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Alpaca World Magazine

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Colostral Transfer of Immunoglobulins

Ewen McMillan

Camelids rely entirely on colostral transfer of immunoglobulins. Often the level of antibody in newborn camelids is below what is regarded as 'normal'. Much is made of this issue, and perhaps sometimes too many conclusions are drawn. Certainly a low antibody level will make an individual cria more 'at risk' than cohorts with higher levels. But the whole deal is a mixture of resistance and challenge. Disease develops when challenge overwhelms resistance. There is a good argument that the most constructive management procedure to avoid neonatal disease is to have an environment as clean as possible, and practice good hygiene at every opportunity.

Colostrum substitutes

Colostrum is composed of fats, proteins and lymphocytes. It is a high energy package with immunologically active components. There is no substitute for colostrum. In my experience the next best thing is plasma harvested from other camelids on the property. Colostrum frozen down and sourced from other ruminants has also been advocated, but one must be sure to eliminate the risk of disease transfer (eg Johne's disease) that may accompany this course of action. I have no experience with plasma from other species.

Harvesting plasma

I like to select an adult from the property on which it will be used. Work by Brad Smith showed that IGG levels in the blood of camelids tends to rise with age, so we aim to use a male three or more years of age. If multiple donors are available, there is good argument to perform testing to ascertain the best donor. I use a triple collection pack. Llamas are held cross tied in a chute, alpacas are tied in the cush position ('chukkered'). Once collected the blood is spun in a centrifuge and the plasma harvested and split between the two secondary bags. We are able to do this 'in house' and are happy to provide plasma from our own alpaca herd to other practices or breeders.

Administering plasma

We find treating sick cria much more successful when plasma is used as an adjunct therapy. The combination of immunoglobulins and other blood proteins seems to have a rapid beneficial effect. The route of administration is basically determined by the level of illness the animal is suffering. If the cria is so ill that it is unable to stand and suckle, we often hospitalise the animal and place an intravenous catheter for fluid administration. If a catheter is in place we give the plasma intravenously. If on the other hand the cria is still ambulatory, relatively bright and suckling it is left with its mother and the plasma is given intraperitoneally. We find high on the left flank a convenient site. The site is clipped, scrubbed and a local anaesthetic bleb injected. A stab incision is then made with a #15 blade and a bovine teat catheter forced through the abdominal wall. Plasma is thawed in warm water (never a microwave!) and attached to a blunt ended bovine teat catheter with a sterile giving set. After removal of the catheter, spray with Cetrimide. Intraperitoneal transfusion is quick, low stress and requires only minimal site clipping. It is relatively easier than performing a venepuncture. We use up to 150-300 ml in an alpaca, 800 ml in a llama cria.

Assessing a newborn cria in practice

The simplest method of assessing maturity in an alpaca are to weigh the cria, check for teeth eruption and check for 'floppy' ears. Ideal cria weights are 6-8 kg for alpaca, 10 - 12 kg for llama. Beware of alpaca cria less than 5kg, or those born late in the day or at night - they usually spell trouble so I recommend a plasma transfusion and shedding for the first night. Cria are born with blood glucose levels roughly half normal, urea levels twice normal and bilirubin four times normal. It is a good idea to give weak cria oral glucose soon after birth, particularly if they don't appear to be drinking.

Our experiences of sick cria

We have had some cria that have collapsed and gone into shock. We have presumed that these animals have had a septicaemia. We have had one case of cryptosporidia, and have suspected that some of the other cases may have been E. coli septicaemia. The disease is often multisystemic, and has a rapid time course. Decisive action is needed. We treat most sick cria with plasma as part of the treatment regime.

Ewen McMillan
Bellarine Veterinary Practice
65 Coppards Road, Newcomb, Victoria, 3215