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Care Guide

About Care Guides[x] These care guides are written to help your clients understand common conditions, tests, and procedures, as well as to provide basic information about pet care. They are based on the most up-to-date, documented information, recommendations, and guidelines available in the United States at the time of writing. Pharmaceutical product licensing, availability, and usage recommendations are based on US product information. Use the Download Handout button to generate a PDF for printing or e-mailing to your clients.

Administering Injectable Medication To Your Dog

    • Most injectable medications given at home are administered by injection directly under the skin (known as subcutaneous injection).
    • Do not risk being bitten or otherwise injured trying to medicate your pet. If you are unable to administer medication, your veterinarian may be able to offer other options.
    • Your veterinary health care team will work with you to make sure you know how to give injectable medication without injuring yourself or your dog.

    Why Does My Dog Need Injectable Medication?

    Certain medications, such as insulin, can only be administered by injection. Depending on the formulation and the type of medication, injectable medications can be given by several routes. They can be given through direct injection into a vein (known as intravenous, or IV injection), injection into a muscle (known as intramuscular, or IM injection), or injection directly under the skin – a procedure known as subcutaneous (SC or SQ) injection.  It is very important that you understand how your pet’s injectable medication needs to be given; for example, if you accidentally give a medication intravenously instead of subcutaneously, complications can result. Most injectable medications given at home are intended to be given subcutaneously.

    Getting Started

    Before you start, ask your veterinary health care team for training and advice to make sure you know how to give injectable medication without injuring yourself or your dog. If you aren’t comfortable or need additional training sessions, don’t be afraid to ask!

    Here are a few things to consider:

    • Be sure you can handle your dog without being injured. This may not be an issue if your dog is very relaxed and is used to being handled. However, if you have had problems in the past trying to trim nails or perform other procedures on your dog, you may need help giving medication by injection. Talk to your veterinary care team about tips for properly restraining your dog for medication injections before attempting your first session. In some cases, you may need another person to help hold your dog so you can safely give the injection.
    • Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Your team of veterinary professionals will be glad to answer any questions you may have about safely administering medication injections to your dog.
    • Record your dog’s medication schedule on the calendar. Include the date and time that the medication needs to be administered. This will help you to avoid forgetting to give a dose to your dog and to remember when the course of treatment is completed.
    • If you can’t do it, ask about other options. Giving medication injections to a dog requires skill, patience, and confidence. If you aren’t comfortable trying to give injections at home, ask your veterinary team if the injections can be done at your veterinarian’s office. For long-term therapy (such as insulin), this may require a prolonged time commitment. For short-term medication, however, outpatient injections can be a very practical option.  

    Basic Equipment

    The “syringe” is the clear (usually plastic) cylinder that holds the medication to be injected. The “needle” is the sharp, metal tip that is injected into the skin. The “plunger” is a stem that moves inside the syringe. Pull the plunger backward to fill the syringe and push it forward to empty the syringe.  A new needle/plunger and syringe are sterile until they are opened. The bottle of injectable medication is also sterile. It is important to handle these items properly to avoid contaminating them. Your veterinary care team will show you how to properly open a syringe and draw up injectable medication without breaking sterility. Be sure to use a new syringe, plunger, and needle for each injection. Reusing syringes and needles can cause infection. Additionally, a used needle is dull and therefore more painful than a new needle.

    Proper Restraint

    A small dog may be happy lying or sitting on your lap while you administer an injection. For a larger dog, you may need to sit in a chair next to the dog or sit on the floor with the dog. Some small dogs may do better on a smooth surface, such as a table; the surface of a washing machine can simulate the smooth metal table at your veterinarian’s office and encourage your dog to remain still during the procedure. Additionally, some dogs do better with two people administering the injection – one person to hold the pet and the other one to give the injection.

    Giving a Subcutaneous Injection

    Your veterinary care team will show you how to administer an injection before you have to try it alone at home:

    • Maintaining sterility, load the syringe with medication and set it close by. 
    • Find an area of loose skin. The skin over the middle of the back or just behind the shoulders generally works well. If the injection will be given frequently (such as insulin), try to alternate injection sites so you are not using the same location each time.
    • Gently pinch a section of loose skin between your thumb and forefinger. When you pull the loose skin gently upwards, you should see a small indentation of skin between your fingers.
    • Holding the syringe in the opposite hand, insert the sterile needle directly into the indentation. Keep the needle level (or parallel) with the surface of the skin on the back. If you angle the needle too much, you may enter a muscle, go through the skin to the opposite side, or stick your own finger.
    • Once the needle has been inserted, pull back on the plunger only. If you see blood, remove the needle and try a different location. If not, push the plunger forward to empty the syringe.
    • When the syringe is empty, remove the needle (backing out along the same path that was used to enter the skin).
    • If there is no bleeding or leakage of medication, release the dog after giving him or her a big hug for being a good patient!
    • Be sure to dispose of used needles and syringes properly.

    Giving an Intramuscular Injection

    There are a few precise areas on the body that are commonly used for giving intramuscular injections. You will need to find “landmarks” on your dog so that you know where to give the injection. Your veterinary care team will show you how to find an appropriate injection site and administer an intramuscular injection before you have to try it alone at home:

    • Maintaining sterility, load the syringe with medication and set it close by. 
    • Find the injection site, using the techniques your veterinarian demonstrated for you. If the injection will be given frequently, try to alternate injection sites so you are not using the same location each time.
    • Holding the syringe in one hand, insert the sterile needle directly through the skin and into the underlying muscle. The angle of the needle should be between 45° and 90°, depending on the area of injection. If your angle is too shallow, you may not inject deeply enough to enter a muscle.
    • Once the needle has been inserted, pull back on the plunger only. If you see blood, remove the needle and try a different location. If not, push the plunger forward to empty the syringe.
    • When the syringe is empty, remove the needle (backing out along the same path that was used to enter the skin).
    • If there is no bleeding or leakage of medication, release the dog after giving him or her a big hug for being a good patient!
    • Be sure to dispose of used needles and syringes properly.

    Ask your veterinary team to teach you how to administer medication injections safely. If you aren’t comfortable giving injections, ask about scheduling outpatient visits for the injections to be given.