Heat Stress in Camelids Jan 30th, 2023   [viewed 3613 times]

Heat stress (hyperthermia) is a big concern in Arizona, most especially in Phoenix's Valley of the Sun. Before we discuss how heat stress is treated, we'd like to address some of the ways to prevent heat stress.

Preventing Heat Stress

First and foremost is having your animals sheared before the hot summer months. If you don't know how to shear a llama there are several publications and even DVDs available that serve as a teaching tool:

  • "The Complete Alpaca Shearing Guide" (DVD) by Ted and Elaine Chepolis.
  • "The Wonderful World of Lama Wool" (DVD) by Marty McGee Bennett.

In addition, you might also consider adding the following books to your camelid care library:

  • "Heat Stress: Prevention, Management and Treatments," by Myra Freeman
  • "Caring for Llamas and Alpacas," by Clare Hoffman, DVM and Ingrid Asmus

There are also several websites providing information on how to shear. Google "shearing llamas" and you should come up with quite a few choices. If you aren’t comfortable with these options, then find someone that will either show you how to shear your llama or shear them for you. Even if you have to take Fiskar's scissors to remove the fiber, it’s very important to have the animal sheared to help in the prevention of hyperthermia.

Good shade is very important. We have 3-sided shelters available for our llamas. This provides good shade and also blocks the wind and rain. Optimally, livestock fans should be installed within the shades providing a steady breeze to the animals. During the hottest months of summer, when the night time temperature is still high, livestock fans should run 24 hours a day.

A kiddie type pool kept filled with cool water so the animals can get their feet wet. This provides the llamas with an area to cool down and some animals may kush in the pool. Other options include a soaker hose or wetted down sand to provide comfort. Nice, cool drinking water that should be refreshed several times a day, most especially during the hottest part of the day. If at all possible, provide an additional bucket with electrolytes. Water should also be kept in a shaded area to help keep it as cool as possible. Several water sources should be made available to ensure all animals have access to water.

I also hose down the inner legs, belly and chests of the llamas to help keep them cool. Test the water coming out of the hose first to ensure it’s cooled down. Avoid getting the back, sides, neck and outer legs wet, as this will trap heat rather than cool the animal down. In addition, minerals specifically made for camelids should be offered free choice. Stillwater Minerals makes mineral blends that are specific to certain times of the year. The Lama-Min 102 is recommended for the summer months, as it contains electrolytes. The minerals should be provided in a separate container from feed and available at all times.

Avoid feeding alfalfa, as it is a "hot feed". Good grass hay (timothy, brome, etc.) should be fed if fresh pasture is not available. It is also very important not to overfeed, as overweight llamas are more prone to heat stress. Avoid transporting animals in hot months. If breeding, avoid having your females bred to deliver in the summer. Check with your veterinarian for the best times for delivery.  

Treating Heat Stress

The number one rule in treating heat stress is to call your veterinarian ASAP. Your vet will want to know what the temperature is of the animal so do have a thermometer on hand. I have a string tied to the end of my thermometer and the other end of the string is tied to a small gator clip. The clip is clipped onto the llama’s fiber so as not to lose the thermometer.

The vet may also want to know the respiratory rate of the animal so having a stethoscope can help greatly with this.

If the animal is not in the shade get it into shade ASAP. Most likely the animal will be down and unable to get up. You can get a strong tarp, have several people help you roll the animal onto the tarp and carry to shade. If at all possible get the animal into an air-conditioned area. You’ll have to get the temperature of the animal down below 102.

Apply rubbing alcohol to the inside of the legs and belly. Offer cool water for the llama to drink, if at all possible offer the water with electrolytes added. Spray down the inside legs and belly with cool water.

Continue to monitor the temperature. Bringing the temperature down rapidly or overdoing the alcohol rub or hosing may result in pneumonia.

It is imperative that an animal down with heat stress receives veterinarian attention immediately!

Knowing the normal behavior of your animals is important so the owner may observe any abnormal behavior. If your animal is breathing through the mouth, panting, increased breathing rate, drooling, not eating, and unable to stand – take action immediately!

Please keep in mind, this article is not meant to replace a licensed veterinarian but to offer advice on how to prevent heat stress, the signs of heat stress and how to monitor your animal until veterinarian help arrives.

Above all else, please follow the instructions for care received from your veterinarian.