Pet Connection: Tough treatment worked for ill dog

04/24/2012 12:00 AM

04/23/2012 1:50 PM

Last year, my elderly Sheltie, Drew, was diagnosed with canine kidney disease. Medications didn't agree with him, his appetite for a therapeutic diet (or indeed any food at all) was nonexistent, and I was sent home with supplies for giving him subcutaneous fluids at home to see if he could be saved.

I'm not particularly squeamish about needles or, indeed, most aspects of pet care, so I wasn't the least bit troubled about pushing fluids under my dog's skin every morning for the rest of his life. I did suspect, however, that the rest of his life wouldn't be that long a time period.

Turns out, I sold both Drew and subcutaneous fluid therapy short.

Drew turned 15 in December, bounced back last month from a mild stroke and more recently spent an entire day bouncing happily around dog-friendly wineries in Napa Valley. All because of an inexpensive, five-minute procedure I've taken to calling "the daily re-Drewbinating."

His appetite came back enough that he actually put on weight. And no one can believe he's an old dog, much less one who's basically a hospice case.

Drew's success is not even that remarkable. My veterinarian has other patients who've done well for years on regular subcutaneous therapy at home, either in conjunction with medication and special diets or, as in Drew's case, simply with better hydration.

Is subcutaneous fluid therapy at home right for you and your sick pet? Could be!

Renal disease is not uncommon in older pets. The kidneys are the true superstar organs of the body, with many jobs to do, including filtering waste and extra water from the blood and sending it out of the body as urine. When kidneys start failing, their function can be aided with proper hydration, and that's where subcutaneous fluids come in.

Giving thirsty kidneys a boost can help keep them on the job, allowing them to continue their vital work. By adding fluids at home, these pets can keep their kidneys happy. Fluids in, toxins out.

If your veterinarian thinks home fluid therapy will help your pet's kidneys, you'll be provided with fluids, IV lines and needles, along with the instructions you need. After you've set up the IV bag (I hang it from my dining room chandelier) and readied the line and a new needle, put your pet on a soft blanket or towel on your lap or a table.

Inserting the needle is pretty easy: You pull up skin gently over the shoulders to make a "tent," push the needle swiftly in at the base and unclip the line to let the fluids in, reversing the process when the prescribed amount of fluids has made a bubble that will slowly be absorbed.

(The website has produced a wonderful instructional video – – to help walk you through the process if you need reminders after your lesson at your veterinarian's.)

Drew is large enough to get half of a one-liter bag of fluids each day. My veterinarian helped me find the best places to buy fluids and supplies in bulk to lower my costs (about $30 a month for everything). I also invested in a pressure cuff ($20) for the fluid bag to make everything go more quickly. The morning drill is so routine now that half the time Drew falls asleep before we're done.

When I need to travel, I use a pet-sitting company that hires veterinary technicians to handle this daily task.

While I have no idea how long it will be before Drew's kidneys give out completely, I am grateful for the chance to have more quality time with a very special pet. And the fact that it's easy and inexpensive? Icing on the cake.

Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and journalist Gina Spadafori. The two are also the authors of several best-selling pet-care books. Email them at or visit Back columns:


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