Most diabetic cats will need to have their insulin injections given once or twice daily. It can be a daunting prospect having to do this for the first time but you’ll quickly find that you’re a dab-hand at it. It’s important to note that insulin needles are really small so cats often don’t feel the injection.
Your vet should have provided you with: a vial of insulin, a packet or box of insulin syringes and a sharps container. If your vet hasn’t provided you with a sharps container, you can purchase these from your local pharmacy. Insulin should always be stored in the fridge, upright and the syringes should be kept out of the reach of children.
The injection is given under the skin behind the neck or slightly further down between the shoulder blades. Your vet or vet nurse will have spent some time showing you how to do this, and ideally, been with you while you practice. A good idea, to help you get the feel of the syringe in your hand is to practice injecting water into a piece of fruit or a soft toy – it doesn’t really matter what, as long as you are gaining confidence with it.
To begin with, it’s a good idea to have someone there ready to help hold your cat. This only needs to be a gentle hold. This is a really important point. Cats are very perceptive animals and if they feel like they are being ‘pinned down’ or ‘held down’ they will get very disgruntled. They only need a very gentle hold and to be distracted with stroking and talking to. Before your friend or relative, holds your cat, get everything ready. You don’t want your cat being held when you’re still unpacking the syringe.
Close all doors and windows so that your cat can’t run off, especially the first few times. You want them to eat immediately beforehand– firstly to help maintain good blood glucose levels, and secondly, so that your cat learns there is a reward associated with this.
drawing up the insulin into the syringe
You want to gently mix the contents of the insulin vial – don’t shake the bottle as this could damage the insulin – but a gentle swirling is good. Then get your syringe ready, turn the vial upside down and pierce the rubber top with the syringe needle. If it’s a brand new vial, it will have a hard plastic lid which can be pulled off and discarded. Once you have pierced the rubber top with the needle , draw down on the syringe plunger. The insulin will then start filling the vial. You can go up and down on here until you get the right amount. If bubbles appear, then let go of the syringe – it will still stay inside the vial – and ‘flick’ the syringe. This will release the bubbles to the top. You may need to do this a few times.
Your vet should have showed you how much insulin you need to draw up into the syringe and it should also be on the veterinary label on the box or vial. This is usually given in the measurements of units known as I.U. (insulin units) rather than ml or cc. If you are in any doubt of the amount you need, contact your vet and ask them to confirm.
Ensure you replace the cap on the needle now until you are ready to inject your cat. It’s important that the needle remains sterile.
Occasionally, insulin ‘pens’ are used instead to give insulin. This may help when giving very small amounts and your vet will show you how to use this.
feed your cat
You should always feed your cat immediately before giving their insulin injection. This helps to prevent their blood sugar levels falling too low after the insulin has been given. This is why it’s important for them not to graze during the day as we want to make sure they eat at ‘insulin’ time so they will need to have set meal times and be hungry enough to reliably eat those meals. If they do not eat, do not give them their injection until they have done so. For tips on getting a fussy cat to eat, see my post here.
Wait until your cat has finished their meal and eaten at least half of it before giving their injection. Although it may seem tempting, please don’t give it to them while they are eating as they may come to associate eating with something they don’t enjoy very much and this can disrupt their eating habits.
While they are eating, move away to the other side of the room and leave them to eat their meal in peace. They will sense it if you are waiting to ‘grab’ them as soon as they are finished.
Giving the injection
Once your cat has eaten, you can give the nod to the person helping that you are ready for them to hold your cat.
You want to lift the skin on the back of the neck, or between the shoulder blades. Make a tent with the skin and then point the needle towards the ‘tent opening’ (if it had one). Keeping the needle and syringe parallel to your cat’s back but pointing very slightly downwards. When you enter the skin, you want to do this quickly and confidently. Once you are sure the needle is in – press down on the plunger of the syringe. Once it has been given you can pull the syringe out and give the skin a gentle rub.
Make sure that you put the insulin vial straight back into the fridge and discard the used syringe and needle into the sharps container.
If you aren’t sure that an insulin injection was given successfully, never give another dose. It’s always best to just wait until the next dose that’s due rather than risk giving too much insulin. If your cat’s fur is wet to touch afterwards, it may be that they still got some of the insulin so it is still best to wait until the next dose.
If it doesn’t go well the first time, please don’t be disheartened. You AND your cat will get used to it and you will find the ways that work for you both and it will get easier.