Medications can be administered to cattle by a number of routes. Each route has its own certain advantages. Just like people, oral administration is the most common for cattle, since they simply have to eat the medication. It is the least stressful for the cattle as well, because any other method is going to require them to be restrained.
Some medications, such as parasite control products, can be poured on the back of the animal and be absorbed that way, just like the flea medications we use on pets. When treating individual animals, the most common way to give medication is with an injection. The majority of these medications are given under the skin in the neck. This route is safe for the animal and the person giving the medication.
However, there are a handful of medications that need to be delivered intravenously, which means directly into the bloodstream. The jugular vein is the prefered vein for this, since it is large and close to the surface of the skin. Giving medication this way is quite a process, since it requires more restraint than other methods. It is also more dangerous for the administrator of the medication. That’s because a cow’s head is a several dozen pound wrecking ball of bone and muscle when she swings her head.
So how can a veterinarian give an IV medication quickly without getting hurt in the process? The first thing we do is to place the cow to be treated in a headgate or chute. The next step is to put a halter on the cow and tie her head over to the side. This extends her neck, exposing the length of the jugular vein. Pressure is then placed on the indentation in the neck, causing the blood in the vein to back up. This is similar to the tourniquet that is placed on a person’s arm before blood is drawn. Extending the size of the vein makes hitting the vein easier, leading to less attempts and needle pokes.
The needle is then inserted into the vein. The needle can be inserted with a syringe attached or without. Either way, it is essential to see a flash of blood coming back through the needle to guarantee that the needle is indeed in the vein. The medication can then be administered.
Some medications given IV are calcium and magnesium solutions for diseases like milk fever and grass tetany, the anti-inflammatory flunixin meglumine, and the salt sodium iodine for wooden tongue and lumpy jaw. Like any other technique it takes some practice to master giving an IV medication, but after a few tries it becomes easier. And with successful treatment, the treated cow can go back to happily frolicking in the pasture with her buddies.