A healthy alpaca will be “bright eyed and bushy tailed” and observation is the key to keeping them that way. Make sure you take the time to get to know the normal behaviour of your alpaca and this will make it easier to spot when things are wrong.
If you notice a normally active alpaca behaving in a lethargic manner it should cause you to look more closely at that animal, as should seeing one that is normally at the front of the queue suddenly trailing at the rear, or a sudden change in social status. Taking the time to walk through your alpaca daily will often allow you to deal with any health issues before they get out of hand.
Alpaca are susceptible to internal parasites similar to sheep and goats. They can also be infected by some specific worm species. One to watch out for is Haemonchus (Barbers Pole) which causes anemia. Anemia occurs when there aren’t enough healthy red blood cells to carry oxygen around the body and to the organs.
To take the temperature of an alpaca you will need a reliable thermometer. The thermometer should be inserted in the lubricated rectum at least 4cm and held in place for about 2 minutes.
The normal temperature of an alpaca can range from 37 in the morning to 39 degrees celsius late afternoon. It would be abnormal to find an alpaca at 39 degrees in the morning if the weather is not overly warm. However also be aware that during hot weather, being in a vehicle or building that is warm, can raise their temperature to 39.5-40 degrees. This will drop when cooling down at night or being placed in cooler surroundings. If an alpaca doesn’t show any discomfort (except for breathing faster), shows normal behaviour and has this high temperature under the above circumstances, there is no reason to believe the alpaca is sick with a fever.
If you don’t have a thermometer, alternative methods to gauge the body temperature are to:
Body scoring is one of the easiest and most effective ways to assess the condition of an alpaca, especially when in full fleece, and/or heavily pregnant. It is essential for owners, even those with a few pet wethers, to have a catch pen or yards to carry out a body score. Putting your hands on your alpaca every month, or more often, can help detect the onset or existence of a health problem.
The Paddock Card on Body Scoring was developed using the publication of the Body Condition Scoring (BSC) information sheet, produced by the Australian Alpaca Association. Keeping a record is essential if you wish to compare an animal’s condition at different stages throughout its life.
Alpaca that are found to have a body score of less than 3 should have a veterinary check. A gradual drop in body condition without a positive faecal egg count (showing the presence of internal parasites) and when there is plenty of feed, is a cause for concern.
Alpacas with a score over 4 need a watchful eye as well. Fat female alpacas can have problems getting pregnant. If already pregnant, a fat alpaca can have problems giving birth. In general, it is unhealthy for alpaca to be fat as it can lead to liver disease and heart problems. A diet of low protein pasture, no supplements (gradually wean off if you do supplement) and more exercise could be helpful.