Alpaca Nutrition News                                                                  November 2007

Prevention continued

Last month's newsletter overstated the lethality of the Snots (AURV) epidemic. Although there were some deaths, the majority of those infected survived. The illnesses have been attributed to a virus, although there may have been more than one strain involved. Animal response may have also been complicated by level of stress (which includes stage of reproduction) and age. I apologize if anyone thought the October newsletter was alarmist.

It is clear that stress plays a key role in this infection. Initially, alpacas that attended shows, starting in summer, contracted the virus. They were brought back to their home farms, where more animals became infected. Just in time for late gestation and the alternating temperatures of the Fall season, both major stressors.

The epidemic seems to have dissipated with many areas of the country now in winter mode. Although cold weather may seem stressful, it is less so than warm/cold/warm/etc. Unlike humans, alpacas cannot peel off those excess layers. The same trend will be repeated in the spring, with the potential for another epidemic unless precautions are taken.

Like the human cold, which AURV simulates, a few precautions may save calls to the vet, stress for the producer, and lost animals or productivity. Some of these include:

  • Be aware of activities and stages of reproduction that promote stress. These include birth, weaning, shearing, transportation, and showing.

  • Use a concentrated probiotic (either paste or drench) before a known stressor, or as soon afterward as possible. In the case of showing, dose the show string a couple days before the event, during, and a few days afterward. MSE drench increases the production of IgG, and MSE paste increases both IgG and IgA. The immune system is compromised when the animal is stressed.

  • Limit contact with strange animals at the show and use a spray disinfectant on the stall before bring the show animals in.

  • Once home again, quarantine the show string for about a month, preferably in another building and downwind and feed/handle them last each day. This prevents accidental exposure of other animals by clothing/skin contamination. Leave the show string in quarantine for a month to permit any illnesses to appear.

  • Control flies with use of diatomaceous earth (DE) on manure piles and in pens.

  • Other methods of prevention include footbaths that contain disinfectant and changing clothes after feeding or handling the quarantined animals.

Antibiotics are not effective against viruses and may damage the protective barrier in the gastrointestinal tract. MSE paste or drench boosts the immune system and can protect against secondary infection. If an animal gets sick, despite following the above recommendations, the illness should be less severe and the animal should recover faster.

Viruses and bacteria can adapt to new species and conditions much faster than mammals due to their very short turn-over time. This can be as short as 40 minutes, or 36 generations in one 24 hour period. Mutation is a natural result of DNA/RNA division and replication. Even if a mutation occurs once in a hundred generations, that is a mere two to three days. Plenty of time to find a way around any obstacles. Do not underestimate bacteria and viruses.

Probiotics contain live microorganisms that replicate at the same rate. They also employ some ingenious methods to beat out the competition. Using probiotics to combat bacterial and viral infection is like fighting fire with fire.

It is unlikely that the alpaca industry will remain unscathed by diseases similar to those that attack other species. Good prevention practices are not customized to any particular disease. By following the simple guidelines listed above, producers can avoid future epidemics, or reduce the effects, even while attending shows.

MSE paste and drench may be purchased at Questions or comments can be sent to Lark Burnham, Ruminant nutritionist:


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