Insulin Injections for Your Diabetic Dog
Giving Insulin Injections
Your vet has just told you that your beloved dog is diabetic and that he/she now requires insulin injections to live. What now?
When my little Maltese Ozzie was diagnosed with diabetes at age 7, I was lucky: I have juvenile (Type 1) diabetes and years before had taken the insulin he was going to be taking. Caring for for my dog simply extended the knowledge about diabetic care that I had developed over 20 years. The information here is based on my experience with Ozzie, who is a happy, playful, 12-year-old today.
Once diagnosed, your pet will likely need to stay with the vet for a couple of days to stabilize, and your vet should show you how to administer insulin injections before you take your dog home. But if you are not yet comfortable with the injection process, here are some hints to help you perfect your technique and gain confidence:
1. Practice on an orange. Canine and human skin are much stronger than you think, and much more resistant. Skin and orange peel show approximately the same resistance to puncturing, so practice on an orange to gain confidence. And remember: confidence and ease are imperative when giving shots. Your dog will sense whatever fear or trepidation you feel. If you're tense, your pup will be tense, and you don't want the process to be a fearful one for her. After all, she is going to have two shots a day from now on. By practicing on an inanimate object, you'll lose much of your fear.
2. Load the syringe with water. Don't waste insulin you can save for your pup. To practice, use water instead. You'll need a syringe and a small cup of water to do this. If you want to make it easier to see how much liquid you'll be pulling into the syringe, you can add a few drops of food coloring to the cup of water.
Remove the colored cap from the syringe, and pull the syringe plunger back to the number on the barrel indicating the dosage your vet has prescribed. (For instance, if your dog is to have 5 units of insulin twice a day, pull the plunger back to 5 on the barrel.) Now hold the needle tip under the water in the cup, and push the plunger down, releasing air into the water. Don't skip this step! When you do a real injection, you'll inject air into the insulin bottle before withdrawing the insulin, which makes it easier to pull insulin into the syringe.
Once you've injected air into the cup of water, and with the needle still in the water, pull back on the plunger, withdrawing an amount of water equal to the dosage of insulin you'll be injecting. You will now see (colored) water in your syringe. Hold the syringe towards a light source and check for air bubbles. If you see a small bubble, "flick" the barrel of the syringe to force it out. Now you're ready to administer a practice injection.
3. Give the practice injection. Hold the syringe in your dominant hand and an orange in the other. Keeping the syringe at a slight angle, insert the needle into the fruit. (You'll have to use quite a bit of pressure to puncture the peel.) Now use your thumb and press down the plunger, releasing the liquid into the fruit. When the plunger stops, you will have injected all the (colored) liquid into the orange.
I suggest you practice until you can "feel" the correct amount of pressure to apply to the syringe plunger for it to enter the orange peel. Remember: your dog's skin is tough. It will resist the needle.
4. Gather the injection supplies. Now it's time to get ready for your dog's insulin injection.
IMPORTANT: I advise giving injections after your dog eats a meal. If you give insulin before a meal and he subsequently has no appetite, the insulin can cause a dangerous - even fatal - drop in blood sugar level, and you'll be making an expensive trip to the emergency clinic for the vet to administer intravenous glucose.
Before you feed your dog, gather his insulin and a syringe. This way, you can prepare the shot while he is eating - and unaware. Also, if you prep the shot while your pet is eating, you can warm the insulin in the syringe by holding it in your hand. Don't give a shot of cold insulin, which is painful to your pup.
Prep the insulin by gently rolling the bottle: rotate the bottle several times in your hand to mix it. Never shake insulin vigorously! This causes it to break down. To load the syringe you'll do much the same as you did when practicing with the orange. First, pull back the plunger to the number equal to your dog's insulin dosage (5, for example). Insert the needle into the insulin bottle and push in the plunger, injecting air into the bottle.Do not skip this step! Doing so will create a vacuum in the bottle and make it difficult to withdraw insulin.
Now, withdraw the prescribed number of units from the bottle. Check for air bubbles, flicking the barrel of the syringe to remove them if necessary. Replace the cap over the needle, and hold the syringe in your hand for a few moments to warm the insulin. You're now ready to give your pup a shot, so WASH YOUR HANDS!!!
5. Consider giving a treat. When you're ready to administer the injection, you may want to get a small treat or a few pieces of dry food to use as a reward. I give my Maltese one of his two daily treats after each injection. Knowing he will receive a treat after his shot gives him a reason to look forward to injection time and helps make it a positive experience. It forces him to focus not on the injection, but on the treat to come! If you want to try this, put the treat on the table where your other injections supplies are so you keep everything together.
6. Administer the injection. If you're nervous, compose yourself. Take a deep breath and remind yourself that by giving your dog injections, you're saving her life. And remember that insulin needles are very, very thin. They cause little or no pain, so there's no reason for you to feel guilty. (I know this for a fact; I take multiple insulin injections every day.)
Because your dog has just eaten, she will likely be in a good mood, so take advantage of it. Call her to you, keeping an upbeat, inviting tone in your voice. (I call Ozzie by saying, "Ready for your medicine?" and showing him the treat he's going to get afterwards.) If your dog is small, you can sit on the floor (with her in front of you), on the sofa, or in a chair (with her on your lap). If your dog is larger, you can sit beside her, or put her in front of your chair or sofa, where you can easily reach her.
Your vet should have told you where to administer the injection, usually along the back. Pull up the skin at the injection site a bit: you should be able to feel fat under the skin where you'll give the shot. (Insulin must be injected into fat.) Holding the needle at a slight angle (remember the orange), quickly push the needle into your dog's skin, and push down on the plunger. releasing the insulin under the skin. Once you can feel the plunger stop, remove the needle. Pet and praise your dog, giving her the promised treat.
You'll soon find that you and your dog establish a routine for food and injections, and your dog will learn to anticipate shots and subsequent treats. Remember that with every insulin dose, you're extending your pup's life, keeping him in good health, and making it possible for you to continue to enjoy your special relationship. Good luck!