TECHNIQUE

Blood Sampling Elephants  (Disease Investigation & Management - Treatment and Care)
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Summary Information
Type of technique Health & Management / Disease Investigation & Management / Techniques:
Synonyms and Keywords  
Description Blood may be taken from the following veins:
  • The auricular veins; (B123, B336.53.w53)
    • These veins are used most commonly, however it may be difficult to use them in cold conditions. (B336.53.w53)
  • The cephalic vein on the proximal medial foreleg; (B336.53.w53)
  • The saphenous vein on the lower medial hindleg. (B123, B336.53.w53)
Restraint for venipuncture:
  • Restrain the elephant as appropriate:
    • In a chute or squeeze cage;
    • With the elephant holding one leg up;
    • With the elephant lying down.

    (B23.77.w12)

  • If the elephant will not remain stationary for venipuncture, the elephant should be tranquillised or sedated. (B10.49.w21)

Blood sampling from the auricular (ear) vein:

  • Identify the vein.
    • Auricular veins have thinner, more pliable walls than do the nearby arteries, and, unlike the arteries, lack a pulse. (P64.1.w2, W580.Aug2005.w1)
    • To increase filling of the auricular veins in cold weather or when the elephant has low blood pressure, making them easier to see, the following may be useful:
      • Place the elephant in lateral recumbency; (W580.Aug2005.w1)
        • Placing a pad of straw or hay under the ear may assist; wait about three minutes for the vein to become more visible. (V.w6)
      • Apply warm water, warm compresses or dry heat (using a hair dryer); (B336.53.w53, W580.Aug2005.w1)
      • A tourniquet, e.g. from a human wrap-around blood pressure cuff, may be placed around the base of the ear. (B10.49.w21, B123)
  • Clean the skin over the intended venipuncture site. (V.w6)
  • Insert the needle or butterfly catheter into the vein, bevel upwards.
  • Attach the syringe; pull back on the plunger to withdraw the blood.
  • Withdraw the needle from the vein and put pressure over the puncture site.

Blood sampling from the cephalic (forelimb) vein:

  • Identify the vein on the medial side of the proximal foreleg.
    • The cephalic vein is easily identifiable in some elephants but in other individuals may be less easy to find. (W580.Aug2005.w1)
  • Insert the needle perpendicular to the skin, into the vein. (B336.53.w53)
    • Note: Due to the thickness of the skin, the vein is deeper than it appears and it is necessary to insert the needle at 90 degrees to the surface if the vessel is to be reached. (B336.53.w53)

Blood sampling from the saphenous (hindlimb) vein:

  • Identify the saphenous vein on the lower hind leg.
    • Note: this vein may be easily visible but is deeper than it appears. (W580.Aug2005.w1)
  • Insert the needle perpendicular to the skin, into the vein. (B336.53.w53)
    • Note: Due to the thickness of the skin, the vein is deeper than it appears and it is necessary to insert the needle at 90 degrees to the surface if the vessel is to be reached. (B336.53.w53)
Appropriate Use (?)
  • For injection of sterile fluids and pharmaceutical products suitable for intravenous injection.
  • This may be preferable to administration of large volumes of a drug intramuscularly, which would require multiple injection sites. (J2.27.w2)
Notes
  • Care must be taken to ensure that personnel working nearby are aware that a hands-on procedure is being carried out. Both personnel directly involved with the procedure, and those working nearby, need to ensure that movements and noise (from telephones, bleepers, shutting doors, heavy machinery etc.) that might disturb the elephant, both inside and outside the elephant area, are minimized during the procedure. This includes activities at nearby enclosures that might be audible to the elephant and could startle it. (V.w6, V.w72, V.w84, V.w86, V.w88)
  • A butterfly catheter has an advantage over a needle; because of the tubing, movements of the elephant can be followed without the placement of the needle in the vein being affected. (W580.Aug2005.w1)
Complications/ Limitations / Risk
  • Elephants are very large, heavy and strong, highly intelligent, can move surprisingly quickly and can be highly strung at times: 
    • Depending on the management system (free contact / no contact / protected contact), and the character and training of the individual elephant, it may be necessary to carry out any hands-on procedure with the elephant under sedation and/or in an elephant restraint device.
    • There is always some risk to personnel involved when carrying out hands-on procedures on a conscious elephant.
    • There is always some risk to the elephant when sedation is used, especially if full anesthesia is required.

    (V.w6, V.w72, V.w84, V.w86, V.w88)

  • Elephants are quite sensitive to injections. The ease of medicating elephants by injection are affected by:
    • The elephant's personality and training;
    • The elephant handler's confidence and skill;
    • Available restraint facilities.

    (W580.Aug2005.w1)

  • While the cephalic vein is accessible in the standing elephant, in a free-contact situation there is some risk to the veterinarian from head and trunk movements of the elephant. (W580.Aug2005.w1)
Equipment / Chemicals required and Suppliers
  • Needle or butterfly catheter

  • Syringe

Expertise level / Ease of Use
  • Expertise and experience of the elephant handler(s) are critical when carrying out hands-on procedures on a conscious elephant. (V.w6, V.w72, V.w84, V.w86, V.w88)
  • The ease of taking blood may vary, for example ear veins are more accessible in warm than in cold conditions, while the visibility of the leg veins varies between individual elephants.
Cost/ Availability
  • Inexpensive.
Legal and Ethical Considerations
  • The safety of both veterinarians and animal care staff must be considered during the procedure. (B23.77.w12)
    • If a restraint cage or squeeze cage is not available, lying the elephant down will maximise human safety during blood sampling. (W580.Aug2005.w1)
  • When working with elephants it is important always to remember that their size and weight means that they can injure people easily, whether intentionally or unintentionally. The potential risks to all personnel involved must be considered before any hands-on procedure is initiated, and remembered during the procedure. It is critical that all personnel are highly trained and understand their respective roles and responsibilities during the procedure, that one person has overall command responsibility, and that no unnecessary people are present within the contact area. (V.w6, V.w72, V.w84, V.w86, V.w88)
Author Debra Bourne MA VetMB PhD MRCVS (V.w5)
Referee Susan K. Mikota DVM (V.w72)
References B10.49.w21, B23.77.w12, B123, J2.27.w2, J196.72.w1, V.w6, V.w72, V.w84, V.w86, V.w88, W580.Aug2005.w1

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