Scabies in alpacas
Scabies is a skin infection that occurs in many animal species and in humans. Its cause is the scabies mite, a parasite 0.5 mm long that lives in the skin. Although scabies can be treated successfully, it is important to recognise it early; prevention, of course, is best.
A mite is a small, spider-like animal that digs in under the skin, where it excavates burrows and reproduces. The intense itching in scabies is caused by an allergic reaction to the mites and their excrement. Many species of mites exist, each fairly specific to the type of host animal. The alpaca is most commonly the target of two mite species. One of these is Sarcoptes, found most often on the underbelly, in the groin, and on the legs and head or muzzle. Symptoms are itching, bald spots, scabs, thickening of the skin and scaly spots. The Psoroptes mite is found in the ears; it is also seen on goats and sheep. Besides itching, these ear mites bring about increased debris, a black waxy substance in the ears. A mite infestation can also lead to weight loss and resulting reduced immune function.
Scabies can be treated with antiparasitics (ointment, pour-on or injectable); it’s best to contact the veterinarian for these. At the start of treatment the wool can be cut short and the skin kept moist with petroleum jelly. Low temperatures and high humidity are good for mites, so allowing the sun and wind to get to the affected areas has a positive effect.
It’s important to prevent scabies, though infection can’t really be avoided. Hygiene is essential, including keeping the stall clean and clearing out dung. Regular worming is a must; worming medications also often kill mites. A good practice is to quarantine new animals for a month before treating all animals with an injection for scabies and then introducing them to the herd.