Cleaning and reusing medical equipment for cattle

Submitted by Drs. Mark and Dana Bergen

Submitted by Drs. Mark and Dana Bergen

(This article originally ran in Beef in B.C. It is reprinted here with permission.)

Having a well-managed cattle herd inevitably involves giving them veterinary medical care from time to time. This includes preventative measures such as vaccination and deworming as well as treating sick animals. Most cattle producers through experience, training, and input from their veterinarian are fairly comfortable with providing this care to their cattle. For this reason, the typical cattle operation will have a good supply of needles, syringes, calf tubing bags, balling guns and a variety of other miscellaneous veterinary equipment around.

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An often overlooked detail is what to do with this equipment when you are finished. Should you re­use it, recycle it or throw it out? There are a variety of factors to consider when deciding which route to take, including biosecurity, safety, economics and time.

Let’s start with syringes. Syringes come in a variety of forms, but the most common types are plastic disposable syringes and multi-use syringe “guns.” Typically the plastic disposable syringes are designed for higher volume medications such as antibiotics or anti-­inflammatories used for treating sick animals. We typically recommend just using these syringes once and then discarding them. If you really want to reuse a syringe, we recommend only reusing it for the same medication. In other words, if you use a syringe for one medication, don’t reuse it with a different medication unless you clean it thoroughly first. To do this you can pull the “plunger” portion out of the plastic barrel, wash it thoroughly with soap and rinse thoroughly with warm water.

Syringe guns are designed to be re­used. They are much more expensive than the disposable plastic syringes and often have a glass or plastic “barrel” that holds the medication and is designed to be removed and washed. It is still best to have designated syringes for one medication or vaccine. However, if that is not practical in your situation and you want to use it for different medications or vaccines it should be cleaned in between. Remove the barrel and wash it with a gentle soap such as dish soap. When you are finished washing it, it is critical that you rinse it with copious amounts of warm water to get rid of all the soap residue as well as residue from the previous medication. Keep in mind that if you use a powerful disinfectant and there is any residue left it could potentially kill the virus in a Modified Live vaccine, thus rendering the vaccine ineffective.

Used needles are another important topic. The first golden rule of needle use is that once a needle is used on an animal, it should never go back into a bottle of medication. Disposable needles are very inexpensive and ideally you should keep a lot of them on hand so that you can use a fresh needle on every animal you treat. The exception to this is when processing large groups of animals in which case it is sometimes not practical to use a fresh needle on each animal. In this case, we recommend changing needles every 10 animals or so. Changing needles frequently minimizes the risk of disease transmission and makes sure the needles don’t get too dull. When you are done with needles, you should never just throw them out — they are considered biohazardous waste and should be treated accordingly. We recommend putting used needles into an empty plastic container with a lid such as a small plastic drink bottle and then bring it in to your veterinarian for proper disposal.

Other veterinary medical equipment frequently found on cattle operations include things like calf tubing bags and balling guns. Keep in mind that especially at calving time, infectious disease can spread rapidly and clean equipment is very important. After using a calf tubing bag, ideally it should be washed thoroughly with a disinfectant soap such as chlorhexidine (Hibitaine) and rinsed with copious amounts of warm water if possible. And don’t forget to wash your hands after treating a scouring calf, because scour bugs in particular can be very contagious and you could transmit it from calf to calf via your hands if you aren’t careful.

In summary, take good care of your veterinary medical equipment. Proper use and care will minimize disease transmission and keep you and your animals safe.

Drs. Mark and Dana Bergen, Chetwynd Veterinary Hospital ([email protected]).

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