsea says:

    Hi Karen,

    I didn’t read all the comments so I’m not sure if this came up already.. I’m a vet and there is a new drug that came out within the last couple years for cats in renal failure. It’s called Semintra and we have seen a lot of success with it! If Cleo is not already on it, I think it would be worth a discussion with your vet to see if that is an option for her..

    • Karen says:

      Hi Chelsea. Yes! She is on it. 🙂 She takes it daily along with a dose of laxative. Plus when she feels nauseated and won’t eat I give her Cerenia for a few days. ~ karen!

      • Clover says:

        My Siamese is 17-1/2 with renal failure.. I’m lucky to have a vet tech come in every three days to give SubQs but it’s only temporary relief and my cat is always wary of me when I approach him. I’m really wondering if I should just leave him in peace but don’t want him to feel terrible. He’s still eating but much less and getting thin. How will I know when it’s time. He’s like my child as I never had kids and I know my life will not be the same without him.

        • Karen says:

          Hi Clover. I’m so sorry about your cat. I struggle with the same thing with mine. The confusing thing about renal disease is a cat can be terrible one day and great the next. They go through phases. You can only do what you think is right for you and your cat. Many renal failure cats are on Sub Q fluids for years much the same way a diabetic would be on insulin. If your cat was recently diagnosed, with medication and proper care it’s possible she could still live for years. If he’s truly in the end stage he’ll refuse to eat at all and his eyes will tell you he does not like being here anymore. I know the stress you’re going through and I wish I could tell you an exact moment to let your cat go but it’s a decision that’s personal and based on your own cat. Good luck. I know your pain. ~ karen!

  34. Jen Topp says:

    It is INSANE that she lets you do this without holding her! I’ve had to do this with two cats and it was definitely a two-person job.

  35. Therese says:

    Great post. Thank you for sharing :). It brings up many great memories of treating various animals here on the farm.

    I had a “duck emergency” on the weekend. Sadly, my intervention did not save her. This story did remind me of Lucy.

    We do what we can for them, and as this post deals with life enhancement for many animals with this condition (or in need of sub Q), we all thank you.

    You are brave. And creative. And beautiful. You go girl!

    TEW

  36. Lin N says:

    Yer a good kitty mom! I have had to do the the hydration thing on my cat and my dog in the past. It helped them live a comfortable extra few years. Keep on, keepin on Cleo.

  37. Mary W says:

    I was amazed with your photography – was someone helping you hold the camera? Your nails did look just like your post – beautiful. Years ago, my son had a beautiful and very expensive hog for his 4H project and resulting sale at the Youth Fair. He bought her when she was young and raised her for the show. He spent hours each day teaching her to walk with his show cane and waching, brushing, and feeding her. She got very sick with pneumonia and needed shots every few hours to keep her alive. While he was at school, I got the job. To keep her temp down we made mud to put on her and then pull off when it got hot. The shots were EXTREMELY difficult to get into that thick hide. She just lay there quietly but I had to really jam the needle in then push so hard to get it through. She did eventually live but didn’t gain enough weight to be eligible for the fair. We loved her by then and couldn’t bear to auction her, anyway. We had her bred and she had 18 teets and 16 babies, first time. Boy was that exciting – my son had to blow into the mouth of one of the piglets and it began squealing which was a wonderful sound after thinking she was dead. We were so glad the shots worked and our lives on the 10 acres were so enriched with these animals. I feel for you for you cat and how much you will go through for her – you are such a good person! I know you will do what is right for her up until it is no longer right. Your strong like that. I love your blog.

    • Helen says:

      Yes, your nails looked awesome, and I am sure it was just coincidence that there were plenty of “close up” hand shots 🙂

  38. Laura Bee says:

    Dear Karen:
    You are braver than I. I have to look away when they prick my finger when checking my iron before I donate blood.
    If my cat or kid needed a needle, I am pretty sure I would learn. But just thinking about it….I don’t want to do that!

  39. Linda Bryant says:

    As you requested, I am posting this to let you know that I was able to watch the video on your post.
    Well done!

  40. Jennifer Van Noland says:

    Hi Karen,
    I’m so sorry about your Cleo.
    There’s a good video on Netflix called Pet Fooled.
    A lot of diseases are caused by feeding cats and dogs dry kibble. By feeding them this, they’re in a constant state of dehydration which leads to so many diseases. I’m feeding my cats and dog a raw diet as much as possible after seeing that film.

  41. Lori says:

    Per your FB request, I, too, have no problem viewing the video. Using an iPad.

  42. Kim W says:

    Oh, this takes me back….my vet detected chronic renal failure in my cat Zach when he was about 17, and she suggested a three-pronged approach of a prescription diet, a supplement, and the subcutaneous fluids. The prescription diet was no problem (Zach would eat literally anything, and had the appetite of a Clydesdale horse), the supplements were no problem (I stuck each pill in a pill pocket and he would snarf them down in seconds), but…he fought me HARD on the subcutaneous fluids. And when Zach fought hard, he fought HARD (during one of his vet visits, he actually literally BEAT UP HIS VET).

    After about two weeks of struggling, fighting, scratches, yowls, shouts, and sweat, it finally hit me that “if he has the energy to fight me THAT much, that may be a sign that he is actually okay without the fluids right now”. So I quietly decided to simply observe him, and give him fluids if it seemed like he needed them (if his energy dipped or he seemed to get getting logey). He never seemed to need them, and at his next vet visit the vet said that his urinalysis looked a lot better – thanks to the prescription food and the supplements – and that was that. He ultimately passed away at the age of 18, and at the time of his death his urinalysis showed his kidney function as “normal”.

  43. My cat, Jiggy, had renal failure and I had to do this for him every few months for a week or so. He lived a long happy (albeit sickly) life. In the end, he just lost too much weight and could barely make it onto the bed. I laid down with him and started crying knowing I was going to have to put him down (he got me through some tough life times) – he reached out his paw and put it on my face as if to tell me that it was ok and he was ready. I still dream of that sweetpea. I would have given him subcutaneous fluids every day if I had to.

    • Karen says:

      Anddddd that made me cry. I stress every single day about Cleo and the day I’ll have to put her to sleep. ~ karen!

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