Sick cria management: the Tennessee method (Proceedings)
Dealing with a sick cria and an anxious client can be quite daunting at times. This task becomes less daunting when one understands the main problems and how to manage them. Neonatal crias are typically admitted to the UT College of veterinary medicine due to prematurity/weakness/inability to stand, suspected or real failure of passive transfer (FPT), and septicemia. The condition of these crias, upon admittance, various from bright and alert to comatose.
The normal cria/overly concerned owner
Crias that are bright and alert should be evaluated for congenital defects (e.g. cleft palate, heart murmurs, choanal atresia, etc) and signs of systemic disease. Crias will normally be standing by 1 hour of birth and will nurse by 2-4 hours. Each suckling episode may last no longer than 30 seconds and may occur up to 4 times per hour. Suckling times much longer than 30 seconds and constant attempts to suckle suggest that the dam may have insufficient milk. Blood should be obtained for a total protein (TP), sodium sulfite precipitation test (SSPT) and pack cell volume (PCV). The TP and SSPT are not as specific as IgG levels but are quick and practical means of assessing FPT. If the TP is > 5.0 (some use 6 mg/dl; I personally like 5.5) or the SPT is positive (precipitation) and the PCV is not > 40, the cria is probably in good shape. However to be absolutely sure about the success or failure of passive transfer, we may also submit a serum sample for IgG levels by radial immunodiffusion (RID), which takes 24 hour for test results. The dam should be evaluated for milk production and if milk is available the cria is probably good to go. Alpaca and llama dams do not tend to have large udders and sometimes the first parturition females are slow to come into their milk. Domperidone has been recommended but there are no known scientific studies documenting the efficacy of this product. There are anecdotal reports of this product being effective but the effect may just be coincidental with naturally occurring postpartum milk production. We do use domperidone at 4 times the equine dose and anecdotally some believe it works well. If there is still question as to whether the cria is nursing successfully, it and its dam may be kept overnight for observation. It is important to accurately weigh the cria on the day of admittance and then reweigh the cria the following day to ensure weight gain. Healthy neonatal crias tend to gain around 0.5-1 lb per/day. Crias may lose weight the first day (up to 0.5 lb)....weight loss greater than this would be concerning especially in the hospital setting but maybe not the farm setting. Fowler notes that the neonate is not likely to gain weight during the first 3 days of life and may lose up to 1 lb (Fowler, 1998).