Cat owners can be alarmed to learn their beloved companions have chronic renal failure, also called kidney failure. In this irreversible condition the kidneys no longer effectively eliminate wastes, causing a potentially fatal buildup of toxins. However, subcutaneous fluid therapy can make a sick cat feel better and can extend his life.
Although kidney disease typically is diagnosed in older cats, it occasionally affects younger cats as well.
Chronic renal failure is progressive and can affect a cat's life for months, even years. However, acute renal disease usually comes on suddenly and can quickly be lethal.
In either case, the kidneys become ineffective at removing waste products from the blood. Many renal patients have polyuria, or abnormally large volumes of dilute urine, and they can become dehydrated.
Symptoms of Dehydration
To help flush out waste, cats naturally drink water. But if a cat urinates more fluid than he can replace, dehydration results.
A dehydrated cat often feels miserable and might have sunken eyes, loss of appetite, lethargy, dry mouth, elevated heart rate, depression, panting, and a dry or sticky gumline. Another possible symptom is decreased elasticity of the skin. Check the skin on the back of the cat's neck; if it doesn't snap back, he's probably dehydrated.
Subcutaneous Fluid Therapy
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Subcutaneous ("under the skin") fluids might be administered daily, weekly, or every other day to replace lost fluids. Also known as sub-Q's or lactated Ringer's solution, this supportive treatment is administered through a needle typically inserted under the loose skin behind the neck (where nerve endings are less sensitive), and a bag of solution is steadily dripped into the skin. The cat might have a "pouch" where the fluids were administered, but it will disappear as the fluids are absorbed into the skin.
The Do's and Don'ts of Sub-Q's
Although owners can easily administer subcutaneous fluids to their pets, they should learn how from a trained veterinarian. Caution: Sub-Q's can be dangerous for cats with heart conditions, and the fluids can temporarily collapse a lung if too much pressure is exerted on the pleural cavity. For this reason, always consult an experienced veterinarian regarding the health and treatment of your pet.
Administering Fluids at Home: A Few Tips
If you do choose to give your cat fluids at home, consider these suggestions for making the procedure go smoothly:
Place your cat on a flat, slick surface (countertop or tabletop) so he will not be able to jump; you can also try to keep him in a carrier or a box with snug towels to keep him secure.
Hang the bag high -- a cupboard handle works nicely -- to increase the flow of the fluids.
Make a "tent" of the loose skin behind the neck, and slide the needle into the skin sideways. Don't push the needle in downwards; it could hit muscle or bone. If you push the needle all the way through the skin, simply remove and try again.
Always use a new needle; never reuse needles, which could cause contamination.
Never give up. Remember that you are helping your cat, and that learning a new skill takes time. Simply relax, and try again.
Always check with your veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet, medication, or physical activity routines. This information is not a substitute for a vet’s opinion.
Debra Levy has been writing for more than 30 years. She has had fiction and nonfiction published in various literary journals. Levy holds an M.A. in English from Indiana University and an M.F.A. in creative writing/fiction from the Bennington Writing Seminars.