Injecting your dog
Administration of medicine by injection is often referred to as giving drugs by the parenteral route. The other main means of administering treatment is via the mouth and digestive system - the oral route. Effective administration of medicine is a key part of most veterinary treatments and many medications are most effective when given by injection. Administration of medicine by injection is also essential for some drugs that are destroyed by acids in the stomach, eg insulin.
Your questions answered
Injections can given into:
- Muscle (intramuscular injection).
- Tissue under the skin (subcutaneous injection)
- Veins (intravenous injection).
- Skin (intradermal injection).
- Body cavities, ie abdominal cavity (known as intraperitoneal injection) or thoracic cavity (known as intrapleural injection).
- Bone (intraosseous injection).
Abbreviations are often used for injection routes, eg IM for intramuscular; SC or SQ for subcutaneous, and so on.
This factsheet will only consider the intramuscular and subcutaneous routes as these are the techniques most likely to be encountered by dog owners.
Clean techniques should always be used when administering injections. If the dog's coat is very dirty it should be washed and if necessary, clipped. An injection should never be administered through dirty or infected skin. The skin may be swabbed with alcohol at the injection site, though this is not always done for routine injections. Your veterinary surgeon will advise if they think this is necessary.
Different formulations of injection are used for the different routes and it is particularly important not to accidentally administer an injection directly into the blood if it is not intended for intravenous use. This can accidentally happen with intramuscular injections if some simple precautions are not taken (see below).
Subcutaneous ('under the skin') injection
Intramuscular ('into muscle') injection
Drugs given into muscles are absorbed very quickly because there is a good blood supply to muscle tissue. Injection into muscle is not without some risk since there are many important structures, eg arteries, veins and nerves running through the muscle tissue. It is important to check that the needle has not accidentally been placed in a blood vessel (particularly an artery) in the muscle, before giving the injection.
Once the needle has been inserted into the muscle, gentle suction should be applied to the syringe to ensure that blood does not flow back into the needle. If blood does flow back, a different injection site should be chosen. This technique can also be used for subcutaneous injections, though penetration of a blood vessel is far less likely to occur here.
Appropriate sites for intramuscular injection are the quadriceps (muscle on the front of the thigh), lumbodorsal muscles (muscles either side of the lumbar spine) or the triceps muscle (behind the humerus (arm bone) in the front leg). The hamstrings (muscles at the back of the thigh) should generally be avoided due to the possibility of damage to the important sciatic nerve that runs in this area. Volumes of injection should not be more than 2-6 ml in dogs.
Intramuscular injections are more painful than subcutaneous ones. Good technique minimises this but even so, many animals will react to the injection. A positive action for insertion of needles into muscles reduces muscle damage and pain and massaging the site after injection disperses the injection and may help to reduce pain. Use of a fine needle minimises discomfort. Owners are not often called upon to give intramuscular injections but they may be asked to hold their pet while it receives one.
Some drugs are specially formulated so that they are more slowly absorbed and can sit in the muscle, being absorbed gradually over many months and producing a long-acting effect (so called 'depot injections').
Other injection routes
What happens if I 'miss' with an injection?
This may happen when you are learning to give injections, especially when using the very fine ultra-sharp needles used for insulin administration. It is easy to penetrate two layers of skin so that the drug ends up on the dog's coat instead of under the skin. If you are absolutely sure the dog received no drug, it is safe to repeat the injection. If some may have been received, the safest course of action is to give no more. Contact the veterinary practice for advice.