Many Alpaca owners have been in the business long enough now to own geriatric Alpacas. They're probably your original breeding stock that you have owned since you started the business and you have an emotional attachment to them. Many Alpacas live to age twenty and beyond. Usually over age 12 is considered geriatric. So, how do you keep these elderly camelids healthy and happy?
Are your aged alpacas getting enough to eat? How do you know if they're not? If you are weighing or body scoring your elderly alpaca routinely, a weight loss will clue you into the possibility that they are not getting enough food.
The first thing to check if you think your older alpacas are not getting enough food is their teeth. Open their mouths and look for these problems:
- Protruding incisor teeth
- Tooth root abcesses
- Teeth too worn to grind
Who are your geriatric alpacas penned with? Do you have them with youngsters in the herd? Are they in with more aggressive Alpacas? It could be they're not getting a turn at the feeder.
Do you have quality hay? This is important when alpacas are young, but even more so as they age. Older alpacas need all the nutrients you can give them. As alpacas age, digestion is not as effecient as it was when they were younger. Be sure they are getting a vitamin and mineral supplement.
Make sure that you keep up with your worming routine. Parasites steal nutrition that elderly alpacas can not afford to loose.
Are your senior Alpacas in as stress-free an environment as possible? Keep you alpacas routine...well, routine. As we humans age, we like to keep routines. Alpacas like their routines, too. If you sell an older alpaca as a pet, try to get the new owners to keep the alpacas routine as much as possible. It is very stressful for an older alpaca to move from its known environment.
Geriatric alpacas have a tendency to get thin. This may be due to some of the above reasons mentioned. It could, also, be due to changes in their body as they age. You can boost weight a little by adding or increasing carbohydrates in your alpacas diet.
If older alpacas gets obese, extra weight will cause stress on old joints. Put them on a diet, but proceed slowly with the weight loss. If you try to make an alpaca loose weight too fast it could cause fatty liver disease. This is very dangerous and can cause death.
If your alpacas comformation when they were younger wasn't the best, they may have joint trouble later in life. This may cause them to be slow to get to the feeder and not be able to get as much food as they used to.
As mammals age, immune function decreases. Your older alpacas may be more suseptible to infections and parasites. Look into your alpacas eyes to see if they shine or are dull. Shiny eyes would probably indicate that they are healthy. An animal with a dull listless look is not well.
Arthritis can cause problems for your older alpacas. They may hurt and not eat causing them to loose weight. Be sure and keep toenails trimmed as they can cause joint problems to be worse. Contact your vet for information about how to help your alpacas with sore joints become more comfortable.
Your geriatric alpacas may develop vision problems such as cataracts. If they can't see to eat, then they will take in less nutrients. If their vision has decreased, then it is even more important to keep their routine the same.
Elderly alpacas don't grow fleece as fast. You probably will need to shear them only every other year. Blanket them on the year they are sheared to keep them warm in winter.
They, also, may not be able to tolerate heat in the summer. Be sure to keep them cool with shade available and water. If they are in a barn, be sure and have fans to keep the air moving.
Exercise is a good thing for all of us including our elderly alpacas. It will help them keep strength in their muscles and keep bones healthier. Make sure you have room in the pastures for your alpacas to move around. If they have some hills to go up and down, all the better.
There may come a time when you have to make tough decisions with your geriatric alpacas. When your alpacas quality of life is no longer good, you may have to make the decision to end their life. This is one of the toughest decisions you have to make as a breeder/owner. It is kinder to put them to sleep than to let them suffer. They have served you well over the years, so don't let them keep suffering for selfish reasons. Think of the alpaca and what's better for them...to keep living a poor quality of life or be at peace.
When is the quality of life so poor that you need to make that decision? Each person has to make that individual decision based on each individual animal and the situation. If the animal is suffering and there is little to no chance of making any improvements in the animals life, then it is time. Your veterinarian can help you know when putting them to sleep is better than letting them continue to live a life that is a struggle every day. Having had to put a beloved animal down before, we understand what a difficult decision it is and our hearts go out to anyone that is in this situation. Mostly, put the animals best interest before yours and you will make the right decision.
To keep your geriatric alpacas healthy so you can have them with you for a long while, promote exercise and good nutrition. Watch for any changes in the way they move, eat, and act. Older alpacas are nice to have around. They can be used as stall mates when someone is injured. They have served you well over the years, so keep them comfortable in their later life and you will have a herdmate that is useful and a wise companion for the rest of your alpacas.
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