Saturday, November 24, 2007


I had my first experience with choke. This is when an alpaca eats their grain too fast and it gets caught in their throat. The hope is they will cough and gag it up, but there have been times owners have had to put a tube down the alpacas throat. We had heard that feeding the grain out of half a pipe (a pipe cut in half) lessens choke, but Snowstorm has not been receptive to eating it that way. I bought him a bowl that he has been using. Well he choked tonight. He seemed to gag, then throw up, then gag, then throw up. This happened several times. I went inside to ask J about it, and he said it was choke, to make sure Snowstorm was still breathing. I went back outside where Snowstorm was still gagging and throwing up, yet breathing. Emma and her cousin had feed the animals tonight and were watching with me. He seemed to throw up quite a bit, then sat down. At first I worried he was cushing, like he was in pain, but he was sitting down. Every evening after supper the three alpacas sit in the pen just outside the barn. I have seen them sleep there. He seems to have just been settling in for the night. We waited a little bit to make sure he was alright, he was no longer gagging or throwing up.

I will check on him again tonight to make sure he is ok. We will need to switch him to eating out of the cut pipe. I do not want to risk this happening again.

Additional information on choke:

Caution must be used in the case of pelleted and ground up pelleted feeds. While these are excellent for providing alpacas with a specific measure of vitamins, minerals, and nutrients, their ability to expand in size when combined with water can lead animals to choke. "Choke" in alpacas refers to clogging of the esophagus or the tube leading to the stomach, not blockage of the wind pipe (trachea). It is a medical emergency though, and sometimes requires veterinary intervention to relieve it. Sometimes the alpaca can dislodge the food, or the breeder can massage the esophagus externally to move the blockage on. If not relieved, the alpaca will be unable to swallow their food and the saliva that they secrete in copious amounts. This can quickly lead to aspiration and pneumonia. Choke is easily identified by the repetitive regurgitation of saliva with some food particles mixed in. Sometimes the alpaca can fix the problem themselves, but if it is not relieved in a few minutes by the alpaca or the manager intervening, a veterinarian needs to be called.


Grain or pellets are not the alpacas “natural” diet and so the alpaca has not evolved to deal with large clumps of food traveling down its throat. One alpaca might try to take another’s food, which encourages them to take larger mouthfuls than they normally would, swallow faster and sometimes cause a choke.

Usually it is quite obvious when an alpaca is choking, they will cough, make louder swallowing or gulping noises than usual, put their head down towards the ground, flare their nostrils and in some instances regurgitate food. It is an unpleasant experience for the alpaca and also a scary one for the owner to observe. If the choke continues the alpaca may cush and lay it’s neck out along the ground, it can also start to bloat or even colic a little during a bad choke episode or if the choke is not attended to fast enough.
One of the problems with choking is that typically the alpaca becomes stressed and tense about the situation, and the more tense the muscles of the alpaca are the less able they are to release the stuck food.

If we see an alpaca choking during feeding time we monitor that alpaca but keep enough of a distance to where the alpaca does not feel stressed about our presence. If we can see that the choke is resolving itself we will do no more than observe the alpaca. Once we are convinced the choke is over then we will leave the pasture but not before. Often that is all that is needed, but on the few occasions when the choke continues then more action may be called for.

If you are inexperienced at dealing with an unresolved choke your best course of action is to call the vet, he or she will be able to guide you through steps you can take to help the alpaca to relax and to dislodge the stuck food. Often the vet will recommend a dose of banamine to help the alpaca relax, the banamine takes a little while to kick in but it is usually very effective in relaxing the alpaca and resolving the choke. We also like to give a choking alpaca some Bach’s Rescue Remedy as that can help them to relax too.
We have some steps in place at our farm to help prevent choke in the first place. Our feed is specially made for alpacas and has been developed to dissolve should it become lodged in the alpaca’s throat. At feeding time we group our alpacas so that the slow eaters feed together and the faster eaters feed together. By feeding our alpacas by their eating habits the risk of choke is lowered. Another important thing is to have enough feeders or feed bowls to allow each alpaca to have sufficient room to eat. We feed most of our alpacas using individual rubber bowls, and are careful to leave adequate space between each bowl. We also have some feeding trays dotted round the pens. The feeding trays are set a little off the ground and made of PVC pipe cut in two and mounted on a wooden frame. An additional step we take is to always be present when the alpacas are eating grain, it doesn’t take them long to eat it and you can catch a choke situation much earlier and decide which action, if any, to take.

With good feeding practices chokes are rare things, if you have an alpaca that frequently chokes during feeding time it would be a wise move to have it checked out by your vet to make sure there isn’t something physically wrong with the alpaca that is causing it to choke so frequently.

Choke situations can be a scary thing for both the alpaca and the owner, but with the correct handling they can usually be resolved easily, and with good feeding practices they can be reduced or avoided, which is the best way to be.

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