Updated June 22, 2020
Alpacas have the opportunity to live very long lifespans, some up to and past the age of 20! Like all animals, alpacas may need a little extra consideration to help them thrive in their old age, especially those with chronic health conditions.
As an alpaca ages, they may face more health challenges, so it’s especially important to be vigilant in monitoring their health through regular health checkups, fecal exams, and weigh-ins to effectively treat issues early on. Even common ailments like parasites can be harder to control in older alpacas and require early and effective treatment to maintain their quality of life.
Special Food Recommendations For Older Alpacas
In general, you should be very mindful of an older alpaca’s weight. It is very common for alpacas to become overweight as they continue to eat at the same pace while lowering their general activity levels due to arthritis or stiffness. Obesity in alpacas can lead to a host of health issues. You can talk to your veterinarian about switching to a different type of hay that may help prevent further weight gain or safely limiting their access to food.
Underweight alpacas may be losing out on food from competing alpacas, in which case they may need their own special source of food to stay healthy. You can supplement a thin alpaca’s food with a source that has at least 14% protein content to help them put on more weight. Weight loss can also be the result of dental issues; older alpacas can lose, break, or wear down some or many of their permanent teeth through the course of their long lives. It’s also common for some of their teeth to sharpen over time. As a result, they may have a harder time chewing comfortably and getting the proper mix of nutrients from standard food. Tall or tough pasture grass and hay might be especially difficult for an older alpaca with dental issue to eat. If you see someone dropping wads of cud, this is a telltale sign of dental issues. They try their best to chew the grass or hay, but because of their dental issues, they just can’t break it down enough to digest. It’s especially important to monitor an older alpaca’s weight as they age to ensure that they are getting enough to eat (and are able to eat the food available to them). If necessary, you can make your own special food by offering soaked hay pellets or chopped hay to give their teeth an easier time. By giving them foods that do not require the extensive chewing that hay and grass require, you can ensure residents with dental issues are still getting all of the nutrients they need. You can also have a veterinarian evaluate and file or remove any teeth that have gotten uncomfortably sharp or painful.
If it seems like older alpacas aren’t thriving, it could be a vitamin or mineral imbalance due to less effective chewing and digestion. Make sure they continue to have easy access to minerals given where they graze and spend time indoors! If necessary, you can administer an alpaca-safe vitamin booster to help clear up any nagging deficiencies. Always consult with your veterinarian before making big changes to any resident’s supplementation.
Indoor Living Space Recommendations For Older Alpacas
It’s especially important to monitor older alpacas’ living spaces to make sure they offer enough traction. Be on the lookout for places where they could trip, as a fall could be devastating to an older resident. Older alpacas may need to have special bedding in order to make it easier for them to sleep and relax in their sleeping areas, especially to prevent pressure sores in alpacas who lay down more often than they used to or are bonier than they used to be. You should use shorter fibered straw or wood shavings for older alpacas who drag their legs and get stuck in longer straw. If this isn’t feasible in the alpaca’s living space, you can also give them a regularly cleaned, (naturally-sourced only) sand-covered pen to sleep on rather than straw. Make sure that their food and water sources are close by! In the wintertime, you may want to provide an older alpaca with extra bedding, a properly fitting coat, or a barn-safe heat source like a ceramic heater to keep them warm.
Outdoor Living Space Recommendations For Older Alpacas
If an older alpaca is having a harder time thriving on your pasture due to decreased mobility, it might be time to give them (and their closest companion) their own smaller-sized and flat pasture to graze on. A smaller pasture with close access to food, minerals, and water, can give them the opportunity to get around easier and not have to compete with other alpacas for resources like food and water. If you do provide an older alpaca with their own pasture, make sure they still have access to some type of shelter in case it’s necessary for your location’s climate! Older alpacas are more susceptible to extreme heat and cold and require extra care to ensure they don’t overheat or or become too cold.
Social Recommendations For Older Alpacas
As alpacas are herd animals, they tend to form bonds with fellow alpacas if raised alongside other members of their species. As a result, socially isolated alpacas can be prone to depression. If you decide that it’s best to give the older alpaca their own special indoor or outdoor space, make sure to house them with one of their herd mates, especially one that they are close to. This can help them feel more at home and at peace with their new surroundings.
Managing Arthritis In Older Alpacas
Arthritis is one of the most common health concerns in older animals, and alpacas are no exception. An alpaca might develop arthritis in any of their feet, legs, or joints. They might also develop dropped pasterns (the alpaca equivalent of the midfoot or ankle). Untreated, this could eventually manifest as debilitating chronic pain and a general refusal to move around very much, especially in the cold. You might have to treat an older alpaca with alpaca-approved nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as Phenylbutazone or Meloxicam (never combine NSAID treatments), or other analgesics. Talk to your veterinarian about the potential risk of gastric ulcers associated with NSAID use and if they recommend any preventative measures for residents on an NSAID treatment. For a more long-term solution for arthritis, you can administer glucosamine or a Chondroprotective agent such as Adequan to help repair joint cartilage and soothe inflammation. Sanctuaries have also seen some success treating arthritis pains with more natural remedies in conjunction with medication. These include acupuncture, Botswella (also known as Indian Frankincense) to successfully lower inflammation, as well as CBD oil.
Make extra sure that their environment is as arthritis-friendly as can be, minimizing steep grades or long walks to food or water if you can! Dropped pasterns can be treated with some joint supplements that have been formulated for horses. Make sure to talk to your veterinarian to assess the individual and create a treatment plan for arthritis.
Caring For The Elderly Llama Or Alpaca | Autumn Hill Llamas & Fiber (Non-Compassionate Source)