Diarrhea and/or vomiting can cause dehydration. Fluid therapy replaces both fluid and electrolyte loss in sick dogs. Hospitalization with intravenous (IV) fluids is the best way to correct dehydration. This is especially true for critically ill dogs. However, not all pet parents can afford hospitalization and some dogs have mild dehydration that may not require hospitalization. In these two scenarios, pet parents may be able to administer fluids at home.
When sick pets are treated with fluids at home, instead of fluids being administered through an IV, they are given subcutaneously (SQ). This is less expensive than hospitalization, and allows the sick dog remain in a familiar surrounding. However, for critically ill pets, SQ fluids rarely substitute for the benefits of IV fluids.
Fluid Therapy Materials
The proper supplies for giving SQ fluids at home are available from your veterinarian. Usually this consists of a specific kind of plastic tubing, large bore needles, and a bag of fluids such as saline for kidney disease or a balanced electrolyte solution for dehydration.
Administration of subcutaneous fluids requires training. Your veterinarian or veterinary nurse will demonstrate how to give fluids. Once you are comfortable with this procedure, you can safely attempt treatment at home.
Prepare for Treatment
Puppies that need fluid therapy can be lethargic and lack energy to protest treatment, but some dogs will struggle with remaining calm during the procedure. Here are some recommendations to make the treatment easier for both you and your dog.
If the fluid is cold, this can be uncomfortable for your dog. Warm the fluids to body temperature by running warm (not hot) water over the bag for a few minutes.
Suspend the fluid bag higher than the pet, so gravity helps the fluid run more rapidly. You can use a coat hanger to make a holder that fits over the top of a door or cabinet.
Use a towel or favorite blanket, or the pup’s bed to pad the surface where your pet can lie down and get comfortable. Your pet needs to stay still for up to 20 minutes, so make the area where your treating your puppy as comfortable as possible.
Positioning your dog near a window may help give your dog something to focus on other than what you're doing. Having a second person to help gently restrain your dog is helpful. Play some calming music to help relieve stress.
Ask the veterinarian if a heating pad underneath a couple of layers of blankets is a good idea.
How to Give SQ Fluid Therapy
You need to insert the needle through the skin so the fluid drains into space right underneath where it's placed. The best locations to place the needle is between the shoulder blades.
- Grasp the skin with one hand and gently "tent" it upwards, drawing the skin up from the underlying muscle.
- Press the sharp end of the needle firmly into the skin, between where your hand holds the skin and the solid muscle of the pup’s body. You need to push firmly to enter through all layers of the skin.
- Push the needle horizontally, level with the body until you no longer see any of the needle, but only the plastic head attached to the tubing. Your dog may flinch or squeal a bit, but once the needle is in place, it should settle down. Tip: Alternate needle sites to prevent scar tissue from forming that may make subsequent treatments more difficult.
- Once the needle is in place, let go of the tented skin and let it fall back into place. Open up the release valve on the plastic line, so that the fluid begins to drain down and into the needle. Some pets object if the liquid flows too fast, so adjust the speed to accommodate the comfort of your puppy.
- Watch the container of fluid until the amount your veterinarian recommends has been given.
- As fluid runs under the skin, you’ll see the skin start to balloon with liquid. This does not hurt the pet, although it may feel a bit cool to the touch. The balloon of fluid will slowly settle and spread out under the skin.
- Once the appropriate amount of fluid is administered, shut the valve on the plastic line to stop the flow of fluid. Gently remove the needle from your pup by backing it directly out from the skin. It’s normal for a small amount of fluid to leak back out of the injection site. The fluid will gradually be absorbed and the balloon will deflate.
You can help the reduce the amount of fluid that backs out of the site by gently massaging the area where the needle was inserted. Praise your puppy and rub its ears or chest throughout the procedure (whatever makes the pet feel most comfortable) to help associate the treatment with a pleasant bonding experience and, hopefully, a speedy recovery.
Disorders of the Stomach and Intestines in Dogs. Merck Veterinary Manual.