Saturday, April 14, 2012

Herbal Therapy in Llamas and Alpacas

By Donald Thompson DVM

This past September, Donald P. Thompson, DVM, CVA, was invited to speak at a veterinary conference in Chongoing, China on acupuncture point location and herbal remedies for cattle and camelids. His presentation covered protocols and techniques to treat a few common maladies in these food and fiber species. Along with cattle, horses, goats, dogs, and cats, Don has been working with camelids and their owners for twenty years in northern and central Vermont. His veterinary degree is from Cornell, then recently enhanced with his degree in acupuncture and his study of Chinese herbal formulas. The following paper is the portion of his presentation on camelids.
My final comments today will be concerning the emerging use of TCVM techniques in South American camelids, primarily llamas and alpacas in my practice. These are valuable animals in the United States worthy of having many treatment options at your disposal.
In dosing these animals with herbal formulas, one rapidly finds that oral administration is challenging, especially in adults. They rarely voluntarily consume the powder, but this route is worth trying first if the patient is not anorectic, offering the powder with grain. The very long, sinuous neck of camelids is used effectively to avoid oral administration of all but the smallest volume of liquids or suspensions. Llamas and alpacas may try to hit you with the head and/or neck in defense or may "cush," dropping to ventral recumbency to avoid you. Lastly, these animals will ward off your persistent advances with rapid, well-aimed expulsion of stomach contents, or "spitting" at you.
If attempting to treat these animals orally, I recommend dosage volumes comparable to that cited for cattle, due to the presence of the complex, three-compartment stomach. Administer small amounts of the total dose, tip the nose up slightly, and allow them time to swallow to avoid aspiration, then give more.
As an alternative to oral dosing, I have begun teaching my camelid owners to administer a much smaller dose--that of the horse--via rectal suppository. With the head either held or tied and the tail firmly raised, owners have found this route of administration to be technically simple and I have found it effective. The typical 30-gram dose of powder is mixed with a minimal amount of warm water, often 30-60 cc, to create a thick slurry. I use a 60 cc catheter tip syringe to deposit the slurry past the anus into the rectum in a minimal volume, trying to avoid creating the sensation of an enema followed by rapid expulsion and loss of the herbal.
While I have now treated many conditions in camelids both with acupuncture and with herbals, I would like to finish this presentation with what is an interesting case for me, lending hope for more such cases in the future. In the United States, we deal with many cases of paraparetic to paraplegic llamas and alpacas, which almost universally are presumed to be and subsequently treated as cases of meningeal deer worm, or Parclaphostrongylus tenuis, spinal disease.

Meningeal Worm (P. Tenuis) Myelopathy Life Cycle and Treatment

The life cycle of the meningeal deer worm is an interesting one. The definitive host is the white-tailed deer, common to the United States, especially in the Eastern part. Adult worms lay eggs in the meninges of the deer. The eggs then pass into the venous circulation and travel to the lungs, where they hatch into the L1 larvae. The L1 are coughed up, swallowed and passed in the deer's feces. These larvae invade or are ingested by terrestrial slugs or snails, which serve as an intermediate host. The L1 larvae develop into the infective stage L3 larvae in these gastropods over 3-4 weeks. When consumed by a susceptible aberrant species, including llamas and alpacas, the L3 migrate to the spinal cord and wander aimlessly, creating neurological disease (1).
I now treat these paralyzed llamas with two therapeutic goals in mind, the first being destruction of the invading parasite, the second being relief of Blood and Qi stasis in the spinal cord. Two Jing Tang Herbal formulas help accomplish these goals. Qing Hao Powder is responsible for destruction of the parasite, tonification of Qi and enhancement of Zheng-Qi and its immune function and Double P#2 is my choice for breaking down stasis in the spine, moving Qi, and relieving pain. The composition of each formula, as cited by Jing Tang, is as follows:

Qing Hao Powder (2,3)
  • Atractylodes Bai Zhu: To tonify Qi and strengthen the spleen
  • Codonopsis Dang Shen: To tonify Qi and strengthen Zheng Qi
  • Licorice Gan Cao: To harmonize
  • Dryopteris Guan Zhong: To kill parasites
  • Astragalus Huang Qi: To tonify Qi and enhance immune function
  • Omphalia Lei Wan: Kills internal and external parasites
  • Artemisia Qing Hao: Kills and expels blood-mediated parasites
  • Quisqualis Shi Jun Zi: Kills gastrointestinal worms

Double P #2 (2,3)
  • Morinda Ba Ji Tian: Warms Yang, tonifies the kidney
  • Psoralea Bu Gu Zhi: Tonifies Kidney Yang and strengthens bone
  • Peony Chi Shao Yao: Cools blood, resolves stagnation
  • Ligusticum Chuan Xiong: Activates blood, resolves stagnation
  • Angelica Dang Gui: Nourishes and activates blood, resolves pain
  • Lumbricus Di Long: Clears internal wind and detoxifies
  • Cucommia Du Zhong: Strengthens the back, tonifies Kidney Yang
  • Aconite Fu Zi: Warms Yang and the channels
  • Licorice Gan Cao: Harmonizes
  • Cibotium Gou Ji: Tonifies Kidney Yang and the channels
  • Drynaria Gu Sui Bu: Strengthens bone and tonifies Kidney Yang
  • Carthamus Hong Hua: Moves blood, resolves stagnation and stasis
  • Astragalus Huang Qi: Tonifies Qi
  • Strychnos Ma Oian Zi: Activates channels, relieves pain, clears Wind-Damp
  • Myrrh Mo Yao: Resolves stagnation and relieves pain
  • Cyathula Niu Xi: Tonifies kidney Yang and strengthens rear limbs
  • Scorpion Quan Xie: Resolves stagnation
  • Olibanum Ru Xiang: Resolves stagnation and relieves pain
  • Notoginseng Tian San Qi: Moves blood and stops hemorrhage
  • Lindera Wu Yao: Moves Qi and relieves pain
  • Dipsacus Xu Duan: Strengthens bones and ligaments, tonifies Kidney Yang
  • Draconis Xue Jie: Resolves stagnation
To reiterate, I instruct the patient's owner to administer each of these formulas as an aqueous intrarectal suppository at 15 grams (2 tablespoons) of each twice a day for up to one month. These recumbent animals are very easy to treat in this manner and, based on the first few patients that I have treated as such; results appear positive in comparison to my previous efforts using a Western pharmaceutical protocol. Such a protocol commonly includes any or all of the following: Fenbendazole, Ivermectin, flunixin meglumine, thiamine, vitamin E, selenium and cyanocobalamin. Using the Western and Eastern treatment modalities may prove to compliment each other in future eases.

  1. Anderson, D. (2002). Parelaphostrongylus Tenius (Meningeal Worm). Retrieved on July 20, 2008 from i/camelid/mening.html
  2. Xie, H. (2004). Chinese Veterinary Herbal Handbook. Reddick, FL: Chi Institute
  3. Xie, H. (2008). Dr. Xie's Jing-tang Herbal, Inc. Retrieved on July 21, 2008 from

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