Alpaca Farming on Lifestyle Farms - Part three: Worms and other health problems

Worms
 

There isn’t a lot of information about worms in alpacas.  It’s probably best to assume that the worms that affect them and their effects are the same as for sheep and cattle, although generally worms are not a problem in alpacas.  This might be because:

  • Alpacas seem slightly less susceptible to gastro-intestinal worms than sheep or cattle. 
  • They tend to poo in piles around the paddock, and this should leave most of the pasture relatively worm-free. 
Problems can occur:
  • if the stocking rate is high
  • if climatic conditions suit worms (mild moist weather)
  • if the alpacas are not robust (e.g. if they are very young or very old or in poor body condition)

The barber’s pole worm (Haemonchus contortus) has caused problems in juvenile and adult alpacas in the north.  It causes blood loss that can lead to anaemia.  

As with all types of livestock, it’s important to devise an effective worm control strategy with your vet.  This will involve:

  • Use of an appropriate oral or injectable drench
  • The minimum number of drenches
  • Drenching at strategic times for best effect
  • Delivering the correct dose. 
  • Good management after drenching will help prevent rapid re-infestation.  This might include:  
  • Doing faecal egg counts 10 days after drenching to test effectiveness (there should be no worm eggs).
  • Picking up the poo or harrowing paddocks when stock are moved out. 

Other points to note are:

  • It’s wise to drench bought-in animals and hold them in a quarantine paddock for a week before allowing them onto the farm.
  • The drench (anthelmintic) can be given by injection or by mouth.  Pour-on drenches are not currently recommended, because alpaca skin is different from the skin of the species in which pour-ons were developed. 
  • Clear drenches (levamisole) have a low safety margin in alpacas and should only be used with veterinary advice.  
Teeth and toenails
  • Alpaca feet are camel-like with a nail in front of a padded sole.
  • Toenails may require trimming every 6 to 12 months or so.
  • A hoof knife, sheep foot trimmers or hand pruning shears can be used.
  • The trimming should be carefully carried out to avoid causing bleeding.
  • The incisors may need trimming too, especially if they have elongated to protrude in front of the upper dental pad.
  • Teeth trimming requires great care and should be carried out only by an expert.
  • Only small amounts are removed at a time, to avoid exposing the sensitive tooth core and to prevent splintering the tooth.
  • An angle grinder or cutting tool and a mouth guard are used
Vaccination
  • Alpacas seem to be particularly susceptible to clostridial diseases so routine clostridial vaccination is important.
  • 5-in-1 vaccine is probably adequate although the 10-in-1 gives a broader range of protection.
  • Vaccinated females have clostridial antibodies in their colostrum to help protect their young from clostridial disease in the first 3 months of life. 
  • Cria may be vaccinated at 6 to 8 weeks of age and boosted a month later.
  • From then on, 6-monthly boosters can be given.
  • If the alpacas are farmed near pigs, vaccination against leptospirosis is wise.
  • All vaccines should be kept in the fridge. 
  • Check their “use by” date.
  • For most vaccines, the sheep dose is adequate.
  • f the vaccine contains selenium make sure there are no other selenium supplements being given, or overdosing may occur.
Note

None of the medications used to treat alpacas in this country has been licensed for use in alpacas.  The same medications that are used on sheep and cattle can almost certainly be used ‘off-label’ on alpacas quite safely, but clinical trials have not been carried out to prove this, so their use is entirely at the owner’s risk.   

Recommended reading
 

“Alpacas: A Basic Veterinary Reference”, Peter Aitken.  VetLearn, Massey University, 2006.

Next month, the final part of this series will deal with ”Reproduction”.

 

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