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Meningeal Worm & Alpacas

Should you be worried about Meningeal worm? Do you have: white tailed deer, snails and alpacas or llamas? If the answer is yes keep reading.

If you think your alpaca has meningeal worm stop reading and call your vet. Then come back and finish reading while you wait.

white alpaca laying down with text overlay meningeal worm infection

It’s only January and it’s been a rough year out in the barn. Thursday the 11th after work I went out to close up the barn but I was missing an alpaca. Fred was in the barn but George was no where to be found. Walking into the pasture it didn’t take long to see his fluffy white outline in the field.

He was laying down in the typical cush position but he didn’t get up when he saw me walking over. Even after I got right next to him and told him to get his butt out of the rain he didn’t move. His eyes seemed out of focus and even when I pushed on his butt he would. not. move.

I had to basically pick him up (he’s about 150 pounds) and half carry/half push him into the barn. I immediately knew what was going on and my heart dropped.

brown alpaca with newborn alpaca cria in red coat

This wasn’t my first brush with m-worm. A few years ago Fred and George had a baby, his name was Henry and he was a fuzzy ball of happiness.

I wasn’t blogging very much when he was born and I don’t think he’s ever even been mentioned here. Before he was a year old Henry started showing the signs of meningeal worm infection.

He was so little and even with immediate help from the vet he wasn’t able to pull though. The second worst day of my life was when he died. It’s been two years and I still can’t look at pictures without crying.

sick alpaca with little girl in black and white coat

Had I known how Henry would die I would have had him euthanized. If Fred or George had shown any signs of difficulty breathing I would have called the vet back out and had then euthanized too.

Luckily it never got to that point with them. There is a line between a merciful death and holding out for recovery. As the owners and caretakers of the animals it’s our jobs to draw those lines.

Back to 2018, I had the vet come out on Friday and she agreed that it was meningeal worm. I was given a pile of drugs and instructions for 5 days of treatment. Then you wait.

It’s be about two weeks and he’s completely back to normal. He was more or less better by Saturday. Of course Fred needed to get in on the action and she started showing symptoms on the 28th. Her treatment didn’t go nearly as neatly. I’ll be writing two posts about those experiences soon.

Meningeal Worm Introduction:

M-worm is a White Tailed Deer parasite that uses snails as it’s secondary host. Alpacas get infected when they eat those snails or even when they come into contact with the snail trails. I live in a very wet area with lots of deer.

It’s basically m-worm paradise here. The vet was telling me about a man a few towns over that lost 1/2 his herd to m-worm even though he was following the anti-parasitic protocol put out by Cornell.

meningeal worm infection treatment medication

I give Fred & George monthly shots but I stopped when the ground froze. Frozen ground, no snails, no worms, right? That would be a no. They’ll both be getting monthly shots of Ivermectin from now on. Old literature gives an Ivermectin worming schedule that skips the winter months, do not skip months.

The symptoms take around 45 days to appear, that’s why it’s surprisingly common to see break though infections in December-January even though the animals have been off pasture or at least away from snails for a while. Basically, you’re never safe, stay vigilant.

Meningeal Worm Prevention:

little girl feeding white and brown alpacas from black bowl

Based on where you live you may never have a problem with m-worm or you may be fighting a losing battle. If you are in an area where it’s a problem you absolutely need to keep up on a worming schedule.

If you aren’t sure talk to the local large animal vet, they’ll be able to help you out and figure out a preventative worming plan. You can buy Ivermectin at Tractor Supply by the vial and you’ll need needles and syringes to administer the shots.

You can also keep away the parasite vectors, white tailed deer and snails. I’m not in the position to afford deer fence around the property and I’m not willing to use chemicals to kill snails. I have read that ducks and guinea hens are great in the battle against snails. My duck population has dwindled and the last guinea hen got hit by the school bus.

My snail killer lineup needs to be rejuvenated and I’m still mulling over my options. I’m leaning toward the guinea fowl, they’re loud and annoying but I haven’t seen a tick since I brought them home and Lyme disease is no joke around here. My dog ended up with Lyme in April so they’re looking really good right now.

I’m also reminiscing about my Muscovy ducks and thinking it’s time for them to make a come back if I can find any locally this spring.

Meningeal Worm Symptoms:

M-worm affects the nervous system. The back legs are usually affected first. That’s why when George wouldn’t get up I started to get concerned. When I noticed his gait was stiff and he was standing against the wall I knew what I was dealing with. I don’t have any pictures, I wasn’t focused on anything but helping them get better.

Alpacas are very good at hiding illness. The best way to know something is wrong is to spend time with your animals. You can’t know when they start to act off if you don’t understand how they act when they’re healthy.

If an animal seems off keep an even closer eye on them. If they show signs of stiffness in the back legs when they walk or can’t get up call the vet asap. If you have drugs on hand start treatment.

Wednesday night George was slow getting to the barn, Fred was there to greet me at the gate but he was still outside. I wrote it off as enjoying the nice weather but looking back it was probably an early sign. Early treatment is of the utmost importance. When neurological damage is done, it’s done. That’s why it’s so important to catch this early and treat it aggressively.

Meningeal Worm Treatment

three syringes and one tube of oral horse wormer

The treatment for Meningeal worm is a 5 day course of Ivermectin,  Banamine (anti-inflammatory) and Dexamethasone (anti-inflammatory steroid) injections. Along with a double dose of Safe-Guard which is an oral wormer, also for 5 days.

The doses are based on weight, your vet will be able to help you out with that. You can buy both wormers over the counter at Tractor Supply. You will also need needles and syringes, I got those from my vet. Needles are hard to come by in New York state.

A side effect of the wormers is swelling so it’s important to also treat with anti-inflammatory medications. Both Banamine and Dexamethasone are prescription medications. You guessed it, talk to the vet. Buying a bottle is cheaper than getting individual doses.

I feel very fortunate that my second and third brush with meningeal worm has had positive outcomes. I spent a lot of time looking for information on meningeal worm and alpacas and I kept ending up on the same difficult to navigate forums where the information went completely over my head. I hope I have condensed my knowledge of m-worm in a readable way.

I’m in the process of writing up the individual stories for George and Fred because they were very, very different. Symptoms are based on where the worms are and that can make a huge difference in how the infection appears between animals.

You can read more about my alpacas here:

Find out what our two pet alpacas do on our small farm

 

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