Alpacas, with their heavy, warm coats, obviously enjoy the cooler months much more than the dog days of summer. On those days in the 90’s with high humidity heat stress is a big concern. We shear in the spring, put up lots of fans, provide plenty of cool water, and shaded shelter, which helps, but it’s not always enough. A refreshing spray from the water hose is always welcomed with excitement and relief. The alpacas run to the hose and fight to be in the front of the line. Sprinklers down low on the ground and baby pools with a few inches of water can help keep your guys cool as well. Be careful to only concentrate on bellies and legs. Water on the back can heat up in the sun and actually make the problem worse.
Signs of heat stress: Inactivity and lack of appetite can be early signs of heat stress and can vary in each alpaca. More overt signs are nasal flaring, increased breathing and open mouthed breathing, drooling, lethargy, depression, weakness and trembling. In males you may see a swelling of the scrotum. A heart rate over 90 beats per minute, a respiration above 40/minute and a temperature above 104F are definite signs of heat stress.
Treating: Heat stress in an alpaca is similar to treating heat stroke in humans. It is imperative to cool them down as quickly as possible. Many hesitate to hose an alpaca down; worried about the consequences to the fiber but this is a life and death situation. Soak the animal all the way to the skin with cool water. Be sure to spray the cool water under the alpaca’s belly; the ‘thermal window’. If a hose is not easily available the alpaca can be immersed in a stream, pond or wading pool. Move the alpaca to an air-conditioned room or in front of a fan to further accelerate the lowering of its body temperature. Even laying it down on cool concrete or on wet sand can be helpful. Offer plenty of cool water. Call your vet as soon as possible for additional advice. The vet may choose to treat your alpaca with IV fluids if there are signs of dehydration.