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CONTRIBUTOR(S): Rosanna Kirkwood, Alexander Corbishley,

Injecting cattle

Injecting cattle

Injection is a common route of administration for medicines and vaccines in cattle.


Location of the sciatic nerve
©Rosanna Kirkwood

Do I need to read the specific product information/data sheets?

Yes! Read the label to check correct storage conditions, dosage and mode of administration:

  • Subcutaneous (subcut/SC): inject under the skin.
  • Intramuscular (IM): inject into muscle.
  • Intravenous (IV): inject into a vein.

These documents will also contain health and safety warnings relating to handling and usage. These are important as some products can have severe side effects in humans. It is recommended to wear gloves when handling veterinary medicines and vaccines.

It is important to follow guidelines, especially because meat and milk withdrawal times will only apply to correctly administered products.

Incorrect administration could also lead to side effects, residue build up, injection site lesions and inefficacy of injected product, all of which are costly financially and could also have animal welfare implications.

If the dose required exceeds the maximum volume then split the dose across two sites, and space these out well.

All treatments to food producing animals should be recorded.

How should the site be prepped?

Use a new sterile needle for every injection; this prevents spread of infection. Where this is not possible, change the needle frequently, ie every 10 animals. Never put a used needle back into a bottle of medicine, consider use of a draw up needle to reduce the number of holes in multi-use vials and limit blunting of the injection needle.

​Inject into a clean, dry site; never inject through dirty hide. If there are no unsoiled sites, efforts should be made to clean the area.

Never inject more than the recommended amount in one site (usually 10ml max for IM).

What needle size should I use?

Always use the smallest possible needle for the product and volume injected. This will minimize pain, tissue damage and leakage from the injection site. For SC injections use a short 0.5 or 1 inch needle. For IM injections use a longer 1-1.5 inch needle.

Thick hides and viscous products will require a 16 gauge needle.

For less viscous products and thinner hides, eg in young animals, an 18 gauge should be used.

IV solutions such as dextrose or calcium can be given with a 14 gauge 2 inch needle.

Does the animal need to be restrained?

Good restraint minimizes the risk of injury to personnel and the animal. It also ensures correct administration of the injection at an appropriate site.

The main objective is to stop the animal moving forwards, backward or sideways whilst you are trying to administer treatment. Restraint may be achieved via the use of a herringbone race, head yolk, gate or a crush. The decision as to which form of restraint to use will be influenced by the temperament of the livestock you are dealing with.

How do I inject via the subcutaneous route?

Subcutaneous injections should be placed under the skin. The best site is where the skin is loose and can be pulled away from the body, either on the neck, behind the shoulder, or for some products the base of the ear is recommended.

Grab a skin fold and insert the needle parallel to the neck or trunk to avoid penetration of underlying muscle.

For base of the ear injection insert the needle on the posterior aspect of the ear, where the ear meets the head and angle it towards the eye on the same side of the head.

Pull back slightly on the syringe plunger before injecting the product to ensure you are not in a blood vessel. If you do draw back blood, then withdraw a little and reposition the needle. Draw back again to ensure you are no longer in a blood vessel. If you draw back blood again then withdraw the needle and start again at a different site. If you notice a swelling forming at the original injection site then it is possible that you may have a hematoma (bruise) forming. Apply pressure for 10 mins. Call your veterinarian if you are concerned.

After administration, massage the injection site to improve dispersal of the injected product.

How do I inject via the intramuscular route?

The optimum site for IM injection is the neck, where product disperses well. The rump region should be avoided where possible to protect valuable hindquarter cuts of meat in beef animals and avoid damage to nerves in thinner dairy animals. If using the rump it is recommended to choose a lateral (outer) site, a hands width behind the tuber coxae (hook bone), to minimize the risk of nerve damage.

The red line in the image above indicates the location of the sciatic nerve. The white dots indicate where a selection of veterinarians and farmers indicated that they would inject this test cow. As you can see, nearly all would have injected near the nerve and thus risked damaging it!

Draw up dosage then disconnect needle from syringe and using thumb and middle finger insert the needle into the muscle with a quick slap. Connect syringe, draw back on the plunger to ensure you have not hit a blood vessel and then slowly inject the contents – too quickly will be painful for the animal.

How do I inject via the intravenous route?

In accordance with UK legislation an animal owner or person engaged in caring for animals used in agriculture may carry out medical treatment or minor surgery not involving entry into a body cavity. This permits livestock owners and workers to perform IV injections if necessary, however this should be undertaken with caution and if you are unsure of the technique ask your veterinarian to show you. For product administration the jugular vein should always be used and the milk vein avoided to reduce the risk of introducing infection. The tail vein is commonly used for taking blood samples but you should not inject any products here.

Many preparations are fatal if administered intravenously so always double check the product label before administering.

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