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Tickey Tickey Rimbo   by  Lillian Beck

Several years ago we had a very frightening experience with one of male llamas, who was 17 months old at the time. Dave and I went to feed all our llamas, and when we fed this one male he would not eat. He walked around and appeared to be stiff in his back legs and they were spread out at an exaggerated position, almost as if he was trying to hold himself up. His head was held with his nose pointed up in the air (like he was looking up into the sky to see something) and his neck was held stiffly, and when he walked he rocked a little. We went to check him out and he fell to the ground. It was July and very hot and we feared he was suffering from heat stress. We decided to hose him down, and then I suggested trying to, get fluids into him also. He loved to drink lemonade from a glass, and I thought this would be one way we could get him to drink since he had refused fresh water earlier. We were able to get him into a standing position to hose him down and offer him the drink. I offered him the glass of lemonade, which he seemed very happy to get. He began to drink and after several swallows he tried to drink some more and it began drooling out of his mouth. Then he crashed to the ground with all four legs straight up in the air. This has to be one of the most horrible sights I have ever seen. He was completely stiff -like a starched shirt. Rigid and not moving, we thought he was dead.

All I remember was yelling get him to stand up, get him to stand up! Donít ask me how we did this. We were both so frightened - adrenaline had to kick in to help us. Somehow he was rolled over and forced to his legs. Dave held him up, and I ran up the hill to the house to call our vet. While I waited for him to return my call I found a llama book and looked up the word paralysis; nothing. I looked up brain tumor, nothing, looked up neurological system, nothing. Now I was shaking. I started at the front of the book just scanning the pages as quickly as I could. I found some pictures on downed llamas. These pictures didnít match our llama at all. This downed llama was lying down on its side; our llama was standing stiffly or lying on his back all four legs up in the air. Then I found the picture titled the stance of an ill llama. It had a rounded back and neck down. Our llamaís back was straight and stiff and itís neck was held up and the back legs spread apart. Then I found some symptoms of parasites, which seemed to match his. One was of the meningeal worm (Parclaphostrongylus) which is from the white tailed deer. It could cause inflammation of the spinal cord - uncoordination and rear leg weakness. Then I found symptoms of tick bites uncoordination, back leg weakness, paralysis, or he may have a brain tumor. Then our veterinarian called back, and I told him all of the things I had read, and he knocked them out one at a time. No brain tumors doubted if it was ticks, or meningial worm could do this. He knew there had been no incidence of meningial worm in our area recorded, and we should get ready to load in a trailer and rush him to the University as quickly as we could. He would be right there to help us put him in the trailer, and while drove over, he was going to call them so they would be ready the minute we arrived. In other words, get ready for a dead llama.

I ran down the hill and told Dave this grim story, and we sort of decided we had better start looking for ticks, because in all practically, it was all we could do. Even if it was meningial worms or a brain tumor we could do nothing. Dave mentioned a few days ago, he thought that he felt a bump on his chest somewhere. While he held him up, I began spreading his wool. In less than a minute there it was - a big fat tick, right below the chest area where the heavy wool had stopped, and the breast bone was. I pulled it off and put it in a container to show to our veterinarian.

When he arrived, I was sitting in the driveway reading my llama book and holding the container with the tick. This poor man could not believe the whole thing, and neither could we. I showed him the book and what treatment it recommended. He gave him an Ivermectin injection to kill any other possible ticks. We checked him all over for more ticks, but we could not find any. He also gave him an injection of Banamine for relief of swelling and pain.

Our llama had been wormed five days before but with Safe Guard - if Ivermectin, it would not have happened . But who knows when a tick is going to get on a llama? There is really no way to prevent this from happening. Most llama owners alternate the worm medication. Just be aware when you see these neurological symptoms, as mentioned it could be that a tick is the cause. Look for ticks, and remove them. The symptoms of paralysis will stop and reverse themselves quickly, usually within two hours.

The treatment for tick paralysis is very easy, and with the most dramatic results you can ever imagine. Removal of the tick or ticks stops the whole process. All the paralysis begins to gradually reverse and the llama will begin to act normally. I stayed around the general area of this llama for about three hours to obverse him while doing other things. I decided to document everything I saw because there is so little information available about this. For about the first fifteen minutes, he just stood and rocked around in a very small area. Then he began to walk a little. After about a half-hour he was nibbling on tree bark. Question - Is there something in the bark to help him, or was it because he could not put his head down yet to eat, he would fall? In an hour he put his head down and eats a few leaves, then some grass. He began walking in a larger area and gradually walked into his stall and ate some food. After two hours he was eating more of his food and drinking water. By the end of the day, his gait was less stiff, but he still held his head and neck in a stiff manner, and his back legs were still apart. The following day he was still carrying his neck in a very ridge way and he had a stiff gait, but he was much improved. His recovery was gradual over a couple of weeks before he could walk normally and hold his head up. The tick is so small it is amazing -----Just one can start so much damage and develop into such a serious illness, that it will cause death. When a tick finds a host and attaches to it, it begins to suck the victimís blood and at the same time releases a toxin. Only the female tick is said to cause this reaction. The tick also releases an anti-clotting substance to help feed on the host blood. This is what causes the symptoms of it host and the toxin it releases begins the illness within hours. The illness starts from the rear of the llama and progresses up the spine to the lungs and head. First you will see a strange gait in the rear legs. This can be so slight you are not sure you are seeing anything different. A couple of days earlier, I thought he was walking strangely. Actually, we both thought he was oddly, but then he seamed to correct himself. Next, the back legs seem to spread out in a wider stance so they can walk without falling down. Then when they walk this way they rock. As the disease progresses, the paralysis moves up the spinal column, and the llama will hold his neck in a stiff position, and arch his head upward. This is all to maintain his balance. Gradually, the paralysis moves into the esophagus and diaphragm causing the inability to eat and swallow, followed by total paralysis of the diaphragm, inability to breath and death. It looked as if our llama was in the last phase of this illness. Which he displayed by the inability to swallow and falling down, and his shallow breathing. We were very lucky. This was a real learning experience for the three of us. I was positive it was meningial worm and shocked when the tick was found. We held it in a cup, and we looked at it and could not believe that this one small insect could cause this much damage to a 265 lb. llama.

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Revised: July 28, 2012 .