Trimming Alpaca Teeth
We have all seen the funny photos of the alpacas and llamas with a gigantic spoon coming out of the camelid’s mouth. Hopefully, the owners realized that this could and should be remedied for the health of the animal. The bottom front teeth need to line up with the pallet on top without teeth. This allows them to pick grass to chew with their molars in the back of the mouth. Alpaca teeth continue to grow and the problem will only worsen. Without the proper alignment, the animal cannot collect food, can become emaciated and die.
Fortunately, trimming teeth is painless, quick and easy with a little practice. The first teeth to address are the lower incisor teeth. We use the Tooth-o-matic, which is a glorified dremel tool with a jig made to fit the alpaca teeth.
* It is important to note that alpacas nerves are in the base of their teeth, not like our teeth that have nerve endings throughout. So, while the alpacas do not like it, the removal is much like us trimming a finger nail.
To determine if the alpaca needs their teeth trimmed, hold the alpaca around the head and place your finger inside the lips of the alpaca where the teeth meet the gums. If you can feel the edge of the teeth, they need to be trimmed or they will continue to grow.
- Stand on the opposite side of the alpaca from where the tooth or teeth will be cut if you are the person who will hold the animal during the procedure.
- Expose the animal's teeth by reaching over and under its head and holding its lips up and away from the gums and teeth. A cylindrical shaped section of one-half-inch PVC pipe, one-inch thick section of rope, or even a section of wooden broom handle can be slid to the back of the mouth and gently, but firmly held in place. This forces the mouth open for the duration of the procedure. Alpaca cannot open their mouths very wide, so do not force the mouth any wider than the blade.
- Remove the halther, restrain the animal, ensuring its head remains still while the work is carried out. With my other hand, I hold the back of the head or topknot to keep the jaw in place.
- Stand in front of the alpaca facing the holder. Decide where to make the cut is most accurately assessed when the mouth is shut with the lips lifted to view how far the teeth protrude past the palate.
- Open the alpaca’s mouth and quickly place the jig of the Tooth-O-Matic in the mouth.
- Turn the dremel tool on and go side to side, trimming off the teeth to an even finish. The entire process should take 3-10 seconds.
If the animal is bleeding, you went too close to the gum line.
Most males and some females have fighting teeth, three razor sharp teeth used in an occasional alpaca battle. These should be removed at least every year for the health and safety of all alpacas in the pen.
There are several aspects of cutting canines that deserve mention. First, canines are further back in the mouth than the incisors and more difficult to reach. Second, cutting them with OB wire is relatively easy once the wire is looped around the back of the tooth. Third, the teeth may be sharp but they are thin. Because they are so thin it usually takes only a few strokes back and forth using an OB wire to cut the tooth. Fourth, for the person new to cutting canines, it is very important that the cut is made parallel to the gum line so the cut does not involve touching the gums. Plus, the lips need to be held open and away from the cutting surface. Lastly, canines may need to be cut more than once. Often they are cut when they first emerge and the owner is surprised when the animal injures another animal a year or so later. This is because the canines were not fully erupted when they were first cut. They kept growing and became dangerous.
To remove fighting teeth, form a loop with obstetrical wire if you are the person who will cut the tooth. About 1 foot of wire is a comfortable length of wire with which to work. Place the wire loop around the tooth you want to cut. Make sure soft tissue (tongue, gums, lip) is not in jeopardy and work the wire back and forth until the teeth are cut.
- Keep the wire taut, and pull it sharply several times parallel to the gum line to create a groove for sawing.
- Saw off the remaining tooth by following the groove as you move the wire back and forth. Finesse is required as pulling too hard may dislodge a tooth. A fresh section of wire will cut rapidly with only mild pressure, providing the cutting stroke is consistent.
- File sharp edges from the stub of the tooth with a hand file.