Fluid Therapy in Animals—Part 1 • Long Beach Post

This article is the first of two about fluid replacements. For anyone who has given subcutaneous fluids to a cat or a dog, and particularly for anyone who finds himself or herself in the situation of deciding whether to do it, read on—it explains the procedure in general and the reasons for it.

Fluid therapy might just be the most critical treatment we perform on sick animals. Dehydrated pets feel ill, cannot fight disease well, do not eat well, and cannot metabolize drugs efficiently.

Dehydration decreases the circulation to two very important organs, the liver and the kidney. These organs are then unable to perform vital functions, some of which include detoxifying drugs and removing waste products.

Dehydration is suspected based on an animal’s history of anorexia, vomiting, diarrhea or extra fluid loss. Signs of dehydration include lethargy, anorexia (poor appetite), sunken eyes, sticky gums, constipation and a general feeling of malaise.


A patient this ill needs intravenous fluids if it is to recover.

During an exam, a dehydrated pet will show physical signs of dehydration when the problem is greater than 5 percent. A blood sample might also give clues to dehydration when we analyze the total protein level and the red-blood-cell level.


A complete blood panel is very important in diagnosing and treating dehydration and electrolyte imbalance. Not only is it important in diagnosis and initial treatment but, when rechecked after we start fluids, we can also refine the needs of each individual pet and modify our fluid amounts, type, and rate of administration.

IV (intravenous) catheters are used extensively in pets that are sick or dehydrated. This is the most effective and controlled manner to give fluids to a dehydrated animal. These catheters also allow us to administer medication directly into the venous system for rapid distribution to the whole body. Medication given this way acts faster and is more controllable, a significant advantage for an ill pet or in an emergency.


The best way to give fluids in a sick pet that cannot take them orally is intravenously. This allows us to give fluids to a sick pet precisely, continuously and with minimal stress to. It requires close monitoring. The specialized fluid pumps we use are necessary to achieve this precision. 

If your pet is ill and is staying in the hospital or is about to undergo anesthesia for any reason, an IV catheter to allow fluid administration is one of the most important therapies we can institute and can be literally lifesaving. The placement of the catheter requires technical skill and knowledge, particularly in small or dehydrated pets (the veins in these pets are small and damage easily). Improper placement of the catheter can cause more harm than good. Our technicians excel at placing IV catheters in all species.

To learn how we do fluid therapy at the Long Beach Animal Hospital, follow this link.

Next week, I will discuss how you can do fluid therapy at home on your sick pet. 

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