The synthetic colloids, dextran and hydroxyethyl starch, have only recently enjoyed widespread use in critically ill veterinary patients. Plasma proteins normally provide colloid oncotic pressure and, thereby, are the primary force responsible for retaining fluid within the vasculature. Abnormally low plasma protein concentrations, common in the critically ill patient, are associated with excessive fluid loss from capillaries and development of peripheral or pulmonary edema. Infusion of colloid solutions decreases the potential for and severity of edema in hypooncotic states. Dextran and hydroxyethyl starch solutions also provide other positive hemodynamic benefits and are a preferable alternative to crystalloid usage in the resuscitation of selected patients from hypotensive and hypovolemic states. Potential side effects of synthetic colloid infusion include anaphylactoid reactions, increased risk of bleeding, interference with cross matching, and acute renal failure. Knowledge of the mechanisms responsible for these adverse effects minimizes their occurrence.