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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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