Respiratory Disease – aka "the snots"
The upper respiratory tract disease referred to as “the snots” by many
alpaca owners was observed in the Inland Pacific Northwest at the beginning
of October. Owners from Walla Walla, Washington, to the Sandpoint, Idaho
area reported runny noses in alpacas and llamas. At that time, no cases were
reported in Western Washington or Southeast, Idaho. Now in mid-October,
there are cases being reported in Western Washington. At approximately the
same time, it appears cases were emerging in other areas of the country (New
England, Montana, Wisconsin, Colorado, and California).
Most animals have a runny nose for 3-7 days which resolves without
complications. Owners have reported 15-50% of their herds exhibiting these
signs, with both sexes and all age groups affected. There have been a
minority of animals that developed more severe complications including
death. Complications involve pneumonia, sometimes leading to subcutaneous
emphysema (air under the skin) due to the lung damage; “open mouth”
breathing or gasping when stressed or handled; increased inspiratory effort
changing to expiratory effort; anorexia; dehydration; increased recumbency,
and low body temperatures. Owners have also reported stillbirths and
Due to the acute onset and recovery of most animals, a viral infection is
suspected as the initial infectious agent; however some bacteria can cause
similar primary signs. A small number of animals are either developing more
severe disease from the initial agent or developing a secondary infection.
This commonly occurs in other species where a viral respiratory infection
predisposes to a bacterial infection. The severely ill animals seen at WSU
VTH and reported elsewhere appear to have had another major health problem
or were in late stage pregnancy. These conditions lead to weakened immune
systems and decreased ability to compensate when confronted with an
additional disease. The still births, premature crias, and weak full term
crias may be due to fetal stress from insufficient oxygen supply with
respiratory disease in the dam, direct action of the agent on the placenta
or fetus, or another unknown mechanism.
At this time, there are still more questions than answers. We know that
camelids can be infected by bovine and equine respiratory disease agents and
a few camelid specific respiratory agents have been identified previously.
In order to determine the cause of this problem, assistance is needed. This
requires a financial investment by owners and breeders to attempt to
identify the disease agent and allow us to develop better treatments and
possible protection. Any camelid that dies or is euthanized for respiratory
disease should have a necropsy and tissue samples submitted to WADDL. In
case of an outbreak, we recommend that samples (swabs from the nose and
blood) be submitted from animals showing symptoms. This will help determine
the organism responsible. Two blood samples are needed, 2-3 weeks apart, to
examine if “titers” representing exposure are changing. Changes in titers
can indicate an active infection or recovery from an infection. Bovine,
camelid, and equine respiratory serology panels should be requested in
addition to virology and bacteriology. Since the agent may be camelid in
origin, note the species on the submission form. WADDL is aware of the
respiratory disease problem and can provide additional advice regarding
sample submissions. Diagnostic work on samples from cases seen at Washington
State University Veterinary Teaching Hospital is pending.
Antibiotics have not been warranted in most cases. A majority of animals
recover without treatments however any animal that appears to be
experiencing a more severe case should be examined by a veterinarian and
treated as appropriate.
Our other recommendations include practicing good management and biosecurity
protocols. This is something that has been repeatedly discussed due to the
recent bovine viral diarrhea virus problems, Eimeria macusaniensis
re-emergence, and other communicable diseases. Do not transport sick animals
to shows or breeders. Show “vet checks” will, and should, deny entry to sick
animals. Do not transport “at risk” animals, including dams with nursing
crias and pregnant animals, until this problem settles down. Quarantine new
and returning animals. Isolate sick animals from healthy animals. Monitor
eating, recumbency, and attitude of the late stage pregnant animals and
contact your veterinarian if any changes are noticed. Provide supportive
care to sick animals: minimize stress, provide high quality feed and clean
water, housing if inclement weather or at night with the decreasing
temperatures. Finally, attend to sick animals after the healthy ones, do not
share equipment between the sick pen and the healthy pens, wash your hands
and change clothes after handing the sick animals.
For questions or additional information, please contact your veterinarian or
the Agriculture Animal Department at WSU VTH at 509-335-0711.
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