Urine Crystals In Alpacas

Another Experience to Share!

I always say with alpacas, I learn something new EVERY day.  I noticed one of our favorite young males at the dung area straining to urinate with no success.  On closer observation there was no output except the occasional few drops.  I recall hearing about this condition, but couldn’t remember what the treatment was.  I called my vet.  While trying not to scare me she told me that this can be a very serious, even lift-threatening condition.  She also told me that she didn’t have ammonium chloride which is the recommended treatment for stranguria. I found a large animal clinic which is about 90 minutes away had ammonium chloride in stock.  I thought my prayers were answered so off I went to retrieve the ammonium chloride.  There was a receptionist there, but no vet to consult.  As I headed home with treatment in hand, I awaited a call from one of the vets at the clinic for instructions regarding dosage and administration of the ammonium chloride. Crazy me for wanting immediate assistance, I decided to call Cornell University where I had developed a great relationship with some of the residents who had helped with Chanel (the Rickets girl).  When I spoke to a vet there, she told me it was important to get an ultrasound of his bladder and urethra.  When crystals form in the urine, it often causes a total blockage and urinary output is impossible.  She also explained that the ammonium chloride would not dissolve crystals that had already formed.    In order to relieve the problem and prevent the bladder from rupturing, the bladder must be drained via a surgical procedure.  When I arrived home, my husband had just arrived from work and I explained the situation to him.  Nobody locally could help with ultrasound or surgery so we opted to head to Cornell where they have the necessary equipment, facility and personnel to “fix” the problem. While preparing for departure and deciding who to include as a companion, I noticed a female of the same age posturing in the same way.  I took this to be a volunteer companion, but she ended up being a patient as well.  They both were having problems urinating although he being a male was even more uncomfortable.  He had swelling in his chest and pitting edema in one front leg.  Urinalysis indicated that they had protein and struvite crystals in their urine and their bloodwork indicated low protein levels.

The veterinarians were truly confused by the findings and couldn’t decide what could have caused this.   Apparently it’s quite unusual for a female to be affected by this.   I was quizzed about changes in diet and feed or could they have gotten in to something toxic in the barn or some toxic weed in the hay?  Both of these weanlings had been weaned three weeks prior to this occurrence.  They were stalled with the other 2012 crias and a few remaining older females who still had nursing crias.  The weather had been bitterly cold (-15 degrees) for several days but otherwise no changes in anything.  It is suggested that the main cause was low water intake due to the frigid conditions.  Although they both had access to several heated water buckets with fresh clean water, they had apparently not consumed the necessary amount of water.   The other suggestion was that they had an overabundance of the alfalfa that is mixed into the hay of the lactating females.  The thought is to provide a small amount of alfalfa to lactating females to improve milk production.  However, alfalfa is also high in calcium which can cause crystals in the urine.  I guess they picked out as much alfalfa as they could find!

I know many breeders who supplement their lactating female diets with alfalfa.  I caution you to learn from my experience and be extremely careful when providing alfalfa or any other plants that are high in calcuium or potassium.

Abby (c-name Cadabra) and Contender were treated with ammonium chloride to neutralize their urine and given IV fluids to allow the urine to be less concentrated.  They are back with their herd where there is no trace of alfalfa and an extra water bucket.  Both are doing very well


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