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Care and cleaning of syringes and needles important for quality assurance

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) guidelines stress the use of clean syringes and needles for any type of injection to minimize the risk of contamination or infection at the injection site.

Sterile, disposable syringes and needles that are used just once, on only one animal, are the safest, but most producers are processing multiple animals at once and utilize multi-dose syringes.

If care is taken when filling syringes, using a sterile needle each time to draw the product from the bottle, and if the needles on the syringes are changed each time they are refill, contamination is kept to a minimum.


It is also important to properly clean syringes after use.

Rachel Endecott, Extension beef cattle specialist at Montana State University in Bozeman, Mont., says that when producers finish giving injections, the sooner they can rinse out the syringes, the better.

“It will be easier to get everything out. Don’t leave syringes on the counter for a week or until next year and then try to clean them. The sooner we can get them clean, the better – even if it’s just a quick rinse and then a more thorough cleaning later that day when we have more time,” she says, adding, “Leaving residue in there to dry and solidify makes it more challenging when we try to clean it.”

In years past, with the old, glass syringes, people just took them apart to boil all the pieces, and this still works, she adds.

“I think the newer syringes with nylon/plastic barrels are also durable enough to withstand boiling water,” says Endecott.

The important thing is to not use any soaps or disinfectants because any residue from those can inactivate modified live vaccines.

“Instead, producers should use very hot water.  My tip for cleaning syringes is to clean it until we think it’s clean and then do it one more time – like that last rinse when washing dirty clothes,” says Endecott.

Multi-dose guns

Nora Schrag, DVM and assistant clinical professor at Kansas State College of Veterinary Medicine, says the multi-dose syringe guns are a little difficult to clean, but they always need to be cleaned.

“A good rule of thumb is to clean them with regular soap and hot water on the outside and hot water on the inside. If a producer has used a vaccine that’s very thick, take the syringe apart completely and clean it with soap and water, and then rinse thoroughly with clean water,” says Schrag.

Using distilled water to clean syringes is also important.

“Many people have hard water with minerals in it, and modified live virus (MLV) vaccines are very sensitive to mineral deposits and disinfectants,” she explains. “The minerals in hard water will mix with the components of the vaccine sometimes and cause some problems.”

She adds, “Never clean a syringe with disinfectant and then use it for a MLV vaccine, or the vaccine will be deactivated.”

“The final step is to boil some distilled water or heat it in a microwave for two minutes to get it boiling. Put the recently cleaned syringe back together. Then, suck up the boiling water and blow it out the end of the syringe three times. After we’ve done that, the syringe is not perfectly sterile, but it is very clean and safe to use to vaccinate cattle,” she explains.


“After the syringes are thoroughly rinsed with boiling water, we put them in Ziploc bags to store in a cabinet, so they won’t get dusty. Don’t tighten the Ziploc or it will seal dampness inside,” Shrag says.

Bags should be left open for the syringe to dry, and then they can be sealed.

“Then we can put that syringe in our treatment box, or wherever we will be using or storing it until the next use. When we pull it out, it’s clean and ready to go,” she says.

Sometimes after many uses, the plungers need some lubrication.

“We’ve gone away from using mineral oil for lubrication because mineral oil tends to break down the O-rings over time,” says Endecott. “Glycerin or vegetable oil are the most recommended lubricants these days.” 

Heather Smith Thomas is a correspondent for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to

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