During shearing, I often come across both common and bizarre health issues in animals. Some of them are so common and the treatments so widely discussed, that I want to share resources here to help owners struggling with some fairly common ailments.
Skin problems in alpacas
By far the most common issue I see in alpacas is loss of hair and “elephant skin”. Without doing a skin scraping, you cannot know for sure what might be going on; however, the most common ailment seems to be chorioptic mites. This excellent article by Dr. Ed McCaslin, DVM details an extensive study done on this. The recommended treatment is Frontline Spray, applied for three treatments, three weeks apart. It’s especially important to spray between the toes, even on the alpacas in your herd who do not show symptoms.
A second possibility may be a fungal infection. I have known owners to treat with MTG (Mane and Tail), Nustock, or even home-made remedies containing tea tree oil. I can’t attest to the effectiveness of these.
When the skin condition is severe (skin may looked like old, cracked leather and involve a great deal of hair loss), you may need to give antibiotics. Please consult your veterinarian in all cases.
Lice are ubiquitous in Angora goats, but can also afflict other goats as well as sheep. Check for lice by parting the hair in various parts of the body – the lice usually appear as tiny brown specks…. that are moving! (To date I have never seen lice on alpacas, which does not mean they cannot get them). There are biting and sucking lice, and seeing both will make you feel itchy (but they do not transfer to humans, as much as you might feel creepy). I’ve tried numerous solutions, and have found that the ivomec pour-on (the blue stuff) seems to be the most effective in eradicating them; however, you can also try ivomec injectable as well as python dust (please wear gloves!).
Articles on Lice:
Subcutaneous cysts are very common in fiber animals, especially older ones. Alpacas get ‘follicular cysts‘ – often they will get lightly nicked during shearing and you’ll see black stuff coming out. They’re a little like big blackheads. They are completely benign and nothing to worry about. Occasionally, however, you’ll see much larger cysts (some the size of golfballs or more). These may also be benign, but it’s best to leave those to the vet because expressing them can leave large openings that would be prone to infection or bugs. Sheep also sometimes get raised bumps on their shoulders – I’ve found them to be especially common in older Border Leicester and Lincolns. Again, these are nearly always benign and nothing to worry about.
You do need to be concerned, however, if you see a lump around the lymph node areas combined with a general lack of thriftiness in your sheep or goat (much more rare in camelids). CL or Caseous Lymphadenitis is a nasty and highly contagious disease that sometimes will present with tumors that have a sort of cheesy discharge. You can only determine if this is CL through testing by your veterinarian.
Nothing in this article is meant to represent any form of veterinary advice. You should always consult your veterinarian for issues concerning your specific animals.