By Dr. Joe Klopfenstein, Vergennes Large Animal Associates
As I write this, there is still a heap of snow on the ground and sugaring season has not begun yet. It's not too early, however, to plan your health calendar for the year. If you have protocols in place for your health events throughout the year, you can make sure your camelid companions have the best possible attention to their well being.
Spring is vaccination season. Even though most camelid vaccines provide a year's worth of protection, spring is the most effective time to vaccinate since most exposure to disease occurs in the spring and summer. Since camelids are generally very healthy and have little disease risk, there are very few vaccines to worry about. The basic vaccination protocol for adult llamas and alpacas in our area includes vaccines for clostridial diseases and rabies.
Clostridial diseases are caused by bacteria that live in the soil. Clostridial organisms that may cause disease in camelids are Clostridium perfringens types C and D and Clostridium tetani (tetanus). Vaccines for these bugs are usually combined in a vaccine known by its common name, CDT. Clostridium perfringens causes disease by overgrowing in the animal's gut causing potentially severe toxemia. This overgrowth may occur after overeating grain or spoiled forage. Tetanus is caused by bacterial growth in contaminated wounds. Both diseases are life threatening and the vaccine cost is very reasonable, so it is very important to have your animals vaccinated for clostridium.
Rabies is a neurological disease caused by a virus spread by a bite from an infected animal. The disease is 100% fatal. Already this year, there have been nearly two dozen animals in Vermont confirmed with rabies, including some livestock. Rabies vaccination is a must to protect your animals and your family.
There are other vaccines available for camelids that may be important in your herd. Talk with your veterinarian about the use of vaccines for Leptospirosis, Eastern Equine Encephalitis, and E. coli diarrhea. In most cases, these vaccines are not necessary but your vet is the person to ask about disease risk in your herd. If you have pregnant females that will be giving birth this spring and summer, talk with your vet about vaccinations during late pregnancy and protocols for your newborns.
Summer is the time to focus on parasite control. Internal parasites in llamas and alpacas are picked up on pasture while grazing. Parasite loads in your animals will vary depending on the number of animals in your pastures, your past parasite control program, how big your pastures are, whether or not you rotate your pastures, whether sheep and goats have shared your pastures, and how often you clean up fecal piles.
When your vet visits your animals in the spring, you should talk with him or her about your parasite control program. You should take some representative samples of fresh stool from the pile to assess the level of worms your animals are currently carrying. This can you help plan your parasite control program. Many animals may need to be dewormed only once or twice in the spring, others need more intensive deworming. Last spring's cool, wet conditions enabled a boom of parasite growth on pastures, resulting in many heavily parasitized animals, so it will pay to be aggressive with parasite control. Many effective deworming products are on the market. After you have checked your herd for parasites, talk with your vet about specific products.
In the fall and early winter, your parasite control program switches to focus on the meningeal worm (Parelaphostrongylus tenuis). This worm is a normal parasite in deer and can cause disease in llamas and alpacas by aberrant migration through the spinal cord. The meningeal worm eggs are deposited in pastures by visiting deer, pass through a snail and are consumed by llamas and alpacas as they graze. Camelid owners should focus on this parasite from May through December. Effective dewormers can be administered every 4-6 weeks to prevent damage from the meningeal worm. Ivermectin (1cc per 75 — 100 pounds under the skin) is currently the best choice for meningeal worm control. There are a variety of products on the market that contain Ivermectin or similar compounds.
During the winter, focus turns to nutrition. Once animals are no longer grazing and are eating stored forage, some decisions need to be made. Have your hay tested for its nutrient value. Your vet can take a representative sample and submit it to a testing laboratory for the required tests. The cost is very reasonable and the resulting information is valuable. Test results can help you select grain that balances the nutritional needs for your animals. Not only is proper nutrition economical, but it can also result in much better health during the long winter months.
Proper animal care is a year long commitment. With a little planning you can provide excellent health care for your llama or alpaca throughout the changing seasons. Your vet is a great resource for questions you may have about health care concerns with your animals and risks for your area. Here's to a healthy and happy year for your animals!