Alpacas – health
Information about disease prevention and signs of illness in alpacas.
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Alpacas need to be protected against internal and external parasites and pathogenic and metabolic diseases. The risks will vary depending on the geographic location, stocking rates, frequency of stock movement and seasonal weather conditions. Treatments and vaccines should be administrated in accordance with directions and records should be kept. Disease control and parasite control programs should be developed in consultation with a veterinarian.
Effective disease protection involves undertaking regular preventative measures such as vaccination, worming and monitoring. Regular cleaning of water and feed containers, controlling insects, rats and mice in feed areas and keeping all bedding clean and dry will help prevent infection. Regular paddock rotation is a good method of reducing risk of bacterial spore build up that can result in clostridial diseases. Sick animals must be separated from the rest of the herd immediately.
Alpacas are similar to sheep in their resistance to worm infestations. In a school system where alpacas are confined to a smaller space with limited paddock rotation, worm counts can easily build up and worms may be a greater issue than in situations where stocking rates are lower and regular paddock rotations possible. The entire herd should be regularly drenched. A worming program should be designed with the help of a veterinarian and should include faecal worm tests, rotation of drenches, rotation of grazing and documentation of strategies and results. Where alpacas are penned, faeces must be cleaned very regularly and area must be kept dry and well ventilated.
Veterinarians can provide advice on vaccination regimes that are appropriate to the age of alpacas. Vaccinations should be started at 3 months of age and administered at the base of the neck. There are no specific vaccines for alpacas however 7 in 1 or 5 in 1 vaccines for cattle are generally used.
Whenever chemicals are used including drenches, vaccines and back-line treatments, care must be taken about the following:
- Reading all labels
- Maintaining appropriate storage
- Adhering to withholding periods
- Determining the weight of the animals to be treated
- Determining the correct dose rate
- Using protective clothing if required
- Using the correct equipment for application
- Disposal of chemical containers
- Documenting the dose, chemical name, batch number, expiry date, withholding period, identity of animal(s) administered to and date of administration.
Alpacas are susceptible to facial eczema, a potentially fatal condition. Facial eczema is a fungus that is contracted from old or dead pasture and feed in warm, moist conditions. To minimise the risk of this, any hay, silage, feed or pasture that is dead or has not been eaten should be cleaned away out of the alpacas paddock or pen. This is particularly important in warm, moist conditions. Careful monitoring is very important and any change in skin condition around the face needs to be recorded and veterinarian assistance sought immediately.
Alpacas do not suffer from flystrike like sheep do. They have a natural bald area around their tail and have less wool on their belly and legs, which makes them naturally resistant to flystrike. In a case where an alpaca starts to scour, it may be necessary to trim the wool around the tail to prevent faeces building up while the animal is undergoing treatment.
Signs of illness
Herd health should be monitored at least daily. Young cria require more frequent monitoring as they can dehydrate quickly.
The first sign of illness in an alpaca may be lethargy or listlessness. On closer examination a sick alpaca may show signs of :
- abnormal body temperature
- changed gastrointestinal function, e.g. diarrhoea, change in appetite
- urogenital function problems such as abortion or infertility
- abnormal respiratory function such as coughing, gasping or panting
- unusual skin conditions such as lesions and abnormal growths
- tucked up appearance, stiff gait, unusual posture, patchy coat, loss of hair
- excessive scratching or rubbing
- swollen joints or lameness.
- pale gums
Alpacas failing to thrive or grow is also a sign of illness. If unable to identify the problem and begin suitable treatment, assistance should be sought from a veterinarian who has experience with alpacas. Any illness identified and treatments given must be recorded appropriately.