As a pet caretaker, you have likely experienced having a pet that needed fluid therapy. It is a common method of treatment in veterinary and human medicine, and can be a life-saving protocol, but few lay people know what it is all about.
Fluid therapy is the method used to give a type of solution into the pet for various reasons. The fluid can be given intravenous, subcutaneous and intra-abdominal. The method given is often determined by how quickly the fluids are needed by the patient.
The most common reason for giving fluid therapy is to normalize blood flow throughout the body. The body will often compromise blood flow to vital organs during a health crisis. We have all heard the term, shock. Shock occurs in an emergency situation when the blood flow is compromised. When the body is in shock, the blood pressure will often drop, which will keep the peripheral organs from receiving adequate blood supply. If the shock persists, the lack of blood to the kidneys will often cause the patient to go into kidney failure. Fluids are given rapidly intravenously to increase blood pressure and normalize blood flow, preventing the secondary problems. This is indeed a life-saving method of treatment.
Fluid therapy will also normalize blood flow during other body compensations. Prolonged stress will often cause blood supply diversions. Stress will cause a release of the hormone, adrenalin. Adrenalin is a steroid that allows the body to go into survival mode. It causes the blood to be shunted to the vital organs, trying to maintain life. In doing so, the blood does not supply other tissues that will be damaged without the adequate blood supply. IV fluids will normalize the blood flow and restore normal function.
Another common cause of blood supply changes by the body is during general anesthesia. When a pet is under general anesthesia, the blood pressure drops dramatically and unless IV fluids are given during the procedure, the reduced blood supply to the periphery can damage the sensitive kidneys. It is mandatory that all pets being given general anesthesia receive IV fluid therapy in order to prevent serious complications. Recent research indicates that a common side effect of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like Rimadyl (Carporfen) and Meloxicam is to block the body’s ability to respond to rapid blood pressure changes during emergencies and general anesthesia. This needs to be addressed with rapid IV fluid therapy to prevent serious complications.
Fluid therapy is also used to make corrections that may have occurred in the body due to disease. Serious infections are often treated with IV antibiotics placed in IV fluids. Electrolyte imbalances that can be life threatening can be corrected by placing the needed electrolytes into the IV fluids. IV fluids with glucose can be given in critical diabetic patients where blood glucose levels have become dangerously low. Many drugs that need to be given very slow will be placed in IV fluids and monitored closely.
Fluid therapy is also used for flushing out toxins in the body. Pets that have developed acute kidney failure will often be presented to the hospital with critically high levels of toxins in the body that should have been eliminated by the kidneys. The IV fluids will help support the kidneys, provide blood and oxygen to the kidneys and flush out the autotoxins to make the pet feel better.
Fluids are often given subcutaneously. The advantage to this type of fluid therapy is that it can be given to the pet and then released to the caretaker without having to be hospitalized. Subcutaneous fluid therapy should never be given in an emergency situation where fluids are needed quickly to preserve function. It takes much too long for the fluids to be absorbed by the body when placed under the skin.
Subcutaneous fluid therapy is often taught to the caretaker so that they may give fluid therapy to their pet at home. This is a common protocol for treating cats with chronic kidney disease. The caretaker will often give subcutaneous fluid to their cat daily, several times a week to support the kidneys. If the pet is dehydrated, the fluid absorption will be very slow, often taking hours to absorb.
Clients often ask me if there is a possibility of giving fluids subcutaneously too rapidly, compromising the lungs. We have heard of rapid fluid therapy causing lung congestion and even death. This does not happen when giving fluids subcutaneously. It only happens when IV fluids are given too rapidly. This is a rare occurrence these days because all hospitals have IV pumps that prevent this from happening.
Fluid therapy is an essential part of veterinary care and should never be undervalued when it comes to our pet’s health care.