This is a brief overview of the most important health points for keeping alpacas, with particular reference to the common problems we see on the Central Coast.
But first – AN IMPORTANT DISCLAIMER: There are no drugs that are registered for use in alpacas. However, all the recommendations we make are based on personal experience and on accepted best practice by veterinarians both in Australia and overseas.
Alpacas are susceptible to many of the same diseases that affect ruminant animals such as sheep, cattle and goats. In particular, enterotoxaemia (commonly known as “pulpy kidney”) is a common cause of deaths in alpacas in this area. There is no effective treatment for this disease and the mortality rate is close to 100%. Vaccines that are used in ruminant animals are commonly used in alpacas as well and do confer some protection against this deadly disease. Alpacas should also be vaccinated for clostridial diseases such as blackleg, tetanus, malignant oedema and black disease. A 5-in-1 vaccination is usually recommended for the required immunity. Please contact us for information on the use of these vaccines.
Alpacas are susceptible to many of the gastro-intestinal worms that also affect sheep, cattle and goats. The most common one we see is the Barber’s Pole Worm (Haemonchus contortus). This is a nasty little blood-sucking parasite which can occur in large numbers and which can result in serious blood loss. In severe cases the animals can die of anaemia. Symptoms include weakness, weight loss and pale mucous membranes (e.g. the gums and tissues around the eyes.) Alpacas can also be affected by various other worms that cause diarrhoea and weight loss. While they have a lower risk of worms due to their elimination habits, they are often grazed on the same spaces as other ruminants which can lead to worm infestation.
Control of worms is an important but complex task. It requires a combined approach using pasture management, monitoring of faecal worm egg counts and the appropriate use of the correct type of worm medications. As a rough rule of thumb we recommend doing faecal worm egg counts every three months to monitor the worm levels in your animals. Your veterinarian can do this for you and will then help you to plan the best long-term strategy for controlling worms in your alpacas. Discuss the best medications for use with your Alpacas as there are no made to order Alpaca de-wormers or external pest control methods and only some sheep medications are suitable for use with these ruminants.
Alpacas in this area are frequently affected by the paralysis tick and this can be fatal. This is the same tick that is such a menace to dogs and cats. Usually young alpacas are more susceptible but even adults can be seriously affected and can die. A number of tick washes can be used on alpacas. One handy trick for crias is to use a tick collar, like the ones that are used on dogs.
Alpacas are known to suffer from vitamin D deficiency more often than other livestock. This is often due to them being housed indoors and their thick coats reducing the amount of UV they absorb. Vitamin D is critical to absorption of calcium and healthy bones. This can also cause rickets in young Alpacas that are getting their nutrition from milk from a vitamin D deficient mother. Vitamin D injections may be required to keep the herd at optimal health. NUtrition in Alpacas can be a complex topic. Here are a few general tips:
- Alpacas, like all animals, need an adequate intake of protein, energy and fibre. They also need other micronutrients such as trace elements and vitamins. Mostly these requirements can be provided by an adequate supply of good quality pasture or pasture hay. In the winter time, the nutritional properties of pasture tend to decrease, so extra hay may be necessary at this time of year.
- Young growing animals, and pregnant and nursing females have extra nutritional requirements.
- It is important not to overfeed alpacas, especially with concentrated feeds such us pellets or grain mixes or lush pastures such as clover or lucerne.
- One of the best ways to check if your alpacas are getting the right amount of nutrition is by regularly checking their body condition. This just involves catching them at regular intervals and feeling the amount of muscle along the back line.
- Alpacas need a constant supply of clean drinking water. They also need shade in the summer and shelter from wind and rain.
Alpacas need to be shorn every year. This is usually done in the springtime, so that they are not carrying a full fleece through the summer. There are a few shearers in our area who can do this for you.
A really useful website is criagenesis.cc. This has been set up by Dr Jane Vaughan, an Australian veterinarian who has many years of experience working with alpacas. Her website contains a wealth of useful information.
And of course, we are always available to help you with any questions you may have about the care of your alpacas (or any other animals for that matter).