Updated: May 8
Disclaimer: We are not a veterinarian body. Please consult your vet before administering any medication to your herd.
What are Mites?
Cousins to ticks and spiders, mites are arthropods (invertebrate animals that possess an exoskeleton, segmented body, and paired jointed legs). Typically, mites feed on dead plant material and other insects; however, some prefer to latch onto animal hosts. A few types of mites have been identified in alpacas, but the sarcoptic mange mite can typically cause the most extreme symptoms. Sarcoptic mites crawl on the skin of animals and burrow in to lay their eggs, which sets off an allergic reaction that causes the animal to scratch.
Image of sarcoptic mange mite, source Biomedcentral.com
What are the Symptoms of Mites?
Mites cause itchy, scabby skin which typically first appears on the head, and around the eyes and ears. If left untreated, this skin irritation can spread to the rest of the body. The affected alpaca(s) will be itchy, uncomfortable and scratch excessively. As symptoms worsen, poor fleece growth or hair loss is likely to occur. If battling mites for an extended time, alpacas are likely to become malnourished and underweight. They may even cause self-injury through excessive itching, scratching and biting of the affected areas, which can lead to breaks in the skin and subsequent bacterial infections. In the photo, you can see a severe case of sarcoptic mites that has lead to fleece loss and skin damage.
How to Treat Mites
Mites are very difficult to treat and the affected alpaca(s) requires persistent treatment. If one alpaca is suspected to have mites, ALL alpacas in that group must be treated at the same time.
If you have mange mites in your herd, a medication containing Ivermectin must be used such as Ivomec, 1% Virbamec or Noromectin. The more expensive ‘plus’ versions of these medications are not necessary to just treat mites; however, they can be considered if you also need to treat for liver fluke. Note that Dectomax, Eprinex and Avermectin drugs do not work, as the medication must contain Ivermectin.
Administer 4 doses of an Ivermectin medicine, 7-10 days apart at the dosage rate of 2mls per 50kg of body weight. This can be increased to 2.5mls per 50kg of body weight if the accurate weight of the alpaca is unknown. This is administered subcutaneously and can be issued yourself if you know how to inject (top tip: ask your vet to teach you how to administer injections to help reduce costs).
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 Mites
This 100% natural earth/dust is made from fossilized remains of tiny, aquatic organisms called diatom, which effectively kill mites, fleas, ticks and bed bugs. It can be offered as a dust bath for your alpacas, scattered into their bedding or even put into their food, as it is edible! Make sure you use food grade diatomaceous earth, which is totally safe for your alpacas. Purchasable on Amazon!
If your alpacas are receiving medication for mites, we recommend completely mucking out their shelters and sprinkling diatomaceous earth around the floor and walls, before putting fresh straw back down. This will reduce the level of mites present in the substrate and help with their recovery.
Quarantine New Alpacas
Where possible, quarantine new alpacas and assess them for mites before introducing them to the rest of the herd.
If your alpaca(s) begins to show signs of mites, treat as necessary and follow the prevention protocols before it becomes worse.
How to Treat the Skin After Mites
Although you may have treated your alpacas for mites, they will be left with sore and damaged skin that needs tlc to encourage healthy skin and fleece to regrow.
1) Iodine Teat Dip Solution Sponge Bath
If weather permits, use a sponge bath and apply cattle iodine teat dip solution to the entire affected skin surface.
2) Cattle Salve
Once dried, apply cattle udder salve to all affected areas to help moisturise and soothe the skin. We use Gold Label Udder Cream which is bright pink, so you can see where it has been applied. We purchase this from our local farm supplies. For mild cases, once to twice-a-week applications should be enough, but daily application may be required for severe cases. Over time, the scabs will begin to drop off and reveal fresh, pink skin.
3) Xtra Care Gel
Available from Eggs-port, Xtra Care Skin Gel aids the growth of skin, fleece and foot which is aimed at alpacas with poor, dry, flaky or bald patches - ideal for alpacas that have suffered a mite infestation. Adults should receive 10ml every other day for 2 weeks and a visible improvement should be apparent after 28 days of using the product.