Diseases and causes of death among alpacas in Sweden: a retrospective study

03 May 2019

Björklund, C., Bage, R., Morrell, J., de Verdier, K., Nisu Hartzell, L., Kjellinbro, N., Belak, K., Bernodt, K., Gavier-Widen, D.

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Background

Due to increasing popularity in Sweden during the last decade, alpacas are frequently encountered by practising veterinarians and pathologists. Knowledge regarding their health and diseases under Swedish conditions is, however, limited.

Objectives

To improve knowledge about the health of alpacas in Sweden by collecting information on diseases and health status.

Design

A retrospective study was made of 93 necropsies conducted on alpacas in Sweden during the period 2001–2013.

Setting

Data were obtained from the two major veterinary pathology centres in Sweden. The alpacas were hobby or farm animals and they were submitted by veterinarians in local practices or at a national animal healthcare organisation.

Results

The digestive system was most frequently affected (29 per cent), with parasitic gastroenteritis (17 per cent) and hepatic disease being especially prevalent (15 per cent fascioliasis and 7 per cent hepatitis). Cardiovascular conditions (9 per cent), systemic diseases (7 per cent) and perinatal deaths were also common, including abortions (10 per cent) and fatal septicaemia (4 per cent). Wasting/emaciation was a frequent finding (26 per cent). Other diagnoses included dermatitis (8 per cent), diseases of the central nervous system (8 per cent), traumatic injuries (7 per cent), neoplasia (5 per cent), pneumonia (5 per cent) and nephritis (3 per cent).

Conclusions

This study identified areas of concern regarding diagnostic and pathological procedures, for which specific measures have been recommended. One particular cause for concern was the number of deaths from emaciation in weanling alpacas during late winter or early spring. For adult alpacas, infectious and non-infectious causes of death were approximately equally frequent. Many of the diseases were considered clinically acute but pathology often showed them to be chronic conditions that had eventually deteriorated and presented as acute cases in the late stages. This study revealed similarities in the health/disease status reported in other European countries and in North America. The results can be used by alpaca keepers and veterinary practitioners to improve management, diagnosis and treatment of alpacas.