How to Give IV Fluids to Your Puppy at Home

Veterinary Technician Securing IV in German Shepard's Leg
Your veterinarian may place an indwelling catheter into your pup's foreleg to administer intravenous (IV) fluids directly into the bloodstream, as in this picture. DenGuy/E+/Getty Images

Fluid therapy refers to replacing important body electrolytes and fluid lost due to a puppy's diarrhea or vomiting that causes dehydration. In many cases when a sick puppy needs fluid therapy, she may be hospitalized and treated at the veterinary hospital. But sometimes, savvy pet parents may wish to learn how to administer fluids themselves. That can allow the sick pup to stay home in familiar surroundings, and when more than one puppy is involved--as may happen with a young litter of pups -- it can also reduce the cost of treatment.

Old pets often require fluid therapy to help counter the effects of kidney problems. But sick puppies and kittens also can benefit greatly from fluid therapy. It must make the sick pet feel better and can help speed recovery -- in some cases that makes the difference between life and death. 

Fluid Therapy Materials

All the proper supplies are available from your veterinarian — the IV kit with the plastic line and large gauge needle, and appropriate fluids such as saline for kidney disease, dextrose (sugar) solutions to feed, or a balanced electrolyte solution for other conditions. Injecting fluid into the veins requires special training. Sometimes the veterinarian may place an indwelling catheter into the puppy's vein in a leg, tape it in place, and send the pup home for you to give fluids by injecting into the visible port.

Other times, SubQ fluid therapy is recommended. Once your veterinarian demonstrates, it’s easy to administer subcutaneous fluids – beneath the skin – to your pet at home.

Here's how.

Prepare for Treatment

Puppies that need fluid therapy often are so depressed they won't have the energy to protest. They also can chill easily, so there are tricks you can use to make treatment less stressful. Nobody enjoys being sick, and once your baby recovers, she'll remember whether treatment was scary or comfy and apply those lessons in the future.

You don't want her to anticipate necessary treatment with fear.

  • Warm the fluids to body temperature by running warm water over the bag. That makes the experience more pleasant for the puppy.
  • Suspend the bag higher than the pet, so that gravity helps the fluid run into the right place. You can use a coat hanger to make a holder that fits over the top of a door or cabinet.
  • Spread a towel or favorite blanket, or set the pup’s bed on a tabletop, to pad the surface for your her to lie down and get comfortable.
  • An ironing board makes a great treatment platform. She’ll need to stay still for up to twenty minutes, so make the place as comfortable for you both as possible.
  • A position in front of a window may help distract her. If she’s too antsy, have a second person on hand to help manage her or refer to gentle restraint tips. Play some calming music to help relieve the stress for you both.
  • Ask the veterinarian if a heating pad underneath a couple of layers of blanket is a good idea.

How to Give SubQ Fluid Therapy

Pets that need fluid therapy will have lots of loose skin, and you need to insert the needle so that the fluid drains into the space right under the loose tissue. Anywhere on the body will work, but the best locations to place the needle are right between the shoulder blades or right above the ribs.

  1. Grasp the skin with one hand and “tent” it — draw it up off the solid muscle.
  2. Press the sharp end of the needle firmly into the skin, between where your hand holds the flesh and the solid muscle of the pup’s body. You may need to push pretty hard because the needle has to be pretty large to feed enough fluid in.
  3. Push it at a horizontal angle level with the body until you no longer see any of the needle, but only the plastic head that houses the plastic IV line.
  4. Don’t be surprised if the pet flinches or squeals a bit — but once the needle is in place, she should settle down and won’t be much bothered by the therapy. Hint: alternate needle sites to prevent scar tissue from forming that may make subsequent treatments more difficult.
  5. Once the needle is in place, let go of the tented skin and let it fall back into place. Open up the release valve on the plastic line, so that the fluid begins to drain down and into the needle. Some pets object if the liquid flows too fast, so adjust the speed to accommodate the comfort of your puppy.
  1. Watch the container of fluid until the amount your veterinarian recommends has been given. A severely dehydrated pet may need 30 milliliters per pound, while for other conditions, 10 milliliters per pound once a day may be enough. Tiny puppies may only need a syringe full at a time, rather than the full bag of fluids.
  2. As fluid runs into the skin, you’ll soon see the skin start to balloon with liquid. This does not hurt the pet, although it may feel a bit cool to the touch. The ballooned flesh will slowly settle and spread out under the skin.
  3. The fluid will be gradually absorbed into the body and the balloon will deflate. Shut off the valve on the IV line to stop the fluid, and then gently remove the needle from your pup.

It’s normal for a small amount of fluid to leak back out of the injection site — especially when given over the shoulders. Giving fluid over the ribs with the needle inserted downwards will reduce this loss. You can also help the injection site hole to close by rubbing and massaging the place. Be sure to praise your puppy and rub her ears or chest throughout the procedure (whatever makes her feel most comfortable) to help associate the treatment with a pleasant bonding experience for her--and hopefully a speedy recovery!