Alpacas were first imported into the United States in 1984 and since then have grown in popularity for their fine wool and gentle nature. But like all animals, alpacas can suffer from internal and external parasites and maladies that can affect their health. Recognizing and treating skin disorders early can prevent them from becoming serious threats to the alpaca’s health and the quality of its coat.
Treasured by the Incas in the Andes Mountains for centuries, the alpacas have only recently found their way into the United States and Canada. These cud-chewers are only about 36 inches high at the shoulder and weigh between 100 and 175 lbs. With no horns, hooves or upper incisors, they are easy to handle. Alpacas live 15 to 20 years and have a long, reproductive life.
Like all animals, alpacas can suffer from parasites that attack the skin. Mites are perhaps the most prevalent and are responsible for lesions that form most commonly under the tail, the tops of the legs and around the genitals, eyes, ears and nose. Mites bite and suck blood, leaving behind red, itchy, thickened skin that can result in puss-filled bumps similar to acne on a human. Ears that flop off the side and contain a black, waxy substance may indicate the presence of mites. Mites can also cause mange.
Lice are usually detected at shearing time, when eggs are found at the base of the fibers or when the alpaca rubs, resulting in hair loss. Grooming equipment, blankets and contact with infested alpacas can easily transmit lice from one animal to another. If lice are found, it’s best to move the animals to another pen for at least two weeks to prevent re-infestation.
A parasiticide containing doramectin should work toward controlling mites and lice. Always consult a veterinarian before administering any drug protocol.
Munge, also called mange, is a crusty mass on or near the nose and mouth that will eventually crack and bleed and is usually caused by mites or a virus. Mild conditions can be treated with daily application of (100/0) povidone iodine scrub or 7 percent tincture of iodine combined with an antibiotic. More advanced cases may require the administration of a steroid by a veterinarian. Sometimes a zinc deficiency causes munge. Adding a mineral supplement containing zinc should aid the skin’s healing process.
Fly strike has been known to occur in alpacas around open wounds and contaminated fiber in the breech area. Once the maggots have infested the skin, the animal may digress quickly and, if left untreated, could die. Treatment includes removing affected fiber and the maggots, then thoroughly cleaning the wound area. Consult a veterinarian for the proper wound treatment.
Because of their thick coats, some skin problems may not be discovered until they have reached advanced stages. Examining your stock frequently and keeping them clean can help catch problems while they are still easy to treat.