Like all ruminants alpaca are susceptible to a number of internal parasites. These are similar to the internal parasites found in sheep and cattle including round worms, whip worms, tapeworms and liver fluke. This means alpacas who share grazing with cattle and sheep are susceptible to picking up infection from their faeces too. One worm that can be potentially life threatening to alpacas is called Barber’s pole of Hameonchus. Barber’s pole is a worm that attaches to the lining of the gastrointestinal tract and feeds on blood. It can cause anaemia (low red blood cell count), ill thrift and potentially death when the worm burden is high.

When are alpacas at risk of Barber’s Pole?

Usually in prolonged warm, moist conditions – similar to the climate we have been having over the last few weeks!

 How do you know if you’re alpacas have a high parasite burden?

Clinical signs include weightloss, inappetance, dull coat, diarrhoea and poor growth in young animals. A faecal egg count is a test that can be done to assess the internal parasite burden. It involves testing fresh faeces for the presence of parasite eggs. Routine faecal egg counts can provide a good guide as to how often to drench them and what anthelmintic drench would be best.

When to drench?

Most alpacas need to be wormed at least twice per year on a lifestyle block with a low parasite burden and a few alpacas. More regular worming is required if there is a large number of alpacas, sheep and cattle on the property.  The most critical time to drench crias is within 3 weeks of weaning, this is when crias are most susceptible to developing a large parasite burden.

What to drench with?

In New Zealand there is currently no worming anthelmintic drugs licensed for use in alpacas. Therefore it is common to use cattle and sheep drenches off label to control internal parasites in alpacas, these have been used in alpacas safely for many years. There are oral drenches that can be squirted into the alpacas mouth using a drench gun. There are also injectable drenches which can be injected underneath the skin. Pour on drenches used for cattle are not ideal in alpacas due to the poor absorption through the fleece.

Management tips to lower the risk of a parasite problem:

  • Lower stocking rate, less animals in the same area means lower rates of reinfestation.
  • Make sure all new stock have been wormed before entering the property or use a quaritine paddock when they arrive.
  • Rotational grazing of pastures.
  • Use faecal egg counts in July/ August and December in young stock.

Anna MacKenzie BVSc