A Taste of Life at Windrush Alpacas

November 13, 2007

Choking is a scary thing.

Filed under: alpaca, Alpaca Care, Alpaca Health, Alpacas, camelids, General — Tags: , , , , — alpacalady @ 7:29 am

I was going to write more on halter training today, but a phone call I received last night prompted me to think about choking in alpacas and so thought I would write a little about that subject before my mind got diverted.

With alpacas having such beautiful long necks there is a lot of area for a ball of food to become stuck.  Usually alpacas do not have a problem swallowing their food.  In a natural grazing situation, they take small bites and do not feel pressured to grab that tasty blade of grass before the next alpaca comes along and therefore the opportunity to choke is little.

As the alpaca industry has developed most alpaca breeders in Northern America feed their alpacas some form of grain or pellet supplement and good quality grass hay.  The alpaca breeders are doing their best to provide optimum nutrition to their herd, but with those efforts comes a higher chance of getting a choke situation.  

Grain or pellets are not the alpacas “natural” diet and so the alpaca has not evolved to deal with large clumps of food traveling down its throat.  One alpaca might try to take another’s food, which encourages them to take larger mouthfuls than they normally would, swallow faster and sometimes cause a choke.

Usually it is quite obvious when an alpaca is choking, they will cough, make louder swallowing or gulping noises than usual, put their head down towards the ground, flare their nostrils and in some instances regurgitate food.  It is an unpleasant experience for the alpaca and also a scary one for the owner to observe.  If the choke continues the alpaca may cush and lay it’s neck out along the ground, it can also start to bloat or even colic a little during a bad choke episode or if the choke is not attended to fast enough.

One of the problems with choking is that typically the alpaca becomes stressed and tense about the situation, and the more tense the muscles of the alpaca are the less able they are to release the stuck food.

If we see an alpaca choking during feeding time we monitor that alpaca but keep enough of a distance to where the alpaca does not feel stressed about our presence.  If we can see that the choke is resolving itself we will do no more than observe the alpaca.  Once we are convinced the choke is over then we will leave the pasture but not before.  Often that is all that is needed, but on the few occasions when the choke continues then more action may be called for.

If you are inexperienced at dealing with an unresolved choke your best course of action is to call the vet, he or she will be able to guide you through steps you can take to help the alpaca to relax and to dislodge the stuck food.  Often the vet will recommend a dose of banamine to help the alpaca relax, the banamine takes a little while to kick in but it is usually very effective in relaxing the alpaca and resolving the choke.  We also like to give a choking alpaca some Bach’s Rescue Remedy as that can help them to relax too.

We have some steps in place at our farm to help prevent choke in the first place.  Our feed is specially made for alpacas and has been developed to dissolve should it become lodged in the alpaca’s throat.  At feeding time we group our alpacas so that the slow eaters feed together and the faster eaters feed together.  By feeding our alpacas by their eating habits the risk of choke is lowered.  Another important thing is to have enough feeders or feed bowls to allow each alpaca to have sufficient room to eat.  We feed most of our alpacas using individual rubber bowls, and are careful to leave adequate space between each bowl.  We also have some feeding trays dotted round the pens.  The feeding trays are set a little off the ground and made of PVC pipe cut in two and mounted on a wooden frame.  An additional step we take is to always be present when the alpacas are eating grain, it doesn’t take them long to eat it and you can catch a choke situation much earlier and decide which action, if any, to take.

With good feeding practices chokes are rare things, if you have an alpaca that frequently chokes during feeding time it would be a wise move to have it checked out by your vet to make sure there isn’t something physically wrong with the alpaca that is causing it to choke so frequently.

Choke situations can be a scary thing for both the alpaca and the owner, but with the correct handling they can usually be resolved easily, and with good feeding practices they can be reduced or avoided, which is the best way to be.


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