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Learn the one-handed sub-Q injection method

Animal Health with Roy Lewis: Easier, safer and just as accurate

It is worth revisiting information from a research trial completed more than 10 years ago on subcutaneous administration of the drug Micotil from Elanco, which adds credence to using a one-handed subcutaneous administration technique.

This technique is much safer for the producer to administer as well as a labour saver. This study also proves it is just as accurate in vaccinating in the proper location as the original two-handed tenting subcutaneous technique.

Elanco did their trial on very chronic feedlot animals that were destined to be put down. They preformed the procedure by injecting an antibiotic with dye. One side of the neck received the product with the traditional two-handed tenting technique. This is where the skin is lifted with one hand and injected with the other. Needle pricks in your fingers are common if you’re not careful as the needle and the hand holding the skin are close to each another. The other side of the neck received the new one-handed technique.

One-hand just as accurate

What they found was somewhat surprising. The one-handed technique is just as accurate at placing the product in the proper location. With both methods (one-handed and skin tenting) around 60 per cent of the time the entire product was placed in the proper location. Another 20 per cent of the time 90 per cent of the product was in the right location. You are not going to be accurate 100 per cent of the time with either technique. But the one-handed method is just as accurate as the long-advocated two-handed tenting method.

Any subcutaneous injection should be done with a short 5/8- to 3/4-inch-long needle. Generally a 16-gauge needle is used for antibiotics and thicker vaccines. With some syringeable vaccines an 18-gauge needle can be employed. Make sure the needles have metal hubs to avoid breakage and risk of leaving them in the animal.

Find the spot

The one-handed technique involves injecting downwards at about a 20 to 30 degree angle off the animal’s side. Once the skin is penetrated, roll your hand towards the body and this causes the natural tenting of the skin. When injecting, pull back on the syringe slightly, allowing the needle to drop into the subcutaneous space. Remember the neck is the one region approved for subcutaneous administration. As a backup, a site being behind the elbow can be used if the first site is inaccessible. By changing needles more frequently you will find they will slip into the subcutaneous space much more easily. I must emphasize the one-handed technique is to be used with the stronger multi-dosing syringes, only. The common plastic syringes will break off at the neck if they are used one handed so if using plastic syringes for an antibiotic, for example, use the two-handed technique.

Proving this one-handed technique was especially important with a product like Micotil, which is only approved for subcutaneous usage. Although the earlier Beef Quality Assurance guidelines call for the two-handed technique with subcutaneous products, these guidelines have now been changed to the one-handed technique.

Many feedlot personnel have been using the one-handed technique for years without really thinking about it. The free hand was used to run the hydraulic chute or pat the animal to move it forward. Some ambidextrous operators use an automatic syringe in each hand administering two products almost simultaneously. Be careful to place the two products at least 10 cm apart. This one-handed technique works well with vaccinations. They are a lower volume injection and with almost all of them, if approved for subcutaneous (SC) usage, they are also approved for intramuscular (IM) administration. If some of the product does inadvertently get into the muscle it is inconsequential. It is nice to administer as many products under the skin to maintain beef quality. Double check the label to make sure the product is SC approved. Our clinic, especially when it comes to vaccines, purchases products for subcutaneous administration. These days about the only vaccinations routinely given in the muscle are the scours vaccinations. Most new vaccines or antibiotics are being approved for SC and there are even some vaccines approved intranasally.

Try to implement the one-handed technique in your feedlot or cow-calf operation. You will develop a feel for dropping the needle into the subcutaneous space. The technique is easier and safer, especially when working around manual chutes and animals lurching ahead.

With any vaccination or antibiotic injection, remember to keep the products at the proper temperature. Again don’t inject two products, especially subcutaneously, in close proximity. Leave at least 10 centimetres between injection sites to be safe and insure maximum benefit from the products.

If a broken needle is not retrieved make sure the animal’s number and injection site are recorded. These guidelines hopefully will allow you to vaccinate one-handed with confidence and keep injuries and accidental needle pricks to an absolute minimum.

About the author


Roy Lewis is an Alberta-based veterinarian specializing in large-animal practice. He is also a part-time technical services vet for Merck Animal Health.



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