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Worms in camelids

Worms: More of a Problem Than You Might Think….
Claire E Whitehead BVM&S MS FHEA MRCVS,
Diplomate ACVIM (Large Animal), Camelid Veterinary Services
I have been involved in working with South American camelids for some 24 years now, firstly as the interested daughter of a mother who was new to keeping alpacas, and over the last 11 years, during my work as a referral level vet, where I have worked almost exclusively with alpacas and llamas by choice.
Over the last 10 years or so, people have become excited about the various infectious diseases that have often been massively publicised, such as BVD, Bluetongue virus, Schmallenberg virus and TB. These scares come and go, or prove not to be as massive a problem as at first feared, or affect relatively small numbers of camelids in total. Additionally, large sums of money may be thrown at research and potential prevention strategies. However, the one consistent and ever-present threat to camelid health has always been, and continues to be, gastrointestinal parasitism or worms. Coccidia are another type of gastrointestinal parasite that require separate consideration. Parasitism, happily, is entirely preventable with the correct management, and deaths are entirely avoidable. Unfortunately, the severity of parasitism is the one thing that owners new to camelids, as well as some experienced owners, consistently underappreciate – until their prized animals start dying… If new owners fail to understand parasites and how to avoid problems caused by them, they will pay the price ultimately and this may be in both financial and emotional terms.
Every worming program should be tailored to the individual farm because no one policy is going to be appropriate for every situation. Many new owners fall into the trap of taking someone else’s worming strategy and just using it as their own, which is not necessarily going to be appropriate. A worming strategy can be used as a guide, and that is how the breeders would probably want it viewed (as long as monitoring is included), but blindly following parasite control programs based on another farm’s protocol without proper monitoring, may lull the owner into a false sense of security. You may find yourself using a drug to which the parasites are resistant (- you wouldn’t know because you’re not dosing animals with known burdens and retesting to check efficacy), using a drug that is not effective against the particular parasite you have in your animals, or even worming when you don’t need to because you don’t have a problem on the farm! It should be remembered that the costs associated with treating moribund animals or the death of a prized camelid are far higher than the costs of a good monitoring program. This includes faecal testing! Faecal testing should not be the area in which you try to save money.
A parasite control strategy should be based on a number of factors:
    A great time to start faecal screening is in the autumn, so right now! This allows you to see which parasites may be present in your camelids as winter approaches and also, if problems are present, to treat them well before you later start seeing adverse clinical effects such as pregnancy losses due to inadequate nutrition (because the parasites are getting all the good stuff instead!). It also makes sure that your females are well set up for the busy breeding season the next year - giving birth, feeding their growing crias, and being rebred - and can give you confidence that you’re properly on top of things. Plan on testing a minimum of 10% of your herd, or 10 animals, whichever is the larger number. Try to pick those that you are worried about (e.g. skinny ones) or those that are most likely to have the highest burdens, such as youngsters between 4 and 24 months. The greater the proportion of animals that you test, the greater your chance of detecting problem ones: sometimes those that you least expect may be carrying burdens and shedding parasites over the pasture, ready to infect more susceptible stock. Some camelids appear to be particularly predisposed to parasite problems and it is a good idea to try and find out whether there are any in your own herd. There is some evidence to suggest that susceptibility to parasites may be genetically determined so test as many as you feel that you can afford to have tested while remaining above the minimum suggested.
    If you need help developing a parasite control strategy, chat to your regular vet first. Where vets do not have particular camelid experience and additional help is required, I am very happy to assist in developing parasite control strategies appropriate to your own farm. I also offer the Modified Stolls faecal testing (please refer to my website at Keepers of camelids should consider attending courses that address key husbandry skills and the issues around developing your own herd-specific parasite control strategies, in particular.
    Emaciated youngsterFaecals tubesHeavy strongyle burdenMe Jan2012

    Many thanks to Claire Whitehead for this article.