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    Advanced Topics In Cria Health: Diarrhea

    A small cria (baby alpaca) stands in the middle of a bright green field and prepares to defecate.

    If you care for crias, a foundational understanding of their needs is paramount. If you haven’t already, we recommend reading our general cria care resource first. You can find the resource here. If you have already read the resource or are experienced and looking for information on this particular topic, great! Like the young of other resident species, crias have health issues they are more prone to than other species or their adult counterparts. While diarrhea is uncommon in adult llamas and alpacas, it can be a severe health issue for cria residents. This resource will cover potential causes, preventative measures, and what to do if a cria resident exhibits this symptom. Let’s get started.

    What Is Normal?

    Everyone Is An Individual!
    You should always keep in mind that what is considered “normal” for one resident may not be normal for another. While this resource provides a general overview of general signs of health or common poop among llamas and alpacas, every resident is an individual, and you will need to get to know what is normal to the individual in order to provide the best care.

    Before discussing the specifics of diarrhea in crias, it is important to be familiar with what is “normal” for the average, healthy adult. Depending on age and other factors, there may be some variation in crias. Generally, “normal” stools should be small brown fecal pellets, sometimes called “beans.” Ideally, they will be individual, moist pellets, though some sticking together can be normal so long as it isn’t tightly clumped together and difficult to break apart. This is what you’re likely to see in healthy individuals. Easy to muck without the yuck! However, you are also likely to come across fecal matter that doesn’t look like this. Maybe the color is different, or the consistency. Maybe it’s even….watery.

    As you may know, diarrhea is loose, possibly watery stools. It is also generally defined as a more-frequent bowel movement. How diarrhea presents in crias (and humans) will depend on the cause. While there are a number of causes, infectious types are the most common, including viral, bacterial, and parasitic infections. Diarrhea can also be seen in bottle-fed crias (only do this as a last resort) who are being overfed and in crias who have been treated with antibiotics. Newborns, particularly those who did not receive adequate colostrum, are especially vulnerable to infections. It is important to identify the cause to treat the issue properly. Causes of diarrhea in crias include coronavirus, cryptosporidium, giardia, BVD, rotavirus, and coccidiosis. If a resident has diarrhea, it is vital to call your veterinarian and determine the cause to start the correct treatment. Depending on the cause, the cria may require electrolyte replacement, other supportive care, and medication to treat the underlying cause. 

    Meconium Poop: It’s Normal!
    Meconium is a cria’s (and other mammalian babies) first poop. It consists of cells and secretions created or shed in the intestinal tract. Crias should pass their meconium within 24 hours of birth. A healthy, active newborn may pass meconium as early as 6 hours after birth. The consistency will vary between cria, with stringy, pasty, tarry, or tan/orange poop being normal. Call your veterinarian if a cria is observed straining and no meconium is forthcoming or they are squatting a lot or wagging their tail. It may be a meconium impaction, often treated with an enema solution. (Do not do this yourself unless directed by a veterinarian.)

    Observations To Make

    • What is the consistency (paste-like, unformed, watery)?
    • What color is it (yellowish, brown, blackish, red, green)?
    • Is there mucous?
    • Is there blood?
    • Are they straining?
    • Is it frequent?
    • Is it explosive?
    • Is there a foul odor?
    • Are there other signs of illness?
    • Are there signs of dried feces or stains on their tails or perineal area?
    • Have they had a recent change in diet?
    • How old are they?
    • Do they have a fever?
    • What is their heart rate/respiratory rate?
    • Are they eating normally?
    • Are they behaving differently? (e.g. sluggish, standing alone, depressed, or anything that is unusual for that particular individual)

    Knowing the answers to these questions will help when you speak with your veterinarian. Be sure to record all your observations and put them in the resident’s file. Communicating with other members of the care staff is vital. This will allow you and other caregivers to better monitor what is going on and relate this information to the veterinarian. Remember, camelids use a communal bathroom. If you see a resident visiting the dung pile more than normal, check if they are straining and their poop’s consistency. Their poop should be in individual little pellets and fall freely. (Some clumping can be normal.)

    Normal Vital Signs
    It is important to know what is normal for crias in general and specific individuals.
    Average temperatures for adults and crias run about 100-102°F. At birth, it might be slightly higher. When a cria resident is born, it is important to take their temperature daily to ensure there are no signs of illness. Factors that affect body temperature include the temperature outside, whether they are in direct sun, and even their coat color.

    A normal heart rate is generally around 70-90 beats per minute. A normal respiratory rate is 20-30 breaths a minute. Observe them for flaring nostrils, open-mouthed breathing, and other signs of labored breathing. Listen for respiratory noises too.

    Factors That Increase Risk Of Infection

    In the following cases, a cria’s level of susceptibility can vary between individuals based on a number of factors. For example, if a cria cannot receive colostrum from their mother in the first 24 hours, it can increase susceptibility to bacterial, viral, and parasitic infections. Some of the factors that can increase the risk of infection are:

    • Overcrowded living conditions
    • Wet, damp environments
    • Unclean living spaces
    • Other illnesses
    • Temperatures (extreme cold or hot weather can harm cria health)
    • Travel off property
    • Sharing cleaning tools between resident areas
    • Lax quarantine and biosecurity measures
    • Poor nutrition
    • Stress
    • Genetics

    To reduce the risk of infection, ensure crias receive the following:

    • Proper nutrition
    • Keep living areas ventilated and clear of consistently wet and soiled conditions
    • Provide extra protection in extreme weather
    • Limit travel off sanctuary grounds
    • Follow quarantine and biosecurity measures

    Taking these steps will help prevent many causes of diarrhea.

    Potential Causes

    There are numerous possible causes of diarrhea in crias. Some causes are more concerning than others, ranging from a mild case of nutritional diarrhea to a potentially fatal case of cryptosporidiosis. To properly treat a resident, it is vital that the cause of diarrhea is identified. For this reason, it is always best to contact your veterinarian for a diagnosis. Let’s take a look at some of the possible causes below.

    Nutritional Diarrhea 

    While most causes of diarrhea in crias are infectious in nature, there are also nutritional factors to consider, such as:

    • The mother produces a lot of milk and the cria consumes a lot
    • The cria is being bottle-fed (this should be a last resort). Especially if you are using certain milk replacers (sheep milk is higher in fat and more likely to cause diarrhea) 
    • Crias have access to especially lush spring grasses

    In addition, grain overload has also been reported to cause diarrhea in crias. Luckily, nutritional diarrhea is generally easy to stop in most cases with careful attention to their diet. However, even mild diarrhea can cause dehydration and become serious if not addressed early. Speak with your veterinarian to ensure your cria residents receive the proper treatment.

    Medicine-Induced Diarrhea

    Like nutritional diarrhea, medicine-induced diarrhea isn’t usually serious. Some medications, particularly antibiotics, may cause diarrhea in crias and other animals, both young and old. If you are administering new medication to a cria resident, check the potential side effects with your veterinarian. If diarrhea is one of them, they may recommend supplements to help their digestive system recover. Never assume diarrhea isn’t a concern. Even if a cria resident is on a new medication, an overall health check is advised to ensure they receive the appropriate care.

    Bacterial Diarrhea 

    While nutritional factors or medication side effects may cause some cases of diarrhea, most cases are generally due to some type of infection. Bacterial infections are one type of infection that can cause diarrhea and other health issues. Bacterial infections can mean serious trouble for your cria residents. In severe cases, certain bacterial infections can prove fatal if not treated early or adequately. Some bacterial culprits may sound familiar, such as E. coli or salmonella. Let’s look a little closer at each of these potential bacterial culprits.

    Clostridial-Related Disease

    While there are a number of clostridial-related diseases, llamas and alpacas are only susceptible to some of them. Clostridium perfringens enterotoxaemia c. is one of them. Some may only be of concern if you live in certain regions. There are off-label vaccinations available to prevent infection. Different vaccination schedules are recommended for mothers and crias, so speak with your vet about the best schedule in each individual’s case. A cria may receive some protection if their mother had a vaccination within a specific timeframe before birth, assuming the cria nursed successfully in the hours following birth, but will also need to be vaccinated later. Prevention is important as clostridial-related diseases can cause serious, life-threatening illnesses. Some types, such as clostridial enterotoxaemia type c, cause severe diarrhea, other gastrointestinal issues, and central nervous system issues. Sadly, sometimes the only sign something is wrong is sudden death.


    While salmonella isn’t as common a cause of diarrhea in camelids as the others listed, there are reported cases. In one study, the individuals presented with severe diarrhea and dehydration. A number of individuals also had a high heart rate, high respiratory rate, and fever, which are signs of septicemia (blood poisoning). These individuals all tested positive for salmonella. However, diarrhea may not be present at all in many cases. Other signs may include depression, lack of appetite, abdominal pain, fever, and, rarely, central nervous system symptoms. Diarrhea can be pasty or watery, and is often foul-smelling. Mucous or blood may also be seen in stools.

    If a resident is diagnosed by your veterinarian with salmonella, anyone living in the same space should also be checked. First, though, the individual should be temporarily separated if the other residents don’t have it. It is also important to identify the source of infection, if at all possible. If the resident is new or has recently traveled elsewhere before showing symptoms, the source could be from outside the sanctuary. This is why biosecurity protocols are so important! Depending on their findings, your veterinarian may recommend different treatment options. If dehydration is an issue, intravenous fluids may be administered, and nutritional support may be required in addition to other aspects of treatment.

    E. Coli

    Crias can become seriously ill from E. coli infections. E. coli infections in newborns often present in combination with septicemia (blood poisoning), or as a secondary infection in cases of viral gastrointestinal infections. This can affect newborn crias in particular. Severely affected crias under a week old can present with prolonged watery stools, dehydration, a distended abdomen, and lethargy. This is a serious threat to their health, and it is vital that affected crias be treated as soon as possible. Failure to treat them early on can result in death. If diagnosed with E. coli infection, your veterinarian may administer antibiotics and provide supportive iv fluids.

    Viral Diarrhea 

    There are a number of viruses that can cause diarrhea in crias. These include rotavirus, Bovine Viral Diarrhea Virus, and coronavirus. Unfortunately, once a virus has taken hold, treatment is mostly supportive. There are some off-label vaccinations for different viruses your veterinarian may recommend. However, little data is available regarding the safety and efficacy of these vaccinations (originally intended for cows or sheep and goats) in camelids. Prevention is the best protection.

    Bovine Viral Diarrhea Virus (BVDV)

    BVDV is a contagious viral infection caused by Bovine Viral Diarrhea Virus (BVDV). While cows are the natural host for this virus, camelids and other species can be affected too. Though the name suggests gastrointestinal disease, BVDV can affect multiple body systems, resulting in respiratory, reproductive, circulatory, musculoskeletal, immune, organ, or neurological health challenges and gastrointestinal issues. Symptoms may include fever, diarrhea, mouth sores, anorexia, abortion, birth defects, and ill thrift. BVDV can cause subclinical disease or acute illness, but the most concerning characteristic of this virus is its ability to create persistently infected (PI) individuals. Crias are often PI individuals and a common cause of herd infections. They are infected as fetuses and shed the disease after birth, spreading it to others. Afflicted crias may have symptoms or appear perfectly healthy. Those who are acutely infected with BVDV may be asymptomatic, but the infection causes immunosuppression, putting them at risk of developing other infections. There is no treatment for BVDV infection, but depending on the severity and clinical signs, individuals may require supportive care and broad-spectrum antibiotics to prevent secondary bacterial infections. While there are vaccines for cows, both live and inactivated vaccines, they are not currently recommended for camelid species due to a lack of data on safety and efficacy. Ask your veterinarian for their advice.


    Coronaviruses (a large group of viruses that cause diseases in human and nonhuman animals, including covid-19) can cause respiratory infections, intestinal infections, neurological diseases, and more. Coronaviruses are a fairly common cause of diarrhea in crias. Coronavirus is easily shed in the feces of affected crias, making transmission to others an issue for sanctuaries. While monoclonal antibody vaccines are available for calves and lambs, the effectiveness and safety in crias aren’t fully known. Your veterinarian will advise you on the best course of action. They may test for other possible viral, bacterial, or parasitic infections from which the individual may be suffering in addition to coronavirus. Their findings will guide their treatment plan. However, since viruses have to run their course, treatment will be mostly supportive, involving intravenous fluids and nutritional support if necessary.


    Rotavirus is another possible viral cause of diarrhea in crias. With rotavirus, the onset of diarrhea can be severe and easily lead to dehydration. There have been some reports of the diarrhea of affected crias being dark green. All the crias were between 7 and 40 days old in these cases, and the mortality rate was over 80%. The crias that succumbed to the infection died within six days, some as soon as two days after showing symptoms. Rotavirus can potentially affect crias of all ages. As with other viral-related issues, rotavirus must run its course. However, supportive treatments are often necessary if diarrhea is severe. A veterinarian must determine the cause for an official diagnosis, as other infections can be active along with rotavirus.

    Parasitic-Related Diarrhea

    There are a number of parasites that can cause diarrhea in crias. A number of these parasites are protozoa, including giardia, coccidiosis, and cryptosporidiosis. Any of these can be a cause of diarrhea in crias, as well as a number of other clinical symptoms. Nematodes (intestinal worm parasites like roundworms) can also cause diarrhea in cria residents.


    While a number of afflicted crias may show few signs of illness, others may present with acute diarrhea. Stressed individuals are more susceptible to infestations than those who are already ill. Stress can be caused by weaning, travel, overcrowding, cold weather, or social issues in the group. This protozoan is parasitic and causes damage to the intestinal lining of affected individuals. Adults and crias can get coccidia, but younger crias are particularly susceptible. Diarrhea can range from mild to severe. A serious infestation can result in mucousy, bloody diarrhea, weight loss, dehydration, anemia, stunted growth, and even death. A camelid can contract coccidiosis by coming into contact with the feces of an infected individual, as they shed the protozoa in their feces. There are treatments for coccidiosis that your veterinarian can prescribe. It is also a good idea to perform fecal tests.

    Different situations will require different diagnostic tools, including combining fecal testing with other diagnostic tests or a veterinary examination. Your veterinarian is the person best equipped to identify the most appropriate combination of tools for each specific case. Veterinarians comprehensively look at many factors (environment, age, breed, species, physical exam, diet, blood/fecal diagnostic tests) to make recommendations and treatment plans. 


    Cryptosporidiosis is a particularly problematic parasitic protozoan. It can affect humans and many nonhuman animals.  Unlike giardia, which can be killed by bleach, cryptosporidiosis cannot be. It is also protected as oocytes when outside of the host environment and, being resistant to bleach and other cleaning solutions, is difficult to clear from an environment. There are more effective cleaning solutions. We recommend speaking with your veterinarian about which might be best for your sanctuary. Prevention can be challenging, given the fact that residents also wander widely in their outdoor living spaces.

     It is shed in feces and can be transmitted through contact with the feces themselves or with water, food, or soil the feces have come in contact with. Millions of oocytes can be expelled during defecation from an infected individual! Following strict quarantine and other biosecurity protocols can help prevent cryptosporidiosis from affecting resident populations, as can frequently and thoroughly cleaning living areas. Residents shouldn’t be overcrowded in their living space for their mental and physical health. Overcrowding can cause stress, lowered immune response, and a perfect environment for spreading disease.  As mentioned above, oocytes are tough, numerous, and can easily infect an environment. Ridding the environment of the oocytes is challenging. Prevention is always best!

    Crias under one month are most vulnerable to contracting cryptosporidiosis, though older crias can certainly become infected. It can cause diarrhea, lethargy, lack of appetite, and weight loss. Diarrhea may be pasty or watery, depending on the severity of the case. Stools may be yellow in color and mucousy. Veterinarians generally diagnose cryptosporidium by examining a fecal sample.  Your veterinarian will likely recommend antidiarrheals and nutritional support, and seriously affected crias will likely require intravenous fluids and both intravenous and oral nutritional support. They may also need plasma transfusions. 


    Giardia is a parasitic protozoan that causes illness in both humans and many nonhuman animals. It is generally spread through drinking contaminated water or foods that have come into contact with the feces of an individual shedding Giardia oocysts. These oocysts can survive outside a host in the environment for months. Once ingested, the oocyte capsule breaks down, and the parasite attaches itself to the intestinal tract, wreaking havoc. As we are sure you guessed, severe diarrhea is a primary symptom of giardia. Abdominal discomfort and pain are another. If a resident is diagnosed by your veterinarian with giardia, anyone living in the same space should also be checked. First, though, the individual should be temporarily separated if the other residents don’t have it. It is also essential to identify the source of infection, if at all possible. If the resident is new or has recently traveled elsewhere before showing symptoms, it could be from outside the sanctuary. This is why biosecurity protocols are so important! Since contaminated water is often the culprit, testing your water may be a good idea, and their living area should be thoroughly cleaned. Luckily there are medications to treat giardiasis your veterinarian can recommend.

    In the case of crias, those between a week and around four months seem to be the most affected, although older crias can indeed be infected as well. Studies have also shown that they are more likely to shed oocysts in their feces, potentially creating a big issue for other residents and reinfections. Giardia thrives in damp environments, so eliminate standing water and mud as much as possible. Ensure indoor living spaces have good ventilation, the humidity isn’t too high, and regularly and thoroughly clean living spaces. It is also important to ensure that residents have plenty of space and that the living areas aren’t overcrowded, which can lead to disease spread, reinfections, and high-stress levels.

    Nematode Parasites 

    As we have seen, there are a number of parasites that can cause diarrhea in crias. Nematodes, or roundworms, are parasitic worms that can wreak havoc on young and old camelids alike. Crias under two months of age or so can be particularly susceptible due to a lack of developed resistance. In addition to diarrhea, crias may show a lack of appetite, anemia, anorexia, and even emaciation, but hopefully, it never gets to that point. Luckily, once correctly diagnosed by your veterinarian, several medications can help rid them of the parasite and others can help with gastrointestinal symptoms if the veterinarian thinks them beneficial. Here are a few things to do to prevent or reduce the spread of parasites:

    • Speak with your veterinarian about routine fecal egg count testing.
    • Follow strict quarantine and biosecurity protocol.
    • Feed individuals off the ground, ensuring enough space for everyone to access an off-the-ground food source.
    • Do not overcrowd resident living spaces.
    • Rotate pasture usage between camelid and equines.
    • Move residents off of the pasture once they have eaten grass 3-6 inches from the ground. Leave for six months and harvest old, weathered forage.
    • Encourage communal dung piles to be utilized away from feeding and shelter areas when possible.
    • Clean living areas thoroughly and frequently.
    • Do not deworm at frequent intervals unless directed by your veterinarian. This can cause drug resistance.
    • Provide appropriate nutrition for age and health status.
    • Ask your veterinarian about high tannin forages that may limit parasites.
    • Keep young crias separate from the main resident group until they are old enough to have a more robust immune system. (Always keep with mother or adoptive parent.)
    Intestinal Parasite Overload

    In addition to nematode infestations, other intestinal parasites can cause diarrhea and other severe symptoms in crias if they exist in a high load. While a small parasite load may not be a problem for an otherwise healthy adult, it can be seriously problematic for a cria.

    Be Aware Of The Growing Issue Of Antimicrobial And Anthelmintic Resistance
    It’s always essential to work closely with your veterinarian when determining if one of your residents requires treatment and, if they do, which treatment option(s) would be most appropriate. While this is true for a multitude of reasons, it’s important to stress that improper use of antimicrobials (such as antibiotics) and anthelmintics (dewormers) can contribute to issues of drug resistance, which is a concern globally. While microorganisms (such as bacteria and fungi) and helminths (parasitic worms) develop resistance to antimicrobials and anthelmintics naturally over time, the misuse and overuse of these drugs accelerate the rate at which these pathogens develop resistance. Drug resistance can make it difficult or even impossible to treat certain infections, so it is imperative that caregivers do all they can to avoid practices that accelerate the rate at which pathogens develop resistance. To learn more about this critical topic, check out our resource here. In addition to understanding the general concepts of antimicrobial and anthelmintic resistance, camelid caregivers should be aware of the serious issue of anthelmintic-resistant barber pole worms (Haemonchus contortus), a dangerous blood-sucking gastrointestinal roundworm of small ruminants and camelids. You can learn more about this specific issue here.

    Veterinary Diagnosis Is Vital!
    Due to the possible causes of diarrhea, and the range of severity, it is crucial to call your veterinarian. Remember those notes you took earlier? This is where they come in handy. Relate this information to your veterinarian, along with their vital signs. They will determine the best diagnostic tests and develop a treatment plan for your residents.

    We hope you have found this resource helpful and informative. Caring for cria residents requires knowledge of their unique nutritional and health needs. Since diarrhea is common among crias, gaining a better understanding of the causes and how to effectively observe and communicate your observations with other care staff and your veterinarian is essential. To learn more about general cria care, check out the full resource.


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    Non-Compassionate Source?
    If a source includes the (Non-Compassionate Source) tag, it means that we do not endorse that particular source’s views about animals, even if some of their insights are valuable from a care perspective. See a more detailed explanation here.

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