Pets with Diabetes   Tips for Comfortable Injections



Pam giving Kate her insulin injection
Pam giving Kate her insulin injection while they are at the park.
(Photo courtesy of Pam L.)

  • Massage or stroke your pet before the injection.  This calms them and prevents them from being surprised by a needle stick. An extra minute or two of petting and relaxing may be all your pet needs to prepare for an injection.
  • Many people use a food reward during or just after injection time. Giving the injection while the pet is busy eating is very common. Putting a small treat in front of your pet can help keep them still for an injection. Some people give a treat right after the injection. The pet is well behaved during the injection because it knows a treat is coming.  Maybe a big hug and praise is all your pet needs.
  • Warm the insulin before injecting. Human diabetics say that injecting cold insulin causes discomfort, and this is probably true for pets too. Room temperature insulin makes for a more comfortable injection. After filling the syringe with the proper amount of insulin, hold the syringe between your fingers for a minute. Some people take the entire vial of insulin out of the refrigerator and let it sit until it is room temperature. I prefer warm only the amount that is used for each injection, returning the insulin vial to the refrigerator as soon as possible..  DO NOT USE HOT WATER, A MICROWAVE, OR ANYTHING ELSE TO WARM THE INSULIN. Use your hands or let the syringe (or vial) sit on the table-top for a few minutes.
  • When injecting, push the needle quickly and firmly through the skin. Going through the skin is the most sensitive time. Once the needle is through the skin the animal doesn't feel much.
  • Inject the insulin at a moderate rate. Not too fast, but not too slow. This takes a little practice and your pet will let you know if you are doing it right.
  • No alcohol wipes.  Most people do not clean the injection site with alcohol before an injection.  Alcohol doesn't "disinfect" the skin, it only wets the fur.  Alcohol may cause stinging during the injection.  Unless your pet is very dirty it is not necessary to clean the injection site.
  • Some people report that keeping the bevel of the needle facing up makes for a more comfortable injection. I haven't noticed much of a difference with Barney. The bevel is the small flat area on the very tip of the needle.
  • Disposable insulin syringes are meant to be used only one time. Many brands have a coating on the needle that makes needle insertion smooth and comfortable. After use, that coating can become worn away a little bit. Also, the needles are extremely thin, especially at the very tip. With each use, the tip of the needle can become twisted or bent. Pictures of a new and re-used syringe show these changes. Continued re-use of a needle can result in skin damage and slower healing. Manufacturers do not recommend reuse of insulin syringes. However, some people do reuse syringes. They store the used syringe in the refrigerator, needle up, until the second use. If you choose to reuse a syringe, do not rinse out the syringe and do not wipe the needle with alcohol - it removes the smooth coating from the needle. 
  • If you use a diluted insulin, some owners report that if the insulin was diluted with saline the injection causes discomfort. A more suitable diluent can be obtained from the insulin manufacturer.  Read more about diluted insulin.
  • For extreme situations one owner reports that using an anesthetic like baby Orajel or Ambesol can help make injections more comfortable.  She said she coated the needle with a bit of Orajel before the injection.  I would rub a bit of Orajel on the skin a minute or so before you do the injection.  This should numb the skin, and you aren't touching the needle.
  • For people who are afraid of needles: you need to become comfortable with the syringe and be confident in using it.  You can take an empty syringe and practice the motions of doing an injection on a piece of fruit or a stuffed animal - just to get the feeling and confidence you need. The idea is to be able to enter the skin quickly but gently and inject in one smooth motion. You may feel clutsy at first, but the practice will help you gain confidence in your technique. If you have a squishy stuffed animal laying around, you could try using that as practice pet.  Start by gathering up some "scruff" with your non-dominant hand then inject with the other. You can practice over and over with the same needle.  Be sure to discard that syringe properly when you're done and never use it to give your pet an injection.
  • If you are fearful of hurting your pet while doing the injection your pet might sense that fear and become nervous.  Relax.  Take a few deep breaths. Insulin syringes have very small gauge needles (very thin) so they won't hurt much, if at all, when you give the injection.

Almost everyone makes a mistake on an injection. Some or all of the insulin may not get injected properly. If this happens, there are several things you may notice.

  • The pet's fur is wet with insulin
  • You may be able to smell a distinct odor from the insulin.  Humulin NPH has a unique odor, and you can smell it if it is on your pet's fur. 
  • Your fingers are wet with insulin

Ask your vet what to do if you think you made a mistake on an injection.  Usually, it is not safe to try to guess how much insulin was injected, and most owners do not try to give a replacement shot.  They wait until the next shot and give the usual dose. Missing one shot is not the end of the world.  The pet's blood glucose may be high for a few hours, but that is much safer than guessing at a second injection and giving too much insulin.

Miscellaneous injection tips

  • Site rotation.  It is important to give each injection in a little different spot on the body.  Most owners are advised to stay on the same general area of the body, like the scruff or on the side behind the shoulder. This is because different sites of the body may absorb insulin faster than others. But don't inject in the exact same spot every time.  Moving the injection site a little bit helps prevent skin irritation and scar formation.  Ask your vet to show you places on your pet that are good to give injections. Each pet is different and a good area for one pet may be a very sensitive area for another pet.
  • After the injection you may notice that a tiny bit of the insulin has "leaked" back out from under the skin. Human diabetics and owners of diabetic pets have reported this. This is normal (but uncommon), and should not be a problem. Ask your vet about this if you are concerned that your pet is not getting the full dose.
  • If you are not sure that you are giving the injection correctly, or if your pet seems to be in a lot of discomfort during the injection, be sure to ask your vet for advice. 

A little Light Heartedness
Read "Shoot Me Tender" Bobbi's humorous song about giving a comfortable injection. It might be what you need on one of those days when your pet is telling you "ouch".

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Updated June 2002
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