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Cat with kidney disease benefits from home fluid therapy

Q: Stormy, my 14-year-old cat, has chronic kidney disease. Her veterinarian prescribed a canned renal diet and gives her subcutaneous fluids every week. As a result, Stormy’s kidney disease has remained stable, and she is energetic and sociable.

However, she hides when she sees the carrier and doesn’t like driving to the animal hospital every week. Are the fluid treatments really necessary?

A: Cats with chronic kidney disease gradually lose their ability to filter toxins from the blood and conserve water. As the toxins build up and dehydration worsens, the cat loses her appetite and energy.

Adding fluid to the body in the form of canned food (which is 80 percent water) and subcutaneous (“under the skin”) fluids helps maintain kidney health and quality of life. Since the weekly fluid therapy benefits Stormy, it makes sense to continue it—at home. On your next visit to the animal hospital, ask if someone can demonstrate how to administer the subcutaneous (nicknamed “sub-Q”) fluids and dispense the necessary supplies. 

You’ll start by situating Stormy where you and she are comfortable, preferably with a few kidney-safe treats in front of her while you’re learning. Suspend a bag of sterile electrolyte solution above her, and attach a new, sterile needle to the tube exiting the bag.

If you’re right-handed, have Stormy sit or lie with her face to your left, and use your left hand to raise the skin over her shoulder blades to form a tent. With your right index finger, gently feel the sub-Q space, the area between the raised skin and the underlying muscles.

Use your right hand to insert the needle into the sub-Q space, and open the fluid line. Praise and gently stroke Stormy while the prescribed volume of fluid runs from the bag. Then close the fluid line and remove the needle from her skin. Her body will absorb the pillow of fluid over the next 12 to 24 hours.

Lee Pickett, V.M.D. practices companion animal medicine in Pennsylvania. Contact her at

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