Stomach ulcers are not uncommon in alpacas and they can easily lead to death, so it is important to prevent this alpaca disease. Unfortunately, alpacas are stoic, and it is hard to know that your alpaca is developing an ulcer until they are well advanced. Death occurs because the ulcer has penetrated the stomach wall and stomach contents spill into the abdominal cavity causing peritonitis (infection). When this happens the alpacas condition rapidly deteriorates leading to death.
An overproduction of gastric acid upsets the delicate pH balance in the third compartment of an alpaca’s digestive system. The terminal end of the third compartment is where acid is produced. Just like humans, excess acid is produced when an alpaca is stressed. Stress appears to be the greatest cause of ulcers in alpacas, but an inappropriate diet can also cause alpaca stomach ulcers. A diet high in grains is hard for alpacas to digest. Corn and wheat are the hardest and oats are the easiest to digest. So, think a lot about what you are giving your alpacas for treats.
Ulcers are mostly diagnosed by the process of eliminating everything else. Think of the potential of an ulcer if you see these symptoms: Cushing a lot, this is an abnormal position for an alpaca and is when an alpaca lies with its four legs beneath it. Grinding of teeth, which is an indication of pain, is also a symptom, as is not eating, excess salivation, lack of stools, black stools (bleeding), restlessness – laying down and getting up frequently. In young alpacas you may observe these symptoms: kicking at abdomen, rolling, and thrashing.
When calling your veterinarian about a sick alpaca, don’t forget to include recent activities. It is important for the veterinarian to know if your alpaca was recently stressed. For example, have they been transported recently, gone to a show, weaned, or hospitalized?
Once your alpaca develops an ulcer, it is important to treat it quickly to prevent perforation of the stomach wall. Doctor Geoffrey Smith, Professor of Ruminant Medicine at North Carolina State University, did a study on Llamas and concluded that Omeprazole given intravenously works very well on camelids. Oral omeprazole was not very effective. It appears that bacteria in the first compartment degrade the oral medicine making it less effective by the time it reaches the third compartment where the ulcer probably exists. IV fluids and a prophylactic antibiotic are needed, too.
Ideally, you want to keep your alpaca from developing ulcers in the first place. Start by reducing stress: Use the buddy system and always keep two alpacas together. They are herd animals and will be less stressed when kept with herd mates. A lot of ulcers are formed when animals are hospitalized by themselves. Avoid overcrowding your herd and delay weaning a cria if it has any health problems.
Other things to avoid to prevent formation of ulcers: Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) such as bute or banamine and gluccocorticoids – cortisone can cause ulcers so use with caution. Give very little grains. Alpacas should be eating mostly high-quality hay. Alpaca stomach ulcers have a high mortality. Prevent ulcer development by reducing stress and feeding an appropriate diet.