Introductory Care Topics For Camels

In memory of dear Oliver of Oliver and Friends Farm Rescue and Sanctuary. Photo credit Nigel Bland

Camels are in the camelid family, along with llamas and alpacas! New world camels also include two other wild camelids, the vicuna and the guanaco. There are three species of old world camels, the dromedary camel (one hump) and the domestic bactrian camel (two humps). The third species is the wild bactrian camel who is genetically distinct from their domestic counterpart. Bactrian camels have shaggier coats and can reach heights up to 6 feet or more at the shoulder and weigh around 1,300-2,200 pounds! Dromedary camels are leaner, reaching weights around 800-1,300 pounds. Both camels have a three-chambered stomach and are sometimes referred to as pseudo-ruminants due to the fact that they ruminate or “chew their cud”. They are sometimes called pseudo ruminants because they are not actually ruminants, and this is an important distinction!

Now that we’ve learned some fun camel trivia, we can move on to aspects of their care. While this resource isn’t an exhaustive guide for all aspects of caring for camel residents, it strives to provide an introduction into camel care for rescues and sanctuaries.

First, Consider This:

  • Caring for camel residents may require special permits or not be allowed on your land, depending on local zoning ordinances.
  • Camels can make some…interesting sounds. Consider whether sounds might carry to a nearby neighbor and cause any disruption. You don’t want to deal with an unhappy neighbor!
  • Do you have the appropriate facilities, experience and knowledge to properly care for a camel resident? Can you access an expert? Is there a veterinarian that can provide care for them?

Housing For Camels

Like many animals, camels are happiest with ample safe outdoor space to roam and graze on. While camels do well in more extreme weather than many other species, they need an indoor shelter to keep them out of the elements when they choose, though what their living space ends up exactly looking like could vary quite a bit depending on your resources and geography!

Remember, if you are bringing new camels into your life, you also need to ensure that you have an appropriate quarantine space to keep you and your existing residents safe!

People have employed many different materials and structures for housing camels, but access to a fully enclosed pole barn with ample ventilation can help protect residents from bad weather, standing water, and drafts, and pole barns tend to be easier to clean than some living space designs. And remember, camels require more height in their living spaces than llama and alpaca residents. A pole barn can provide the necessary height they need.

The exception to this rule is for sanctuaries in year-round warm environments, where you can house camels in a three-sided structure that faces away from the prevailing winds if absolutely necessary. 

Dirt-covered flooring or another slip-resistant material is important for camel living spaces since slips and falls could lead to torn ligaments and joint damage. If your floor is concrete, you should layer a half a foot of dirt onto the concrete floor or use rubber mats if necessary (which are safer than concrete, but will require quite a bit of daily cleanup). Bare concrete and hardwood floors are unacceptable for camels.

Ideally, you should provide a lot of dry and clean straw in a camel’s indoor living space. Though camels are hardier than many species, it is still important to offer them extra bedding material in much colder weather. You must remove and replace all wet and soiled straw to prevent serious health risks to camels. There are other bedding options as well, such as camel-safe wood shavings and sand. If using sand, you must ensure you are still able to keep it clean and dry. If feeding over sandy ground, lay a mat under where they access their food in order to prevent sand impactions.

Camel residents should have ample room to move about and lay down inside, in addition to having access to a dynamic outdoor space that allows them to move freely, stretch their legs in a run if they like, and explore. Camels appreciate a nice dust bath, so providing this would be a great start to making their living space more engaging. Fences need to be built high enough to prevent camel residents from attempting to escape.

Check for sharp protrusions, nails, and screws to prevent external damage and be sure to carefully check their surroundings for things like dropped coins, bits of metal, and string to prevent hardware disease.

Escape Artists
Always remember that camels have prehensile, split lips that are excellent for opening gates and latches! We recommend a double latch type gate system.

Nutritional Needs For Camels

Camels are browsers and enjoy a diverse diet in the wild that many others would turn their nose up at. While they may prefer moist, soft plants, their split lip and thick skin in their mouths allow them to eat thorny bits of plant material and brush too. Leaves, herbs, grass, and shrubs are all on the menu. At a sanctuary, camel residents will need a fibrous, bulky diet. They can have some supplements and pellet foods, but this shouldn’t be the only or main source of food. Hay should be the bulk of their diet. Camel residents can also have some fruits and veggies that are camel-safe and offered in moderation. Different hays provide different levels of nutrients. Because camels are adapted to get more nutrients from less, you might discuss the best type of hay in your area to provide with a veterinarian. In addition to their main diet, camel residents should have access to a salt lick. Check with your veterinarian to determine the best choice for your resident.

And, yes, camels can store water and go without for periods of time. This is an adaptation allowing them to survive in places where water is scarce. Water should never be scarce at a sanctuary and you should ALWAYS provide access to clean, cool water. There is no exception, even for camels!

Veterinary Care For Camels

Like other camelids, camels are susceptible to both external and internal parasites and should be monitored for and treated for both if they are found present. You should work with an experienced veterinarian to determine de-worming needs and scheduling based on each individual camel. Conditions like sarcoptic mange, dental issues, foot and mouth disease, as well as a number of other diseases, can affect camel residents and should be discussed with a local experienced veterinarian regarding risk profiles and appropriate care.

Camels will need their teeth checked and floated by a veterinarian at least once a year. Additionally, you may be surprised to learn that camels do not have hooves! They have padded feet with toenails that will need trimmed. The frequency will depend on environmental and individual history and health. 

Some diseases can result from deficiencies in camel diets. The following are examples of the disease different deficiencies can cause:

  • Cardiomyopathy – Selenium deficiency (suspected)
  • White muscle disease – Selenium deficiency
  • Sway back – Selenium deficiency (suspected)
  • Muscular Dystrophy – Vitamin E deficiency, selenium
  • Rickets – Vitamin D deficiency
  • Night Blindness  – Vitamin A deficiency

All camel residents should be routinely given a health exam. Be sure to first observe the behavior of the resident and their mobility, then move on to their hair, skin, neck, abdomen, back, limbs, nose, mouth, eyes, and feet. 

Vaccinations For Camels

Your veterinarian will recommend the best vaccinations, depending on the region and risk of contraction. Often at least vaccinations for tetanus and clostridial diseases (C & D perfringens, septicum) are recommended. West Nile and lepto, streptococcus and anthrax are some of the other vaccinations that may be recommended.

Safe Handling For Camels

Ask An Expert
If at all possible, have a veterinarian or care expert give you hands-on training for safe camel handling! Failing to use appropriate technique can gravely injure camels and cause serious injury and even death to the staff member handling the camel.

If you’re caring for camels, it’s very important that you know how to safely handle them. It can be quite a challenge to properly conduct a health exam, or load them into transportation, or provide medical care if they are reluctant. Some camels are more receptive to being handled than others depending on their sex, reproductive status, and how they’ve been socialized. Each resident in your care might have their own special handling requirements depending on their breed and health needs. Regular handling of camel residents will help familiarize them with the experience and can help make stressful events like health concerns, separations, and relocations a little less nerve-wracking, but be very mindful of the unique challenges that camels face! Positive reinforcement bonding sessions can help build trust for safer handling.

Handling And Restraint
Traditional restraint methods that involve tail twisting, holding a camel’s neck extended back over their body, tying a camel’s tail to their front leg or hobbling  (tying a camel’s bent leg to itself, tying two legs together, or tying a hobbled leg to a post or tree or any other object) are unacceptable forms of restraints. These are traditionally used in exploitative practices to prevent a camel from wandering off or for transport or in certain training programs. An old, infirm, or frightened camel could fall, causing injury. When tying a haltered camel to a post during treatment, do not leave them unsupervised and be sure to tie the rope low to the ground so that if they decide to sit, they are not in danger of being choked.

Social Needs Of Camels

Camels are social animals and should have companions, ideally other camels. Camels can usually be housed together after males have been neutered and there is a transition period. Generally, female camels are less confrontational, though males are usually not confrontational unless they are intact or retain some territorial behaviors when another male is introduced. Some veterinarians recommend waiting to neuter camels until they hit puberty, as pre-puberty neutering could cause their leg bone to grow longer than normal.

An ideal grouping would be a single male with multiple females, or an all male herd, though this varies depending on the individuals. If you only have a single rescue camel, consider taking in another in need of rescue.

As with any group, sometimes disputes happen or bullying may take place. If this becomes a problem, then finding a new grouping is important in order to prevent distress and injury. This can be especially true if two males begin seriously fighting as they can cause fatal injuries.

Enrichment For Camels

Camels have inquisitive minds and enjoy exploring things in their living spaces. Offering browse is great, you can even make a hanging treat ball. Providing water features and dust bathing areas can help create a dynamic environment. Adding piles of various camel-safe substrates can provide new scents and textures to explore. Hanging treats can also be an interesting way to engage with their food and environment. Adding camel-safe wood log piles to their living space can encourage foraging and provide new textures and smells and objects to manipulate as well as eat leaves still attached to branches from the logs. You can add other scents and herbs throughout their living space to encourage movement and exploration.

SOURCES:

Selenium In Camel – A Review | Nutrients  (Non-Compassionate Source)

An Outbreak Of Nutritional Muscular Dystrophy In Dromedary Camels | Journal Of Applied Animal Research  (Non-Compassionate Source)

Symptoms Of Nutritional Deficiency In Arabian Camels | Abu Dhabi Food Control Authority Development Sector, Research & Development Division   (Non-Compassionate Source)

Common Ectoparasites Of The Camel And Their Control | British Veterinary Journal (Non-Compassionate Source)

Husbandry And Diseases Of Camelids | M.E. Fowler – School of Veterinary Medicine, University of California-Davis (Non-Compassionate Source)

Camel Raising |  Nelson Road Veterinary Clinic (Non-Compassionate Source)

Enrichment Methods Used For Camelus Bactrianus & Elaphodus Cephalophus Michianus At The East Midland Zoological Society: Twycross Zoo | Research Gate (Non-Compassionate Source)

Husbandry Guidelines For Arabian Camel | Western Sydney Institute of TAFE (Non-Compassionate Source)

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.

Updated on November 19, 2020

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