Q My dog has entered an advanced stage of kidney disease and can no longer drink enough water to make up for the amount he urinates. My vet said that to keep him comfortable for as long as possible, I have to start giving him daily injections of fluid. I love my pet and will do anything to help him, but just the thought of sticking him with a needle makes my knees wobbly. I can’t even look when the doctor gives me an injection. How am I going to handle this?
Dear Ms. Abeshouse,
A You’re going to handle it like you’ve no doubt handled other things in life that have been difficult to get used to but became easier with habit. And your love for your dog will propel you, along with the fact that he will perk up a bit once his fluid needs are met better; the chances are very slim that you’re going to put your squeamishness ahead of his dehydration and unnecessarily early demise.
Keep in mind that dogs don’t have needle phobia, so your pet is not going to fear the shots. Also, the shots are not intramuscular. They’re giving subcutaneously — just under the skin — which makes them much less painful.
You can administer the fluid (which will also contain electrolytes like sodium and potassium) pretty much anywhere on your dog’s body, but between the shoulder blades on the back of the neck works particularly well. There’s a lot of loose skin there.
You’ll want to pinch the skin like a tent, or upside down “V.” You then put the needle through the base of the tent’s “front flap.” If you go too near the top, you could potentially send the needle out through the other side rather than keep it in the body. Your dog’s veterinarian can show you how to do it in the office before you do it on your own.
If your dog needs, say, a liter of fluid per day, it will take about 10 minutes to go in completely. The fluid will make its way to the needle from a bag that hangs from a hook above the dog. Make your dog comfortable to prepare for the procedure, perhaps laying him down on the couch or his favorite dog bed. Maybe he’ll want to lay with his head on your lap. Since a dog with advanced kidney failure doesn’t have too much time left, you might enjoy those togetherness sessions all the more.
Two other common reasons for at-home injections include diabetes and blood that needs to be thinned. Dogs with diabetes get a needle of insulin twice a day. But you don’t have to wait five to 10 minutes for the insulin to leave a bag and enter the pet’s body. It just takes a second, and the needle is really tiny, making it easy for people who are phobic about giving injections. At Tufts, some dog owners get used to the procedure by practicing first on an empty plastic bag, or the skin of an orange. But they get the hang of it in no time.
Dogs who need their blood thinned (because they are prone to clots) most often get injections of heparin — between the shoulder blades, just like dogs with kidney disease and diabetes. Heparin regimens range from a few weeks to the long term. And like the other injections, they save lives.