Tape Worms in Alpacas

The reason we chose this topic this month is we had a group of 6 Female Alpacas, all have had Cria and they have all done them very very well. The Cria have dragged the weight from their mums (as they can). The problem is they got down to a body score of “2” which started to alarm me. We talked to Geoff (The Vet) and we Drenched them using Dectomax, put them into their own paddock and power fed them on Lucerne Chaff and Coolade.

The girls still did not put on any weight, back to the Vet, took poo samples and no worms or eggs present at all. It was as if these girls were lacking something.

We decided to give them a drench using the Sheep Drench I had, “Valbezen” . We gave them 15 mls of this drench. The next day we found a Tape worm amongst the dung pile. We picked it up as that day was the day of our SFF meeting and Geoff was the quest speaker. After showing him what we had found and telling him what we had done he just said that might answer a few questions.

The girls started putting weight on almost straight away and they also got that sparkle back into their eyes. Now three weeks later they are nearly back to normal condition.

What I have learnt from this is:

  1. Dectomax and Ivomec do not kill Tape Worms.
  2. Valbezen contains a drug called albendazole, part of the white drench family and this family of drugs does have a minor effect on tapeworm (less than 10% kill) which is why we probably found the tape in the paddock the next day.
  3. Praziquantil is still a better tape drench by far.
  4. The minerals in Valbezen based on a 15ml dose will give 7.5mg of Selenium and 31.5mg of Copper.

The details of tapeworm infection in camelids is as follows:

The worm in question is known as Moniezia expansa and is the same as the 
tapeworm seen in sheep. The worms live in the intestines and can reach up 
to 60cm in length.
The segments of the worm are known as proglottids and contains a large 
number of eggs.

On the pasture the eggs hatch out of the proglottid and are eaten by a 
pasture mite. Alpaca then eat the pasture mites, which climb up the blades grass and when the Alpacas graze and eat the grass with the mites the cycle is completed.

Once inside the intestine, the mite is digested, freeing the immature tapeworm which attaches to the wall of the intestine via suckers on the head (scolex), then segments (proglottids) begin to form and grow.

The full lifecycle from egg to adult producing eggs again takes about 40days. Each tapeworm lives for three to four months so unless the animal is reinfected, the parasitism is self limiting.

Tapeworm are usually not a severe issue in alpaca unless:

  1. Challenge is very high
  2. Another underlying disease exists or
  3. The alpaca infected are very small.

In cases of tapeworm infection the clinical signs include diarrhoea and 
illthrift (failure to thrive) in the presence of a drenching programme.

The only drenches that will kill tapeworms are those that contain 
Praziquantil or Fenbendazole. All of the endectocides (dectomax, ivomec 
etc) will not kill tapeworm in alpaca.

One cannot treat pastures to break the lifecycle. Infection is usually 
heavier on pastures that have had a lot of sheep grazing them in the past.

Biology (taken from Llama Care by Murray E Fowler, D.V.M.)
Tapeworms belong to a large flat worm group of invertebrate (with out backbone) animals, which also include Planaria (often studied in biology classes) and Flukes. Over 1,000 species of tapeworm are known to parasitologists. All find homes in one or another of practically all species of animals throughout the world.
Five species of Tapeworms have been reported from Llamas and Alpacas : the sheep tapeworm Moniezia expansa, the hydatid tapeworm Echinococcus granulosus , another sheep, goat and cattle tapeworm Thysaniezia sp and two dog tapeworms Taenia belicometra and Taenia bidatigena. The last four tapeworms are present in the United States and Canada, but parasitism in llamas and Alpacas has been reported only in South America up to this time. 
In essence, we need concern ourselves only with Moniezia.

The adult sheep tapeworm lives in the small intestine of sheep, goats, cattle, white tailed deer. Llamas and Alpacas and perhaps a number of wild ruminant species.

The fully mature tapeworm may be as long as 20 feet and approximately 0.6inches wide. Keep in mind the small intestine of a Llama is approximately 40 feet long.

In conclusion: We are not sure what exactly caused the skinny girls to put on condition, whether we did have a tapeworm problem (we never found any more tapeworms in the dung piles) and the drench fixed the problem or it was the Selenium or Copper in the Drench that did the trick, but it is interesting.
We did drench the skinny girls with Praziquantil as well once we found the original Tapeworm just to make sure.

We would like to thank Geoff and Elise for the information they sent to me on this topic. It has taught me some very interesting things and I hope it helps you as well.