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Alpacas are easy animals for inexperienced ranchers to raise. If you can feed, water, and clean up after your herd every day, you’ll be covering 95% of their needs. Health problems are rare, but some can be extremely serious. This list of five common behaviors in alpacas breaks down dangerous symptoms that require an immediate veterinarian visit and normal actions that can be safely ignored.

Ataxia (Stumbling)

If you see an alpaca in your herd stumbling, walking with an odd limp, or struggling to control their movement, you should call a veterinarian right away. This inability to coordinate their limbs, called ataxia, can be a symptom of a meningeal worm infection. Without treatment, meningeal worms move to an animal’s brain and begin destroying tissue, eventually leading to death. The natural host for this parasite is white-tailed deer, which are native to almost the entire United States. Deer droppings contain the parasite, and snails bring the worms out of the woods and into your pasture. Infections are especially common during wet weather, so keep a close eye on your alpaca herd’s health on rainy days and immediately afterwards.

Diarrhea

Many different parasites can cause diarrhea, so most veterinarians will want to conduct a fecal test to determine the best course of treatment. Over several days, diarrhea can lead to dehydration and possible death; crias are at a higher risk than adult alpacas. If you notice an alpaca with diarrhea, monitor it carefully and call your preferred veterinarian if the symptom continues for more than 24 hours.

Foaming at the Mouth

Alpacas exhibit odd behaviors after eating clover or alfalfa. They love these plants and can’t stop themselves from eating too much at once. If you see alpacas foaming at the mouth, lying down and stretching their back legs, or biting at their sides, they are likely recovering from devouring a large patch of clover or alfalfa. Because alpacas graze in the same areas, you may see this behavior in multiple animals. Do not be alarmed.

Stretching the Neck

Large pieces of food can become stuck in an alpaca’s esophagus. In this situation, the animal will stretch out their neck repeatedly and may appear to be choking. Do not interfere with this process; the object will be removed with a few hours. If you notice this behavior in one of your alpacas, do not feed them grain for the remainder of the day because their esophagus is already irritated.

Lying Down

Every experienced alpaca owner can remember bringing their herd home, gazing contentedly out the kitchen window, and panicking when they saw several of their new alpacas keeled over on the ground. They also remember how relieved they felt when they realized that this was normal behavior for alpacas. You might see your herd sprawled out on their side sleeping, rolling around on their back in dirt mounds, or lying down with their legs tucked under them. None of these behaviors are cause for alarm.

Overall, alpacas are stoic animals. They will hide any symptoms or pain they are experiencing. You must carefully monitor your herd’s normal behavior and watch for unusual activity. If a social animal begins hiding from the rest of the herd or a glutton stops eating grain, you should pay special attention to them. As you learn more about your animals, you will be able to distinguish normal behaviors from potential symptoms. The more time you spend with your new friends, the better you’ll be able to ensure their long-term health.

by Christina Schneider, MPH

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Fit Or Thin: What’s The Difference?

Should we concentrate on ensuring that our bodies are in tip top physical condition or aim to be as thin and shapely as possible? Is physical fitness more important than body weight? The latest research confirms that robust physical health matters more than being super skinny and that some very thin women may still be at risk for significant health problems.

According to a report in the British Medical Journal, doing battle with excess kilos doesn’t guarantee better health. For most people it is natural to have a few curves; this does not mean we are “fat” or unhealthy. It’s the amount of physical exercise that we do that is the key to our health, not our dress size.

The chronic physical inactivity that plagues so many people is linked to several serious “lifestyle” diseases. Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and coronary heart disease are all linked to unhealthy choices in food and activity level. The heart is a muscular organ and needs to be exercised to stay strong just like all our other muscles. You can be very thin and follow a good diet, but if the heart isn’t trained, your health is in jeopardy.

If you are overweight and fit, you may outlive a thin or normal-weight person who has a low level of cardiovascular fitness. So our body weight has less to do with longevity and health than the diet gurus would have us believe.

How Fit is Fit?

Physical fitness can be measured using accelerometers and these reveal that most people don’t exercise nearly enough to stay healthy. If you’re 25-45 years old you should be able to run or cycle non-stop for 20 minutes and walk quickly up six flights of stairs without pause. Anything less and you’re considered unfit, or so says Gavin Sandercock of the University of Essex. BMI (Body Mass Index) and body weight don’t really matter; fitness is the key to health.

This doesn’t mean that being overweight is healthy, just that being slightly overweight and fit can still be considered physically fit and healthy. Very slim people can hide layers of internal fat and high cholesterol. Normal weight is ideal, but even more important is paying attention to training our heart and lungs to optimal fitness levels. Of course, being very overweight or obese is not healthy and should never be encouraged.

Stress, poor diet and obesity all lead to health conditions that take years off your life. Most indicative of poor condition is the amount of belly fat we carry. This is a risk factor independent of diet and exercise and has even been linked to an increased risk of cancer. When somebody is overweight their risk of heart disease increases by 20% but underweight people are an incredible 60% more at risk.

Measuring our waistlines may be more useful than BMI calculations. Women’s waists should measure 32 inches, men’s less than 37 inches. Concentrate on these rather than BMI measurements when determining which fitness program is best for you.

Make lifestyle changes such as increasing physical activity (take up a sport or start running and do aerobics), eat less fatty meat and full-fat dairy produce, don’t smoke and drink moderately. This gives you the best chance of cheating the mirror and beating Father Time at his own game. Staying healthy is a choice, so forget about how much you weigh and choose a strong, healthy heart that goes the distance instead.


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