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Fluid Therapy Guidelines

5 things you need to know about the AAHA/AAFP Fluid Therapy Guidelines

We all know how important water is to living beings—without it, we couldn’t survive. Water in our cells helps regulate body temperature, aids in digestion, transports oxygen and nutrients (as well as waste), lubricates joints, energizes muscles, and basically keeps our organs functioning.  

That’s why fluid therapy is such an important part of veterinary medicine. If an animal is dehydrated due to illness—or needs a boost during surgery—veterinary teams can administer fluids to help them stabilize. The AAHA/AAFP fluid therapy guidelines thoroughly prepare animal hospitals to best administer these life-saving fluids and customize treatment to the needs of each individual dog or cat.

Here are the top five things to know:

  1. Determine if it’s dehydration. While your veterinarian can use medical tests and clinical experience to most accurately determine if your pet is dehydrated, there are some simple ways to figure out if your pet might need a trip to the animal hospital for fluid therapy.

    Lift your pet’s lip and run your fingers along his gums. If he is well-hydrated, his gums will be slippery and moist to the touch. If your finger sticks to the gums because they are dry or tacky, then he is dehydrated and you should seek veterinary care immediately.

    Gently pinch your pet’s skin between his shoulder blades or at the top of his head between his ears. If he is well-hydrated, once you let go of the skin, it will quickly flatten out back to normal. If he is dehydrated, the skin will remain “tented” for a second or two. Seek veterinary care if this is the case. 

    Look at your pet’s eyes. His eyeballs should be slightly jutting out of his eye sockets. With severe dehydration, the tissue and fat behind the eyeball shrinks and the eye sinks deep into the sockets. You guessed it: Call your veterinarian if you suspect dehydration.
     
  2. Subcutaneous fluids can help pets over the hump. If your pet is only mildly dehydrated, your veterinarian may suggest giving fluids just under the skin (subcutaneously). Fluids are administered through a small needle inserted into the skin between your pet’s shoulder blades. It is normal for this area to swell up like a camel hump; over a few hours, the fluid will be absorbed and your pet’s health should improve. However, the guidelines emphasize that subcutaneous fluids are not recommended in cases of severe dehydration or shock.
     
  3. The I(Vs) have it! The best way to give fluids to a very dehydrated or sick animal is through an intravenous (IV) catheter. If your veterinarian believes your pet is dehydrated, she will likely recommend that your pet remain hospitalized to receive IV fluids. Because IV fluid lines can kink or catheters can become clogged, it is best for a pet on IV fluids to receive constant supervision, especially overnight. To decrease the risk of infection, your pet’s fur will need to be clipped and the skin carefully cleaned around the area before the IV catheter is inserted. It will be taped in place and is typically very well tolerated by most pets.
     
  4. It’s good that IV fluids sound like alphabet soup. LRS, NaCl, KCl, D5W . . . there are so many acronyms that are used to describe the type of fluids available for pets to receive. Your veterinarian will be able to determine what kind of fluids your pet should receive based on illness, organ function, and/or level of dehydration. It is important to remember your veterinarian is not infusing your pet with regular drinking water—fluids contain a mix of electrolytes (like potassium, magnesium, and sodium chloride) and sugar (dextrose) to get your pet wagging or purring again.
     
  5. IV fluids help keep anesthesia safe. Even a well-hydrated pet will likely benefit from IV fluids while anesthetized for surgery or a dental cleaning. Obviously, a patient can’t drink while “asleep,” and his blood pressure can change rapidly during anesthesia. Adding more fluid to a pet’s body is one of the many ways veterinary teams can correct low blood pressure and ensure the best possible outcome.

What to ask your veterinarian about fluid therapy:

  • Why does my pet need to be treated with IV fluids?
  • Will my pet receive IV fluids while under anesthesia? If not, why?
  • If my pet needs to stay at the hospital overnight for IV fluids, who will be monitoring him?
  • Are there any potential side effects from the fluid administration that I should watch for at home?
  • How can I help my pet avoid dehydration in the future?

Related articles:
Heatstroke and your pet
Keep it cool for pets on warm days
Six things to consider when choosing a new veterinarian
Why there’s no substitute for advice from your own veterinarian
Communication 101: Get the most out of your vet visit

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