Llamas and Alpacas

Kelsey Gerwig, a Winterset High School graduate who is now in her sophomore year at the College of Veterinary Medicine is our guest blogger this month. Dr. Lonna truly appreciates Kelsey’s contribution since her knowledge far exceeds Dr. Lonna’s. We intend to feature different species during the 2021 year. There may be other guest bloggers during this year. Enjoy Kelsey’s blog and photos. Dr. Lonna sure did. 

One of the first questions we always get about our llamas is, “Do they spit?” Llamas and alpacas can both spit and use it much like how horses bite and kick, cattle and goats head butt, and dogs and cats growl and hiss at each other. They use it to establish a pecking order in the herd, to keep others away from their food, as a defense mechanism, and to keep annoying males away. Occasionally people get stuck in the crossfire especially during feeding time. In rare cases, they will spit at people, but it is because you are doing something they don’t enjoy or they weren’t properly handled when young. The next question we usually get is, “Are these llamas or alpacas?” The easiest way to tell the difference is to look at their ears.  Llamas have long, curved, banana shaped ears whereas alpacas have short, straight, pointed ears. Llamas are also double the size at 250-450 pounds versus alpacas 120-200 pounds.

Llamas and alpacas are members of the camelid family and originated in the Andes Mountains of South America in Peru, Chile, Argentina, and Bolivia. They were domesticated from their wild counterparts the guanaco and vicuna 4000 to 5000 years ago to be used as a beast of burden and for the fiber and meat. Today llamas and alpacas have a variety of uses.  Both can be used for their fiber which is softer, warmer, and finer than sheep’s wool. It is hypoallergenic so not as itchy as sheep’s wool. Llamas can produce 3-4 pounds and alpacas 6-8 pounds of fiber a year which can be spun into yarn and used to make socks, scarfs, gloves, sweaters, blankets, and rugs. They can be shown at the local fair and at regional and national shows throughout the United States. Classes include conformation which judges what the animal looks like. The conformation classes are divided into 5 fiber types for llamas and 16 fiber colors for alpacas. Fleece classes judge the animal’s fiber. Showmanship classes judge how you show the animal. Performance classes are divided into 3 classes, obstacle, public relations, and pack. Each of these classes has 10 obstacles which can include jumps, bridges, gates, water, backing, tunnels, petting, and many more. Some shows also have cart driving classes where the llama pulls a cart around and through obstacles. Well trained llamas and alpacas can be used as therapy animals and can be taken into hospitals and nursing homes to bring the patients and residents unlimited joy. Llamas can also be used as a guard animal for sheep, goats, and poultry. They will bond to their flock and protect them by alerting them to danger. They will protect from coyotes by either chasing them off or by stomping and biting them until dead. Lastly, llamas can be used as pack animals to carry hiking, camping, or hunting gear in and out of the wilderness. Llamas are very sure footed and have a low impact on the environment because of the soft pad on the bottom of their feet. Llamas can carry a third of their body weight which is about 80-100 pounds of packed items.

Llama and alpacas are relatively easy to care for and quite hardy. Llamas can live 20-25 years and alpacas live 15-20 years. They are a herd animal and do best when they are together as either a pair or more. They need a few pounds of good quality grass hay or fresh pasture, some grain, free choice minerals, and fresh water daily. Llamas and alpacas need a basic shelter to get them out of the rain, wind, snow, and hot sun. One great characteristic of llamas and alpacas is that they use a communal dung pile which allows for easy cleanup of the barn and pasture. Routine health care includes trimming their toes about 3-4 times per year, deworming them either monthly or seasonally depending on the expected parasite load, and giving them an annual CD/T vaccine or 7-way or 8-way vaccine. One of the biggest parasite concerns for llamas and alpacas is Meningeal worm or Parelaphostrongylus tenuis which can be readily found in the white tail deer population and rarely causes signs or clinical disease in deer but in llamas and alpacas it travels through the spinal cord causes stiffness, muscle weakness, circling, paralysis and eventual death. Treatment of this can be effective if it is started early in the course of the disease. It includes multiple dewormers, anti-inflammatories, vitamins and minerals, supportive care and physical therapy. Llamas and alpacas also need to be sheared yearly to harvest their fiber and keep them cool in the hot summer months to prevent heat stress. Signs of heat stress include staggering, reluctance to move, open mouth breathing, and high body temperature (Normal is 99.5 – 101.5°F). Shearing the middle or barrel of the animals is a great way to help prevent heat stress because it allows ventilation to their belly and armpits. On very hot days, fans, wading pools, and cool water sprayed on their legs and belly can also help to keep them cool and comfortable. Llamas and alpacas do love to sun bath and will lay out on their side just soaking up the sun. They look like they are dead. We have had people stop by thinking they were dead. Gestation is 11 ½ months for llamas. They will have a single baby called a cria. Llamas are induced ovulators, much like cats and rabbits, which means they will ovulate only after being bred. Llama crias are born weighing 20-30 pounds and alpaca crias weigh 14-18 pounds, and it takes about 3 years for them to reach full size. Males crias should be weaned and separated from females at 5-6 months of age to prevent unplanned babies. Most breeders geld males around 18 months. Between 2 and 3 years of age males will have their fighting teeth emerge. These are 6 sharp pointed canine like teeth. They use them to bite at other males and cause serious injuries. These should be trimmed.

Overall, llamas and alpacas are easy to take care of on a daily basis. They are a very versatile animal and bring great joy to both their owners and others who get to interact with them.

https://www.alpacainfo.com/academy/about-alpacas

http://www.shagbarkridge.com/about.html

https://secure.lamaregistry.com/

National Mutt Day

Is this really a thing? December 2, 2020 is on the calendar as National Mutt Day. Last month I commented on how there is a day to celebrate just about everything for pets. This month includes National Cat lovers Month, National Horse Day on Dec 13th and National Cat Herder’s Day on Dec 15th. Yes, a day to honor Cat Herders. I will let you google that one yourself.

The strange thing about National Mutt Day is that years ago all we had were mutts. Our dog population was a mix of this and that and that and this. Most dogs were living outdoors and were fed whatever food was leftover. It seemed the only dog and cat food available was Purina dog chow and cat chow. A pet was really loved if they got store bought food. The pets were lucky to be allowed into the house on the cold winter nights. Still many preferred to remain outdoors with the livestock or in their insulated dog houses sleeping with the farm cats.

My dad always questioned how I could make a living treating dogs and cats. At the time I decided to be a veterinarian, the “real” vets treated livestock and pets were a sideline business as a service to the farmers. Today the tables have reversed. Pets have moved from the backyard to the bedroom. Pets have become family not livestock. Pets have replaced lost family members and grown children. The annual amount spent on pets in 2019 was over 95 billion dollars. That is 23 billion more than in 2018. What do you suppose 2020 will look like? We saw more new pets this year than in any of the previous 12 years. People spent more time with their pets so therefore they were more likely to do more veterinary care and grooming than previous years. People had time to train and work with their new pets to make them good canine citizens. I became a grandma to a golden retriever named Ciggy and a mini golden doodle named Stella. They have brought joy to us all with their cuteness and energy. Many photos and videos have been exchanged to share their daily lives with our family. Years ago this was not a thing. This is a very different world in 2020.

I looked up the word “Mutt”. A mutt is a dog that does not belong to one officially recognized breed and is not the result of intentional breeding. Most people prefer the name mixed breed dog over mutt or mongrel. In the past few years the mixed breed dog has gained status. I use the example of the “hybrid” pet. These are pets that have been intentionally bred together like the golden doodle, pomsky, or the morkie to improve the genetic pool but still produce an adorable offspring. The interesting fact is these mixed breed dogs appear to be costing more than the purebred dogs in some circles. I know people want to consider them a breed of dog but they are not. They are a mix. They could be classified as a mutt. Many people would be extremely annoyed if you called their hybrid pet a mutt. Will these dogs ever become a recognized breed? I would doubt that since they will always be a mix of dogs. Regardless of their status, they are loved and adored by their families and continue to bring hours of joy and love into their homes.

As we enter the final month of 2020, please remember to honor your pets on Dec 2nd, especially if they are a “Mutt”! This is their day to be spoiled! Wait a minute….aren’t they spoiled every day? Have a very joyous holiday season. I will be back in 2021 with more thoughts on pets and how they make our days brighter and our lives more joyful.

November is National Senior and Diabetes Month

Have you ever checked out the pet holidays? There appears to be a holiday for just about everything. The calendar I have been using this year to choose topics for my blog was highlighting Pet Diabetes Month for November. When I started researching the topic, I also discovered this was National Senior Month. Diabetes and Seniors go hand in hand so am going to focus on both for the November blog.

Senior overweight cats and dogs are all at risk for diabetes. This condition is becoming more common as our furry friends become more obese. A sad statistic is 59% of cats and 54% of dogs are overweight or obese. An alarming statistic for American citizens is that in 2013,34 overweight and obese humans age 20 and above was at 57.6%. They projected that by this year close to ¾ of the population would be classified as overweight or obese. The 2020 pandemic may have pushed that percentage even higher.

Excess weight in animals has the same negative effects as we see in humans. Diabetes tops the list for senior overweight dogs and cats. Some of the basic symptoms we can see are increase water drinking, increase need to eliminate large quantities of urine, weight loss with a normal appetite, vomiting may or may not be present. Owners bring their pets in for having accidents of urine in the house. They have always been well house-trained and now owners are coming home to urine in the house. Usually it is large amounts of urine. Often the urine does not have much odor or color since it is diluted from the large amount of water they are drinking. People always tell me they are good water drinkers. To them that is a good sign not a bad sign. I want you to know that this is not normal and can be a symptom of diabetes but also other health concerns for senior pets. Many veterinary offices offer Senior Wellness exams with labs that can monitor changes to the different body organ systems. Contact them today if you are noticing any of these changes and discuss your concerns. An ounce of prevention is worth additional days or years with your furry friend.

Whenever your pet is weighed it is important to monitor that weight from year to year. If their weight is dropping and you have not changed anything at home, this can be a big concern for a senior dog or cat. Many different health conditions cause gradual weight loss. Often pet owners are not aware of the weight loss since they live with them every day. If you get them weighed at your veterinarian’s office or weigh them at home, you can be more aware of minor changes. If a family member returns and says, “Boy, has Fluffy lost weight!”, do not ignore those statements. This could be your first sign that something is not right. Our pets are instinctively not going to show illness. This is also why many animals go off and hide when they are not feeling well. They instinctively know they can be targeted when showing weakness.

When a pet has been diagnosed with diabetes the real work begins. Your pet will need to start eating meals in a twice a day manner so that insulin can be administered with each of those meals. Often a special diet is encouraged to help reduce the amount of insulin required twice per day. It is important to see if weight loss can be accomplished if your pet is still overweight. There are routine rechecks to monitor the glucose levels. There are people that test their pet’s urine and or blood at home to help determine the precise amount of insulin needed. Diabetes can be labor intensive since families must adjust their schedules in order to treat their pets.

How can we avoid overweight and obese pets? This must start at a young age. People food and treats contribute to obesity. Allowing pets to free feed contributes to obesity. Offering more food daily then what is needed contributes to obesity. Not having proper exercise contributes to obesity. Sounds familiar to what our health professions are saying today.

 Many pet food companies have daily recommendations listed on the bag of food. Those volumes may be more than what your pet needs, especially if your pet is laying around home all day waiting for your return. We love to reward our pets with treats.  Whether those are pet treats or people food, it is important to monitor them. With multiple people in the house it is a good idea to have a daily treat jar. Place in that jar the number of treats the pet gets each day and when the treats are gone no more are given until the next day. That reduces the opportunity of the pet to trick multiple owners into thinking they have not had a treat all day. Believe me they are smarter than we think. They are extremely good at working the system for treats. Pay attention to the number of Kcals per treat or per cup of food. It is amazing how many kcal’s one little dog treat can have.

If you have determined your furry friend needs to drop some pounds, the best way is to reduce the food intake.  We are always made to feel exercise will allow weight loss. Two years ago, I was told by doctors that only by changing eating habits can weight loss be accomplished. This holds true for our furry friends also. Finding the kcal/cup is a good place to start with your current food. Measuring the amount of food your pet eats in a day is critical. Once you have that information it is possible to gradually reduce the amount of food offered each day over time. Looking for a diet that has less Kcal/cup can also assist in the weight loss area. Stopping all people food is a must! Reducing treats or change the type of treats can also be helpful. Veterinarians have special weight loss diets that are effective. The weight loss should be gradual. If weight starts just falling off your pet, that can be a sign that something is not right.

How do you know if your pet is overweight or obese? The following photo shows a basic body condition scoring for cats. I encourage people to look for a waistline behind the rib cage. If an indentation is not present your pet is heavier than it should be. Owners should be able to feel the ripple of the ribs under their fingertips without having to push deeper. Physically you do not want to see the rib outline, but one should be able to feel it easily. If your cat is often messy under its tail or cannot groom over their low back this could be indications of weight issues.

It is never too late to start a weight loss program for your furry friend. Find ways to show them love besides offering food. Take them to the dog parks. Go for longer walks. Teach them tricks and use praise as the reward. We must be creative in ways to alter behaviors that we have fallen into. There are ways to teach old dog’s new tricks.  Let us begin the coming year with behaviors that will improve the lives of our furry friends as they most definitely make our lives worth living.

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