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Alpaca Vet

During the last few days, Alpaca.com® has received many hundreds of messages concerning the Mad Cow and Foot and Mouth Diseases and their possible impact on alpacas and alpaca farms. This accelerated after publication last week of the picture of the little red-haired girl carrying her lamb to the truck for shipment, destruction and autopsy to determine if the animal had contracted Foot and Mouth Disease. We imagine that every alpaca owner in the country immediately pictured a cria being held by one of their loved ones with the same tormented look of despair and desperation in their eyes. We at Alpaca.com® take our community responsibility very seriously, so we contacted some outstanding camelid veterinarians and put your questions to them.

Special thanks are extended to David Anderson, DVM (Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine); Cheryl Tillman, DVM (Tillman Llamas and Alpacas); Anthony Stachowski, DVM (Stachowski Alpacas); Gail Campbell, DVM (Ameripaca Alpaca Breeding Co.) and Michelle Kopcha, DVM (head of the large animal division of the Michigan State University College of Veterinary Medicine).

1. HOW SUSCEPTIBLE TO MAD COW DISEASE IS THE ALPACA?

Mad Cow disease is fatal to cattle and can be transmitted to humans. This viral infection is called "Scrapies" in sheep. Dr. Kopcha notes that the first diagnosed case of Scrapies in the U.S. was in Michigan in 1947 and that the disease in sheep has recurred sporadically in isolated instances since that time. None of our vets knew of any cases where camelids have contracted Mad Cow or Scrapies.

2. IF MAD COW DISEASE IS SPREAD PRIMARILY THROUGH CONTAMINATED FEED, HOW SAFE IS THE FEED WE GIVE OUR ALPACAS?

The USDA and other Federal agencies have extremely strict guidelines for feed manufactures to follow. The US does not allow any feed containing ruminant by -products to enter the country. Dr. Anderson points out that violation of these guidelines can lead to the manufacturing plant being shut down completely by the government and severe financial penalties assessed against the owners.

The vet panel was uniform in their assurance that our alpaca feed is safe and free of any serious contaminants.

3. HOW SAFE IS THE U.S. ALPACA HERD IN THE FACE OF THE MAD COW PROBLEM?

All the vets concurred that the U.S. alpaca herd should be safe for now and into the foreseeable future.

4. HOW BIG A PROBLEM IS THE Foot and Mouth DISEASE?

Dr. Kopcha stated that the first Foot and Mouth outbreak in the U.S. occurred in California in 1929. None of the vets knew of any recorded cases currently in the U.S.

The disease, however, is endemic in South America, Africa and now in Europe. Dr.Stachowski noted optimistically that alpacas share common grazing ground with cattle in South America and that he knows of no documented cases of alpacas catching the disease from these cattle.

5. WHAT IS THE STATUS OF THE SHEEP HERD IN VERMONT THAT WAS RECENTLY SUSPECTED OF BEING INFECTED WITH Foot and Mouth DISEASE

This was an imported herd of sheep that has been held in quarantine for several years. Dr. Kopcha believes that the seizure of the herd should have been done much earlier. Dr. Anderson points out that we will not know if the herd had the disease until all the postmortem tests are completed. This could take several more weeks. Alpaca.com® will monitor this and keep you informed.

6. WERE THE ORIGINAL IMPORTED ALPACAS FROM SOUTH AMERICA FREE OF DISEASE?

Drs. Stachowski, Tillman and Campbell were all involved in the early importation of alpacas into this country and each cites the stringent quality controls implemented by the various South American governments and by the importers themselves, many of whom are veterinarians. Every animal was subjected to extended testing, quarantine, and observation to make sure that there was no disease present. The importers were also monitored carefully, with strictly enforced changes of clothing to prevent inadvertent transmission of disease from one location to the other. All the veterinarians on the panel were in agreement that the original imported alpacas were disease free, fit, and beautiful specimens. Obviously, these highly skilled medical specialists would have taken every precaution to insure that the animals they wanted to use as foundation stock for their new industry were the very best that could be found.

7. IS IT SAFE TO TAKE ALPACAS TO SHOWS CURRENTLY?

All of our panel favor the use of reasonable caution in transporting and showing your animals in the months ahead. Drs. Tillman, Stachowski and Campbell plan to continue showing their alpacas as they have done in the past, but Tillman adds that she routinely quarantines animals for one week after returning from a show or when they arrive on her farm from some other alpaca farm. She also favors the use of shorter leads during the showing of the animals in order to maintain stricter control during the movement of the alpaca between the holding pen and show ring and a more careful monitoring of the animals while they are in their pens.

Dr. Anderson warns against becoming overly paranoid about possible dangers of showing your alpacas and Dr. Kopcha states "We should take this concern and use it as a moment to step back and look seriously at bio-security issues." She suggests that innovative exhibitors consider setting up handwashing stands at their pens and encourage visitors to wash their hands before touching their animals. What might appear strange the first time it was done could easily become an industry standard as people came to understand how much contamination can occur by the random handling of a series of alpacas in rapid succession without proper hygiene between contacts.

8. IF THE ORIGINAL IMPORTS WERE DISEASE-FREE AND OUR FOOD SUPPLY IS SAFE, THEN HOW WOULD Foot and Mouth DISEASE MOST LIKELY BE TRANSMITTED TO ALPACAS IN THE U.S. TODAY AND TOMORROW?

Drs. Campbell and Stachowski are most concerned about transmission of the disease from cattle to alpacas, but neither thinks that this is likely to happen. Tillman, Kopcha and Anderson feel that human beings are more apt to be the carriers than some other animal species. They point out that the disease can be transported on shoes, clothes, saliva and hands and are most concerned about travelers who visit areas where the disease is endemic and then return to the U.S. without discarding the clothes they wore in these other countries. They believe that the growing popularity among alpaca farmers of visiting Peru poses a serious secondary problem if the travelers are not careful and conscientious about making sure that unwanted contaminants don't return with them in their suitcases or on the soles of their shoes.

Anderson adds that cautious alpaca farmers would want to consider limiting the amount of farm visits they schedule and carefully monitoring their visitors while they are at their farm.

9. WITH ALL THESE QUESTIONS UNANSWERED, WHAT IS THE BEST WAY TO TRANSPORT ALPACAS?

a. Personal transport of your alpacas is probably the most secure option available to you. If you have a proper vehicle and the distance to be traveled is not too great, you might want to consider hauling your alpacas yourself. This way you are assured that the environment is safe and the stress on your animals is minimized.

b. The second best option is to contract with a licensed alpaca hauler who has the proper trailer to move your animals with reasonable comfort and safety. Obviously a smaller load delivered more quickly to your desired destination is most advisable.

c. You should avoid moving your alpacas with a hauler who uses a multipurpose trailer. A trailer that was used to haul cattle, sheep or pigs a few days earlier poses too many unnecessary health risks to your alpacas. Stick with one of the proven alpaca haulers who just transport alpacas and have the equipment and experience to minimize additional stress and risks for your animals.

d. Whenever possible, try to schedule your animals with haulers that can bring your animals to your desired destination quickly and safely. Extended road trips with many pickup and delivery stops along the way might add significantly to the stress your alpacas experience.

10. WITH THE THREAT OF Foot and Mouth DISEASE LOOMING ON THE HORIZON, HOW SAFE IS THE U.S. ALPACA HERD?

All the veterinarians on the panel are cautiously optimistic at this point. Alpaca.com® will continue monitoring this issue and keep you informed as more information becomes available.

If you have specific questions about Mad Cow or Foot and Mouth Diseases, you are encouraged to contact your own veterinarian or your local veterinary school for additional data.

If you have additional questions for Alpaca.com®, e-mail us and tell us your concerns.

 
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