How To Give A Dog An Insulin Shot


how to give a dog an insulin shot
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Diabetes in dogs comes with some lifestyle changes. One of these changes involves you giving your dog an insulin shot every day as his body can no longer do that effectively on its own. It’s important that dog parents learn how to give a dog an insulin shot as doing it wrong could have grave consequences for the dog.

Currently, in America, canine diabetes has become more common a problem than before. From the stats, 1 in every 500 dogs is diabetic. 

Fortunately, canine diabetes is manageable and as long as you make the appropriate lifestyle changes and are consistent with treatment, your dog can live a full, healthy life.

Check out the video for a brief overview of diabetes in dogs and cats.


What Is Insulin?

Insulin, as a hormone, is responsible for helping the body store energy from the food it produces. It also helps to move excess glucose into cells for storage. If it’s not enough, therefore, glucose levels get extremely high in the body which could have potentially fatal consequences.

To prevent this from happening, therefore, dogs with diabetes need to get an insulin shot once or twice daily to help make up for the insulin deficiency in the body.



Before You Administer Insulin

Insulin is not exactly sturdy in its composition. Hence, it is important that you handle it gently. Try not to expose insulin to extreme temperatures or movement. Also, make sure you store your unused insulin in your refrigerator till you need it. If you have some left after administering the shot, also keep that in the fridge as well.

Please note that insulin should never be left in an area where it comes face-to-face with direct sunlight.


How Do You Practice Giving An Insulin Shot To Your Dog?

Now, one of the first steps in learning how to give a dog an insulin shot is practice. First, practice loading the syringe by using either saline water or sterile water. This is a super important step as incorrect loading has some negative consequences.

Secondly, you can also practice giving the shot using an orange or an apple.

Do these until you feel you’ve steadied your hands enough for a real shot.


Also, don’t forget that dog insulin syringes range in size. Be sure to get the exact size recommended for your dog by your veterinarian. Plus your dog should always only get the shot after a full meal unless otherwise instructed by your vet.


How Do You Give A Dog An Insulin Shot?

Here is how to administer an insulin shot to a dog:

  1. Inspect the insulin vial to be sure it is still in good condition.
  2. Mix the insulin by rolling the vial in between your fingers. Do not shake.
  3. Take off the cap on the syringe and pull the plunger to the required dosage.
  4. Turn the vial upside down and insert the syringe making sure the tip touches the liquid.
  5. Pull the plunger till you get the required dosage. Remember to read from the needle end not the plunger end.
  6. Make sure there are no air bubbles in the syringe.
  7. Pinch the skin at the site where you want to give the shot.
  8. Insert the needle at a 45-degree angle.
  9. Draw the plunger back a bit to make sure you’re not in a blood vessel.
  10. If you don’t draw blood, press the plunger to administer the shot.



Step 1 — How To Give A Dog An Insulin Shot

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The first step in administering an insulin shot to your dog is to ensure that the insulin is properly stored. You don’t want the hormone compromised as it could make it lose its effectiveness or even become lethal to your dog.

  1. Insulin is fragile and shouldn’t be stored at high temperatures or exposed to direct sunlight. Ensure that all unused bottles are stored in your fridge but are not frozen. The best way to store insulin in the fridge is to keep it in the fridge door.
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  1. If you pick up the insulin vial and it looks frosted, or looks like it’s been exposed to heat, or the liquid looks differently colored, use a new vial to be safe. Also, you must look out for the expiration date on the bottle of the insulin and never administer it past that date.


Step 2 — How To Give A Dog An Insulin Shot

In this second step, we are going to be talking about how to load the syringe. This is a most important step and you must be careful to follow the steps listed very carefully.

how to give a dog an insulin shot
Image by Angelo Esslinger from Pixabay

1. First, you want to mix the insulin. Do this simply by rolling the bottle between your hands. Please, do NOT shake the content of the bottle except the insulin in question is Vetsulin. You have to shake Vetsulin in order to mix the content of the hormone properly.


2. Next, take off the needle cap and draw the plunger to the required dosage.


3. Then turn the vial of insulin upside down and stick the needle into the bottle. While still in that position, force the air in the syringe into the vial by depressing the plunger. You’re doing this to avoid the formation of a vacuum when you eventually fill the syringe with insulin.


4. While the bottle is still upside down, insert as much of the needle as possible into the bottle of insulin. However, most importantly, ensure that the insulin covers the tip of the needle. Then pull back the plunger to draw the proper dose. Please, measure from the needle-end and not from the plunger-end. When you’ve gotten the right dose, remove the bottle.


5. Check again to make sure that the dosage is correct and that the syringe contains no air bubbles. Once you’ve confirmed this, replace the needle cap until you’re ready to administer the shot.


6. If, on the other hand, you notice that there is an air bubble in the syringe, draw a little extra insulin into the syringe. Then, take away the needle from the bottle of insulin and have the syringe and the needle pointing upwards toward the ceiling.

Now, tap the syringe (or you can flick it) until the air bubble rises to the top. Once it is at the top, push the plunger to get the air out of the syringe along with the extra insulin.


7. Return the leftover insulin to the fridge.


Step 3 — How To Give A Dog An Insulin Shot

how to give a dog an insulin shot
Image by Pexels from Pixabay

This is the step where you do the actual injecting and it isn’t as difficult as you think.

1. First, you want to hold the syringe using your dominant hand. Use the non-dominant one to pinch some skin either on your dog’s shoulders or on his back or near his hip bone.  Now, ensure you’re not always injecting the same spot every time. To make it easier, some people establish a routine where they inject the left side in the morning and the right at night.


2. Insert the needle into the pinched skin at an angle of 45 degrees or simply, parallel to the fold. If you do it this way, parallel to the fold, the likelihood that the needle will come out the other way is much reduced.


3. Once inserted, pull the plunger just a little bit in order to confirm that you didn’t insert the needle into a blood vessel. If you draw blood, you want to remove the syringe as you have entered into a blood vessel. You’d have to begin with a fresh syringe from step 2, that is loading up a new syringe.


4. If you don’t draw blood, then you’re good to go. Depress the plunger and administer the shot.


5. Immediately you’re done, remove the needle and replace the needle cap in order to prevent accidents. Make sure you follow your vet’s instructions for proper disposal of the syringe. In most cases, you should get a special container for disposing it off. Ensure you use that rather than throw the syringe into your regular trash can.


6. Reward your dog! You can pet him, praise him, or give him a treat. This is important in order to help your dog remain calm in subsequent shots. 


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7. Should something happen and your dog gets away, or, for some reason, you’re not sure your dog got a full dose, do not readminister another shot at that moment. Instead, wait for when the next dose is due and give the prescribed dose again. Better an underdose than an overdose.

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Here is a video demonstration on how to give a dog an insulin shot. It should help boost your confidence if you feel you still need a little more guidance. It contains a step-by-step demonstration, as well as some tips and tricks to make this process smoother for both parties.


Some Tips For Giving A Dog An Insulin Shot

Injection Tips

1. Avoid wiping the needle of the syringe with alcohol before giving the shot as this removes the protective coating of the needle. This protective coating is supposed to make injection easier and a little less painful.


2. Avoid injecting insulin at the same site over and again. Also, never use one needle more than once as it blunts the needle. Doing either of these could cause lipoatrophy or lipohypertrophy. In both cases, absorption becomes unreliable.

When giving the shot, be sure to vary the injection site. Note that new sites don’t have too far away from the old site. Even a space the width of 2 fingers is enough.

It might not be the best idea to administer a shot on your pet’s neck as it contains fewer capillaries and veins. Instead, in addition to the back and shoulders, you can also inject around the flank and armpit.


3. When drawing insulin into the syringe, it is better to do so slowly as it reduces the chances of drawing in air bubbles.


4. If while trying to load the syringe, you bend the needle, throw away the syringe and begin again. Don’t try to straighten it out. The best way to avoid bending is to ensure that you insert the needle all the way into the bottle.


5. One challenge many dog owners face after giving their dog an insulin shot is leakage. Oftentimes, this is as a result of still pinching the skin at the site of the injection after the syringe has been removed. When this happens, you force the insulin to leak out of the skin through the hole you just made by inserting the needle.

If this happens, don’t readminister another shot, instead, wait till the time of the next dose and do things properly.

The proper way to do this would be to release the pinch first after giving the shot and count to 10 before you take the needle out of the skin. This gives the insulin the time to penetrate into the fat layer thereby preventing leakage.

Also, note that shorter needles are more likely to cause a leak than long needles. So, preferably, use a longer needle for administering shots.


6. Sometimes, you might need some help distracting or holding your dog in the beginning phases of giving the shot. That is, while you and your dog are working together to get used to the shot.

Try scratching your dog on his head or giving him a treat or his favorite toy to make the process more seamless.


Insulin Tips

diabetes kit
Image by Peter Stanic from Pixabay
  1. Should You Administer Cold Insulin To Your Dog?

Never administer cold insulin to your dog as it stings. Ensure that you bring the insulin to room temperature first before administering it. So, when you take it out of the fridge, leave it for a few minutes before loading it into the syringe and giving the shot.

You can also warm up the insulin by rubbing it in between your hands. However, avoid shaking.

Another way people warm up insulin before a shot is to keep the loaded syringe (of course with the needle capped) under their arms for a few minutes.

What you should never do, though, is to attempt warming the insulin with a microwave or a stove. Remember, insulin is fragile and destroys easily under extreme temperatures.



2. Can You Rub The Site Of The Injection After Administering Insulin To Your Dog?

Never rub the site of the injection as that could increase insulin absorption. In essence, the insulin gets used (absorbed) much faster than it normally should (as in when you don’t rub the site) which could lead to a hypo due to the increased flow of blood to the site brought on by rubbing.


3. Never administer insulin continuously at the same site as this hardens the skin at that particular site (kinda like a callus) making it harder or even impossible for the insulin to be properly absorbed by the body compared to thinner skin.


4. If you ever need someone else to administer the injection on your behalf, you can make a pre-filled syringe available by preparing the dosage beforehand. Except you absolutely trust the person administering the injection on your behalf, we suggest you load the syringe yourself.

After loading the syringe, replace the needle cap and store the syringe in the fridge door with the capped needle pointing upwards so the insulin doesn’t clog.


5. Teach your dog some basic commands. If he’s already been brought to be an obedient dog, he will sit and stay when you tell him to which will make injection much higher.

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6. If things aren’t going good with your insulin injection, then it might be time to consult your vet so that they can help you come up with a routine that works, minimizing his discomfort and maximizing your pet’s health.


How To Get A Dog To Acclimate When You Give Him An Insulin Shot

how to give a dog an insulin shot
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Before you give your dog an insulin shot, it’s important to introduce him to the syringe first before administering the shot. So, you’re going to want to have practice sessions that are poke-free with your dog first before you make the first poke.

So, have her favorite treats on hand while holding an empty, capped syringe. When she accepts being touched by the empty, uncapped syringe, reward her with a treat.

You want to be careful about rewarding her only after wrestling to inject the insulin. If you do, she might begin to associate the reward to the fight rather than the shot.

So, in between shots, take some time to practice with your dog using her special treats. Preferably, work with her everywhere else but the counter as she might have already associated the counter with pain which might become scary for her.

Also, remember not to be tense when practicing with her as she might sense that and suspect that something bad is coming. So, instead, be as relaxed as possible so it’s a less scary experience for her.


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When To Contact Your Vet

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If your dog isn’t eating at all, or is eating less than usual or is vomiting after eating, then it might be time to consult your vet.

Also, consult your vet if your dog seems lethargic, sleepy, or wobbly just before his insulin shot.

Finally, if you mistakenly, inject yourself with your dog’s insulin, call your physician as it could cause a drop in your blood sugar.



Canine diabetes requires some lifestyle changes including changing your dog’s food (click here to read our article on diabetic dog food), checking your dog’s sugar levels constantly, and administering shots, as well as exercising. While this might seem overwhelming for you and your pet, it doesn’t have to be a scary experience. As long as you’re consistent with treatment and you keep in touch with your vet, you and your pup can beat diabetes.





How To Give A Dog An Insulin Shot — Related FAQs

Where Do You Give A Dog An Insulin Shot?

The best spots to administer an insulin shot on your dog’s body are close to the hip bone or shoulder blades, as well as a couple of inches from the middle of his back. Dogs take to better to injections administered at these spots.

Remember to alternate locations when giving your dog his insulin shots to reduce pain and soreness.


How Long After Eating Should You Give A Dog Insulin?

The best time to give your dog an insulin shot is 15 minutes after he has had his meal.

It is important to give your dog his meal before administering the shot because most dogs who have diabetes also have digestive issues. Many will throw up if given an insulin shot on an empty stomach. Hence, it is important that glucose is readily available in the body when insulin is injected.


Is There An Alternative To Insulin Injections For Dogs?

There are alternatives to insulin injections for dogs which are oral diabetes medication. These include drugs like Glipizide, Glucotrol, Acarbose, and Metformin. Acarbose is the most commonly used alternative and Chromium Picolinate is also, sometimes, used as well.

The challenge, however, is that these oral medications are not as effective as insulin therapy. They also often lead to unpleasant side effects. This is why they are not usually recommended except in extreme situations.


What Happens If A Dog Misses An Insulin Shot?

If your dog misses an insulin shot, observe him. If he seems normal and is carrying out his activities as usual, then don’t bother about it, simply wait till the next dose. Do not administer two shots at the next dose as that is dangerous. Simply administer the normal dosage like he didn’t miss any shot.

If, on the other hand, your dog seems to be having some symptoms, then it’s time to contact your vet.


Can I Buy Insulin For My Dog At Walmart?

It is best to speak with your vet before deciding to buy insulin for your dog at Walmart. It is true that Walmart insulin is cheaper. However, the insulin sold at Walmart is different from Vetsulin which is the one approved by the FDA for veterinary use.

Now, if your reason for deciding to try Walmart insulin is because the one your dog is currently on isn’t yielding results, switching to a different kind like the ones sold at Walmart isn’t straightforward. A number of things need to be taken into consideration, especially in deciding the dosage for your dog.

Hence, your vet should be the one you’re speaking to on this matter.


Is 10 Units Of Insulin A Lot For Your Dog?

The units of insulin to give to your dog would depend on his weight. The rule is to begin with 1/4 unit of insulin per pound of body weight. So, if your dog weighs 40 pounds, starting with 10 units of insulin is not a lot for your dog. However, for a 20-pound dog, 10 units of insulin would be a lot.