Fay Pooley, Scarsdale farm vet and Advanced Practitioner Certificate holder in camelid practice, recently completed a successful socially distanced, bio-secure, alpaca blood donation day! Fay talks us through the day and explains how it can be life saving to sick cria.
On Wednesday 31st March, we held a successful alpaca blood donation day. Due to Covid social distancing and PPE measures, the drive was completed with the use of an alpaca chute. This is a handling system where the animal can be restrained for a period of time, with minimal personnel involved.
The idea of these donation days is to take blood from donor animals. The blood is then sent to Pet Blood Bank UK for processing. In return for 1 bag of whole blood we get two bags of plasma and 1 bag of red cells. The plasma is frozen and can be stored for up to 5 years. The plasma can then be used to help treat poorly cria (baby alpaca) on the same farm as the donor animal.
The procedure itself usually takes about half an hour, most of the time is spent securing the Alpaca, making sure it is safe and comfortable. The blood draw site is then prepared. It needs to be clipped and scrubbed to make sure the skin is as sterile as we can get it in a farm setting. Local anaesthetic is also used so that the alpaca doesn’t feel the collection needle going in.
After the preparation, the donation can commence. There needs to be a free, uninterrupted flow of blood from the animal into the collection bag until the bag reaches the correct weight. This normally takes approximately 5-8minutes. The needle is then removed, and a bandage is placed over the site used to take the blood.
Why is the blood drive important?
Due to alpacas becoming more popular as pets, donation days like this are vital so that each breeder has a store of plasma available to them for poorly cria. For biosecurity reasons the plasma is only to be used on animals from the herd is its taken from. Diseases such as Mycoplasma can be carried in the blood and therefore spread by the sharing of blood products. There are also different disease challenges on every farm that the donor animal will have antibodies to.
Cria are born without any antibodies and rely solely on colostrum to obtain them. There is no transfer of these vital antibodies across the placenta as in some other species. In the first six hours the antibodies can pass through the gut wall into the cria’s blood. The ability for them to cross the gut wall declines over time until twelve hours when the gut wall closes and becomes impermeable. If the cria doesn’t receive enough colostrum in this crucial window, it is left open to potentially fatal infections.
Treatment of these infections in cria needs to be swift and targeted; by using the plasma we have harvested from these donation days we can put antibodies straight in to the blood of the cria. The treatment is multi-modal but the plasma goes a long way towards helping the crias’ own immune system gain time to be able to fight the infection.