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Herd Health of Llamas and Alpacas


LaRue W. Johnson

, DVM, PhD, Colorado State University

Last full review/revision Sep 2014 | Content last modified Oct 2014
Topic Resources

Neonatal Care:

Crias should be on their feet and attempting to nurse within 2 hr after birth and every 1–2 hr thereafter for the first few days. While weight gain for the first 24 hr postpartum may be minimal, thereafter llamas should gain 250–500 g/day and alpacas 100–250 g/day. Healthy crias should approximately double their birth weight by 1 mo of age.

Routine cria care should include weighing and single dipping the navel in 7% tincture of iodine or 0.5% chlorhexidine three times during the first 24 hr after birth. If appropriate for the area, supplemental selenium could be provided by injection (0.5 mg for alpacas, 1 mg for llamas). At birth is an ideal time to take a blood sample if there is any concern of failure of passive transfer of colostral antibodies. Having a baseline sample to measure PCV and total proteins to compare with a subsequent sample at 24 hr will provide valuable information regarding failure of passive transfer and hydration.

Parasite Control:

Parasite control programs vary according to climatic conditions, population density, and parasite load, and should be developed according to local conditions.

No drugs have been approved for use in SACs. However, anthelmintics that are generally recognized as safe and effective include ivermectin, pyrantel pamoate, and fenbendazole. Parasite resistance has developed in all ruminant species, making it necessary to develop a strategic deworming program, particularly in locations where the meningeal worm is present. Liver flukes can be a significant problem. Control with clorsulon or albendazole is usually effective, although repeated clorsulon treatment every 6–8 wk may be necessary.


Most vaccination protocols for SACs have been empirically derived. Most animals should receive Clostridium perfringens type C and D vaccinations and tetanus toxoid. In regions where liver fluke (Fasciola hepatica) infections or snake envenomations are a problem, use of polyvalent vaccines against C novyi, C septicum, C sordellii, and C chauvoei are warranted. One successful approach has been to give an initial vaccination at 3 mo of age, a booster 30 days later, and annual boosters thereafter. Llamas and alpacas are immunocompetent at birth, so neonatal vaccination can begin in the first week of life, followed by two boosters at 3-wk intervals.

Abortions secondary to Leptospira spp infections are regionally a problem and can usually be prevented using an initial vaccination, followed by boosters twice a year. Killed rabies vaccines have been used with unknown efficacy in endemic areas. Any attempt to control other viral diseases (including West Nile virus infection) should only involve use of killed vaccines.

Dental Development and Care:

The dental pad of llamas and alpacas is similar to that of a cow. At birth, the first two pairs of lower incisors are normally through the gum line; lack of eruption is one indication of prematurity. The central, middle, and lateral mandibular deciduous incisors are replaced at ~2–2½, 3–3½, and 4–6 yr, respectively, although determining age by the teeth is notoriously inaccurate in these species.

A unique feature of SACs is the development of the upper I3 and upper and lower canine teeth on both sides into “fighting” teeth that may grow to >3 cm long. The teeth can cause serious damage to other males during fights and usually need to be cut flush to the gum with obstetrical wire or a grinder beginning with eruption at 18–24 mo of age and repeated as needed in intact males. If castration is to be performed, eruption of the fighting teeth signals an ideal time to schedule both procedures. Growth of fighting teeth usually stops after castration. Fighting teeth in most females barely penetrate the gumline and seldom, if ever, need to be cut. Tooth extraction to avoid periodic trimming is impractical because of very deep, curved roots.

The incisors are open-rooted in alpacas and continue to grow throughout life. Poor occlusion of the incisors and dental pad necessitate periodic tooth trimming and appears to be more of a problem in alpacas than in llamas. Cheek teeth are rooted, normally sharp, and do not require regular floating. Premolar and molar occlusion should be checked and problems corrected in older animals exhibiting difficulty in chewing or weight loss.

Abscessed lower second premolar and first and second molars are seen as a hard, well-developed swelling on the lateral surface of the mandible over the affected teeth. A draining tract may or may not be present. The area is usually not painful on palpation, and most animals maintain body condition. No bacterial agent has been consistently isolated from the abscesses. Prolonged antibiotic therapy is palliative, although rarely curative. Tooth extraction usually requires making a lateral incision over the affected teeth, splitting the tooth because of the divergent roots and repelling the tooth into the oral cavity. Care should be taken during extraction to avoid mandibular fracture.

Nail Trimming:

Some animals rarely need foot care, whereas others require nail trimming every 2–3 mo. Diet, genetics, and environment likely play a role. The nails should be trimmed flush with the bottom of the pad. Occasionally and especially with overgrown toes, "quicking" may occur but generally is inconsequential.

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