Treating Stomach Ulcers in Llamas
“Bioavailability and Pharmacokinetics of Oral Omeprazole in Llamas”
Investigator: Dr. Geof Smith
Institution: North Carolina State University
Status: Year 1 of 1
Posted: November 2004
Study ID: D04LA-06
Stomach ulcers can frequently cause illness and even death in llamas and
alpacas. Although the exact cause of these ulcers is unknown, stress appears to
be the most common predisposing factor. Unfortunately, many of the drugs
commonly used to treat stomach ulcers in other species are ineffective in
llamas and alpacas. An intravenous version of the drug omeprazole has shown
some promise in treating camelids; however, administration requires veterinary
assistance. A new oral omeprazole product has been successful in treating stomach
ulcers in horses and may offer an easier alternative for llamas and alpacas.
Investigators in this study will examine the effectiveness of the new oral
medication in camelids to reduce stomach acidity and decrease ulcers.
MAF: Why do camelids get stomach ulcers?
Dr. Smith: We think ulcers are mostly caused by stress. Just like in other
species, camelids seem to get ulcers when they are in the hospital or when they
are sick for another reason. Llamas are herd animals, so if they leave the herd
behind, they seem to get stressed and get ulcers. They occasionally get ulcers
in the first compartment of the stomach, which is similar to the rumen of the
cow, but the ulcers that cause big problems are in the third compartment.
MAF: Are ulcers in llamas easy to diagnose? What are some of the
Dr. Smith: No they aren’t. Unlike a horse, where veterinarians can pass a scope
down and look in the stomach, llamas have rumen so we can’t see into their
stomach. The signs are teeth grinding, excessive salivating, not eating, laying
down a lot because their stomach hurts and very black feces because they have
digestive blood in their feces. Based on some of the signs, we can suspect an
ulcer, but we can never be sure the animal has an ulcer. Eventually an ulcer
can perforate or poke a hole in the stomach, and once that happens, the animal
usually will get an infection pretty quickly and die.
MAF: What is standard treatment when an ulcer in a llama is
Dr. Smith: Most owners and veterinarians try to reduce stress on the llama.
They also try to decrease the production of stomach acid. Some of the drugs
used to treat llamas are also used in humans, but they’ve been shown to not
work very well in llamas. The one drug that does work well in decreasing acid
production is omeprazole, which is what my study is about.
MAF: What do you hope to learn about omeprazole for llamas?
Dr. Smith: The purpose of our study is to see if this drug can be a useful
agent to prevent and/or treat stomach ulcers in llamas. So far, scientists have
shown that omeprazole only works when given intravenously. The problem is that
the veterinarian has to administer the drug; the owner can’t give it at home.
A new oral form has been shown to work really well in horses. It would be
much easier to give by mouth than by shots twice a day and would cut down on
cost as well. The oral version could also be used for prevention. If a llama
was stressed or in the clinic, you could have him on this drug, or any time you
needed to ship the animal away from home to a show, you could put him on the
The drug has to be absorbed into the blood for it to work, but because
llamas have a rumen, we don’t know if the drug makes it through the rumen when
it’s given orally. The drug has been shown to work in llamas when given
intravenously so if we can show that we can achieve the blood levels necessary
to be effective when omeprazole is given orally, then we can recommend it to
People already are using the drug and assuming the horse dose is
appropriate, but it may not be. We’ll adjust the dose until we get what we feel
is an appropriate dose in llamas that we can recommend to owners. We have good
evidence this will work; we just need to determine the dose.
The Above Article Is From: Morris Animal Foundation