Health and diseases

Health and diseases
  • Owners should be aware that a number of plants are poisonous to alpacas and should take steps to ensure that they are removed from paddocks. For details of the effects of various poisonous plants and a list of a number of common ones that can harm alpacas, click here.
  • Regularly catch and run your hands over your animals. A fully fleeced animal may not necessarily show outward signs of malnutrition. Body score them, check for burrs and brambles, especially between the back legs because faeces and urine can collect and fly strike can occur.
  • Heavily fleeced animals should have their fibre trimmed around the tail and down the rear legs to avoid faeces and urine contamination. Fly strike can also occur on other parts of the body, therefore a thorough inspection of the entire animal is recommended. Vets can advise on products to prevent fly strike.
  • If possible, weigh your animals regularly. Weight is often indicative of health; sudden and rapid weight loss should be investigated further.
  • A sick alpaca is likely to spend more time sitting or lying stretched out and is reluctant to get up. They will get left behind as the rest of the herd moves on and may look hunched and depressed.
  • Foot trimming should be carried out, on average, two to three times a year. However, nails will grow at different rates on different animals. Check nails by actually lifting the feet. They can sometimes look okay from above but by lifting the foot you can clearly see if nails are longer than the pad. Nails left unattended can twist and deform the toes.
  • Teeth should also be checked at least twice a year. Like toenails, growth will vary from alpaca to alpaca. Teeth that are too long can cause jaw misalignment and teeth that are too short can cause difficulty feeding. Always seek expert advice to correct any irregularities.
  • Males should be checked from approximately 18 months old for the presence of fighting teeth and a professional person should remove these.
  • Cria should be vaccinated against clostridial diseases (Blackleg, botulism, pulpy-kidney and tetanus) at four weeks and a booster given four to six weeks later. From then on they should fall into the regular schedule of the adult herd (annual vaccinations in line with the manufacturer’s recommendation). Ideally the timing of the vaccination cycle should be so that pregnant females are vaccinated about 4–8 weeks prior to birthing in order to boost their immune systems.
  • Discuss with your vet a suitable start-up vaccination programme and products that may be suitable.
  • There are two processes by which parasitic worms can be controlled. Firstly, by taking regular dung samples for analysis and only worming animals when worm counts are high. Secondly, by routinely worming all animals every six months regardless. Worming of cria is normally commenced at weaning. Discuss with your vet because poor use of wormers can increase worm resistance to treatment.
  • Shearing should be carried out annually. Suris can be shorn every other year, but Huacayas need to be shorn every year.
  • During the long winter months it may be an idea to give your herd a natural boost by giving them A, D and E vitamins. This is especially important for late-born cria because it helps to promote good bone growth and development. A deficiency of vitamin D can lead to rickets.
  • In wet conditions, liver fluke can cause problems in some animals. It is more prevalent in some geographical locations. Discuss with your vet and, if necessary, take precautions.
  • Coccidiosis is a parasitic disease that affects alpacas, particularly young animals. A number of products are available which can be used to control the problem.
  • Diarrhoea, or excessive scouring, especially in young cria, can be fatal if not treated quickly and veterinary assistance should be sought immediately.