How to Give a Cat or Dog Shot Instructions for Giving Your Pet a Shot at Home

How to Give a Cat or Dog Shot
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vet verified PetCareRx Staff Veterinarian DVM

If you can get past the needles, it is cheaper for you, and less nerve wracking for your dog, to administer shots at home. And despite what you might think, it isn't all that hard! Here's how.

Certain chronic conditions in pets, like diabetes or allergies, need to be treated with regular injections. Injections may be necessary weekly or even daily, in which case loading everyone into the car for a trip to the vet every time might not make sense. Learning to administer shots on your own will be less stressful for both you and your pet and less expensive for you.

Giving your pet an injection at home is easier than most people think, especially when administering subcutaneous injections. In a short time, you and your pet will be perfectly comfortable with the procedure, and it will become a part of the routine like anything else. You may even end up purchasing your pet’s vaccinations by mail and giving these shots at home as well.

Step by Step Instructions for Subcutaneous Injections

Subcutaneous shots are injected below the skin.

1. Relax, and have support on hand.

The first time you give your pet a shot, you may want to have someone there to help who can hold your cat or dog and keep them calm during the procedure. If you’re nervous giving the shot, having a friend or family member present may help keep you calm as well. A relaxed environment is important for everyone involved and will make things go much more smoothly. If you’re stressed, your pet will be stressed, too.

2. Prep the syringe for filling.

With a cotton ball wetted with rubbing alcohol, sterilize the top of the medicine vial. Insert a sterile, unused needle into the medication vial and turn the vial upside down.

3. Fill the syringe with the right amount of medicine.

It will be much easier to dispense the correct amount of medication if you initially use the syringe to draw out more than you need and then push the excess back into the vial. This will also help to push out any air bubbles that may collect in the syringe.

After filling the syringe, cap the needle with the needle guard. This is important to prevent you or your pet from being accidentally stuck.

Check the vial to be sure no air bubbles are present in the medication.

4. Tent the injection site.

The easiest place to give your pet a shot is in the loose skin just above the shoulder blades. Gently lift and pinch the skin into an inverted V shape, what many vets call the tent of skin.

For insulin injections, other areas around the flank or belly of the animal may be a better place to administer the drug. You can ask your vet to show you how to find the right injection site.

Over time, move the injections around, if even only a few millimeters this way or that. This will prevent the injection site from becoming sore or overused.

5. The hard part.

Remove the needle guard. With one clean, quick, but careful movement, pierce the tent of skin with the needle. Push straight down until the small needle is inserted below the layer of fat. Don’t push too deeply, or you’ll hit a muscle. If you’re unsure about how deep or shallow to inject, discuss this part with your veterinarian. The layer of subcutaneous fat on every animal will differ. However, your veterinarian should be able to tell you, based on the length of the needle, how far in you’ll want to go.

Pull back on the syringe plunger very slightly. If the syringe fills with blood, you have hit a vein and will have to withdraw the needle and try again. If no blood is present, move forward with the injection.

6. Inject the medication.

Push the plunger down to inject the medication, then withdraw the needle and replace the needle guard. It is likely that your cat or dog will not even feel the shot or will only notice a slight pinch.

If you and your pet are calm and ready, the whole procedure will be over in a few seconds.

Intramuscular Injections

Some medications must be injected intramuscularly, that is, into the muscle. These types of shots are more difficult to perform at home, so you should ask your vet to guide you in the proper procedure.

Home Vaccinations

Your pet’s yearly vaccinations are typically given subcutaneously and so are administered much the same way as described above. The only difference is that there is often a liquid component and a power component that will need to be mixed before the shot is given.

In most cases, you will draw the liquid into the syringe and then dispense it into the vial containing the powder. After shaking to mix the two, the shot is given as usual.

Note that the freshness of the vaccination is important, and it should be administered as soon as possible after it’s received. If there is a lag between receiving the vaccine and giving your pet its shot, make sure to refrigerate the medication.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do you give a scared cat a shot?

Pets are very perceptive and can often sense when their owners are nervous or upset. This is because pets are highly attuned to their owner's body language, vocalizations, and other nonverbal cues. They can also pick up on changes in their owner's scent, heart rate, and breathing patterns, which can signal stress or anxiety. Therefore, try not to be nervous when administering a shot. It is best to give the injection in a quiet room where the cat feels safe and comfortable. Be sure to have the injection ready before bringing the cat into the room. Make sure to read the instructions carefully and follow them closely. Gently wrap the cat in a towel or blanket, leaving only the area where the injection will be given exposed. This can help prevent the cat from scratching or biting. Use a cotton ball or gauze pad to clean the area where the injection will be given with rubbing alcohol or other disinfectants. Let the area dry before administering the injection. Hold the syringe with the needle pointing upwards, and use your free hand to stabilize the cat's skin around the injection site. Insert the needle into the skin at a 45-degree angle and slowly inject the medication. Be gentle and avoid pushing the plunger too quickly or with too much force. Once the injection is complete, reward the cat with a treat or praise to help reinforce positive associations with the experience.

Where do you inject a dog vaccine?

The location where a vaccine is injected into a dog can depend on the type of vaccine being administered. However, most vaccines for dogs are given via subcutaneous (under the skin) injection. Between the shoulder blades is a common site for giving vaccines to dogs. The area between the shoulder blades has loose skin, which makes it easy to give the injection and allows for good absorption of the vaccine. Another common location for vaccine administration is the hip, on the lateral side of the thigh. This area also has loose skin and is relatively easy to access. Some vaccines may be given in the flank, which is the area behind the ribcage and above the hind leg. This area is less commonly used for vaccine administration but may be necessary for certain types of vaccines.

What happens if an injection is given in the wrong place?

If a product is erroneously given subcutaneously (under the skin) instead of intramuscularly (into the muscle), the most common side effects include pain, swelling, and inflammation at the injection site. This can sometimes progress to cellulitis, which is an infection of the skin and subcutaneous tissues, or abscess formation, which is a localized collection of pus. In addition to these local reactions, there may also be systemic side effects if the medication is absorbed too quickly or in too high of a concentration. This can lead to symptoms such as fever, lethargy, vomiting, or diarrhea.

Where not to inject a dog?

The hamstrings, which are a group of muscles located on the back of the thigh, should generally be avoided for injections in dogs due to the possibility of damaging the sciatic nerve which runs in this area. Injecting into the hamstrings can result in pain, nerve damage, and reduced mobility. It is important to follow proper injection techniques and to avoid injecting into areas where vital structures such as nerves, blood vessels, or bones are located. In addition, when administering injections to dogs, it is generally recommended that volumes of injection should not exceed 2-6 ml, depending on the size of the dog and the medication being administered. Injecting large volumes can lead to discomfort, swelling, and other complications.

What happens if you accidentally inject air into muscle?

Accidentally injecting air into a muscle can cause a condition called "air embolism," which is a rare but potentially serious complication of intramuscular injections. Air embolism occurs when air bubbles enter the bloodstream and travel to the heart or lungs, which can block blood flow to these organs and cause serious health problems. The risk of air embolism is higher if large amounts of air are injected or if the injection is given directly into a blood vessel. Symptoms of an air embolism can include difficulty breathing, chest pain, confusion, dizziness, or loss of consciousness. To avoid air embolism, it is important to follow the proper injection technique and remove air bubbles from the syringe before injecting. The injection site should also be inspected for any visible blood vessels before administering the injection. If you suspect that an air embolism has occurred, seek immediate medical attention. Treatment may include oxygen therapy, medication, or in severe cases, surgery.

More on Giving Pets Medications

How to Give a Pet Oral Medications
How to Use Spot-On Flea Medicine

This information is for informational purposes only and is not meant as a substitute for the professional advice of, or diagnosis or treatment by, your veterinarian with respect to your pet. It has, however, been verified by a licensed veterinarian for accuracy.

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