In some instances medications must be given subcutaneously (under the skin and above the muscle layer). Typically, such medications will be prescribed by a veterinarian. It is recommended that you have either your veterinarian (or a veterinary assistant) show you how to give a SQ injection before you attempt to give one on your own.
This information will assist you if you have no resources for getting hands on tutorial. It may also help to refresh your memory when the time comes for you to give a SQ injection on your own (even if you have been shown the procedure).
Choose an area that is well lit and a position that is comfortable for you and the rat.
Prepare the rat (and yourself)
If this is your first time giving a subcutaneous injection you may want to have a second person help by gently but firmly holding the rat comfortably in their lap while you give the injection. Have them hold the rat firmly so that the rat will not be able to “jump” when it feels the needle. Sometimes speaking to the rat will help to distract and calm it.
It is also important for you to stay calm during the procedure. Animals tend to pick up on the stress of the person performing the procedure.
Prepare your syringe and medicine
It is important to use an appropriate size syringe and needle. A syringe that is too large can be difficult to manage.
Using a needle that has a bore that is too large may result in bleeding from the injection site or fluid leaking out.
A needle that is too small can bend or break off if skin is tough. The 1mL tuberculin syringe is often the first choice for SQ due to its manageable size and easy to read calibrations. These syringes may come prepackaged with or without needles.
Needles should be a 25 gauge with either a 5/8 inch or 1 inch length.
Once you have the appropriate syringe calculate how much of the medicine you will need. If you will be drawing the medicine from a vial: first draw up air into the syringe in the same amount as the medicine you will be drawing out. Next insert needle end of syringe into the rubber stopper of the vial to just above the liquid and inject the air from the syringe (this will now make it easier to withdraw the medicine from the vial). Invert the vial with the needle and the syringe still in place and draw out the amount of medicine needed plus a tiny drop extra.
Withdraw the needle from the vial and hold the syringe upright and tap the side of the syringe so that any air bubbles remaining will be brought to the top. Then push syringe plunger gently till you see the air is removed and there is a drop of medicine at the tip of the needle. *Note: that tiny extra drop that you drew from the vial helps to remove the air and still have your correct amount of medicine in the syringe without being short the right amount. Be sure to double check that the amount remaining in the syringe is the right amount.
If the injection calls for dilution with saline injection solution, pull the desired amount into the syringe without losing any of the medication into the saline (you can dilute either before or after drawing the medication up into the syringe).
Positioning and injecting
Subcutaneous injections are generally given under the loose skin of the back just behind and between the shoulder blades, or on either side of the rat in the hip area.
Hold the syringe in your dominant hand at a shallow angle to the skin surface so that the bevel of the needle (flat part of the tip) is facing up. With your other hand gently but firmly tent the skin between your index finger and thumb. Insert the needle shaft (this prevents fluid from leaking back out) into the tented area of skin between thumb and index finger. The needle should move freely under the skin to insure that it is in subcutaneous tissue. Inject medicine and withdraw the needle. When large amounts of medicine or fluid are given subcutaneously you will see the formation of a bleb (subcutaneous fluid pocket), but you will generally not see this with tiny amounts.
Completion and disposal
Once the medicine has been given, dispose of the syringe and needle in a “Sharps Container”, or in an enclosed taped container labeled as pet sharps. Once your container is full contact your local city or county waste management group for where to take for disposal. *Do Not Place In Your Trash For Pickup!*