How To Care For Llamas And Alpacas
It is advisable to seek a veterinarian’s advice or contact breed associations in your area for preventative health suggestions, specific nutritional requirements, or special problems prevalent in your area. Work with your veterinarian to determine what vaccination schedule is necessary to protect your animals from local disease risks.
If you need to find a veterinarian, the American Association of Small Ruminant Practitioners (www.aasrp.org) offers listings of veterinarians who work with camelids. Below are descriptions of some common health concerns, including heat stress, meningeal worm, toenail trimming, dental care, and shearing.
Because llamas and alpacas are from the dry, thin air in the high plains and mountains of South America, they are not acclimated to the high heat and humidity in many parts of the United States, and are in danger of heat stress.
Use of the heat index is a common tool for determining when animals are at risk. The key to combating heat stress is prevention; there are many practices to protect llamas and alpacas. Providing shade is an easy step. Shade can be provided by either trees or shelters, but good ventilation of shade structures is essential.
Proper husbandry is another preventative measure and includes working or handling animals during the coolest part of the day, and planning for crias to be born in the spring. Shearing helps animals lose heat eff ectively and is one of the most important aspects of heat-stress prevention. In addition, proper nutrition can increase the animals’ resistance to environmental extremes.
Access to fresh water also helps prevent heat stress. Water should be kept in the shade, and electrolytes may be added if necessary. Another consideration is providing water for llamas to wade in, whether in the form of a pond, stream, or baby pool.
Sand pits or concrete fl oors will also suffice as cooling areas. Finally, of utmost importance is monitoring for signs of heat stress, which include nasal fl aring, open-mouthed breathing, increased breathing rate, drooling, depression, and loss of appetite. If these signs are observed, the first step is to cool the animal down by hosing, removal to a cool area, or placement in shade or water, and then call a veterinarian.
Llamas and alpacas are vulnerable to common internal and external parasites. One of the most deadly is the meningeal worm, or Parelophostrongylus tenuis, which causes neurological disease characterized by lameness, lack of coordination, inability to get up, paralysis, circling, and blindness, and can result in death. Death may occur in just a few days, or ataxia may last for months or years.
White-tailed deer are a natural host for the parasite, so areas with high concentrations of deer are at higher risk of meningeal worm. Preventative measures include exclusion of deer through the use of deer-proof fencing and removal of thick ground cover in pastures to control slugs and snails, which act as the intermediary host. Regular deworming with Ivermectin is often suggested, but this is controversial given the concern about the development of resistant gastrointestinal nematode populations.
A definitive diagnosis of meningeal worm can only be made postmortem, as it requires demonstration of P. tenius in the brain or spinal cord. The Baerman technique, which relies on detection of larvae in the feces, is the only antemortem diagnostic tool. However, this test is unreliable as hosts rarely shed larvae in their feces.
Treatment of the parasite is difficult given the severity of the neurological symptoms, but Ivermectin and anti-infl ammatory drugs are recommended. See ATTRA’s Managing Internal Parasites in Sheep and Goats for more about internal parasites. Llamas and alpacas are aff ected by the same parasites
as sheep and goats, and the principles of management are the same.
Click here for a complete guide to raising llamas…
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