HEALTH & CARE

How to Give a Cat a Shot: And Keep Yourself in One Piece

giving a cat a shot
Martha Harvey
Written by Martha Harvey

Cats are notoriously bad medical patients. Even a small intervention like giving your cat a deworming pill can turn into a full-fledged war. Unfortunately, there is no way to persuade your fluffy warrior that all this is for their own good, so you will have to resort to some tricks. In this article, we are going to give you guidelines on how to give a cat a shot without having to pick your fingers from the floor and your cat from the chandelier.

Some medical conditions, like diabetes or allergies, require daily shots. Taking a cat to the vet that often can be very stressful for the cat and very expensive for you. This is why learning how to give a shot in the comfort of your home will save you both a lot of energy and time. It might not be easy in the beginning, and you might need a helping hand, but if you plan your moves carefully, you can avoid unpleasantries.

Giving a shot is a routine intervention, and it doesn’t require any particular skill. However, it does require some practice. This is a serious and very delicate topic, so we are going to start off by discussing different kinds of shots. Then we are going to give you advice on equipment and safety, and lastly, we will walk you through the procedure itself, step by step.

Types of Shots

shot for a cat

Some injections need to be given intramuscularly, others subcutaneously (under the skin), or intravenously. Techniques for giving them are quite different, and you need to know what you are doing before treating your cat. In any case, consult your veterinarian first, and make sure you understand the different types of shots.

#1: Subcutaneous Injections

To put it simply, this is giving a shot just underneath the skin. This is the simplest and the least painful method, and it requires minimum skill. However, this method is also the slowest when it comes to the drug absorption.

The shot is usually given between the shoulder blades or in the neck area where cats have a lot of loose skin. The only factor that is important here is assessing the depth of the puncture because chubby cats have more fat underneath the skin. The needle must go through the fat for the drug to take effect.

#2: Intramuscular Injections

As the name says, this type of injection is given into the muscle. When it comes to cats, you should choose the biggest muscle; it is usually given into the buttock. Although this method is more effective than giving a shot just under the skin, it can be somewhat painful. Make sure to alternate between the sides—one shot should be given in the left hip and the next one in the right. This will ease the pain.

#3: Intravenous Injections

This is the most challenging technique, although it may be the only possible option in some cases, especially when time is a crucial factor. The needle goes straight into the vein, which means that the cat needs to be perfectly still.

If the cat is frightened, stressed, or in a state of shock, finding a vein can be an impossible task. This is why we recommend you leave this to the veterinarian if possible.

Preparing the Injection

Before you start giving a shot, there are a couple of things you should consider. First of all, you should have everything prepared so that the intervention takes as little time as possible, and second, you should take all necessary precautions if something goes wrong.

Here is what you need to do:

#1: Learn About the Drug

checking the drug

Read the package insert of the medicine prescribed. Make sure it’s not expired, check how long its shelf life is, what the storage conditions are, and the side-effects.

#2: Make a Chart

If you need to give several medications to your cat, make a chart with the exact dosage, whether the injection should be given subcutaneously or intramuscularly and the frequency of shots. Put this list somewhere where it’s easy to see, like the refrigerator, or the cupboard.

#3: Sterilize the Equipment

The container you are going to use for the syringes and vials should be sterilized before use. It is best to use a container made of an inert material like glass, ceramics, or hard plastic.

If you have a home sterilizator, use that. If not, pour boiling water over it and let dry. Do not use chemicals.

#4: Choose the Right Syringe

man holding a syringe

This might sound unimportant, but there are different types for a reason. For example, insulin syringes are used for lower drug dosages. For larger volumes, you can use conventional syringes.

Whatever type you decide to use, make sure to choose the ones that have a rubber band on the plunger, because this helps to inject the drug slowly, which makes the process less painful for your cat.

Use a new syringe for every shot. Syringes are sold in separate packages, sterile and ready for use. Unpack it and attach the needle to the plunger, keeping the cap on.

#5: Prepare the Concoction Upfront

If you are vaccinating your cat on your own, you already know that some vaccines consist of two parts that need to be mixed together.

You should draw the liquid from the first vial into a syringe, and inject it into the second vial, and then mix them by shaking. Then draw the entire content of the vial into the syringe, and you are ready to give a shot.

See Also: Cat Vaccination Schedule

#6: Learn Where to Give a Shot

This is actually regulated by law. For example, the rabies vaccine is mandatory for all domestic animals and in some states can only be given by the veterinarian. For other shots, there may be a specific requirement as to which part of the cat’s body the shot should be given.

#7: Insert the Drug into the Syringe Correctly

inserting drug into the syringe

This is a very important step. If you are feeling insecure about doing it right, try doing it a couple of times with water until it feels natural.

The first step is removing the vial cap. If the vial is multi-dose, make sure to take a note about when it was first opened. If it’s not, throw it away after usage. Never store open vials “just in case” because some drugs are only good for single use.

Insert the syringe with a sterile, unused needle into the medication vial and turn the vial upside down.

Draw the medication into the syringe. It is better to draw in a bit more medication than needed because you can always push the excess back into the vial and get the precise amount left in the syringe.

After you’ve done all of this, tap the syringe to remove air bubbles, and press the plunger to get them all out until a few drops of liquid come out of the needle. It is absolutely unacceptable to inject air into your cat; it’s dangerous.

Preparing the Cat

This may be the most difficult part because you have to persuade your cat to be still, one way or the other. If your cat is known to be nervous or aggressive, you should have another person around to help you. Ask a friend or a family member to assist you and make sure they bring a pair of leather or garden gloves for protection.

#1: Make Sure Your Cat is Hydrated

cat drinking water

This is not an important point for healthy cats but is crucial for cats that are sick or in distress. Subcutaneous injections may not be fully absorbed if the cat is dehydrated, so the whole intervention may have to be repeated.

#2: Your Cat Should Feel Relaxed

relaxed cat

Choose a place that is familiar to your cat. This can be a kitchen table (if your cat is allowed to be on it), the living room floor, or the bed, but don’t keep the cat in your lap because she might injure you.

If your cat is very food-driven, prepare a bowl of her favorite food and place it near the spot you chose. This way you will draw her attention from the shot, and she will have a nice treat afterward.

See Also: How to Make Homemade Cat Food

#3: Choose Your Timing

The best time to give a shot is when your cat is tired out. If she is in a condition to play, make sure to give her a good run around, then let her relax for a bit. This way you will minimize the risks.

Giving the Shot

giving orange cat a shot

Now that you’ve done all the necessary preparations, it is time to give your cat a shot.

#1: Administering a Subcutaneous Injection

If you have someone to assist you, ask them to hold the cat and pet her gently. In the meantime, take the syringe with the prepared medicine and pet your cat on the neck area. This is to estimate the thickness of the skin because the needle must pass through the skin without hurting the muscle.

Gently pull the skin on the neck or between the shoulder blades (this is called tenting) with your left hand so you can easily pierce it with the needle. Grasp a fold of skin with your fingers and insert the needle, parallel to the spine.

Do not move the needle around because this can cause pain and your cat might fight back. When you are sure that the needle is under the skin, without moving it, push the content out of the syringe. Massage the area a bit to improve circulation and drug absorption.

#2: Administering an Intramuscular Injection

This might be a bit trickier than the last one and if you and your cat is new to it, definitely ask for someone’s assistance. It is of utmost importance that the cat is still while you are giving her the shot. Otherwise, the needle can bend or break off, causing your cat a lot of pain.

Have your assistant hold the cat gently by the neck and the shoulders. If you are right-handed, put your left hand under the cat’s thigh so that you can feel the muscle with your fingers. Hold the cat’s thigh with your thumb so it can’t move.

The shot should be given between the hip and the elbow because this is where the muscle is the thickest. Introduce the needle at the right angle and push the plunger gently and evenly, without rushing it.

Remove the needle in one quick movement without changing the angle. Otherwise, you might hurt the muscle.

#3: Administering an Intravenous Injection

Since this is a very difficult thing to do on your own, you might have to ask your veterinarian to put a fixed catheter in the vein, through which you can give the medicine at home. The catheter (also called cannula) has to be protected and wrapped when not used so that your cat doesn’t remove it.

After the Shot Has Been Given

petting orange cat

If everything went well, the only thing that is hurt is your cat’s pride. Make sure that you reward her with her favorite treat and a petting session to diffuse the situation.

You should also make sure of the following:

  • Keep an eye on your cat for a couple of hours. Any reactions such as lethargy, soreness, vomiting, diarrhea, or swelling are red flags. It’s ok if your cat is acting a bit drowsy afterward, but if you notice any unusual behavior, make sure to contact your vet immediately.

  • Dispose of the needle properly. Used syringes and needles are considered biohazards. Inform yourself about the proper disposal of such materials in your area. You can also ask your vet whether they collect used needles.

Wrap Up

vet giving a cat a shot

Whether your cat has a medical condition that requires you to give her shots regularly or you’ve decided to do the vaccination at home, we hope this article helped you understand the procedure. It certainly helps if you have a vet who is willing to guide you, so do not be afraid to ask them for help.

If you are still feeling a bit insecure about giving a shot on your own, try practicing on a stuffed animal. Even the vet students don’t start off with patients right away. We are sure you will get the hang of it in no time.

Do you know of any other important things to keep in mind while giving a cat a shot that we didn’t mention? What are your thoughts about this article? Let us in on your opinion by posting a comment below! Finally, do check out our article on how to give a cat liquid medicine in case this is an option.

About the author
Martha Harvey
Martha Harvey

Martha Harvey is a skilled veterinarian and a member of American Veterinary Medical Association from Greeley, Colorado. She has 20 years experience of working in Animal Hospital. Martha loves all of her patients, but her favorite one is the Russian Blue cat Stitch, who lives with her.

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