Melissa Kaplan's
Herp Care Collection
Last updated January 1, 2014

Reading and Using 1cc Syringes

©1994, 2006 Melissa Kaplan


Most herpers can hardly be called squeamish. But when it becomes necessary to give medication by injection, many herpers discover that they need to overcome their squeamishness and learn how to stick a needle into living (and frequently thrashing) flesh. Most people find that they would prefer to pry open the mouth of a reluctant monitor rather than sticking it with a needle, but there are times when injections are the best--or only--alternative. Just think of learning how to give an injection as one of the more important parts of your growth as an experienced herptile keeper. This article will not to teach you how to do the sticking, but to show you how to properly draw up the correct amount of medication. It is best to learn how to give injections by having it shown to you and for you to do it at least once under the supervision of someone experienced in giving injections. Your veterinarian's office is the best place for this training, and most would rather teach you how to do it instead of having you come in to have them do it.

Reptilian and amphibian metabolism is different from avian and mammalian metabolism. The wide swings in temperature required by many reptiles results in a metabolism that speeds up during the basking hours and slows down during cooler sleep periods. Thus, most medications are administered in very small amounts and are repeated at longer intervals than with endothermic animals; there are often fewer repeats as well. The most common syringe used is a 1cc (cubic centimeter) syringe. Failure to accurately read a 1cc syringe will result in an over- or undermedicated reptile. At best, this will result in an animal that takes much longer to recover; at worst, you will end up with an animal dead from toxic overdose.

One cc is equal to one ml (milliliter); the two terms can be used interchangeably. Most syringes are marked "cc" while medication strengths are marked as milligrams per milliliter (mg/ml). Your vet will calculate just how much medication you will administer with each injection; dosages are calculated based on the strength of the drug and the animal's weight and the often empirically-derived reptilian dose (animal weight x dosage x strength = one dose). For example, the recommended dose of the antibiotic Amikacin is 2.5-5mg per kg of body weight. Amikacin comes in 50 mg/ml vials. The vet must calculate not only the actual dose, but must also scale it to the animal's size, with larger animals getting less than smaller animals.

One cc syringes have markings showing tenths of a cc: .10 is one-tenth of a cc; 1.0 is one cc; these two measures are frequently confused. Some syringes do not show the decimal point and are marked 10, 20, 30 on up to 100. In this case, the 10 is one-tenth (.10) of a cc, and the 100 is one cc.

Some 1cc syringes are further divided, showing markings between the tenths (usually 5 short lines between the longer tenth lines). There are times when you will be required to administer .05 cc (not to be confused with .5 cc); even without the additional markings between the tenths, half ccs are easily visualized and drawn up. If you are required to pull up something less than a half cc, such as .32, then you would pull up the the first small line after the three-tenths (.30) line.

To fill a syringe, begin with the plunger pushed fully down. Insert the needle into the rubber cap of the vial of medication. Hold the vial upside down so that the syringe and needle are pointing towards the ceiling. Gently pull back the plunger to begin the flow of medication into the syringe. Draw slightly more than you need, then push the excess out by pushing the plunger back in; this will get rid of air bubbles that were drawn up from the vial. If you still see air bubbles in the syringe, hold it pointed toward the ceiling and flick or tap your finger against the side of the syringe; this forces the bubbles up toward the hub of the syringe and you can push the collected air out of the needle. If you need to draw up more medication to make the full dose, stick the needle back into the vial and draw what you need. When you are ready to administer the injection, make sure that the medication is flush up against and into the hub of the syringe. If the medication will not flow into the syringe, you will need to start with some air in the syringe. Before inserting needle into the bottle of fluid, draw back on the plunger to pull in .5 cc or so of air. After the needle is inserted into the fluid, push down on the plunger to transfer the air in the syringe into the bottle of fluid, then pull back and begin filling your syringe.

When you withdraw the needle, keep your finger on the entry point, then gently massage the area once the needle is out.

Note: Liquid medications are measured in milliliters (ml) or cubic centimeters (cc), with syringes marked accordingly; while measured differently, they equal the same amount of fluid. Markings on syringes will vary depending on the total volume of the syringe. Syringes typically used in small animal and reptile care are 1cc, 3cc, 6cc, 12cc, 35cc, and 60cc.

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