Friday, July 23, 2010

Heat stress and downer alpacas

Heat stress on our alpacas is something we are very aware of here in the desert Southwest. When temperatures in the summer time average over 100 degrees and can get well into the teens finding ways to keep cool has become an obsession. We have fans and swamp coolers going 24/7 on the barn. We place buckets of water in front of the coolers which provides the alpacas with cool drinking water even at the hottest part of the day.
Even so, occasionally an alpacas body temperature will climb for whatever reason, and when it goes way off kilter, they lose the ability to self regulate for a while. Also when their bodies reach an extremely high temperature for any period of time, a certain enzyme is release which causes muscle pain and weakness (think how achy you feel when you have the flu). The alpacas kush in response to this and often are not only unwilling, but unable to rise. Linda, our vet, believes that we lose more of the alpacas to complications that set in because they are down and cannot rise for such a long period of time than due to the initial heat stress that started the whole ball rolling in the first place.
Last summer she had us build her a walk in tub to treat one of her alpacas that had gone down to heat. It cooled the animal rapidly and allowed him to ease aching muscles and get his weight up off his legs. This helped get the stain off him and allowed him to lightly exercise his muscles while he was ill. The tub was big, ugly and leaked like sieve, but it did what it was designed to do and Luc pulled through.
After seeing what worked and didn’t work on that tub, Brian and his dad built a second one. Since we had more time to dedicate to this one, it came out much nicer. We even had it fiber-glassed to make it water tight. Then the tub was rolled away into the shop and forgotten about. Until this past Sunday, that is.
I went out to feed and check on the alpacas and found Jack down and not behaving like his normal self. I quickly checked his temperature and was shocked to see a reading of 106.9. Brian immediately rolled the tub over and we got him into it. Since the water coming out of our tabs is pretty warm in the summer, we added several frozen milk jugs into the tub. We got his temperature down and set him up in the section of the barn that remained the coolest, right in front of the swamp cooler vent.

We monitored his temperature closely and every time it approached 104, we got him back into the tub. We also started him on Naxcel as a preventative in case there was an infection of some sort that started the fever going. Jack never minded going into the tub, and a big bucket of hay kept him content enough for the 30 or so minutes we would have him in there. We began to notice that his body temperature was staying lower for longer after each bath. By Wednesday, his temperature was staying in a normal range without the aid of the Paca-spa, as we are now calling the tub. Thursday evening, we let him back in with his buddies. We’re still monitoring his temperature throughout the day and at any sign of a fever, we’ll get right back into our routine, but it seems the Paca-spa has once again done its job. I’m convinced it save Jack a world of hurt, if it hasn’t in fact saved his life. As far as I’m concerned, that spa is worth its weight in gold!

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