It was at this time last year that we had a very tough decision to make. As animal lovers we never want to see our animals suffer. THE decision is NEVER easy, so we must look at all the facts but also listen to our hearts! We noticed drastic changes in our alpaca, Maserati starting in early November of last year. Under his fleece we could see rolls of swollen skin on his neck, spine and around his tail. He was eating very well but was losing weight at an alarming rate. One day, I noticed something strange. Normally he and his herd members would wrestle, but on that day, Biscotti ran up to him and stopped in his tracks and chose not to wrestle with him. He knew Maserati was sick and didn’t want to hurt him. His temperature was extremely high, and bloodwork showed his white blood cell count was in the high 30 K’s, when 8-19 K is considered normal for alpacas. He had lost over 40 pounds and started looking frail and weak. He would scream when we touched his swollen skin. After several veterinarian exams, consultations, and recommendations, we took him to the Large Animal Hospital at the University of Florida. The UF staff was wonderful and after an initial examination, they recommended that he be admitted for 7 days. Over that time, they scraped and drained his skin. He continued to vigorously eat, yet still lost more weight. Additional bloodwork showed his white blood cell count had spiked over 50,000! The bacteria results came back as “Klebsiella pneumoniae,” a bacterium that comes from the “environment.” Per the medical staff and those they consulted with; they have never seen this bacterium in Camelids! Results of an MRI showed some shadows on his back leg, which along with his bloodwork, it was presumptively diagnosed as lymphoma. The prognosis was bleak, and recommendations were that since his condition continued to decline, humane euthanasia should be selected. We were Devastated and went to bed that night thinking putting him down at the hospital was the right thing to do. But, after a very long, sleepless night, I called UF and told them I was coming to get him. If he was going to die, I didn’t want him to be alone. The Vet said she and her staff were very happy with our decision because they had all grown so attached to him. She said he might last a few days, a few weeks, or maybe a month. I drove to UF on December 23rd to bring Maserati home. The staff had done an amazing job in cleaning his skin, but when I saw him, he looked even weaker. One of the nurses brought him out to me. I opened the back of the SUV and she asked if we needed to lift him in. With that Maserati looked at me and jumped right in on his own! He was ready to go home. They gave me oral antibiotics and medical shampoo to keep him comfortable.
Every night for the next two weeks, I put my arm around him, gave him his antibiotic and sang to him, “Have I told you lately that I love you?” He moaned but put up with the antibiotics and my singing. We continued to bathe and put spray on his painful skin as much as he could handle. After two weeks, his skin started looking better in some areas and he seemed to be putting on weight. When I weighed him, I had to do it 3 different times thinking the scale was incorrect. He had actually gained 10 pounds in just two weeks. We did bloodwork again and he was still high, but down to 32 from 50. Week after week, his skin improved, he continued to gain weight, took his antibiotics, and put up with my singing! And one day I noticed when his herd mates wrestled, they included him in their games! 😊
I emailed the vet at UF numerous times, especially when his bloodwork went down to 19 K and he was up to his pre-illness weight of 180 lbs. She was thrilled and said based on these improvements, their diagnosis was most likely inaccurate! There were tears of joy for everyone! I didn’t write this article to place blame or anything like that. I wrote it as a reminder that sometimes you need to listen to your heart even when the facts tell you otherwise! Have faith and maybe, just maybe a chance is all that is needed to overcome the odds. I made the decision because I didn’t want Maserati to die alone, when in fact he decided he wasn’t ready to give up! He was a fighter and his body with the help of medication, fought off the infection. A year later, his skin, weight and bloodwork continue to be normal. We don’t know what the future holds, but we do know we enjoyed this last year with him and hopefully many more to come. Miracles do happen, and Maserati was truly our Christmas Miracle!