Urethra Blockage In Male Alpacas and Llamas: We are not vets or trained in medicine, so please do not rely on this information for diagnosis or treatment. Rather, consult your vet.
While blockage seems to be few and far between, we know of 21 animas who have been affected by urethra blockage. Of these 21 animals, only five have survived and one of these is in treatment. Communication with those who would share information has led us to the following general conclusions, which we want to share. This is not a scientific or medical study; rather, this is a simple summary based on facts and experiences provided by a few ranches.
1. Cause: the specific cause for a particular animal is not certain, but it is most likely a stone formed by the concentration of minerals (often silica) due to that animal not drinking sufficient water to keep the minerals diluted and flushed from the system. The alpaca and Llama urethra is so tiny that even a very small crystal or stone will cause complete blockage and death. There is no indication that herd health practices, feeding or other conditions on a particular ranch are a cause.
As in humans with Kidney stones, urethra blockage impacts only random animals on any particular ranch. Seldom have we found a ranch that had more than one incident. There is no reason whatsoever to move animals away from that particular ranch. Cases seem more frequent in the Western states than other parts of the USA
2. Symptoms and Identification: Urethra blockage can affect weanlings or older adults. If not caught and treated very quickly, death will result. Death will be painful and results from bladder rupture and infection. An affected rancher should consult with his or her vet, but realize that some vets and colleges are not aware that treatment for this is even possible.
The following are the symptoms reported:
- A few reported that the male was walking "stilted" with his back legs a bit "stiff"
- All reported male standing over the dung pile straining, but with no urination
- The straining over the dung pile was for long periods (up to 20 minutes) and frequent
- Pooping was reported to be normal for those who noticed it
- The affected males continued to eat
- Temperatures were normal, with no fever reported
- In later stages, indications of sever pain and distress
3. Cure: For alpacas who survived, all used a specific protocol of drugs, including Acepromazine, pain reducing drugs and antibiotics. Recognition and treatment must start promptly, or there is a serious risk of bladder rupture and death. Few university vet schools and veterinarians seem to know of this procedure or, if they know about it, they are reluctant to recommend it. It is not without risk.
4. Prevention: Various people have suggested possible cause-effect relationships, but none seems clearly to be the case. High levels of minerals in drinking water, silica up-take in alfalfa and some grasses as well as over-loading minerals have been suggested, but are not shown to be consistent among the affected ranches we know of. Rather, the veterinarian who was involved with all of the animals who survived has concluded that the major, if not the only prevention one can take is to assure that alpacas and Llamas are drinking large quantities of high-quality water. Adding salt to the diet, he suggests, is the primary method.