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The Ongoing Adventures of Healing My Cat: Subcutaneous Fluids Edition

Giving my cat fluids took a little (or a lot) of my own blood, sweat, and tears, but she's improving.

Louise Hung  |  Dec 21st 2015


My cat Brandy was very sick recently. She stopped eating, she could barely drag herself around my apartment, and frankly, the light looked like it had gone out of her furry, little face. At nearly 15 years old, I was terrified that Brandy might be heading to that big cat box in the sky.

But I couldn’t give up — and the goodwill and positive vibes of my cat-loving friends near and far wouldn’t let me. Through hard work, constant home and vet care, and a lot of determination, Brandy is nearly her old self. She can’t jump up to her perch on top of my dresser to survey her domain anymore, and she’s a bit more rickety than before, but she is back to many of her old hijinks.

Mix Master Brandy

Mix Master Brandy

The “Bathroom Monsters” must be attended to again; they’d gone unchecked for far too long. She’s scratching out mad beats again as DJ Scratch-E Catz on the turntable scratching board I got her. I’m awoken every morning to her walking back and forth across my head as a “reminder” that she NEEDS FOOD.

The first time she crankily swatted at me to leave her alone while she was attending to one of the secret inventions I’m convinced she hides behind my clothing rack, I wanted to throw a party (and Brandy would DJ, of course).

And while Brandy’s recovery has been the greatest gift I could get this holiday season, it has not been without its trials. Mainly in the form of subcutaneous fluids.

I have to give Brandy subcutaneous fluids every day.

She loves it. I love it.

I’M LYING.

"I know what you're up to." Brandy right before Fluid Time.

“I know what you’re up to.” — Brandy right before Fluid Time

Giving your cat subcutaneous fluids to help their kidneys is a fairly common thing. Lots of people do it every day — no big deal. In my former life as a pet sitter, I’d administered fluids a couple of times to a client’s old, gentle, cuddly cat. Gentle, cuddly, cat. 

Brandy, despite her crazy DJ skillz and talent for inventing secret kitty-litter powered rocket ships, is not what I’d call “gentle” or “cuddly.” While I really believe she possesses genuine feline affection toward me, she can’t STAND being held. Brandy is not really a lap cat, never has been. Brandy is more of a “I will snuggle up next to you” kind of cat.

When her vet said, “I think we have to try subcutaneous fluids,” I could feel her turning her little kitty eyes on me as if to say, “You can ‘think’ and ‘try’ all you want. I may feel like crap, but I still have claws.”

Brandy protests the indignity of, well, everything.

Brandy protests the indignity of, well, everything.

And claws she did use.

The first couple of attempts, I went through eight needles. Brandy tried to pierce my left ear (and my lip, and my neck, and my wrists). I stabbed myself more than I was able to get the needle into Brandy. At one point I found myself with a large IV needle stuck into the knuckle of my left hand — a surprising amount of blood dripping down my arm, my knuckle turning blue, my fingers swelling up. Brandy smirked from across the room.

All the tips on the Internet made it sound so easy. “Burrito” your cat in a towel, administer the fluids while she’s eating and distracted, understand that you will just have to hold her down for her own good. Uh-huh.

Everything just turned into a battle of wills that sent fluids squirting everywhere, and Brandy hiding in the corner hating me. For the millionth time in the past two months, I felt like the worst cat parent ever. (She agreed.)

I admit I probably made a bigger deal out of it than need be, but my vet’s words kept echoing in my head: “Try not to stress her out when you give her her fluids. You need to keep her heart rate down.”

SURE. NO PROB. Have you met my cat? She gets pissy when I turn The X-Files off on my iPad.

But eventually we figured out a way that worked for both of us. It took me sitting on my couch crying while covered in fluids begging Brandy to “JUST SHOW ME THE WAY.” As I watched her tiptoe around me lest I try to “water” her again, she trotted across her heated bed.

THE HEATED BED, HER MOST TREASURED POSSESSION. Was this the key?

Plugging in the bed, I settled into a corner with her fluid bag, needles, and treats for after. “Brand-borg … cat face … wanna come over here?” I asked.

She eyed me carefully but eventually came over, and after testing the bed with her paws a few times settled in comfortably. And we just sat for 15 minutes.

Then slowly, being careful to keep myself “easy-breezy” calm, I tented her skin, inserted the needle, and got the fluids flowing. She shifted a little but stayed in her bed. A few minutes later, with only a little bit of protest, she had her full dose of fluids and I had no new wounds. I gave her some treats and cried again, this time tears of joy.

Brandy after we got the hang of watering. We were friends again.

Brandy after we got the hang of watering. Friends again.

By the way, Brandy and I feel like we need to give a shout out to Catster’s own s.e. smith. Amidst all my worries and anxiety about Brandy and her fluids, s.e. offered informed, caring, and confident advice. (s.e. will have a Catster post giving detailed advice in the coming weeks.) When I was feeling like the ONLY PERSON WHO’D EVER HAD TO DO THIS TO THEIR CAT, s.e. helped me know what to expect and that it could be done. In times like this, even if that person is thousands of miles away, a little support goes a long way.

A few weeks later, Brandy and I have her “watering” down pat. She doesn’t exactly enjoy it, but when I start getting her equipment ready, and tell  her “Fluid time!” she pretty much assumes the position. I think she’s in it for the post-watering treats.

More than anything I’m happy to report the at-first-dreaded fluids have made a huge difference in her well-being. I got used to getting “good news, bad news” calls from my vet that were mostly bad news, but recently we got a call with test results where my vet opened with a bright, “It’s working. She’s doing much better!”

Brandy feeling better and roosting in her new favorite spot. Photo credit Yining Lin.

Brandy feeling better and roosting in her new favorite spot. Photo credit Yining Lin.

I offer my experience with Brandy and the subcutaneous fluids so that if any of you out there feeling overwhelmed with uncooperative kitties, needles, and bags of fluid, know that it CAN be done. It could suck for a little bit, but it can be done. Don’t let all the online forums and other people telling you that it’s “really pretty easy” or “no big deal” make you feel like you’re a bad cat parent.

The fact that you’re doing this for your cat makes you a good cat parent.

It can be hard, and not every cat (or cat person) is the same. Pay attention to your cat’s needs, pay attention to what you need to stay calm, take a deep breath, and forge ahead.

About the author: Louise Hung is a morbidly inclined cat lady living in Hong Kong, with her cat, her man, and probably a couple ghost cats. She also writes for xoJane. You can follow her on Twitter or drop her a line at IamLouiseMicaela@gmail.com.