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By Jeannette Klomp, Aurora Alpacas
Jeanette was an alpaca breeder in the Bay of Islands, with 10 years experience in alpacas. She was a paramedic in the Netherlands, and when she came here in 1989 she worked at Auckland Hospital for the Trauma Service and also got involved with organizing and setting up trauma and critical care courses for doctors under the umbrella of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons. Jeanette is now sailing the seven seas.
Jeannette says, "My medical background helped and inspired me to learn more about camelid medicine. I love teaching but most of all I love keeping alpacas healthy and happy and I am extending this knowledge to everyone who has alpacas."
If you have never done an injection before, it will be a bit nerve wrecking!
I still remember my first patient, an elderly man who screamed like a pig to give this newcomer a fright! I was shaking all over.
15 years later I did my first alpaca and I was just as nervous, while I had injected many people in the mean time!
If you are shaky, don’t recap the needle, to avoid having a jab from a used needle from an animal. It happens occasionally by accident, but just try to prevent it.
If you wish to practise before giving your first jab, try it with a FRESH chicken leg that has skin on it. After freezing the texture changes and this exercise has no value. Forget using an orange, it is not comparable.
Where to inoculate
Most injections are given under skin, called “subcutaneous” or SQ for short. For inoculations and ADE we use this method.
There is not much difference in take-up time when giving an injection under the skin from giving it into the muscle, called intramuscular or IM. In an emergency your vet may decide to give it in the vein or muscle, but SQ is mostly good enough for any injection.
The best place is between where the shoulder ends and the neck starts. The skin is looser there to allow movement of the extremity.
Avoid giving many injections at once. Avoid more than 2 types of injection at the same time, as the liver gets very busy coping with these foreign agents. Also the surfactant that carries the medication can react with some alpacas if several injections are given. If you do give two injections at the same time, use the left and the right side of the alpaca.
If you have a very sick animal, then several injections may be inevitable, but then that is your vet’s call.
Alpaca skin in cria is very tender, and in older animals it is very tough.
The use of a thin (small gauge) needle for oily and watery solutions is recommended. Large gauge needles are thicker, more difficult to push through the skin and tend to leave big holes with back bleeding or the injection fluid draining out of the skin.
The only time we need a large gauge needle is for white fluids, such as penicillin, which tends to clog up the base of the needle and/or the orifice of the syringe.
Needles: A short, thin needle on the left, a thick, longer needle on the right
After the jab you need to press the skin together to “close” the hole for about 1 minute.
The length of the needle for SQ injections is better to be short to prevent it coming out of the skin again on the other side. If you do go through the skin twice, you will feel no resistance when pushing down the fluid as you are squeezing it in the air!
I use for SQ a ½ inch length (12mm) needle, with a gauge 20 (0.9mm). Ask your vet for a 20 x ½ “ needle.
Smooth top (above)
There are 1 ml, 2 ml, 3 ml, 5 ml, 6 ml, 10 ml, 15 ml and larger size syringes.
For small dosages under 2 ml you need a syringe that has a clearly visible scale. As the dose per alpaca will vary for age/weight, the best size is a 3 ml syringe. This makes it easy to draw up .25 or .5 or .75 ml - in cria we use these doses for ADE.
For larger doses over 2 ml, syringes of 3, 5, and 6 ml are easiest.
The larger ones are not as easy to read - for instance if you are doing 10 animals that all receive 1ml each (such as giving 5-in-1).
In cases where you do a lot of animals with the same dose, it is best to use an auto-vaccinator, pictured below. You can adjust it to the ml you want to use and you don’t need to refill, as it goes automatically. After use you can clean or replace the needle, cap it, then store it in the fridge.
There are similar vaccinators that have a plastic tube attached, but they are not as efficient as the one shown here. They are available from farm centre or vet.
There are two types of syringes. There is the smooth top syringe pictured left at the top, and the one in which you can screw the needle in, which is called a “luer-lock”, pictured below left.
If using the same syringe
during a session of injecting a lot of animals, a luer lock is the best to use,
as you can’t accidentally pull the needle off the syringe after drawing more
fluid from the bottle or flagon.
Using the auto-vaccinator: With flagon attached, have the needle facing down, squeeze and release, and the “syringe” fills up. If you hold the needle facing up, you will draw up air.
With 5-in-1 (and 7-in-1 and Covexin) make sure you shake the flagon regularly, as it has to stay mixed properly.
You can clean the needle with alcohol and recap it, or replace with a clean needle before storing in the fridge. Replace needle after doing more than 10 animals.
Using a normal syringe: place needle firmly on the syringe or screw in. Clean rubber stop with alcohol. Stick needle in and hold the bottle up. Draw up till the volume you want.
Remove bottle and hold the syringe up, check for air bubbles. By flicking against the syringe they will go to the top and you can squeeze out the air. You don’t want to insert an air bubble in a blood vessel, as this can cause an embolus. If you have drawn up too much air, reinsert and draw up more fluid. Recap the needle and find your animal.
You can draw up for a number of animals if you like and then refill. You don’t have to clean the needle between cases. Don’t use the needle for more than 10 alpaca, as it will become blunt and therefore difficult to push through the skin.
After finishing discard needle in a sharps container (empty milk bottle will do) and you can either discharge the syringe or put a clean needle on it, to be used for the next time. Make sure the syringe is totally empty, because the rubber inside will expand with oily fluids, and label it with what it has been used for.
The easiest is to place it in the box with the fluid you have used. You can use this syringe a couple of time like this. When you are starting to have problems drawing up, it is time to discard it!
Giving the Jab
It is always easier to do an injection by bending over the animal than standing on the side where you have to give the injection. Start the “bend-over the alpaca” method when learning. Once more experienced you can do it from any position (well, almost!).
Have someone hold the alpaca for you by the head. If you are right handed, stand on the left side and bend over its back to the right shoulder area. If you are left handed the other way around of course. The handler stands on your side.
If you need to do two jabs, you will have to change sides.
Find your spot, open the fleece. Hold the skin between your thumb and index finger to create a "skin tent" and push the needle in there SIDEWAYS in the direction of the fold you have created, never on a right angle.
Draw up (back) to see if you have blood (then you have hit a small vein). You don’t want to insert an oily liquid or air bubble in a blood vessel, as this can cause an embolus. If you do have blood, pull the needle back a bit and try again.
If clean, release the skin and squeeze in the liquid slowly.
Alternatively, lift up the skin as above and stick the needle underneath it as above, draw up for blood, and if clear release skin and squeeze liquid in.
If you can’t squeeze in the liquid, you may be going into muscle tissue because your angle is too steep. Withdraw needle and start again.
I always hold the skin a moment when pulling out the needle for back bleeding and give it a rub afterwards for any discomfort.
Small amounts of 1-2 ml don’t bother the alpaca much, but larger doses can give a big lump under the skin. The alpaca may even limp slightly after an injection in the rump or leg area. ADE will give a little discolouration on the fleece when some of it seeps out.
When using the auto-vaccinator, after squeezing the handle, hold it until you have withdrawn the needle, keep needle facing down and then release the handle to refill.
Cleaning/disposing of needles and syringes
You can re-use needles and syringes. After thorough rinsing, pull the plug out of the syringe, and boil needles and all parts of the syringe in water for 30 minutes to sterilize them.
I would rather use them as described above and dispose of them. Disposable needles can be boiled, but I'd rather dispose of them. Stainless steel needles that come in a little box are better to sterilize.
When your sharps container is full, close it and take it to your vet. They can autoclave them and send them away with medical waste.
Syringes can just go in your rubbish bag, but rinse them before this.
Used syringes can be useful for other things, but make sure you clean them with soapy water before re-using them. You can re-use syringes, after cleaning, for oral drenches. Never use them for food.