Neonates are unique in that they are over 70 percent water, higher than adult dogs and cats. Often after initial issues with disease have passed, dehydration and electrolyte loss will cause the death of the neonate. Many diseases and disorders have similar symptoms so can be hard to diagnose. Most sick neonates will be weak, lethargic, or not eating.
How Can I Hydrate My Puppy or Kitten
Nursing and weaned puppies and kittens will dehydrate quickly when they are not drinking. When you add vomiting or diarrhea to the issue, they lose fluid even quicker. It is crucial to replace these lost fluids. (For reference, two tablespoons of diarrhea or vomit needs 30 cc of fluid replacement in addition to the required maintenance fluid intake.) The two big electrolytes are Sodium and Chloride. If the issue continues, Potassium also needs to be added. All fluid loss can be corrected quickly with oral electrolytes if the neonate is not vomiting. If the kitten or puppy is vomiting, then injectable (subcutaneous or IV) fluid replacement is needed.
Puppy With Diarrhea: Oral Fluids
How do you rehydrate a puppy with diarrhea? An emergency is not life-threatening if you have the solution to the problem. Electrolyte powder such as Breeder’s Edge Puppy Lyte or Kitten Lyte or Shelter’s Choice Electrolyte Supplement are easy to store and are there for use when you need it – usually 8 p.m. on a Friday. This underused route is usually added after recovery but should be used before and during illness for a much better chance of saving the litter. With oral electrolytes, it’s easy to support the whole litter when you think they are getting sick and also during treatment of the illness. With electrolyte support, littermates may never get sick. Rule of thumb is to use the GI tract when possible – in other words, if the puppy or kitten is not vomiting and will drink, this is the recommended route of fluid administration to use.
Oral electrolytes such as Breeder’s Edge® Puppy and Kitten Lyte have salts plus glucose or dextrose for energy. Other electrolytes work well too, but some have issues with the sugar source sticking to water bottles and bowls, which make them difficult to clean. Though expensive, Pedialyte with glucose (for human babies) in an emergency situation is alright to use. It is too sweet for puppies and kittens so dilute 50/50 with water before using, and they will swallow without gagging. Breeder’s Edge® Puppy and Kitten Lyte has a chicken soup base flavoring so is highly palatable and appealing to adults, puppies and kittens.
Puppy Is Vomiting: Injectable Fluids
Injectable fluids are used early in the course of diarrhea or vomiting. The earlier we use electrolytes, the better the neonate or adult can fight the infection. Fluids given SQ (under the skin) can help catch up the fluid deficit when swallowing is not possible, and it is the best route when the kitten or puppy keeps throwing up.
When injectable fluids are needed, start with ten ml per pound twice a day, using a solution like Saline (0.9% NaCl) or Lactated Ringer’s Solution. NaCl does not have to be processed by the liver and is excellent for acute issues in puppies or kittens. Lactate in LRS is preferred in longstanding issues of fluid loss; however, it has to be processed by the liver, and the neonate’s liver is not fully functioning until over six weeks of age.
It is important to get fluid in the animal. . Often an antibiotic can be used in the fluids to avoid pilling an animal that is vomiting. Be sure to ask for guidance if you are not familiar with calculating the addition of antibiotics to your fluids.
When an animal has severe diarrhea or vomiting, take them to the veterinarian as you need IV fluids to prevent a disastrous situation. IV fluids with added Potassium can be given to speed recovery and save the animal’s life.
Kitten or Puppy Enema to Hydrate
One of the main functions of the colon is to continually absorb water out of the stool. If the stool passes too quickly, it will be passed soft as not enough water is removed. If the stool passes too slowly, it can cause constipation as too much water is removed.
If we give fluids to a dehydrated pet via an enema into the colon, it will be absorbed. Saline is absorbed quickly via this route, and this is often effective when no other way is possible. The dehydrated neonates with no blood pressure need fluids quickly. Warm colonic fluids and then an IV catheter are often utilized.
The warm rectal fluids bring the body temp up, and the increased blood pressure makes catheter placement easier. Colonic fluids start warming and rehydrate before we get a central IV line in place. The improved blood pressure makes catheter placement easier and safer.
Keep colonic fluids via an enema in your arsenal as it works quickly and can be repeated if needed. Use the same dose as SQ and always warm fluids to a temp you would a milk replacer. Hold the tail down for a few minutes after removing the tube to avoid straining and repeat if needed.
Oral electrolytes, injectable electrolytes and colonic fluids are all tools to support a sick pet. Having the correct product on hand and using fluids early will help keep a minor issue from becoming an emergency.
If you have more questions on electrolytes for kittens and puppies, call us at 800.786.4751.
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Written by: Marty Greer, DVM
Director of Veterinary Services
Marty Greer, Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, has 40+ years’ experience in veterinary medicine, with special interests in canine reproduction and pediatrics. She received her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine from Iowa State University in 1981. She’s served as Revival’s Director of Veterinary Services since 2019. In 2023, Dr. Greer was named the Westminster Kennel Club Veterinarian of the Year.