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There are many reasons an animal may become dehydrated, such as not drinking enough water, diarrhea, diabetes, hyperthyroidism, or kidney disease. We are located in the Arizona desert, so the heat plays a large role. We have rescued a number of cats and kittens who are dehydrated when we find them.

To prevent dehydration, make sure your pets have access to clean water at all times. See our page on nutrition for our suggestions on water and pet fountains.

To tell if an animal is dehydrated, pull on the skin on the back of their neck. If the skin springs back quickly, the animal is well hydrated. The longer it takes for the skin to retract, the more dehydrated the animal is. If the skin stays up, the animal is likely severely dehydrated.

Subcutaneous fluids are the fastest way to treat a dehydrated pet. This can be done by a veterinarian, or do it yourself at home. A prescription is required to purchase fluids. We typically use Normosol-R, which we purchase from (sold in a case of 12 - use coupon code tanya to receive 10% off. If you don't need a case, you can also get them from your veterinarian or another online pharmacy). We use Terumo needles, which are thinner and sharper. They make fluid administration go faster, and are less painful. The size of the needle will depend on the size of the animal and their comfort level. The largest needles are 18 gauge, and we have had no problems using those on an adult cat or dog. For kittens, we typically use between a 25 and 22 gauge needle.

The amount of fluids required depends on the level of dehydration. For pets on long term therapy to sustain fluid levels, see our page on kidney disease. Our guidelines for fluids are to give between 10 ml and 30 ml per pound of body weight, depending on the severity of dehydration.

Every animal has a different response to receiving subcutaneous fluids. Some of them aren't bothered at all, and will let you administer the fluids on your own with no problems. Others may require at least one other person to restrain them while the fluids are being administered.

Adults - You will need a bag of fluids, an administration set (line) and a needle. The largest needle your pet will tolerate will make the process go faster. Clear the fluid line of any air bubbles. Hang the bag somewhere above the area you will be doing the treatment. The higher the bag is, the faster the fluids will flow.

To warm up fluids, fill a sink with warm water and place the fluids in while keeping the port (where the line connects to the bag) out of the water. The bag should be warm, but not hot to the touch.

If necessary, have another person hold your pet down. Wrapping them up in a towel to restrain their legs works well for some pets, just make sure you have access to the back of their neck. Pinch the skin up on the back of the neck to create a "tent", and insert the needle below your fingers. Move your fingers to pinch the needle and hold it in place under the skin. Open the rolling clamp on the administration line slowly, and the fluids will start flowing. The bag is marked, so you can estimate the amount of fluids you are giving. Each line represents 50 ml, while each number represents 100 ml. When you have reached the correct amount, close the rolling clamp and remove the needle from the skin. Remove the needle from the line and replace with the cap or a fresh needle to avoid bacteria moving up the line. Store the fluids in a cool, dry place away from sunlight.

Kittens and Puppies - If you are giving less than 50 ml of fluids, it may be easier to use a syringe. The needle can be attached directly to the syringe, or connected to an extension set. You will need 2 needles - one for filling the syringe and one for administering the fluids. I recommend using a larger needle for filling and a smaller needle for administration. Clean the rubber port on the bag of fluids with rubbing alcohol. Attach the larger needle to the syringe and insert the needle into the port. Extract the amount of fluids you will be needing. Hold the syringe needle end up and push lightly on the syringe to release any air bubbles.

One person will need to restrain the puppy or kitten, possibly wrapped in a towel - they tend to fight and squirm, no matter how ill they are. Pinch the skin up on the back of the neck to create a "tent, and insert the needle below your fingers. Move your fingers to pinch the needle and hold it in place under the skin. With your other hand (or have another person perform this step), press down on the syringe until all of the fluids have been administered. Remove the needle from the skin.