Caring for Elderly Alpacas

Many alpaca producers who have been in the business for several years may have accrued some older, non-reproductively active animals. Whether they are kept around for emotional reasons or for their quality fiber, producers need to be aware that geriatric alpacas , like older humans, have an increased vulnerability to stress-induced infection.

Human medicine attributes this vulnerability, known as immune senescence,  to changes in the traditional immune system (immunoglobulins). However, because stress is involved, we need to look at the gut microflora, which are the front lines of the immune system. Nutritional factors can cause these beneficial microorganisms to be weaker than normal, thus allowing potentially fatal infections to get to major organs.

Many of the infections that kill older animals can be shaken off by healthy animals of younger age.

Nutritional factors to be aware of are:

  • Condition of the teeth – can the animal effectively grind the roughage, which should dominate the diet at this age?
  • Accessibility to feed – are the older animals penned with younger, more aggressive alpacas? These latter animals may prevent adequate feed intake and cause stress.
  • Proper nutrition for a nonproductive animal – nonreproductively active alpacas have different energy, protein, and vitamin and mineral needs. Make sure oldsters have access to good grass hay and a vitamin/mineral mix. A;so, control parasites, which can rob them of valuable nutrients.
  • Causes of stress – while this is always a good idea in all alpacas, it should be a priority in maintaining geriatric animals. Stress can come from abrupt changes in weather, extremes of temperature, inadequate shelter, access to food, the loss of a pen mate or care giver (this is especially true when older animals are sold as pets, Well-meaning new owners can accidentally kill their geriatric pet.), even routine handling for shearing and toe trimming.

Prevention is the key

As with alpacas of all ages that experience stress, the regular use of a daily probiotic such as MSE granulated, and drench or paste after stressful events can maintain your elderly animals as long as biologically possible. Because stress is a major culprit, and probiotics help strengthen and repair the gut microflora, probiotics like MSE can help avoid immune senescence. This disorder is not inevitable and there s indications that it can be reversed.