Camel Health Management and Disease Prevention

Surra of Camels (Trypanosomiasis)

A well kept and well fed camel will rarely suffer health problems which the owner is unable to deal with. Surra (trypanosomiasis) is one of the diseases of camels for which you may need veterinary assistance. You may need advice from the veterinary officer about treatment of the disease and he may need to take blood samples from the animal in order to check for the disease.

Surra is a very common disease of camels and it has many different names in the areas of the world where it occurs. The disease is caused by very small parasites, called trypanosomes, which live in the blood of the animal.

The disease is spread by flies, e.g. horse flies, which bite the camel and carry the parasites from one animal to another. These flies cannot live where it is cold or dry and are found near water or around areas of dung. Camels should be kept away from such places especially when the flies are common after rain.

Signs of the Surra

All camel owners are familiar with this disease. Sick animals may develop a fever and do not eat. They are weak and the belly and legs become swollen. Pregnant animals can lose their young. If animals are not treated they can die within a few weeks of showing the first signs of infection. Other animals may stay sick for many months or even years. They are weak and the hump becomes smaller and smaller. These animals can develop skin problems and most suffer from lung diseases. They will usually stand facing the sun.

Internal Parasites of Camels

The infernal parasites of the camel are similar to those of sheep and cattle. Camels infected with infernal parasites are weak, have poor appetite, may have diarrhoea and do not put on weight. Young animals will suffer the most from any parasite.

Camels can be infected with different roundworms in the gut. These feed off the animal. Camels can also be infected with worms in the lungs and flukes which infect the liver.

When camels are slaughtered (killed) large cysts, fluid filled bags, may be found in the liver, lungs and other organs. These cysts contain many young tapeworms which will infect meat-eating animals.

Problems caused by Internal Parasites

The parasites in the gut cause weight loss, weakness and may cause diarrhoea and death especially in the young animal. Lungworms will cause breathing problems and infected animals develop a short, sharp cough.

The tapeworm cysts which are found in the camel will develop into adult worms if eaten by dogs, foxes or wolves.

The cysts cause damage to the body organs of the camel. Cysts in the brain will result in the animal being unable to walk or eat properly. Infected animals walk in circles; they may also become blind. However the main problem is that humans can be infected as well as the camel.

Skin Diseases of Camels

Infections of the skin caused by parasites are a big problem in camels. Camels can be infected by ticks and mites, and suffer from fly maggots feeding on wounds and in the nose. If it is not treated mange (mite infection) can lead to the death of a camel. Mange is very infectious and is second to surra in causing problems and losses in camels. Mange also results in the loss of valuable wool from llamas and alpacas.

Skin Infections of Camels

Camels suffer from infections with mites and ticks, and the maggots of flies which feed on open wounds or live in the nose.

Mites cause mange and infections often start on the neck, head or underbelly of the animal but will rapidly spread to cover the entire body if not treated.

Camels can be attacked by many different ticks. Ticks will usually be found attached to the legs, head and the underbelly.

If wounds are left untreated they will become infected with the maggots of different flies which feed on the blood and meat. The camel is also infected by maggots of the camel nasal fly. The fly lays its eggs around the nose of the camel and the maggots, which grow to about 1 centimetre long, hatch and feed on the inside of the animal’s nose.

Ringworm infections cause roundish, white spots on the head, neck and other parts of the body.

Mange in the Camel

Mange in camels, like surra, is a very important disease and is very infectious. Camels are infected by contact with infected animals, from mites on saddles and other equipment, and by rolling in dust where infected animals have been. Humans can also become infected.

The mange mite burrows into the skin and causes loss of hair and the skin becomes thick and white. Infection often starts on the head or neck, but if not quickly treated it will spread over the entire body in 2 to 3 weeks. Infected animals scratch against any solid object and do not eat well. Weight loss occurs, milk production drops and animals can die. The infection is more common in colder months and when feed is scarce.

Problems caused by Fly Maggots

Fly maggots can prevent healing of wounds and other germs may infect the wound. The maggots of the camel nasal fly are usually seen in the spring and summer. There is a discharge from the nose and the animal may sneeze. Camels are not usually seriously affected by the maggots but the activity of the adult flies

The camel’s foot is adapted for sandy soils and can be described as a tyre filled with fat instead of air.

In these days the camel walks on tarred, hard surfaced roads and ground which is littered with sharp objects such as nails, wire and broken glass. These may cause damage to the foot and result in lameness.

Viral Diseases

Camel pox is the main viral disease. There are regular outbreaks among the young camels. It is mainly a benign ailment seen mostly on the lips, head and other soft parts of the skin.

Foot-and-mouth disease is sporadically found, but on the whole the animals are unaffected. Even in wide-spread cases of the disease among cattle, no antibodies were found in the camels. A virulent outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease, which greatly affected sheep, goats and cattle did not affect the camels, although they were in close contact (Evans and Powys, 1979).

Bacterial Diseases

Anthrax which causes a swelling of the superficial lymph glands and almonellosis are two acute bacterial infections found in camels. Camels with severe symptoms of anthrax have been killed for food without causing an outbreak of the disease.

Brucellosis is not a well-identified clinical entity. Abortions are frequent but have not been found to be caused by brucellosis. Although tests have not been conclusive, brucellosis appears to be a bigger problem than previously considered. More intensive husbandry will increase incidence of this disease if no proper preventive measures are taken.

Corynebacteriosis is widespread. On slaughter, lung abcesses caused by Corynebacterium are often found. Pericarditis and pleurisy are complications which are often observed.

Pulmonary-affection-complex or, as it is known, dromedary respiratory disease complex can be caused by rickettsia, virus and pasteurella infections.

Rickettsiosis: could be an important zoonotic disease. This was determined serologically because, as yet, it has not been demonstrated clinically.

Parasitic diseases are dominant in camels, both internally and externally. Trypanosomiasis can cause deaths, but is manifested as a chronic, periodically febrile disease. It leads to abortions, premature births, and inability to feed the young. Reproduction is thus greatly reduced. The causative organism is Trypanosoma evansil.

Helminthiasis hydatidosis is endemic in certain areas of the world. Large cysts are found in lungs, liver and spleen. It is a zoonotic problem of proportions far greater than has been documented and further research is needed. Prevention and treatment are simple.

Myiasis is a seasonal problem, as are camel bots, which are found in the nasopharynx.

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Foot Problems in Camels