When we moved to Marnoo almost 20 years ago we mistakenly believed that it would be easy to find a local vet to treat our alpacas, but what we found that there is a shortage of vets willing to treat large animals. The reasons are varied, but in large part it is because of economics, large livestock producers rarely rely on vets to treat livestock as they generally have access to required veterinary medicines, therefore demand for veterinary services is limited and not economical. There has also been a growing trend for new vets to specialize in small animals because animals can be taken into the vet, rather than vets having to travel to farms, it cuts down on expenses for the vet and means they can treat more animals, again it is an economic argument.
We found that as there was only 2 vets within 60km radius that would treat large animals, we then had to develop trust with our vet, you must have trust in your vet that they will listen to your concerns and suggestions particularly if they are not familiar with alpacas. From our experience if you pick the wrong vet you may have very poor outcomes for your alpacas.
We eventually found a reliable vet located 40km away, he runs a single vet surgery so in reality he is not in a position to come to us at the drop of a hat, so in most cases we take alpacas to the surgery, it is only in the most severe cases that we will call him out. He will also provide advice and assistance over the phone if necessary and will do his own research when required. His support is greatly appreciated.
Several years ago we were wanting to go into the QAlpaca program, this created a number of headaches for us, largely because we could not get any vets to administer the program. Although vets in Horsham and Ararat were accredited they would not travel to Marnoo, our own vet is not accredited because there were insufficient local sheep properties in the MAP to make the cost of accreditation worthwhile.
The reality is that if you live in a rural remote location you will often be required to undertake a variety of routine veterinary procedures and in most cases will be expected to transport your alpacas to your vet. No one should consider owing any form of livestock unless they have the means to transport them and being squeamish is not really an option. You will be required to give injections and possibly poke and prod in areas of your alpacas you never wanted to go.
A few years ago we had a female who had a tear near her rectum resulting from a difficult delivery, it was compounded by a prolapsed uterus, everything had to be stitched up and the girl was finding it difficult to pass feces. To avoid tearing the stitches the feces had be removed by hand, rubber gloves essential.
There are restrictions on who can have access to some veterinary medicines and this is determined by your vet. We ensure that we always have the following supplies:
- a thermometer
- liquid paraffin
- pink eye spray or opticlox (vet prescription)
- vetadine (cleaning and treating wounds)
- hidaject vit AD&E
- Co-phos injection
- oxytocin – as prescribed by vet
- antibiotics – as prescribed by vet
- Colostrum powder
- milk re-placer
- selenium supplement
- bandages and dressings (our first aid kit has been used on alpacas more often than it has for people)
- Scalpel (lancing abscesses)
Routine Husbandry Treatments
Being observant is the most critical skill that an alpaca owner can have. Subtle changes in the behavior of your alpacas may be the only indication that something is not quite right, animals may sit by themselves, may be a little lethargic or in the case of cria it may be that they are not drinking as often as they should.Rolling and lying on their side and straining can indicate a gut problem.
If you notice that animal is not behaving in character you can do some simple things that will assist in determining what is wrong.
- check temperature
- Check eye and mouth membranes if light or whitish it may indicate anemia, which could have a number of serious causes from phosphorus deficiency to a worm burden. Veterinary attention should be sought.
- Feel the gut area if gut is tight and the animal is having trouble passing feces it may indicate that there is a blockage, we would administer liquid paraffin orally and monitor for an hour, if there is no change we would then contact the vet. Blockages can occur if animals have been on hard feed and may not have been drinking enough fluid, but it can often be the result of antibiotics, which can impact on gut flora, giving alpacas yakult, natural yogurt or pro-biotics can alleviate this problem.
The more information you can give to your vet the more chance they have in giving a diagnosis, or prescribing treatment, but in many cases the only way that a concise diagnosis can be given is by taking blood, initial treatments are often an educated guess treating the symptoms rather than the cause, so it is important that bloods be taken as soon as possible to ensure correct treatment.
Depending on where you live grass seeds can be a major problem for alpacas. They can get into eyes and ears, as well as between toes and in the mouth causing infections and physical damage. During summer we have a severe barley grass problem, so we always have opticlox ointment on hand to treat eyes and ear. The most important thing is to remove the seed or seeds from they eye or ears. When checking eyes ensure that your check under the lids particularly in the corner of the eye. We apply opticlox because it is an antibiotic ointment which will treat any infection caused by the seed.
Getting seeds out of ears can be very difficult, you will often see animals shaking their head a lot if they have a seed in an ear. Irrigation of the ear may be necessary if the seed is too far down to remove by hand. Grass seeds in between toes and in mouths can cause infections, you will often notice a foul odor coming from the mouth or feet, clean out the seeds with clean water, they generally don’t cause any long term damage.
Grass seeds can also cause abscesses particularly around the jaw area, lancing the abscess and irrigating regularly with a dilute peroxide solutions will generally fix the abscess, in re-curing abscesses antibiotics may be necessary.
The reality is that most drugs administered to animals are injectable, either in the mussel or under the skin. Routine supplements such as vitamin AD&E, drenches and vaccinations are also administered by injection, so it is important that all alpaca owners feel comfortable in giving injections to their animals, or be prepared to transport your animals to your vet for routine treatment.
Many alpaca shearers will administer drench and vaccinations at shearing time, however these products should be administered at least twice a year , Vitamin AD&E should be given between 2-3 times per year.
When you consider buying alpacas or relocating your farm, talk to the local vets to find out if they treat large animals and are comfortable treating alpacas. Talk to other alpaca owners in your area to find out which vets they use and determine if they are happy with the service. Developing a good relationship with your vet is particularly important in rural areas. You need to feel confident that your vet will provide support remotely if required, a vet that insists on seeing animals before offering treatment advice may result in adverse results for your alpacas due to time constraints and distance.