How to Give Injections to Cats  



  Cat Health and Supplies

Daily injections of insulin for your cat? The thought may at seem daunting, but with practice the injecting of insulin in your cat will become second nature. These instructions will give you the information you need to perform injections of cat insulin with confidence.


Establish a pleasant routine: You should be injecting at about the same time every day. Begin with petting or grooming or maybe even a low-carb, high protein treat. (Or a tiny amount of anything they love.)

At first, keep the syringe hidden or disguised. Cats do not have the clearest eyesight, so you have some leeway here. As long as the syringe is not initially in my hand ( I hold it sideways by the barrel in my mouth!), Austin is OK with my approach. After the cat becomes used to the routine, you probably won't have to do this. Many cats can be trained by verbal commands to come get their shots.

If hiding the syringe while you play is too hard, consider using the CAPPED syringe to rub all over your cat. Austin liked to have his face scratched with it, but I do have a little trouble getting him to leave the syringe alone once I uncap it for the injection.

Get on the same level as your cat: you down on the floor, cat up on a bed or counter, or in your lap. Do not assume a threatening posture (e.g. looming over the cat.)

Make yourself comfortable: Get into a comfortable position, and make sure your body is in a position relative to the cat that makes injection easy. For example, if you plan to inject in the neck with your right hand, make sure the cat is facing toward your left or at a right angle to you.

Performing the Injection

Keep your movements smooth.

Tent the cat's skin: Grasp the cat's skin between your thumb and index finger (fingers about an inch apart) and pinch firmly to tent the skin. The pinch will also help numb the area. Most people use the skin from between the shoulders up to high on the neck, but you can try the hips, too.

Most people, including veterinarians, make the mistake of injecting the insulin into the scruff of the neck. This area has a very poor blood supply and insulin absorption is thus rather erratic from this area. Use an area further back around the hips or flank or, ideally, on the sides of the stomach. Try to rotate sites also, because repeated injections in the same site can cause a "granuloma" or knot of tissue that has poor blood supply (which means the insulin isn't absorbed well).

Below are pictures of Jock, a hairless Sphynx cat, receiving an injection. The first photo shows tenting of the skin and the second photo shows injection into the abdomen near the navel. (If you use the abdomen or chest, avoid the nipples and the navel.) Notice how unconcerned Jock is about Sabina putting a needle into him and Sabina's good technique. (Thank you, Steve, for taking these pictures and letting us use them! More pictures of Jock getting his injection with an insulin pen are here.)

Tenting the skin Injecting

Try to see the skin to make sure you actually stick the needle into the skin. Giving the injection to the hair is called a "fur shot!" Doesn't help the cat much! Austin is long haired, so I try to brush aside his hair to expose a bit of his skin prior to the pinch. This is where he starts to get suspicious, but I often do the pinch several times before I actually inject.

Once you are ready to inject, try to be as quick, smooth, and confident as possible. (Practice makes perfect!)

If you have more than one cat, consider going through this routine with the non-diabetic first, doing a pretend injection only, but letting your diabetic cat see the syringe near the other cat. Always the sucker, Austin would get jealous of the attention being given to Eugene and come running when I'd do this.

Use correct Position: Hold the syringe almost parallel to the cat's spine. You want the insulin to be injected just under the skin (subcutaneous) NOT into the muscle, which hurts! Make sure the bevel of the needle is UP. This ensures a clean, quick puncture instead of a drag through the skin.

Be Quick, Confident:
Do the puncture quickly. Most of the pain nerves are at the very surface of the skin and once you get past them things improve. Remember that a relatively firm pinch works to help numb the area. The very small size (gauge) needles available now hardly are felt at all by the cat, even without pinching the area. Once the needle is through the skin you can slow down a bit.

Follow Up: Once you are through, give the cats lots of hugs, kisses, praise, and maybe another tiny treat.

Last updated 4/28/05

Tips from our readers
  • I have a friend who is an RN, and she had advised me to hold the fluid-filled syringe in my fingertips to warm up the insulin for a couple minutes prior to injecting it, as the insulin temperature from the refrigerator is very bothersome to human patients and warming it up makes it easier to take. Also, use the ultrafine needles.
    (Cindy Rinehart)

  • We had a terrible time with Scooter when we tried to inject using the 'tent' method, which was taught to us by the animal health technician at the local vets office. On a subsequent visit with the Vet, himself an owner of a diabetic cat, he displayed a different technique which works VERY WELL with Scooter, and she displays much less reaction and definitely less pain.

    The technique is to pinch some of the skin (for me using my left hand) between your thumb and forefinger (trying to avoid grabbing muscle underneath) and ROLL your hand sideways (for me, rolling my hand over to the left)pulling the skin over your finger...this makes the cats skin MUCH TIGHTER than pinching it up into a tent, and the tighter the skin, the easier the needle penetrates without pulling.

    The technique literally meant the difference between night and day, success and failure in our commitment to do what needed to be done to keep Scoots going. Just thought it worth sharing, some people might find it makes the difference for them.
    (Pat and Shelley and Scooter)

  • As you fill the syringe, it is important to make sure that there are no big bubbles in the syringe (some of the itty bitty ones just don't go away). This is crucial, considering the very small dosages that many of us are using 3 units from a 100 unit/mL product like Humulin, is only 3/10 of an milliliter; just a drop. You want to make sure that kitty gets the full dosage. Usually, pulling back on the plunger slowly, avoids big bubbles. If you get a bubble, push the plunger back in and try filling the syringe again. Sometimes, it takes more than one or two tries.

    I highly recommend that the syringe be used only once. The syringes are designed for single use (I used to work for a company that made disposable syringes). It is the best way to be sure that you are not contaminating your bottle of insulin with and that kitty gets a fresh, sharp needle with each injection. Needles do get dull and develop burrs which can make shot time a little more difficult. Used syringes are best disposed of in a "sharps" container; drugstores that carry insulin should have them and they are relatively inexpensive ($2-$3); just ask the pharmacist for it. The filled containers can be turned into the vet for proper disposal (incinerated, at least in California). A hospital or doctor's office may also be willing to help with proper disposal.

  • I do have one trick my fiance taught me about the injections (he's a physician so that has certainly helped!!): Hold the syringe with your ring and middle finger and keep your index finger on the "handle" by the plunger and use the syringe like a dart. Once the needle is in it's a very simple thing to just lift your index finger onto the plunger and inject! You may already know this, but it was news to me!! I'd never given a shot and was more than overwhelmed at the idea of doing so!! This technique has made things much easier and the syringe is kept very stable so it doesn't hurt Isaac at all. You've also got a really good grip on the syringe so there's no way to mess it up as long as you keep a little forward pressure on the syringe.

  • My 12 year old cat was diagnosed two years with diabetes. It took time to develop a routine he would tolerate. In the beginning, I tried to catch him off guard to give the injections. But he seems to tolerate it better if he knows he is getting the injection. I began a routine--feed him, give him a few minutes to groom himself after eating, then fill the syringe and let him see it and then give the injection and pet and praise him after the injection is given. It seems to have developed a level of trust. Prior to that, when I tried catching him off guard, he was always weary of me when I approached him. Each cat is different and it just takes time to learn what they will tolerate. I give two injections daily, so I also began the routine of giving the a.m. injection on his left side and the p.m. injection on the right side so I was not giving shots in the same place. Also, when he was first diagnosed before the insulin level was regulated, there was a problem with him urinating in inappropriate places. For a time, I restricted him to one room and then after the insulin level was regulated he went back to using the litter pan. In the beginning, it is quite frustrating, but given a little time and effort, you both can adjust to it. I'm glad I toughed it out.
    (Chery Smoth)

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