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Liver Fluke

written by Alex Harrington-Smith with the help and advice of John Cattell , B.V.Sc., D.B.R., M.R.C.V.S

The following article is really not aimed at telling breeders “how it is”. It is meant as sharing our research and experience of Liver Fluke in Alpacas. Much of it has been obtained through discussion with breeders from South America, Australia and the Vets here in the UK. Liver Fluke has the potential to affect Alpacas and we should all be looking to pool our thoughts in order to prevent it becoming a problem!

Areas of Sussex, which have not seen Fluke in 25–40 years, are now seeing incidences of fluke infestation. We recently met with our vets and a ministry vet from Winchester VIC and did discuss Fluke with specific emphasis on the Alpaca. Liver Fluke obviously causes destruction of the liver, however if you read a veterinary dictionary[1] or books on general farm livestock, Black Disease, which will often follow the presence of immature liver fluke, can also be the final cause of death. For those using 7 or 8 in 1 vaccines this is most likely covered and therefore probably prevented. The same literature will warn that Liver Fluke may cause the animal to become more susceptible to Salmonella. According to a sheep ailments book[2] we frequently refer to, Liver fluke falls into three types: hyper acute, acute and chronic.

It is often the case that much of the work done on Alpacas and their susceptibility to various diseases is carried out on Alpacas resident either in the USA or South America. In conversation with breeders from Peru we were told that Alpacas do not cope with liver Fluke and the resultant liver damage, in spite of the livers reputation for a high ability to regenerate. The vets with whom we discussed this felt that this was largely attributable to the altitude at which the Alpacas live, making them unable to cope with the depletion of red blood cells. In the UK they do seem to cope better with liver damage and, if caught soon enough, recover reasonably well. With Alpacas who have suffered liver damage of some description, Vitamin B complex can prove invaluable in their road to recovery (ask your vets advice). Our experience is ever so limited with only one case recently suspected on farm, although not confirmed we have seen confirmed cases elsewhere. Last winter we implemented the use of a flukicide treatment, purely as a precaution; the particular product we used was Fasinex 10% for cattle. Ivomec super is primarily an anthelmintic but also contains an adult flukicide; “Clorsulon”. Ivomec Super will kill the mature Fluke but not the immature fluke. If you decide that you will use a flukicide then it may be best to use it as well as a wormer only product, such as Dectomax, with a higher residual action. Dectomax has a long residual action, i.e. it has a continuing effect, possibly for up to 60 days. Ivomec, which is an anthelmintic only. is more of a “job done” product; in as much as it will knock out the problem but has little effect thereafter. By way of example the following regime could be followed, particularly if you are using a flukicide.

(It should be noted that wormer resistance has not proved to be a problem with Ivomec or Dectomax to date—but neither product kills Fluke.)

Any regime can be helped by the rotation of pastures. In cases where this is not possible, an increase in the frequency of worming may be necessary if problems occur. It is easy to take faecal samples from your Alpacas and do random checks, maybe twice a year, for worms. To be thorough you will need to do 2 to 3 tests 10 days apart to be sure that you are properly monitoring worm life cycles. But always seek advice from your vet, even if fluke is present it will not show in faecal samples at certain times of the year. It is important to bear in mind that Liver Flukes have an indirect life cycle. That is to say if animal has Liver Fluke and is shedding eggs in the droppings, those eggs will not infect another animal directly (unlike worms), unless the eggs are ingested by certain types of small water snail, who in turn re-infest the pasture. So no snails no liver fluke problem. Fortunately we have never found evidence of any such snails at Gay Street. Simply talking to local farmers may alert you to any particular problems in your area. Your vets will be able to best advise you on all of these matters and we offer this advice above only as an indication of our own experiences and thoughts. Before taking any action in regard of animal welfare and changes to husbandry routine seek veterinary advice—their local and veterinary knowledge will be greater than yours or ours!

[1] Blacks Veterinary Dictionary 20th Edition, edited by Edward Boden HonAssocRCVS, MRPharmS. ISBN 0-7136-5062-1
[2] Sheep Ailments 6th Edition, by Eddie Straiton. ISBN 0-85236-212-9