Common Alpaca Diseases

There are few alpaca diseases for a new owner to worry about. Their evolutionary adaptation to the Antiplano of South America, which is a harsh and rugged environment, has resulted in a remarkably hardy breed.

Most of the commom alpaca dieseases are consistent with diseases found in other livestock,  particularly sheep, goats and cattle. A local vet or nearby farmer is your best source of information about which diseases are a concern in your area. Vaccinating alpacas can provide some protection from certain diseases. There are also complementary therapies that offer a holistic approach to the prevention of various alpaca diseases..

A healthy alpaca will spend the majority of the day muching on grass (or hay), relaxing in a kushed or lying down position and socializing with herd members. Signs of distress include  frequent changing of position (excluding females that are in labour), refusing to eat, prolonged time standing at the poo pile, etc.

As alpacas are prey animals with few defense mechanisms. Showing any signs of weakness (whether from disease or injury) will leave them vulnerable to attack from predators. Therefore, it is difficult to discern that there is a problem until the animal becomes quite ill. Changes in an alpaca's behaviour or conditioning may be a sign of disease. Any drastic or rapid changes would be cause for an immediate call your vet.

The health of your herd should be your first concern, therefore, it is vitally important that you learn to recognise what is normal healthy behaviour and apperance in your alpacas and what is not. A daily inspection, including a hands-on assessment, i.e. body-scoring, is an invaluable assessment tool. This is easiest to do around feeding time, either in the morning or evening.

Body scoring is an excellent method of determining the overall health of an animal and can be done quickly and easily. While holding the animal (or if the animal is very comfortable with your presence, simply standing at their side) place your hand flat on their back approximately 15cm (6") behind the withers with the palm of your hand on the spine with your thumb on the ribs to one side of the spine and your fingers to the other side. Press down firmly enough so that you are able to feel the spine and ribs underneath the fleece.

If the spine is protuding into your hand and the skin between the spine and the ribs is concave the animal is too thin. If your thumb and fingers are close to parallel to each other and nearly vertical then the animal is excessively thin.

In a healthy animal, at its optimal weight, your hand should lay comfortably and be able to feel a smooth line of the flesh from the spine to the ribs (neither concave nor convex). Your thumb and fingers should form a comfortable "V" in this position.

If your hand is open wide and the flesh bulges up between the spine and ribs, then the animal is overweight. If your hand is flat and horizontal then the animal is obese.