Giving Subcutaneous Fluids to Older Cats.

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 to greatly improve their quality of life.

Siamese cat gets subcutaneous fluids at home.

 

Meet Cleo.  The cat I always thought was a Siamese but then found out is actually a Burmese but THEN found out is actually a Siamese. Confusing I know. My vet thought she was a Burmese for a while based on the shape of her head but we finally decided she was an applehead Siamese (also known as a traditional Siamese.) 

Several years ago Cleo just seemed “off” so I took her to the vet.   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.  She lived for another 2 1/2 years before I made the decision to be in a horrific amount of pain so she didn’t have to be.

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 lived a happy life for over 2 years after her diagnosis. But she wouldn’t have without Subcutaneous Fluids.

Siamese cat sits in front of Christmas presents.

 

 

Renal Failure in cats 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 did this every other day for about the last year of Cleo’s life and after a somewhat inelegant introductory period, we both got quite good at it.  We don’t like it. But we get through it with as little pain and biting as possible now.

Why do it?  When a cat gets to the end stages of chronic renal disease they don’t feel well.  But these fluids make them 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 and keep your fluids at room temperature so it’s more comfortable for the cat.

Materials

  • Fluids
  • 18-20 gauge needles.
  1. Hang your fluid bag a couple of feet higher than you will be with your cat. I used a coat hanger.

A subq fluids bag for cats hanging higher than the cat on a wire coat hanger on a black door.

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

Removing the blue cap from a fluids bag.

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

Aligning a new needle onto the IV fluids bag.

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

New needle with cap still on, attached to IV fluid line for cats.

5. Remove the protective cap on the needle.

Needle Choice Options

You can use an 18-20 gauge needle on your cat. 

  • With the 18 gauge (which is larger) your fluid therapy will go more quickly.
  • With a 20 gauge needle (which is smaller)  is less painful for the cat but will it’ll take longer to administer the fluids through the smaller hole.

Removing the cap of an IV needle by carefully pulling it from the tip.

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

A subcutaneous fluid needle shown against a black background.

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. Putting them in a very small box could work as well. Cats like boxes, they feel safe in them and it would help stop them from crawling away.

Subq needle for giving fluid to a cat is shown with the hole of the needle pointing upwards.

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.

A woman's hand holds a Siamese cat by the scruff of the neck creating a tent for inserting the needle for fluids at home.

9. DECISIVELY insert the needle (with the hole side up) 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.

Needle being inserted into a tent of skin on a renal failure cat's neck.

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

Rolling up the dial on a fluids tube to allow fluids to run.

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

A Siamese cat lays quietly as a fluid lump forms near her neck as she's given subcutaneous fluids at home for renal failure.

12. Your vet will let you know how much fluid to give your cat but chances are it’ll be 100 ml if you have an average sized cat. When injected 100 ml looks like the size of a small orange on the back of the cats neck.

13. Once enough fluids have been administered (check the size of the lump on the cats neck and the fluid line on the IV bag) you can stop the flow of 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.

 


How long does it take for a cat to absorb subcutaneous fluids?

It only takes a few minutes to give your cat subq fluids but it will take them a while to absorb all those fluids.

Most cats will absorb all the fluid within a few hours. You’ll know when the fluids have been absorbed when the lump of fluid where you gave the injection has flattened.

If the lump of fluid seems to move (down your cats neck, back or to their shoulders) don’t worry about the migration.  It sometimes happens. The fluids will still be absorbed normally.

Can you give a cat too much subcutaneous fluids?

It IS possible to over hydrate so don’t immediately think if some is good more is better. It’s not. Only give the amount of fluids as recommended by your vet. Too much subcutaenous fluids can cause hypertension and cats that have heart problems can develop fluid buildup in the body.

Fluid buildup in a cat with heart problems can become a medical emergency. So to reiterate; only give the amount prescribed by your vet.

What does subcutaneous fluids do for cats?

Obviously the reason for giving fluids is to hydrate the cat. For cats with renal failure, their kidneys go through more fluids than normal (the cat pees a lot).  You can lead a cat to water but you can’t make it drink so giving fluids under the skin is the best way to help rehydrate them.

Subq fluids provide the cat with the extra fluids they need to feel well.

  • The cat feel will feel better in general (the way you do when you’re hydrated)
  • The extra fluids will help slow down the progression of chronic kidney disease (renal failure)
  • Fluid therapy is immensely helpful for chronic constipation, a side effect of renal failure.  They’ll help your cat poop. And you know how much better you feel if you poop. 

 

 

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

 

 
 
If this is something you don’t think you’ll ever, EVER be able to do then it might be helpful for you to know the cat breeds that are more predisposed to chronic kidney disease (CKD).
 
Giving Subcutaneous Fluids to Older Cats.

Giving Subcutaneous Fluids to Older Cats.

Active Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 10 minutes

A step by step guide to giving your cat with chronic kidney disease subcutaneous fluids at home.

Materials

  • Vet prescribed fluids
  • 18-20 gauge needles

Instructions

    1. Hang your fluid bag a couple of feet higher than you will be with your cat. I used 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. Putting them in a very small box could work as well. Cats like boxes, they feel safe in them and it would help stop them from crawling 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 (with the hole side up) 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 if you have an average sized cat. When injected 100 ml looks like the size of a small orange on the back of the cats neck.
    13. Once enough fluids have been administered (check the size of the lump on the cats neck and the fluid line on the IV bag) you can stop the flow of 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. Give the both of you a treat. You're done.

Notes

Using a smaller needle (20 gauge) will be more comfortable for your cat but will take longer to give the fluids.

Using a larger needle (18 gauge) will be less comfortable for your cat when you insert the needle but the job will be finished more quickly.

 

Cats breeds prone to CKD

  • Persian
  • Abyssinian
  • Siamese
  • Ragdoll
  • Burmese
  • Russian Blue
  • Maine Coon

How to prevent renal failure in cats

You can help reduce the chances and severity of renal failure in any breed of cat.

  • Keep their teeth cleaned and cared for. Gum disease and teeth issues contributes to renal failure in cats. A lot.
  • Feeding food that’s high in phosphorous will increase the chances of the disease and the faster advancement of it. Feed your cat high quality food from day one. And if they’re diagnosed with chronic kidney disease immediately switch them to a food made specifically for renal failure cats.
  • Toxins eaten by a cat (poisons, antifreeze, pesticides) may not kill them immediately but can cause a cat to develop chronic kidney disease.
  • Indoor cats have a lower risk of renal failure because of their more limited exposure to toxins.

 

Even knowing Siamese are predisposed to this disease, and knowing how painful it was to hear the diagnosis and eventually have her put to sleep I still want another traditional Siamese cat. Desperately.

Cleo came to me when her owners discovered they were allergic. I can’t remember who they were and have no idea where they got her, but if I knew I’d have another Siamese right now.

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

→Follow me on Instagram where I often make a fool of myself←

 

Giving Subcutaneous Fluids to Older Cats.

120 Comments

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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!

  4. Dawn says:

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

  5. 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.

  6. whitequeen96 says:

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

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. diane says:

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

  11. 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.

  12. 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.

  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. 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…..

  15. 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.

  16. 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

  17. 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.

  18. 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!

  19. Toby Earp says:

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

  20. 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

  21. 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!

  22. 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.

  23. 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 :-)

  24. 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!

    • Wanda says:

      My cat vomits immediately after I give the fluids, and sometime blood tinged fluid leaks from the needle puncture site. Any thoughts

      • bob Van says:

        If U get a blood tinged needle. U have stuck the cat in the muscle. Please do not do this again. Remember the little tent. Pull up on the little tent.
        I have learned to do this. Blood tinged needle is pain. Your cat will thank U. Pull upward with the tent before U thrust. If U can not do it correct. Go back to your vet and have the technician show U again. Do it at the vets office yourself. U can go online and listen and watch people giving the Sub fluid to a cat. My vet told me to warm up the fluid. I have not done this as yet. Check the fluid warmth on your wrist, as if U had a baby.

  25. 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).

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