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Meningeal Worm Infection & Recovery – George’s Story

George (aka Mr. George, the Angry Cotton Ball or “George it’s raining get your fuzzy ass in the barn I don’t want to chase you”) is my white male alpaca. I’ve had him and his lady friend Fred since 2011. They have both been healthy and obnoxious happy until January 18. That’s when things headed south and I had my second run in with the dreaded Meningeal Worm.

I wrote all about meningeal worm earlier this year, I wanted to get the facts out there before I got emotional and shared their stories. When I was going through the treatment for George and Fred (yes, she had it too, about a week after his treatment ended) I spent a lot of time looking for stories from other people who had been through this. There weren’t very many which is strange because it’s not uncommon.

two alpacas eating hay

For some context, I’m not an alpaca farmer with a million years of experience or a huge herd to learn from. I’m just a chick with two pet alpacas in her backyard. For me not knowing what was going to happen or having any idea what to expect was the hardest part.

I knew they could easily die. Meningeal worm affects the nervous system, paralysis and death are very common results. The pages I was reading on the internet kept showing the recovery rate as only 10-20%. That’s a really scary number when you’re looking at your pet literally dying in front of you.

I want to be clear that this was my fault. I was using outdated dosing schedules and they didn’t get the preventative medicine they needed. I’m sharing these stories so you don’t make my mistakes. No one is perfect and mistakes happen. I got really lucky in the world of meningeal worm recovery.

I talked about following a strict worming regimen in the other post (I split them up in an a attempt to make them shorter and more manageable but I’m failing there). Even with that there’s a chance you can get an infection slip through. The only option is to know what to look for and what to do, the sooner you treat the better your chances.

That very long intro was leading up to George’s Meningeal Worm infection and recovery story. I’ll be sharing Fred’s later when shes had more time to recover and I can give the full story. Her experience was very different.

Meningeal worm is tricky because you don’t know where the worms are. The location is everything. Especially after you wipe them out and they swell up. That can cause as much damage as the worm itself, especially if they’re in the brain. I’m getting off track again. Here we go:

Wednesday 1-17-2018

I went out to close up the barn and I was greeted by Fred. George was over in the side lot but got up and walked in when I went to get him so I didn’t think anything of it.

Thursday

alpaca laying in a field

Again, George wasn’t in the barn. It was gross and raining so I was surprised that George was still outside. I went into the pasture to find him and saw him laying down about 15 feet from the barn in a muddy area. I walked over and he didn’t get up. That’s when “oh shit” alarm bells started going off in my head. This is Fred when I first got her but this is how George was laying when he refused to move.

I tried to entice him with snacks, tried to pushing him. Nothing, he wasn’t going to stand up. His face looked different, like he wasn’t focusing his eyes on anything. Even after I started harassing him it took a minute for him to snap back to reality.

I eventually picked him up enough that he got his legs under him and he half-walked to the barn with me supporting him. He’s about 150 pounds. I ran back in the house, grabbed a syringe and a dose of Banamine (anti-inflammatory). I gave him a shot and went back in the house. I checked on him an hour later and he was up and walking around. I crossed my fingers and hoped for the best.

Friday

meningeal worm infection treatment medication

After a sleepless night I went out to check on George before work. I was really excited to see him standing with his head over the gate looking at me. Until I tried to open the gate and he didn’t move again. He was resting up against the wall, I lifted his head up off the wall and he slowly slumped to the ground.

I was able to get the vet out that morning to look at him. After checking his temperature, listening to his lungs and intestines the vet told me she thought it was meningeal worm. I have never wanted to be wrong so much. We immediately started him on a 5 day course of Ivermectin,  Banamine (anti-inflammatory) and Dexamethasone (anti-inflammatory steroid) injections.

Giving a shot can be scary if you aren’t used to it but ask your vet to show you the best way. Make sure you don’t stab yourself. You’ll feel the needle go through the skin. With very fluffy winter alpacas you can’t really see what you’re doing so you have to go by touch.

I also had to give him a double dose of Safe-Guard which is an oral wormer. Giving a pissed off spitting animal an oral medication is not a fun time by the way. It’s meant for horses and the measurements can be tricky to figure out on the tube once you’re past the first dose.

The vet assured me that a generous dose wouldn’t hurt, especially with the spitting. I quickly learned to give the shots in the morning and do the oral at night. I had to catch him twice but I was far less likely to get wormer spit in my face.

By Friday night he was mostly back to normal. He was standing a little funny but I don’t know if anyone but me would have noticed.

Saturday

Saturday was uneventful. George whined and kicked when I did his shots and went about his alpaca business. I also started letting them out to the pasture again. I didn’t want George collapsing on the other side of the property if I could avoid it.

Sunday

ripped muck boot after alpaca attack

This is where things got fun. I went out like usual in the morning to do the shots, feed and open the doors. I did one injection and George started biting at my leg. He’d never done that before so I took it as a sign that he was getting stronger and agitated.

Then I went for the second shot. As soon as I uncapped the needle he went for my leg and landed one decent bite, he skinned my knee through my jeans. The scary part came when he grabbed my boot.

I wear Muck Chore boots, they have a thick scuba-like material above the hard rubber boot. That’s right where he grabbed me, I’m really happy he didn’t grab above the boot. He was jumping and shaking my leg trying to knock me over.

Of course at the time I was holding a syringe with an uncapped needle. I think his tooth got caught and that’s why he didn’t let go when I let go of him.

Eventually he let go and I was able to get out of the pen. Obviously I survived 😉 and I now have a much stronger awareness of what my little cotton ball is capable of. That was the last time I tried to give him a shot by myself, I just don’t have enough hands to do it alone safely.

I ended up smelling very nasty and more than a little shaken up. Later that night my boyfriend got his crash course introduction to farming and learned to hold an alpaca down for shots.

Monday and Beyond

brown and white alpacas on winter pasture

I finished up the course of drugs. George appears to have no lasting effects, his meningeal worm recovery was fast and complete. He is walking fine with no stiffness in his legs. He’s just as awkward and dramatic as ever. He’s the worst to photograph, he always looks so awkward, that’s why I call him my majestic beast…

This experience will have more permanent effects on me than it will on him. I now have an alarm set on my phone for every 4 weeks when they get their Ivermectin shots. Note, that’s every 4 weeks on the dot, not once a month.

I’m still debating but for now I will be keeping the alpacas. I have several plans for pasture management that will take place this spring. I could ask my ex-mother-in-law to take them but I’m afraid they’d integrate badly because George isn’t fixed and Fred is lame. I will not be adding anymore alpacas to the herd unless we move or the land starts magically draining.

Other Alpaca Posts to Read:

white alpaca laying down with text overlay meningeal worm infection

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