Electrolytes: Fluid Therapy for Puppies & KittensLast updated: August 02, 2016
Neonates are unique in that they are over 70 percent water. Often after initial issues with disease have passed, dehydration and electrolyte loss will cause the death of the neonate. The signs often mimic disease, and most neonates will be weak, lethargic, or not eating.
Nursing and weaned babies 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.) 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 they are vomiting, then injectable or colonic fluid replacement is needed.
Oral FluidsAn emergency is not life-threatening if you have the solution to the problem. Electrolyte packets are easy to keep for months and are there for use when you need them – 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. With electrolyte support, littermates may never get sick.
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.
Injectable FluidsInjectable 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) or IP (around the intestine in tummy) can help catch up the fluid deficit when swallowing is not possible, and it is the best route when vomiting is present.
When injectable fluids are needed, start with five 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 and either option will work. A five percent dextrose solution can be added to any SQ or IP fluids. 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.
Colonic Fluids or Enema FluidsOne 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.
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Donald Bramlage, Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, Former Director of Veterinary Services at Revival Animal Health
Donald Bramlage, Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, practiced veterinary medicine for 30+ years and is known for his work in managing parvovirus. He received his Doctor of Veterinary Medicine from Kansas State University in 1985. He served as Revival's Director of Veterinary Services from 2011 until his retirement in 2019.
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