Heat Stress in Llamas and Alpacas
by L’illette Vasquez, Director/Coordinator
Southwest Llama Rescue, Inc., Kerrville, TX | SouthwestLlamaRescue.org | firstname.lastname@example.org
What are you doing to cool your camelids; i.e., llamas, alpacas, vicunas, guanacos, or camels? Do you realize that heat stress is, quite literally, a too-frequent killer of camelids. Our heat and humidity combine to create a situation where the animals’ internal thermostats can't handle the load and just quit. It's as if their body temperature continues to climb, but there's no shut-off. It's critical to keep them from reaching that point! Llamas and alpacas that go down with heat stress often die. These are our practices that have proved effective over the years. Please note: shearing does not prevent heat stress.
Signs of heat stress
If you notice these behaviors, take action immediately. Call your vet! Again, heat stress can be fatal! Symptoms include:
- Lethargic, depressed attitude
- Remaining in a kushed (sternal recumbent) position, unable or unwilling to get up
- Uncoordinated and/or stiff movements; trembling or shaking
- Elevated body temperature over 104ºF
- Heart rate over 90 beats per minute
- Flared nostrils, breathing more intensely than usual or over 40 breaths per minute
- Drooping lower lip; drooling or foaming
- Diminished interest in eating or drinking water
- Swelling of testicles
How to prevent heat stress
It is always better to prevent it! Here at the Southwest Llama Rescue’s Kerrville, TX sanctuary, we have several elderly llamas, some with injuries or other damage to their bodies, others who have been neglected. These are the ways we combat Texas’ summer “death by heat stress”:
- Hosing: Most llamas and alpacas love getting hosed off, but keep it on the belly, legs and under side of the throat. You may need to do this at least twice in the heat of the afternoon.
- Wading Pools: We put out wading pools and change/add water every couple of days. Some will sit in them, some will ignore, and some will just get their feet wet. You can find these at grocery stores, Home Depot and Lowes, Dollar Stores, etc.
♦ Caution for herds with pregnant females: Don't put out wading pools! How terrible it would be to discover that a cria had been dropped into the pool during delivery, drowning in just a few inches of water.
- Misters and sprinklers: String pool/patio misters, like the ones you can get from Home Depot or Lowe's, along the fence line. Keep it in the shade and lower than belly height. (Consider being out in high temperatures wearing a buttoned-up wool coat!) Ground sprinklers attached to a hose and set low so they reach only on the belly are also great. We set hose timers to come on in the hottest part of the day, beginning at early afternoon, again mid-afternoon and again early evening; e.g., 1pm - 4pm - 7pm, running at least 20 minutes each time.
- Fans: Moving air is hugely helpful. If you have or can get electricity to your shelter or barn, big fans set to blow at body height can be run all day to keep the area cool and the llamas a place to cool off. Be sure you don't set the fans on the ground where hay or such can be sucked into the fan. Always be mindful of them spewing out pebbles, catching fire with debris caught in the motor, etc.
- Provide plenty of easy-access fresh water and include electrolytes in summer. You can get equine electrolytes at any livestock supply store. We use tank float valves in large rubber tubs. Since we change water at least every other day to prevent mosquito hatch, it’s easy to add a scoop of electrolytes each time.
What to do when heat stress strikes
- A llama or alpaca that lies on its side for too long impacts the internal organs surprisingly quickly, and that, too, can be fatal. If the animal goes down on its side, roll it back up into the "kush" position, which is the usual sternal recumbent position they rest in, and put a bale of hay on either side to keep her propped up.
- Get her into shade, or put a sun shade over her--a 4x6' canopy, that you can find at stores like Walmart or Target, is quick, easy, and relatively inexpensive. Just set it up over her to block as much sun as possible without blocking moving air.
- Your vet will likely instruct you to give Banamine, generally 3cc administered subcutaneously.
- Very important to give fluids with electrolytes (equine electrolytes powder, Pedialyte or sugar-free Gatorade in a pinch) given by 60cc syringe several times during the day until she’s drinking on her own.
- And get your prayer, holistic healing, white light and all-things-good circles activated!
It may seem like a lot, but with adequate precautions, you can hopefully avoid heat stress, or at least mitigate the damage and keep them alive. It's really that serious. You can find more information online by doing a “heat stress in llamas or alpacas” search. One of the best I’ve found is the International Llama Registry’s brochure #11, Heat Stress in Llamas.
Stay safe, be well, and enjoy these summer days with all your animals!