Giving injections is a routine and necessary skill for livestock ownership. Many vaccines, as well as most treatments for sick animals, can only be effectively administered by injection. For meat producing animals, how an injection is administered is just as important as what is administered. There are a few principles of injections that should be considered in order to safely administer medications.
It’s All About the Angle
Most medications and vaccines for livestock animals are labeled to give subcutaneously (under the skin) or intramuscularly (in the muscle). Certain medications, if given in the wrong layer, may cause tissue damage or render the medication ineffective. Improper technique can also cause drug residues beyond the label withholding period. The direction that the needle enters the body can determine what location it will be given. For subcutaneous injections, the needle should be directed at 45 degrees to the surface of the skin away from the shoulder. Especially with cattle, it is important to ensure that the needle has penetrated under the skin, rather than in the skin, which is 1/4 inch thick. Intramuscular injections should be directed with the needle perpendicular to the surface of the skin.
Location Location Location
All injections in meat producing animals should be given in the neck, with the exception of a few specific antibiotics. The injections should be given in a triangular area of the neck that is in front of the shoulder, above the spine, and below the nuchal ligament at the top of the neck. The purpose of using this location is to prevent in damage in areas of the animal that will be used for meat. Within that triangular area, injections should be spaced one hand-width apart to prevent mixing under the skin. This leaves room for approximately three injections per side of the neck.
Certain medications, primarily antibiotics, can be especially reactive if given in large quantities. For this reason, it is important to spread the medication out over multiple areas (approximately 10 cc per injection site). This will help to prevent lumps on the neck following injections.
Needles ranging from 16‑20 gauge and 1‑1.5 inches are used in most livestock species. The smallest gauge needle appropriate for the thickness of the medication should be used. Due to the risk of spreading blood-borne diseases such as bovine leukosis virus, anaplasmosis and theileria, it is highly recommended that needles be changed after each use. It is also important to use a new needle when drawing up a medication to prevent contamination of the bottle.
Giving injections to livestock can seem like a simple task but sloppy technique can be costly. It can take some practice to feel comfortable giving injections, but it is worth the effort and care put into the details. All medications should be given according to the label, which indicate the amount and the location that the injection should be administered.