TB testing

Living between two dairy herds I wanted to have our alpacas tested for TB. In doing so I hoped to offer some peace of mind to my neighbouring farmers and also to myself.

The vet came out on the Tuesday lunchtime. I learned a lot about how I can change my way of approaching the alpacas during the 10 minutes with each group. More about that in a future post.

What is a skin test?

First the skin is measured using a pincer type tool. This can be done without holding the alpaca.

Then the fleece is cut on both side of the neck. The alpaca doesn’t need to be held for the vet to cut the fleece but it helps a lot if you can hold her/him.

Next the vet jabs the tuberculin antigen into the neck. The alpaca really does need to be held for this.

The vet then goes away for three days and returns to check if there have been any bumps or swellings at the area of the jab.

So that how a skin test for TB is taken. I was lucky that the vet told me the reactions on alpacas are generally severe and easy to spot so I checked my own animals regularly over the days preceding his return visit and I was pretty confident of having a negative result. I would have liked to have seen this video before as I would have kept a much closer eye on them. I definitely recommend watching this before you have a skin test.

It felt great to have a negative result from the skin test but I have had done some research online including contacting Dianne Summers at the Alpaca TB group which has made me aware that the skin test offers very little reassurance as most positives are full-blown cases of TB. I am unsure of whethert go on to go have a blood test on my alpacas. My main method of protecting against disease is increasing the health of my animals through their feed balanced with very strict cleanliness measures.

Speaking to my neighbours and in an email exchange with Dianne Summers I have also been made aware of the need to be informed and vigilant in regards to TB. It appears that skin tests in camelids are not not conclusive because they only show animals who are in fairly progressive stages of the disease. A blood test following the skin test may provide earlier results preventing the spread of TB within the herd as well as to other livestock or to wildlife. My personal view is that we need to improve our understanding of TB and all animal keepers, farmers, animal/wildlife activists and relevant departments operate out of an informed position instead of just fear. Communication will be vital to this happening successfully.

My top tips to all alpaca owners considering TB test are;

  • Inform yourself. Search TB in camelids online. Speak to other alpaca owners.
  • Be aware of TB symptoms.
  • Take measures to keep your animals healthy. I currently feed our alpacas with Badminton Llama and Alpaca mix and Camelibra as well as giving them long fibre in the form of hay and alfalfa pellets. I am going to investigate whether this is the best way to encourage them to have a healthy gut. The current British Alpaca Society magazine has a short article on mineral drenches so I will look at this as an option to increase their overall health.
  • Keep your feed and water off the floor. I am looking at ways to improve our own set up currently I remove the feed buckets after the alpacas have been fed. Their water is in containers that are high off the ground.

I am very keen to find out more about alternative methods of preventing TB infection. I believe healthy animals are the best preventative to diseases so I am going to find out more on alpaca nutrition so come back to read future posts on holistic health and alpacas. I want to find a vet who uses homeopathy to treat alpacas and will be attending a Homeopathy at Welly Level (HAWL) course soon. I have used homeopathic nosodes for protecting my children when I travel abroad and am very keen to know if TB could be prevented with Tuberculinum. Having now read about TB in camelids, and reading that one reason for not moving forward with vaccinations is because a vaccinated animal will show a false positive to any tests, what worries me is would giving a homeopathic nosode for TB create antibodies in my animals that would then make the skin test or further blood test show a false positive result?  When I attend the HAWL course I will endeavour to find out the answer to this question.

I would love to hear from you about your own experiences of having your alpacas TB tested. Sharing information regarding TB testing can only benefit the whole alpaca  community.

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