Diabetes ranks as one of the most common health conditions in cats, especially those who are overweight. As treatment, many cats will require daily insulin injections and adjustments to their meal program. If this becomes necessary, your veterinarian or a veterinary technician will demonstrate the technique in the office before you start doing it at home. Be sure to ask as many questions until you feel comfortable with this important process.
Remember that most cat owners tend to have much more anxiety about needles than our pets do. The gauge of the needle is very small, and should not be painful to your cat when used properly. It’s up to the owner to seek expert instruction and find ways to allay his or her fears about the process.
Mealtime plays a role
Make sure that your cat eats around the time of the insulin administration — up to one hour before injection. This will assure that she has food in her stomach to counteract the action of the insulin to prevent low blood sugar after the insulin injection. Experts advise that it is often easier for the cat owner to give the injection while your cat is eating, either during her regular meal or while savoring a coveted treat (like a piece of cooked chicken).
“The trick is to pinch and move the skin just enough so that your cat doesn’t care about this action and just cares about eating,” says Sophia Yin, DVM, the author of Low Stress: Handling, Restraint and Behavior Modification of Dogs & Cats (CattleDog Publishing).
“Pinch for a few seconds, give the injection and pinch the skin again for a few seconds after you give an injection while your cat continues to eat,” explains Dr. Yin. “The goal is for your cat to understand that pinching is associated with good things, like receiving food rewards.”
Important things to remember
Experts emphasize that you must always match the appropriate syringe with the right insulin. For example, you need to use U40 syringes with U40 insulin; and use U100 syringes with U100 insulin. Not following this important rule would result in the wrong amount of insulin given, with possible fatal results. Also, never reuse needles because the bacteria from a cat’s skin can contaminate the remaining insulin in the vial.
It is of paramount importance that you make this a rewarding, stress-free experience for your cat each day. She should learn to equate receiving her insulin injections with receiving rewards, such as vet-approved healthy treats or affection.
The insulin needs to be kept in your refrigerator. At dosage time, gently roll the vial between your palms to re-suspend the crystals. Insulin is fragile, so avoid the temptation to shake the bottle. And don’t use insulin past its expiration date.
To make sure your cat doesn’t receive extra doses of insulin (from other members of the family, for instance), you should record the time of each insulin injection on a designated calendar. And if your cat does not receive the entire dose of insulin – if some leaks out of the injection site, for instance — do not give your cat more insulin! Wait to give more insulin at the next scheduled dose. Occasional missed doses are tolerated, but overdosage can be fatal.
Handling the challenging cat
For cats who try to wiggle free or lash out with claws when under restraint, consider these tactics:
Wrap your cat in a bath towel, covering her head and claws and only exposing her back area for the injection. Some cats become more relaxed when they can’t see.
Fit your cat with a muzzle before giving the injection to avoid being bitten.
As discussed in the article on page 3, consult with your veterinarian about the possibility of transitioning from insulin injections to therapeutic diets formulated for cats with diabetes. Some cats are suitable candidates to be weaned off insulin and put on specific commercial foods. — Catnip Staff