All animals require some basic maintenance, and alpacas are no exception. Luckily for us, basic health tasks for alpacas can just about be counted on the fingers of one hand!
Worming and Vaccination are two of these critical care issues – worming deals with internal parasites, while vaccination deals with the protection of animals against common diseases. It is unfortunate that at this point in time, there are no medicines, anthelmintics or vaccinations that have been developed specifically for alpacas, or even tested as suitable for them. Because of this, the efficacy of some drugs may not be as desirable as we might hope for. It is my personal belief that sheep vaccines probably don’t do a great deal for alpacas, however, given the value of the animals we are dealing with, some protection is better than none! Anthelmintics (worm drenches) can however be expected to be effective as in this case it is the parasite you are targeting, and not the alpaca!
Alpacas have been found to be somewhat resistant to internal parasites. However, common NZ farming practice is likely to mean your alpacas will become infested. The life cycle of most internal parasites is : eggs hatch into lavae, which climb grass stems to be ingested (eaten) by stock, and develop into adults within the gut. The adults attach themselves to the lining of the intestinal tract to obtain nutrients from the host animal, and in time, produce eggs which pass out of the animal in its dung, from where the eggs hatch and the cycle begins again. It is important to realise that in egg form, parasites of any type are nearly indestructible, often being resistant to being boiled or frozen, and certainly impervious to absorption. You cannot treat your pasture for worms, the only feasible option is to drench the affected animals and kill most of its worm burden in the gut. Anthelmintics are a poison, the idea being to poison the worms without harming the host, so dose rates are important.
It is probable that some worms will survive the dosing process, and in any case, your alpaca will continue to pick new larvae from grazing, so expect that you will need to drench your alpacas from time to time. We use an injectable drench – dectomax, as this treats both external (mites) and intestinal (worms) parasites, and doesn’t sting like other injectables. Alpacas can tolerate a degree of infestation, however if your alpaca is under stress, this burden can increase to intolerable, and their is one particular intestinal worm, known as Barbers Pole, which can be fatal.
Stocking density of alpacas in New Zealand is far higher than that in their native South America. The more animals you have per hectare, the higher the rate of parasitic burden that is likely to be found. Also, the habit of many lifestyler farmers of keeping animals in one pasture for extended periods of time (or of having only a few paddocks to rotate), means the animals are kept grazing over areas that are likely to have high infestation rates. Cross grazing with other livestock (sheep, cattle, deer, horses) is also likely to increase the infestation rates as these animals have a lower natural resistance, and their habit of dunging indiscriminately spreads eggs all round the pasture.
Although alpacas have communal dung piles, which helps to limit the spread of worm eggs, overstocking may cause these piles to spread, creating further problems.
Drench Resistant Worms
Many species of worms are becoming resistant to drenches – this is a farming problem that is NZ, and world wide. For this reason it is often now not recommended that you routinely worm your animals on a calendar basis, but rather determine whether your animals require drenching before doing so. If your alpacas becomes sick, or is not thriving (and you have elimated phosphorus deficiency as a cause), or develops a pot belly, ask your vet to do a faecal egg count to determine if your alpaca will benefit from dosing.