Pet Males:  Diablo & Maverick.  Photo © Copyright Kaipara Pines Alpaca Stud.
as Pets
Pet Males:  Chippewa & Black Magic as led by Kathy Rademacher.  Photo © Copyright Kaipara Pines Alpaca Stud.

The Second of the Eight Essentials, of Alpaca Survival:
Health Issues
by Chuck Rademacher
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      If you are thinking about alpacas as pets, the good news is that health issues arenít a major issue. Breeding alpacas can be a bit more intensive, but looking after pet males can be a lot of fun with very little work.

      While pet alpacas are easy to manage, there are still a few very important health issues for pet owners to consider:

  • You need to know whether your pet males have been castrated. While some alpaca breeders will do this when the males are less than a year old, most feel that it is better to wait until they have matured a bit longer (18-24 months). Since many males are sold as pets when they are less than a year old, you'll want to ask about this. If they haven't been castrated, you will want to understand the issues. Should you have it done? Who will do it? What will it cost? Who will pay for it (you or the breeder who sold them to you)?

  • With the assistance of your vet, you will need to establish a protocol for worming your alpacas. If you have white-tailed deer in your area, you will need to do monthly injections to prevent them from getting infected by meningeal worms. You will also need to frequently check them for other internal parasites and treat accordingly. Treatment can be oral or by way of an injection. While your vet can do this, it is much less expensive for you to learn to do these routine treatments yourself.

  • White-tailed deer.

  • Although shearing is covered in more detail later, it is important that you shear huacaya alpacas at least once a year and suris every other year to prevent heat stress. If the weather turns cold before your pets grow at least Ĺ inch of fleece, you will need to cover them or keep them out of the weather until it warms up a bit.

    Jordan is one boy that will need extra vitamin D!  Photo © Copyright Kaipara Pines Alpaca Stud.
  • All alpacas should receive vitamin D supplementation, at least in the winter. The darker the animal and the denser the fleece, the more likely that the alpaca will be deficient in vitamin D. Your vet can assist with developing a protocol to ensure that your pets get sufficient vitamin D.

  • Tetanus can be a problem on any property. All it takes is a cut and your lovely pet could suffer from Tetanus. Most alpaca owners give their animals an annual CDT injection that protects them from Tetanus and clostridial diseases. Again, your vet can guide you in this area.

  • The breeder who sold the pets to you, should show you how to body-score your alpacas. It will either be a 1 to 10 or a 1 to 5 scoring system, where the higher numbers (5 or 10) are very fat and a score of 1 is very skinny. Your alpaca pets should never score less than 4 (using to 1 to 10 scale) or less than 3 (using the 1 to 5 scale). If they are too thin, you need to determine the cause.

  • The breeder (or your vet) should also show you how to check to see if your pets are anaemic.

  • The number one enemy causing thinness or anemia, is internal parasites. If one of your pets is too thin or anaemic, and you havenít treated it for internal parasites in several months, your vet may suggest that you do so immediately while he or she does further investigation into the cause.
      While the list above may seem a bit daunting, it really isnít that bad. A few injections (worming, vitamin D, CDT vaccination) every year arenít expensive, or time consuming. The pleasure these animals give you will more than compensate you for your efforts -- but -- you do need to do these few things to keep them healthy.

Author: Chuck Rademacher of  Kaipara Pines Alpaca Stud, New Zealand

Helpful Links with Additional Information:

  • You can't talk about alpaca health without discussing parasites! May not be an appetizing topic, but they're part of the deal. The National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service (that's a mouthful!) has written a great overview called Integrated Parasite Management for Livestock.

  • OK, OK, here's another parasite link! This one is on the Maryland Small Ruminant Page and is simply called Internal Parasites. And yes, alpacas can also get external parasites!
    A testosterone-fuled grudge match between breeding males!
  • We're going to change the mood a bit here with a castration link. Sorry guys, but if they don't use them, they should lose them. And since this site is focused on pet alpacas, which in 90% of the cases, are non-breeding quality males, this topic has got to be covered! David Anderson,DVM, also known as the Godfather of Alpacas, has written Castration of Camelids: When, Where, Why. This how-to reference can be printed for your local veterinarian. It's also suitable for framing - but it may make your boys nervous if hung in the barn!
  • Time to lighten the mood a bit with a wonderful alphabetical listing of Health & Husbandry Notes for Camelid Owners assembled by the Rocky Mountain Llama & Alpaca Association. Camelids??? That's what you'll own if you buy some alpacas (dogs=canines, cats=felines, alpacas=camelids). This site has way too many topics to list, but it begins with Abdomen and ends with Whip Worm, yup, we're making our way back to the ever-popular parasites!

  • Here's another organization page (Great Lakes Alpaca Association) with great information on Alpaca Health and Care , written by Lorrie and Randy Krause of Alpaca Acres. Covered are general health topics, parasites and worming, vaccines, and potential problems. Great checklists!

  • Alpacas nails have got to be trimmed. Not fun, but again, it's part of the package deal. Marty McGee Bennett wrote this helpful article called, Tackling Toenails without Tackling your Camelid.

  • Alpacas are designed to produce fiber. They aren't just cute lawn ornaments! If you live in Caribou, Maine, you may not have an issue with heat stress. But if you live in a climate where you break a sweat while walking in the sun -- you need to take this issue seriously. Laura B. Hudson of Piney Hills Alpaca Ranch, Inc. will set you straight if you'll read, and memorize, Managing Alpacas in Hot, Humid Climates.
  • Not dead, just sunbathing!

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