Administration of medicine by injection is often referred to as giving by the parenteral route (this means that the treatment does not enter the body via the gut). 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 essential for some drugs that are destroyed by acids in the stomach.
Injections can be given into:
- Muscle (intramuscular)
- Tissue under the skin (subcutaneous)
- Circulation (intravenous)
- Skin (intradermal)
- Body cavities (abdominal i.e. intraperitoneal or thoracic i.e. intrapleural)
This factsheet will only consider the subcutaneous (SC) route as this is the technique most likely to be encountered by rabbit owners.
The area used for administering the injection should be as clean as possible. If the coat is very dirty, it should be clipped and cleaned. An injection should never be given through dirty or infected skin.
Different formulations of injection are used for the different routes and it is particularly important not to administer an injection directly into the blood unless it is specifically recommended for this route.
This is the route used for administration of most injections and vaccinations. Rabbits have plenty of loose skin around their neck (scruff) so it is very simple to lift the skin and insert a needle into subcutaneous tissue. There are few important (or easily damaged) structures under the skin so this is a very safe route of medicine administration. This route is unsuitable for administration of irritant medications as they may cause skin necrosis and sloughing.
The main reason for an owner to be giving subcutaneous medication is for the use of penicillins, for this gloves may be needed for handling the medication. Also owners should be made aware of the potential of allergic reactions.
- Make sure your pet is gently but securely held, ensuring that it cannot hop away from you or turn around whilst you are trying to inject into the scruff. You may need someone to help you, especially when first attempting this technique.
- Gently lift the scruff with your second finger and thumb of one hand and with the first finger gently push the skin downwards to help form a triangle and also the insertion point for the needle. With the other hand securely hold the syringe and needle making sure that if the rabbit moves then the syringe is not dropped. (Also do not have your finger over the plunger of the syringe in case of accidental injection.)
- The needle should be inserted at a 45° angle towards the base of the lifted skin being careful not to inject your finger and thumb holding the scruff. If the needle is inserted in the skin at too steep an angle then there is a likelihood of intramuscular injection, or worse accidentally hitting the spinal column.
- Insert the needle with one gentle positive movement – try to avoid hesitating as this can lead to the rabbit resenting the injections. Once inserted the plunger of the syringe should be gently pulled back, to ensure correct placement before giving the medication. If air enters the syringe then the needle is most likely not in the subcutaneous layer but through the skin and out the other side. The needle and syringe should then be retracted a small amount and the plunger retracted again. If blood enters the syringe remove the syringe and needle from the skin and start the process again. If pressure is felt when the plunger is pulled back you should be in the subcutaneous layer and injecting of the medication can begin. When finished remove the needle and syringe and gently rub the area.