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Obesity In Llamas

Body Condition Scoring your llamas

When I asked my vet what would be top of his list for inclusion in our health and welfare bulletin yesterday he immediately said
OBESITY, particularly in gelded males. Llamas are designed to be very svelte and to live on very sparse vegetation, so no wonder our national herd has a weight issue! You only have to look at all that lovely "fast food" in our green and pleasant land at this time of year to see the problem. To compound the over-abundance our llamas also suffer from a lack of good healthy exercise as they don‘t generally have to cover very much ground to find what they need, whereas super-fit llamas on the alti-plano will travel miles to achieve adequate grazing.

One of the many problems associated with obesity in llamas is liver disease or hepatic lipidosis (think pate de foie gras from force-feeding the poor old ducks and geese, otherwise known as hepatic lipidosis on toast, and you get the picture!)

There is of course every temptation to treat our llamas and to use food as a means of establishing trust or compliance, plus they will always tell us that they are ABSOLUTELY starving and desperately need more concentrates! The bottom line, however, is that most of them don‘t need anything more than grass, hay and vitamin/mineral supplements, they generally don‘t need extra calories . Exceptions to this might be during late pregnancy, lactation or at times of rapid growth in youngsters but the message is always: don‘t just guess, cop a feel! In terms of body condition scoring, you need to manually check the spine, the ribs and the brisket, that part of the front of the chest between the two front legs - and if you can find a big bowl of jelly there that‘s bad news on the obesity stakes! You can also visually check the llama from behind to see how much daylight there is between the upper thighs, which should be really quite lean, well defined and muscular, not rounded and rubbing together! The links below explain more about how to condition-score by feeling the spine and ribs and if you can get into the habit of doing this routinely then you can correct your llamas‘ diet accordingly.

It is extremely difficult to get the weight off an obese llama but if you are concerned then please consult your vet about the best way forward. At the other end of the scale, if you check your llama and feel that it is only registering a condition score of 1 then definitely consult your vet because this is more usually indicative of a problem other than a straightforward lack of nutrition, especially if all your other llamas are scoring somewhat higher.

The llama featured in this first link is morbidly obese whilst the alpaca is much too thin. Top tips would be not to feel the pelvic bone area at the back of the rump because this is always very bony anyway, but if your llama‘s back reminds you of a beach ball or a table top then it‘s time for it to cut the concentrates and hit the gym!

(Many thanks to Annie Austen of Watertown Llamas for this article)