How To Give Animal Injections

As a veterinarian, I’m always giving animals injections for one reason or another. I give vaccines, I give antibiotics, I give pain medications and other drugs.
Often when I’m treating an animal, I give owners instructions on how to administer the medication themselves so that they can continue the treatment. Many of my clients already know how to give injections, but sometimes I have to teach folks how to give injections.
Depending on what medication I’m giving the animal, the route of injection may vary.


2 Hereford Cross Pigs

What follows below are the two different types of injections I routinely have owners give to their animals.

SQ or Sub Q – This is short for subcutaneously. This means you give the shot under the skin.

IM – This is short for intramuscular. This means is a shot given in the muscle.

There are also IV (intravenous)injections. But I do not teach owners how to do these types.
Intravenous injections take a higher skill level to do. IV injections also carry a higher risk of complications especially if something goes wrong. Some drugs or medications will cause abscesses and extensive tissue damage if they leak out of the vein. If you should miss the vein and give a medication in the artery, the animal will go into seizures.

When giving SQ or IM injections, you must always draw back on the plunger to make sure you are not in a blood vessel and that you are not drawing air into the syringe.
If you do get air into the syringe, it means you’ve generally gone through the skin and back out again. You don’t have to draw the plunger back very far, just enough to know where you are.

Where to Give An Injection
Where to inject medication depends upon the species of animal and the preferred route for drug delivery.
Food animals tend to have injection guidelines based on meat and hide quality. Some medications can cause lots of muscle scarring which has to be later cut out of the carcass. Injections also may cause scarring in the skin which can devalue an animal hide.
Areas to inject are chosen for the ability of that particular spot to handle an injection.
The SQ space in some animals can handle quite a bit of drug volume. Muscles on the other hand can’t take as large an injection.
Muscle injection sites are chosen based on muscle size, animal comfort after the injection, and with consideration of the muscle value as a cut of meat.
Muscles should not be given more than 10 ccs (ml)of medication at one time.
Large volumes of medication for muscles need to be split into two or more injection sites.

What follows are the common farm animal species and where to give them injections.
I’ll try to hit the highlights and you can laugh and enjoy my drawing and tracing skills.

1. Horses – Many injections given to horses are IM. These injections are given either in the neck or less commonly in the muscles farthest towards the hind end. The neck is most often used because it is also safer for the person giving injection because they’re less likely to be kicked.

Injection Site

Horse Injection Site

2. Small Ruminants – Sheep and Goats – Many injections given to small ruminants are SQ, but sometimes they are given IM. Small ruminants are considered food animals even though many people have them as pets.
The most common injection site for sheep or goats is right in front of the shoulder. This shoulder spot has loose skin which is good for SQ injections, as well as muscles for IM injections. Another spot for SQ injections in small ruminants is behind the elbow where the hair or fleece is thin. At this site it’s easier to find skin.

 Injection Site For A Sheep or Goat

Sheep or Goat Injection Site

3. Cattle – Cattle are popular food animals. Even when a cow starts out in a dairy herd, she often ends up going to slaughter when her milk producing days are over. Because of this almost all cattle injections are given in the neck region. The neck region on cattle is a low value meat area and is not a valuable part of the hide. Both SQ and IM shots are given in this area. The one shot that is given differently is the antibiotic Excede which is given SQ at the base of the ear.

Injection Site For Cattle

Cattle Injection Site

4. Swine – Pig and hogs are another popular food animal which some people also keep as pets. The ideal spot to inject a pig is in the neck, about 7 cm behind and below the base of the ear. Again, the area chosen for injections for pigs was decided based on meat quality and ability of the area to handle injections.

 Injection Site For Pigs

Pig Injection Site

5. Camelids – Llamas and alpacas have gone up and down in popularity but are still quite numerous. Many folks have them as guardian animals or for fiber. Because camelids are fiber animals, injections can be a little interesting. There are a couple of places to give SQ injections. One is in front of the shoulder, and the other is behind the elbow, down where the thick fleece ends. Most injections in camelids are SQ. But should you have to give an IM injection, the recommended spot is in the muscles of the shoulder, above the elbow.

 Injection Site For Camelids

Camelids Injection Site

No matter what medication you are giving or where you are giving it, there are some things you should always do for cleanliness and animal safety.
1. Always use alcohol to clean off the tops of bottle. Use alcohol to clean a spot on the animal where you are giving the injection. This helps keep your medicines or vaccines uncontaminated, and it helps keep the needle from dragging dirt into the bottle or the animal.
2. Always use new needles going into a bottle (prevents contamination), and you should really only use one needle per animal. Sharp needles don’t hurt as much, and you won’t carry disease (like blood parasites) from one animal to the next.
3. Throw out contaminated bottles. This one can hurt, depending on the medication or vaccine. But what would hurt worse would be you injecting bacteria or fungus into your animals and causing abscesses or systemic disease.
So there are the main points about giving injections and where to give them. As always, if you have any questions, ask your local vet for help.
Dr. H

***Today’s post was authored by Dr. Risa Hanninen.
Dr. Hanninen is a 2013 graduate from Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine.Her practice, Northwest PA Veterinary Service, is a mobile veterinary practice that stretches across seven counties in Pennsylvania and into eastern Ohio.

If you live in northwestern Pennsylvania or eastern Ohio you can contact Dr. Hanninen at (814) 573-7013

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