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How to monitor for veterinary IV fluid therapy

Updated May 25, 2017

Hospitalised animal patients often require intravenous (IV) therapy with fluids and electrolytes after becoming dehydrated due to illness or accidents. Kidney failure patients and those with extremely high fevers due to infection commonly need fluids to rid the body of toxins and prepare them for further treatments, state the veterinarians at Mar Vista Animal Medical Center. If you are reluctant to leave your pet overnight at the vet clinic for financial or other reasons, your veterinarian may suggest that you take the animal home and self-monitor the infusion of IV fluids there. You need to ask the vet or veterinary technician to show you how to administer the fluids safely and watch for signs of overhydration.

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  1. Keep the catheter lightly covered with stretch fabric bandage to prevent your pet from chewing on it and pulling it out. Gently pull the bandage away from the catheter opening prior to each fluid infusion and replace it when you are finished.

  2. Flush the catheter with a syringe filled with sterile saline and 5 per cent heparin prior to beginning fluid therapy. This prevents the catheter from becoming filled with clotted blood.

  3. Watch for signs of swelling in the area around the catheter during flushing and fluid infusion. If you see the limb begin to swell, immediately stop fluids, cover the catheter and take your pet to the veterinarian. The catheter has slipped from the vein, allowing fluids to leak into your animal's tissues.

  4. Place the fluid bag higher than your pet by hanging it on a coat hanger then attaching the hanger to a doorframe or light fixture. Ensure the drip line has no twists or kinks and is long enough to reach your pet.

  5. Remove a needle from its plastic cover and place it on the end of the drip line. Ensure it touches nothing before you insert it into the catheter. Using a sterile needle prevents bacteria from entering your pet's bloodstream.

  6. Eliminate any air bubbles that may have collected in the line by slightly opening the drip mechanism and allowing the bubbles and fluid to flow through the line and into a wastebasket or sink.

  7. Insert the needle into the catheter and open the drip mechanism slowly to start the drip rate prescribed by your veterinarian. Check the rate by counting the number of seconds between drips. Close or open the drip wheel to increase or decrease the time between drips.

  8. Close the drip wheel completely before removing the needle from the catheter and replacing the cover. Flush the catheter with another heparinised saline syringe. Gently pull the elastic bandage back down over the catheter opening.

  9. Tip

    If you notice your pet attempting to chew the catheter out of its leg, place an Elizabethan collar -- a plastic, conical collar -- around its neck to stop this behaviour. Mark the levels of fluid given daily on the fluid bag, noting the date and time, with a magic marker. This gives your veterinarian a record of fluid administration when your animal is not at the clinic.


    Your vet uses a mathematical formula to compute the required rate of fluids to be infused into your animal and you will need to monitor the line closely to ensure the timing of the drip remains constant. Watch for signs that your pet may be overhydrated. Those signs include an increased respiratory (breathing) rate, watery nasal discharge, coughing and excessive urination, advise veterinarians Dennis McCurnin and Joanna Bassert in "Clinical Textbook of Veterinary Technicians." You might also see a swelling of the mucosal lining of the eye and pitted, puffy skin. If those signs occur, discontinue fluid therapy immediately and contact your veterinarian.

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Things You'll Need

  • Stretch fabric bandage
  • Heparinised saline syringes
  • Fluid bag with infusion kit
  • Coat hanger
  • Sterile needles

About the Author

Cate Burnette
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