Adventures in Subcutaneous Injections
Giving shots is one of the more stressful things that we have had to take on since becoming alpaca owners.  Usually we're giving shots because the animals are sick and need medication, so we're already worried about the animal.  Add to this less-than-ideal lighting conditions in the barn, zero prior experience, and the fact that alpacas are pretty darn big, and things can get a bit frantic.

It doesn't help that I had a very bad experience once when I was helping give shots to sheep on my mother's farm on Lasqueti.  I was helping to prepare the syringes of Clostridial vaccines for the lambs.  One of the lambs had a very violent seizure shortly after receiving his shot.  We didn't know if it was a reaction to the medicine or air in the syringe, but there was nothing any of us could do.

The first time I gave an animal an injection was to my kitty, Juby.  I almost passed out.  After that, I had Randy do all the shots on the cats and the alpacas.  Cats?  Yes, cats.  Trying to stick a pill or a syringe down a cat's throat is not that easy... and neither is getting them to keep down whatever you have just stuck in them!  Injecting something under their skin is much, much less stressful on you AND the cat.  Cat's are small and they are bags of skin, so it is easy to find a good spot to stick them.  This is not the case with alpacas.  Alpacas are very lean, and they don't have a lot of flappy skin bits.  They're also quite big.  Our past adventures with shots have been... less than ideal.  More than once, I've managed to poke myself.  Sometimes, we think we've done the job only to discover a wet spot where the medicine has oozed out... or never gone in in the first place.  The whole thing usually ends with an irritated alpaca and an very unhappy husband and wife.

It has been awhile since we have had to give our alpacas injections, but right now, all of them are due for two shots each: I want to deworm the herd, and I want to get their Clostridial vaccinations up to date.  Due to the tidy bathroom habits of alpacas (communal dung piles) and the fact that they don't eat where they poop (usually!), 'routine' deworming isn't necessary.  After a consult with our vet during his last visit, we decided to deworm the herd this spring.  On Vancouver Island, there doesn't seem to be any consistency with Clostridial vaccinations: some people do it and some people don't.  I've always felt uncomfortable with NOT vaccinating, but never knew when to start the program for the whole herd.  With cria due in a month, now is the time, and so here we are with 13 alpacas, 26 injections needed, and a whole lot of anticipated stress.

Rather than try to do everything at once, I suggested to Randy that we just do a few shots each night.  Before we even got out the door, tensions were rising as Randy waited impatiently while I checked and rechecked to make sure that, yes, we needed to do this subcutaneously (under the skin) and that I was preparing the correct dose.  I had already put the animals into their stalls for the night, so at least we didn't have to try and catch them.  The lighting in our new barn is very good, too, and this is a big help.  We caught Max first and were ready to go.  Except... where were we supposed to give the shots again?  Sigh.  After several failed attempts at giving the injection under the leg (a nice fleshy area where there are some loose flaps of skin that aren't covered with hair), Randy gave up and went back to the house to look up the 'ideal' injection site.

I should point out that we HAVE been shown how to do this more than once.  We have DONE THIS ourselves more than once.  We've read plenty of books, too, but since we don't do it very often, well, we forget.

While Randy went back to go read, I thought I would give it one more try by myself, so I grabbed Max, wrapped my arm around his neck, pulled some skin at the shoulders.  I managed to tent the skin, and since he wasn't struggling much, I got the needle in and gave him the injection.  I held the spot to make sure the medicine didn't come out again.  Wow.  It actually worked, and I managed to do it by myself!

By the time Randy got back to the barn, I had already finished four alpacas.  We did the fifth together, and then said 'good night' to our dears.

Randy found a good site with information about giving subcutaneous injections to alpacas, and I recommend that folks read this BEFORE going out to the barn.  Anyway, we're ready to do the rest of the deworming tomorrow.  Now that I know I can do it by myself (for most of the animals), it shouldn't be so daunting.  If anyone is interested, we're using 18-gauge 1-inch needles.  My local large animal vet sold me a box of 100 for just $10.00.

A really good guide by Marty McGee Bennett for no restraint injections is here. It is quite easy to follow.