How to Treat Liver Fluke In Alpacas

Updated: May 8

Disclaimer: We are not a veterinarian body. Please consult your vet before administering any medication to your herd.

What is Liver Fluke?

Liver fluke (Fasciola hepatica) is an internal parasite that is carried by water snails. It primarily affects sheep and cows, but has also been found in alpacas, horses, rabbits, goats, deer and pigs. Liver fluke is present in wet areas worldwide and can cause death if not treated quickly.

Images of liver fluke, source: The Donkey Sanctuary

What are the Symptoms of Liver Fluke in Alpacas?

Liver fluke symptoms include discomfort in the stomach, jaundice, anaemia, impaired liver function and can ultimately cause death. Unfortunately, death can be sudden, happening within just weeks of consuming fluke.

Are my Alpacas at Risk of Liver Fluke?

Liver fluke relies on the presence of water snails, such as the mud snail pictured. If your grazing is prone to bogginess or is near a water source where mud snails may be present, it is highly recommended to routinely treat for fluke. Wet summers will also increase the risk of fluke. You can ask your vet to carry out a faecal sample test to check for the presence of liver fluke, but make sure that you specify you are testing for liver fluke, as the test for liver fluke is different to other worms and may not show up in a regular worm count.

Images of mud snail source: Farm Advisory Service

Life Cycle of Liver Fluke

Liver fluke eggs are excreted in animal faeces. The eggs hatch into larvae and they must find an intermediate host (certain species of snail) within 30 hours in order to survive. After 5 to 8 weeks, the larvae leave the snail and create a cyst on nearby grass or vegetation where they are ingested by grazing animals. Once inside the new host, they hatch inside the small intestine and travel through the walls of the gut into the abdominal cavity. For up to 8 weeks, the juvenile flukes cause damage to the liver before moving to the bile duct to mature, where they can lay thousands upon thousands of eggs per day! Fluke eggs are excreted in the faeces and the cycle starts all over again.

Images of liver fluke, source: The Donkey Sanctuary

How to Treat Liver Fluke in Alpacas

Any level of Liver Fluke burden should be treated immediately. If your herd is considered to be at risk of Fluke, treatment should occur every 10-12 weeks during Fluke season which is typically September - February. Fasinex & Cydectin are combined fluke & worm treatments, so will also treat particular types of worms. Consult your vet for recommended dosages.

Sourcing Fasinex or Cydectin

Fasinex and Cydectin are used by farmers to treat sheep and cattle with big flock or herds. The medication therefore comes in huge quantities which most vets will not dispense to you because of the cost, the concern around over-prescribing medication and the wastage. So, your best way to obtain a small quantity for your herd is to befriend your local farmer or a large alpaca breeder that warrants purchasing supplies of their own.

Why Pour-ons are Not Recommended

Alpacas have very thick skin, so pour-on medication doesn’t tend to be absorbed well and is therefore not overly effective.

How to Prevent Liver Fluke

Use Effective Testing & Treatment

Create a herd health plan at the start of each year and ensure that you mark when you should be testing and/or treating your herd. Plan where you will source your medication from if you cannot obtain it from your local vets.

Quarantine & Treat New Animals

Quarantine and treat new animals, where possible, before introducing them to the usual grazing grounds and other herd members.

Manage Your Grazing Ground

Assess your grazing ground for boggy or wet areas. Fence off ponds or streams and ensure drainage channels are free flowing to reduce the prevalence of snail numbers. Although chemicals are available to treat wet areas and remove snails, it is usually ineffective as the snails can reproduce and re-contaminate the pasture so quickly.

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