Have you found yourself sent home with an IV bag and needles from the Veterinarian? This probably means your cat, like ours, needs to get a certain amount of subcutaneous fluids every week. We were standing in your shoes when our cat was released from the hospital after being diagnosed with Chronic Kidney Disease.
Of course, once we get home we quickly found a problem, we needed to sort out how to give subcutaneous fluids to a difficult cat. Our Olaf was not having our having it after being good for about a week or so. I figure he was starting to improve enough from his crash that his fighting spirit was back. He has continued his fuss with us over the years of administering subQ but thankfully along the way we have picked up some handy tips.
What Are Subcutaneous Fluids
This is the official term for when you administer fluids into the space/pocket under the skin. The fluid then will slowly get absorbed by your cats body. You would only only get these fluids under the direction of your veterinarian.
This technique is used in efforts to rehydrate your cat. Since unlike humans we can’t just tell our cat to drink extra we have to resort to different methods.
If you are looking for an affordable way to source your Lactated Ringer bags we have the run down of some great places and tips on how to get over here.
Tools to Help Giving SubQ Fluids
Your needle size is important. If you got handed your needles from the vet along with your bag of fluids odds are it’s not the best size. Now every cat is different so your cat maybe fine with stock vet needles. Well at the vet both our cats took subQ just fine when we got home… it was different story. This is rather common as at the veterinarian your cat is more stressed and uptight. At home they can be more relaxed and tell you uh hey human cut it out.
If you find the poke isn’t going smoothly it’s time to upgrade to a smaller and better brand of needles. The hot brand all rave about (including our kitties) is Terumo Ultra Thin Wall Needles. Terumo boosts that its veterinary needles are 18% sharper on average than those produced by the leading veterinary needle manufacturer.
You will also want to note the call out of thin wall or ultra thin wall. This means the hole that runs through the needle is larger than a standard needle. You can therefore use a smaller needle with ultra thin wall and still get the small fluid throughput as a large needle.
Now let’s talk needle size. The higher the gauge of needle you have the smaller the needle is. How do you know what to get? This is where you need to do the detective work. If your cat doesn’t like the initial poke go for a need 20G or higher (we found 20G was the happy balance) just keep in mind the higher you go the longer it will take to get the fluids in your cat as they are smaller. If you find your cat just can’t sit still long enough for fluids and you need to shorter the length of time to administer try an 18G or 19G sized needle.
EZ IV Fluids Harness
A family built a beautiful solution when they had trouble giving subQ fluids to their resistant cat. The harness keeps the needle and I.V. line intact, while your eyes and hands are free to monitor the fluid bag and work the on/off valve. Thankfully they manufactured the product so the rest off us with difficult kitties can have the same success they found with this harness.
If you need extra hands when trying to keep your cat calm something to hold the IV bag up in the air is key. The whole process relies heavily on gravity so the higher you hold your bag the fastest the fluids come out and the faster it can all be over with.
You can order your typical medical grade IV Stand right off of Amazon. The perk of these is they can be rolled and easily change locations if you don’t do subcutaneous fluids in the same spot every time. We opted to go for a standard wall hook instead. Some even will use a clothes hanger and an over the door hook.
A box offers a safe cozy place for your cat. The aim here is to keep your cat from moving too much and allowing the needle to pop back out. If you have a top loading cat carrier around this could work nicely as well.
Tips for Administering Subcutaneous Fluids
Warm & Toasty
Heating pads and hot bowls of water were a total game changer for us when it came to administering fluids. There are two main ways to heat up subQ fluids. We have stuck to the old school way of filling a hot bowl of water and adding in the lactated ringer bag for around 20 – 30 minutes to bring up to a warmer temperature. Honestly here in Florida, I could probably store the bags in the garage to keep warm but for now we keep safely stowed away in the house. A secondary warming method people use is a wrapping the fluid bag in a heating pad.
Wait I just said to heat up the fluids, why are we freezing things? Tossing your needles in the freezer about 30 minutes before you administer fluids helps make it more painless for the kitty.
This is actually a technique that some doctors use on humans. It is thought that the frozen needles have less of the prick and sting. For more you can read this study published on WebMD.
If your cat treats food or treats like it’s the most appealing thing in the world this could be your key to success. Some cats when they are getting to eat treats will let you do things they wouldn’t otherwise normally. You can try things like gravy treat bowls, plain cooked chicken, Temptations, bonito flakes, or anything else your cat goes wild over. If you want recommends check out our list of treats for cats with Kidney Disease.
Update for a new discover Churu cat treats! These come in a squeeze tube and if you cat is food motivated this is way to make the process go smoother. You will want to slowly squeeze the treat over the course of giving fluids to make it last the whole session.
Rotate Poke Locations
Odds are with SubQ fluids you are in it for the long haul. If this is the case you don’t not want to keep poking your cat in the exact same spot day after day (especially if you do have to administer fluids daily). We take the approach of starting in the center of the shoulder blades, moving to the left and then poking to the right. This switches things up and doesn’t make it so you getting the same spot too frequently.
For us our kitties are most cooperative when they are enjoying their afternoon nap. We are super lucky to have days we were both work from home and can catch them dozing off, typically in a nice ray of sunlight. I will then just gently pick up their bed and carry to the bathroom where everything is already setup and ready to start administering fluids.
The Clothes Pin Technique
This is a great tip to try if you have a cat that just can’t stay still. Which we DO for sure! You are going to need three wooden clothes pins and a calm cat. You want to get them before they start their overreacting.
You start by putting the first clip at the back of your cats skull. Make sure to clip where the skin is loose you want to get a good chunk of skin so it doesn’t hurt. Then add in a couple of more immediately following making sure again to have plenty of skin as to not pinch. You should notice you cat has immobilized himself and may have even rolled over. This means you are good to administer you fluids while keeping the clips on. You can remove the clips as soon as you are done.
If you want to fancy up your clothespin there are actually official cat scruff clips from Clipnosis. You can scoop up a set of these gentle calming cat clips right off Amazon.
It’s only natural that the first few times (and maybe even longer) you going to be nervous as all get out about poking your cat with a needle. Your cat can pick up on your being nervous so naturally as their human it makes them nervous.
If you can calm it will only help the situation. I like to have the television on or have some quiet music playing. It’s a nice distraction but it also fills that long silence of waiting for enough fluids to get into your cat. Anything that creates calm and normalcy for you and your household I would highly recommend incorporating into your subQ routine.
While we were advising you to stay calm in the tip above this is about getting your kitty calm. Of course, lots of reassuring words, chin rubs and butt pats help there is nothing like the magic of cat pheromones.
We have taken to keeping a few cat pheromone diffusers in several locations throughout our house. It won’t cure a timid cat but it certainly takes the edge off and we have had great improvement in our multi cat house with these.
Create a Routine
Maybe I am just humanizing my cats but they really thrive on a solid consistent routine. We try to aim to do fluids on the same days every week and if our schedule allows right around a similar time each day as well. I actually have noticed over time that our girl with stage 4 CKD actually stopped fussing over fluids (though she still isn’t crazy in love with it either). If the fluids are helping your cat can recognize that this treatment helps them feel better and revived.
Practice Makes Perfect
Remember that you will not have perfection right off that bat. Just ask a vet tech the next time you go in the vet. It’s a learning process for both you and your cat and we all have to start somewhere. The more you administer subQ fluids the more clam and used to it you will become.
When you have finished up their dose of fluids make sure you praise your cat and let them know how awesome they are. Sometimes that means treats others it’s some cuddles and attention. You want to make sure to tailor the reward to what your cat loves the most.
Conclusion on Fussy Cats and SubQ Fluids
We hope our tips will ease your stress around giving subcutaneous fluids and helps you see some success. Remember this process is something that takes getting used to. It’s not something that you will master the first go. Also keep in mind that what works for one cat may not work for another. It’s a trial and error process with all our kitties. So you have to see what sticks for you.
If you have any tips or stories you would like to share about subQ fluids, please let us know in the comment section below.
Monday 29th of November 2021
This is a brilliant article! Thank you so much. I just lost one kitty to CKF in February, and now my other lil' one has been diagnosed with it. This time around I feel confident enough to do my own research and trust my own gut, hoping I can give her a better quality of life than the last one had at the end. This was just what I needed to help smooth the process.
Tuesday 6th of April 2021
Thank you for the tips. My 12 yr. old cat has been diagnosed with stage 2 kidney disease. He's been a good sport for 2 times as I am struggling with correct needle placement. His vet prescribed 50 ml. every other day so we'll try again tomorrow. 😊
Tuesday 6th of April 2021
Its a learning process for both you and your cat! It takes a little time to get in the swing of things but it does get easier!