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Llama Skin Problems

When to call the vet…

Lice infestations are more common in the winter months, during which time the animals’ fleece is longer and often when animals spend more time housed or in close proximity to each other. There are both sucking and biting lice that can infect llamas, and this year, reports have been that over 90% of the llamas shorn have been infected with lice, which may have been partly due to the atrocious weather conditions over the last winter. Lice can be found all over the body, but you need to part the fleece to be able to see them. Lice are generally visible to the naked eye, particularly with heavy infestations. Depending on the type of louse, either injectable treatments or spray-on solutions are indicated. If your llama is itchy or you see visible lice, your vet will be able to diagnose the type of louse and recommend the most appropriate treatment protocol for you.

Llamas can be affected by various mites (including Sarcoptes, Psoroptes and Chorioptes species), which cause mange. While these may or may not cause itching, they cause skin inflammation, hair loss and thickening, and in some cases can cause severe skin problems including secondary infection and severe skin disease. These mites are too small to be seen with the naked eye, but depending on the mite involved, tend to cause lesions either in the armpit areas, or under the back legs between the udder and tummy, or around the feet, eyes and/or ears. Some of these mite species can also infect humans, so if your llama is infected, you will need to exercise strict hygiene when handling your animals.
If you notice any changes to your animals’ skin, call your vet. Early intervention and treatment can mean the difference between a rapid resolution and long, drawn-out and frustrating treatment protocols.
Skin scrapes can be done by your vet to look for mites, and treatments such as repeated ivermectin injections in combination with specific shampoos to soothe the skin and break down any scabs or scale may be recommended. Other topical sprays have also been used, with varying success. It may be that you need to treat all of the animals in the herd to achieve full resolution of the problem and prevent it coming back, since this condition can be highly contagious and some animals can be carriers of the mite without developing clinical signs. For animals that are severely affected with mange, long-term treatments may be necessary, often including antibiotics and fly protection, and it may be hard to get back to perfect skin health in those animals that are believed to have a hypersensitive, immune-related element to the condition.

Fly Strike:
As with sheep, camelids can be affected by the terrible condition of fly strike. This is where flies lay their eggs on the skin of an animal; these eggs then hatch into larvae (maggots), which eat the flesh. It can have disastrous consequences and is a major welfare concern for affected individuals. Flies will only do this on skin that is either severely damaged or infected, or because they have been attracted to the area, for example due to faecal staining on the fleece, possibly following diarrhoea. Camelids are more resistant to this than sheep, but it is vital that you remain aware and on guard against this, and check your animals daily over the summer months, particularly if they have diarrhoea or a skin complaint. Fly repellents for these animals is also crucial.
Ticks are more prevalent in certain geographical areas of the UK, but are present across the British Isles. Ticks jump onto grazing llamas in order to have a blood meal, before dropping off. The main concern with tick infestations is that they can carry and transmit various diseases and therefore should be carefully removed if seen on your llamas. Your vet can show you the best way to treat for and remove these parasites.
The Skin:
There is a degree of natural susceptibility to skin conditions, and certain animals have hypersensitivity-type reactions to some of these parasites or conditions, so suffer much more in a group than the others. It is hard to manage these individuals. At the other extreme, there can be apparently healthy animals with completely normal skin, but which may be carrying small numbers of parasites, notably mites, and if you bring these animals into contact with your herd (by buying new animals, using a stud male, or from contact at shows), you could inadvertently be infecting your herd. Therefore good biosecurity and quarantine is paramount at all times to minimise the chance of this, as well as helping to control a variety of other diseases.
Allergic skin disease is also possible, and if mange treatments have failed, it may be worth investigating true allergic skin disease with allergy testing (bloods tests and skin tests can be performed, however a lot of the current tests are not yet fully validated for camelid species).
Nutrition plays a vital role in the health of the skin. As well as low vitamin levels (such as vitamins A, D and E), it has been shown that insufficient zinc levels in a diet can contribute to poor skin and susceptibility to parasites. Increasing the zinc level (e.g. by feeding supplements such as Camelibra), and ensuring appropriate vitamin supplementation can help to improve the health and natural resistance of the skin. Selenium supplementation (often given with Vitamin E) can also help to improve skin function. Ensure you seek advice from your vet regarding dosing with vitamins because overdoses can be toxic.