How to Give a Horse an Injection

Four Parts:Preparing for the InjectionDetermining Where to Give a Neck InjectionDetermining Where to Give a Hindquarter InjectionGiving the Injection

Horses need a variety of injections — from yearly vaccines to medications. There may be times when you need to administer the injection yourself instead of calling a vet. If you needed to give your horse an injection, would you know what to do? Horses are large, powerful animals, so always put your safety first. Ask for lots of advice, and have an experienced friend help you out. Before you get started, though, you need to know the basics of how to administer an injection to a horse.

Part 1
Preparing for the Injection

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    Ask an experienced horse person to help out.[1] If you're reading this article, you likely don't have a lot of experience with giving injections. It's a good idea to have someone to help you — either an experienced horse person or your veterinarian. You should certainly have an experienced professional supervise you the very first time you give an injection. If your veterinarian can't make the trip, see if a vet tech can help you out.
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    Have a professional inject a needle-shy horse. A needle-shy horse will be able to tell what you're up to, even if he can't see the needle! He'll act up even before getting the shot because he knows what's coming and wants to prevent it. These behaviors can include rearing, biting, and kicking. For everyone's safety in this situation, it's best to have a professional do the job.
    • If you lack experience, you could end up hurting the horse, even if you escape injury yourself. There's a good chance the needle could bend, possibly while still in the horse. This could damage the horse's muscle, and might even call for surgical removal.
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    Ask your vet about safety precautions.[2] To be safe, you should know whether the medication would be dangerous to you if you accidentally injected some into yourself. For example, some horse tranquilizers can cause respiratory arrest (stop breathing) in humans.
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    Use a brand new needle for each injection. Even sticking the needle through a stopper on a medicine bottle dulls the point a bit. This, in turn, makes the injection more painful for the horse. The needle needs to be as sharp as possible to penetrate the horse's skin quickly and easily. If you encounter a needle-shy horse, he may be that way because of the pain associated with a blunt needle in the past.
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    Understand how to give an intramuscular (IM) injection.[3][4] This is the most common injection method, during which the needle passes through the skin into the muscle underneath. Because muscles have a good blood supply, the medicine is absorbed into the blood stream nicely.
    • Some medications may sting when given IM. The packaging for these products might recommend against giving the medicine through an IM shot. On the other hand, some IM injections contain preservatives that are not suitable for injection into a blood vessel.
    • It's not likely you'll have to give an intravenous injection. Do not attempt one, though, unless you are a qualified veterinarian or vet tech.
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    Decide where on the horse to give the injection. The two most common sites for giving an injection are the neck and hindquarters. Either site is fine — location is largely a matter of your personal preference. That said, it's best to inject skittish horses in the neck, as you can't get kicked from that position. The large muscle of the hindquarters are better if you need to deliver a large volume of medication (10 ml or more), though.[5]
    • Always check with your vet or the directions on the medication packaging for the recommended injection site.
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    Put yourself a safe position. The person helping you (the handler) should stand on the same side as of the horse as you. The horse's head should be slightly turned toward the handler. This decreases the chances of someone getting run over or stepped on if the horse reacts badly during the injection process.
    • It's best not to tie the horse. A big physical reaction could hurt either the horse or the handlers, or damage the equipment.
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    Calm the horse. Have your handler speak soothingly to the horse while you position yourself by the injection site.If the horse remains restless, try using a twitch to keep him still during the injection. While it may look uncomfortable, a twitch is perfectly safe and humane, and is widely used to ease stress in horses. The most common type of twitch is a loop of rope attached to a pole.
    • Place the horse's upper lip in the loop of rope.
    • Tighten the loop by rotating the pole round and round.
    • This gentle compression of the upper lip has a calming effect, like when a mother cat picks up a kitten by the scruff.
    • It is best to have your handler operate the twitch, leaving your hands free to give the injection.

Part 2
Determining Where to Give a Neck Injection

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    Understand why many people prefer giving injections in the neck. [6][7] One of your main concerns when injecting a horse should be the safety of all involved. When injecting at the neck, you stand in a fairly safe position beside the horse's shoulder — far from kicking back hooves. You also have more control of the horse, as well, since you're by his head. All told, neck injections just provide a safer environment than hindquarter injections, and are a good option.
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    Familiarize yourself with the anatomy of the injection site. Locate the triangle between the point of the horse's shoulder and the slope of the shoulder blade. The upper side of the triangle is the "nuchal ligament" — the arc of muscle along the top of the horse's neck. The lower side of the triangle is formed by the neck bones as they snake upwards from the shoulder in an "S" shape.
    • To find this triangle, put the heel of your hand against the front of the horse's shoulder, about a third of the way up the neck.
    • Where your palm rests is the safe place to give the injection.
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    Pinpoint the ideal injection spot. If you give the injection too high up the neck, the medicine will enter the nuchal ligaments that hold the head up. This is extremely painful for the horse, and will continue to cause him pain every time he moves his head. But if you go too low, the needle may glance off the bones of the neck vertebra, which is also painful for the horse.
    • You could also hit the jugular vein if you go too low. If you're delivering a medication unsuitable for intravenous use, the horse could die.

Part 3
Determining Where to Give a Hindquarter Injection

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    Know the advantages and disadvantages of a hindquarters injection. [8][9] This injection site is more effective than the neck, but also more dangerous because you have to stand closer to the back end and the danger of being kicked. However, the hindquarters are the preferred location if you have to deliver a large volume of medication (10 ml or more). For example, penicillin comes in large doses.
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    Get to know the anatomy of the hindquarters. Your target muscle for this type of injection is the "semitendinosus muscle," which is at the very back of the horse's rump. Imagine a horse sitting down like a dog — the semitendinosus muscle is the one he would sit on. In foals, this is one of the largest muscles in the body, which adds to its appeal for IM injections.
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    Locate the ideal injection site. Begin by finding the point of the buttocks (the bony bit far back on the pelvis). Drop an imaginary vertical line down to the ground, along the back of the leg. You will give the injection into the bulging muscle located along this line.
    • Take care to inject into the muscle, not into the "dip" where the muscle buts against a neighboring one.
    • The "dip" is low in blood vessels. Medicine injected there will not be absorbed well, and will be less effective.
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    Avoid injecting into the top of the rump.[10] The top of the rump/buttocks used to be a popular injection site because you can stand further forward, out of reach of kicking legs. But, the blood supply to this area isn't particularly good, so medicine may be less effective when injected there. Furthermore, if an abscess forms at the needle site, it can be hard to drain off and get rid of.
    • Only inject in the top of the rump if you have no other options.

Part 4
Giving the Injection

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    Do not "tap" the horse at the injection site. Some people like to tap the horse a few times at the injection site, but this is a bad idea. Taps are fast, punch-like blows given with the heel of the hand before the needle's inserted. Some believe it numbs the skin so the horse won't feel the needle. But, tapping only warns the horse that something is about to happen — especially if you've used that technique before. The horse will be calmer if he doesn't know what's about to happen.
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    Disconnect the needle from the syringe. When you first insert the needle, you want to do it without the medicine attached to it. This will allow you to "draw back" and make sure you've placed the needle accurately.
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    Insert the needle at a 90° angle. Using a sharp, new, sterile needle for each injection, push the needle into the muscle in a smooth, confident motion. The needle should form a 90° angle with the muscle. Insert the needle all the way up to the hub (the part where the metal needle joins onto the syringe).
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    Draw back on the needle before every injection. Many medications can be dangerous for the horse if delivered into a blood vessel. In worst case scenarios, it can result in death. To avoid this, always "draw back" before giving an injection. This simple action makes sure your needle is in the muscle, not a blood vessel.
    • Once you've inserted the needle into the injection site, pull back on the syringe plunger a little bit.
    • If the needle is in a blood vessel, you'll see blood getting pulled into the needle hub (the bit left sticking out of the skin).
    • Remove the needle and do NOT inject.
    • Use a new, sharp needle to find the injection site again, then repeat the drawing back process until you're confident you're in the right place.
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    Connect the syringe to the needle. Draw back on the plunger one more time to double-check for the presence of blood. If all is clear, then press steadily onto the plunger to give the injection. Once the syringe is empty, withdraw the syringe and needle together.
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    Address any bleeding. A blob of blood might form in the needle hole in the horse's skin. If so, apply gentle pressure with a ball of cotton wool for at least two minutes. By that time, the bleeding should have stopped, but if not, keep holding the wool against the wound until it does.
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    Dispose of the needle and syringes responsibly. Once used, they're considered "clinical waste," which means you can't just throw them in the trash. You have to dispose of them in a way approved by local authorities.
    • Store used needles and syringes in a plastic container with a lid. An empty ice-cream tub or similar container will be just fine.
    • Give the container to your veterinarian for safe disposal at the clinic.
    • Make sure to keep the container out of reach from children while the needles are in your care.


  • Always stay calm around the horse. If you're nervous or scared, the horse will be as well.
  • Never give an injection if you're unsure or inexperienced without having an experienced horse person with you.
  • Always use a new needle when giving an injection.

Article Info

Categories: Horse Health