Tuesday, July 17, 2012


A facial abscess in alpacas is fairly common. When you see facial swellings on alpacas, it could be nothing much or it could be very serious.

 Sometimes a swelling on the side of her face is not serious because some alpacas pocket food in the side of their mouth and that is probably what she was doing.

What is an abscess? Well, it's a pocket of pus. Pus contains fluid, white blood cells, dead tissue, bacteria, and possibly some foreign objects. One of these masses will have a soft center with a firm capsule around it.

Septic and sterile are two types of abscesses that can form. A septic abscess is caused by a germ. A sterile abscess is caused by non-living irritants such as an injected drug. A sterile abscess will turn into a hard, solid lump due to scarring.

A tooth root abscess can cause facial swelling, too. An infection along the jaw bone may present as a hard, bony mass.

The abscess will need to burst or be lanced to get the pus out. If the abscess does not resolve itself, the abscess needs to be drained, flushed, and possibly the alpaca will need antibiotics. If it is a tooth root abscess, it may need surgical curettage of the infected bone, antibiotics, and extraction of the tooth. If your alpaca is in need of surgery, be sure it's in the best body condition it can be. Poor body condition sets your alpaca up to be at greater risk of complications.

Some studs use a herbal poltice called "All Species Poltice" to clear their alpacas abscesses. They clean the abscess and then apply the poltice, leave it on overnight, and then start the process again the next day. The poltice draws out the pus.

Other camelid owners like a treated gauze-like material called "Silverlon" that you pack into the abscess. This material kills the infection and helps with healing.

You can google either of these products and find them. You can read about them and decide if you're interested in trying these treatments.

While doing routine health checks, be sure and feel the alpacas jaw bone, sides of the face to back of the ears, and down the neck. Because of an alpacas thick fleece you may not see an abscess, but you can feel a lump or a hot area on the skin. Also, smell your alpacas breath. Not a pleasant thought if you've smelled their spit! You can detect the smell of decay by doing this, though.

There's, also, a contagious abscess that you should be aware of in ruminants. It's caused by the Corynebacterium pseudotuberculosis bacteria. It is spread to other animals by direct contact with the infected pus. These abscesses can spread to other organs and should be surgically remove to prevent spreading the infection to others in the herd.

Be sure and wash your hands or at least use antibacterial wipes between examining alpacas. The simple mechanics of washing hands helps prevent the spread of viruses and infections. Many owners don't practice this simple infection control strategy.

A facial abscess can be simple or more complicated. If you notice facial swelling in an alpaca, determine that it is not a bolus of food in the cheek, then consult your vet for how to treat your alpacas specific problem.

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