Subcutaneous Injection in Elephants  (Disease Investigation & Management - Treatment and Care)

Summary Information
Type of technique Health & Management / Disease Investigation & Management / Techniques:
Synonyms and Keywords  
  • Choose an appropriate site, where the skin is relatively thin (B212, J375.1.w1), not too sensitive, (J375.1.w1) and the subcutaneous tissues are loose. (B212)
    • The tail fold has been suggested as an ideal site for subcutaneous injections. (P64.1.w3)
    • Behind the upper third of the ear, the medial skin fold of the thigh, just behind the elbow or on the chest. (B214.3.7.w3)
    • Just behind the ear base. (J375.1.w1)
  • Scrub the area for injection several times using alcohol and a cleansing disinfectant. (J375.1.w1)
  • Pinch up a fold of skin between the thumb and finger(s) of one hand. (B212)
  • With the other hand, pass the needle obliquely through the lifted skin. (B212)
  • Attach the syringe containing the medication for injection. (B212)
  • Inject slowly. (B212, J375.1.w1)
Appropriate Use (?)
  • Use only when this route is specifically recommended for the drug, and when it cannot be administered the drug intramuscularly. (B10.49.w21, W580.Aug2005.w1)
  • 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)
  • 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.


  • Use a sterile needle and syringe and sterile fluids. (B212)
  • Use of a needle of an insufficient length may result in an injection into this site when an intramuscular injection was intended. (B23.77.w12, W580.Aug2005.w1)
  • This site could be useful for long-acting depot slow-release injections (e.g. of hormones); a concentrated, non-irritant, sterile formulation would be needed. (J375.1.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)

  • There are doubts whether absorption from this site is sufficiently rapid to produce effective concentrations of drug in the serum and tissues of action. (B10.49.w21, B23.77.w12, W580.Aug2005.w1)
  • This route can only be used in a cooperative elephant. (J375.1.w1)

  • There is only a small subcutaneous space; elephant skin is tightly adherent to the underlying tissue. (J375.1.w1)

  • Subcutaneous infection may result. (J375.1.w1)

  • Mechanical trauma to the tissues if an inappropriate site is chosen, with injection into a subcutaneous space which is inadequate. (J375.1.w1)

Equipment / Chemicals required and Suppliers
  • Sterile hypodermic needle

  • Sterile hypodermic 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 injection varies depending on the personality and training of the elephant being medicated, available restraint facilities and the elephant handler's skill and confidence. (W580.Aug2005.w1)
Cost/ Availability --
Legal and Ethical Considerations
  • 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)
  • The safety of both veterinarians and animal care staff must be considered when an elephant is receiving an injection. (B23.77.w12)
    • If a restraint cage or squeeze cage is not available, lying the elephant down will maximise human safety during hand injection. (W580.Aug2005.w1)
Author Debra Bourne MA VetMB PhD MRCVS (V.w5)
Referee Susan K. Mikota DVM (V.w72)
References B10.49.w21, B23.77.w12, B214.3.7.w3, J375.1.w1, P64.1.w3, V.w6, V.w72, V.w84, V.w86, V.w88, W580.Aug2005.w1

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