TEETH & TOES
An alpaca’s teeth grow continuously for about the first 8 years of the alpaca’s life, then the growth will slow down considerably. An alpaca’s toenails will also grow through out the alpaca’s lifetime. It is important to maintain the teeth and toes. With out proper management they can overgrow and become a big problem for the alpaca and the breeder.
In South America alpacas graze on sparse natural grasses which grow out of sand and rock. Because of this the alpacas are usually grazing very short grasses that are very close to the ground. The sand and grit that comes with that mouth full of grass helps to grind down the teeth. And being that this is also the same environment that the alpacas walk and run on, their toes are also somewhat worn down.
It is a very different situation here in Canada and the United States. Our alpacas are kept in relatively smaller areas, they do not have to travel far to eat or to get water and they graze in very lush pastures. All this of course is great for the over all health and well being of our alpacas. Most alpaca breeders will agree that compromising the health of your alpacas in order, not to have to deal with the teeth & toes is completely out of the question. That is why it is important to learn how to take care of your alpaca’s teeth & toenails.
Ideally the two front bottom teeth should be lined up just under the dental pad. When we see the teeth start to grow towards the end of the pad we will trim them back. We use a tooth trimmer attachment that we bought while in Australia, before that we had been using a small dremal tool. We check the female’s teeth, males teeth and we check the older weanlings just to make sure we don’t miss any of the teeth getting to close to the edge of the pad.
If, the teeth do grow over they will be forced forward and the angle changes. They can be cut back at this point but they will never grow straight under the pad again, because of the angle of the teeth. This is not to say that you shouldn’t trim those teeth back, even though they will not be perfect, your alpaca will look better and most importantly will be able to eat & graze normally.
We will trim our teeth at shearing time (for those who need it) and we periodically check them through out the year. Those who need a trim will get one, some teeth will grow faster than others. This also is the same for toes, some toes need to be trimmed more often than others.
This is a perfect example of how the bottom teeth should line up under the dental pad.
Males and the odd female will get a set of six canine teeth or fighting teeth. They are found between the incisors and the molars, 2 on the bottom and 4 on the top. The teeth are razor sharp and can do some damage. This is why it is important to cut off or ground down the fighting teeth on the males. The male alpacas do the most aggressive fighting and can castrate one another. Female alpacas do not fight like the males do and therefore will not need anything done on those teeth.
Fighting teeth will erupt at about 3 years of age, it is good to do a routine check on your breeding males to make sure you avoid any potential problems. To trim those teeth we use large dog nail clippers or you can use a dremal tool with a small grinder attachment. When using any type of grinder in the mouth you want to make sure you have someone strong to hold the head still and make sure you have something to hold the mouth open, you don’t want an injury. You can use a piece of pvc pipe or a doggy rope toy. These teeth are very sharp, so be careful when putting your fingers in the mouth.
Toes will also need trimming, we use a modified pair of pruning shears to trim our toes. When you see the toenails starting to curl inwards or outwards it is time for a trim. Toes that are not trimmed can become in grown into the pad or twisted over so bad that it will be painful for the alpaca to walk. We will do our toes at shearing time and on average every 2 months. We will keep an eye out for those toes that need to be trimmed in between that time.
Teeth and toe maintenance is not a hard thing to keep up with and yet we still see a large number of alpacas walking around with over grown teeth and over grown toenails. We train all our clients on how to do the trimming of the teeth and toenails, we feel this is an important part of alpaca management.