Alpacas – Vitamins,Colostridal Disease,Johnes Disease


Vitamin D Supplementation

It is clear from survey results that alpacas in southern Australia are at risk of vitamin D deficiency during the winter and early spring.

Vitamin D plays an important role in controlling calcium and phosphorus utilisation in the body, and in early stages of vitamin D deficiency blood phosphorus concentrations will readily fall whereas blood calcium concentrations, which are tightly controlled, will only fall in severe deficiencies.

Vitamin D synthesis in the skin, as a result of solar radiation, is likely to be reduced in winter months, particularly in animals with thick fleeces. Alpaca owners in southern Australia need to be concerned about the risk of vitamin D deficiency in their animals during the winter months.

A syndrome of lameness, limb deformity and poor growth rates (rickets) associated with low blood phosphorus concentrations has been observed in alpacas and llamas in the USA and in alpacas in New Zealand. Crias born during the late summer and autumn in southern Australia appear to be particularly vulnerable to vitamin D deficiency during their first winter.

A single injection of 1000 IU vitamin D per kg body weight has been found to maintain an adequate vitamin D status in crias for approximately 7 weeks. An increase to 2000 IU maintains the vitamin D status in crias to between 7 and 11 weeks. A second injection is required after 7 or 11 weeks to continue to maintain vitamin D status.

Adult alpacas are less susceptible than crias to vitamin D deficiency. Older animals have an opportunity during the summer and autumn to build up their vitamin D reserves. Crias born in autumn and winter do not have this opportunity and therefore require two injections of vitamin D.

A single injection of vitamin D at a dosage of 1000 IU/kg bodyweight in mid winter should prevent the vitamin deficiency in older animals.

Although there appears to be a relationship between coat colour and plasma vitamin D concentrations, the importance of coat colour in affecting the susceptibility of alpacas to vitamin D deficiency is not fully understood.

It is recommended that for alpacas in southern Australia, a single injection of 1000 IU vitamin D per kg body weight to crias in late autumn and again in mid winter and to adult females in mid winter should ensure vitamin D adequacy. While increasing the dosage to 2000 IU vitamin D per kg body weight will increase the period of adequacy it will not eliminate the need for a second injection in crias.

Colostridial Diseases Control

Enterotoxaemia and tetanus are the two most common colostridial diseases affecting alpaca.

Five-in-one vaccinations are recommended.

A herd vaccination program using a minimum vaccine should be practised. The 5-in-1 dose asrecommended for cattle is used.

Recommendation for crias is the vaccination given at 6 to 8 weeks of age, followed by a booster 4 to 6 weeks later, then annually. Vaccination in late pregnancy should be avoided.

Johnes Disease

The disease is caused by a bacterium, Mycobacterium paratuberculosis. The disease does not seem to be widespread throughout the alpaca population. However the source of the infection is often difficult to establish because of the nature of the disease. There can be a long period between when the animal is infected and when it begins to show symptoms.

Some animals show no symptoms while others show weight loss, have diarrhoea and in some cases die. The characteristic lesions are enlargement of the lymph glands of the intestines,which can only be found on autopsy.

Although animals can be tested for Johnes Disease using faecal culture the test is not foolproof.

A voluntary Market Assurance Program (MAP) aimed at identifying, promoting and protecting accredited herds of alpacas has been formulated.

It is designed to ensure that any animal purchased or brought onto a property from an Alpaca JDMAP property is as far as can be ascertained, unlikely to be infected with Johnes Disease.

Fight Induced Infections

These may occur if males are run together and need to be treated on an individual basis, depending on the location of the fight wounds.

Trimming of the fighting teeth is an important management tool, which should be undertaken to prevent such injuries.


Lameness can occur from a variety of causes such as limb abnormalities, joint problems resulting in arthritis or a vitamin-mineral imbalance.

The reason for the lameness needs to be determined, then appropriate treatment given.

Skin Problems

A zinc responsive dermatitis can occur in alpacas, which responds to supplementary zinc in the diet.

Lesions are mainly around the head and perineum (the hairless area under the tail, around the anus) and along the backline.

Dystocia (difficult birth)

In general, birth problems with alpacas are not common and most cria are born during the middle of the day.

Dystocia is usually a result of the cria being in the wrong position in the uterus. The legs may be flexed or the neck may be bent or the cria may be presenting backwards.

In all cases appropriate action needs to be taken before the birth can proceed.


South Australian Region, Australian Alpaca Association Inc.