January 9, 2011

Failure To Thrive

Charlie
This isn't something I was sure I could bring myself to blog about. Partly from a sense of grief, and mostly from a sense of personal failure. We lost Charlie. The diagnosis was "failure to thrive," something I didn't know was a problem for young llamas until it happened to us.

Unfortunately, Failure To Thrive (FTT) is common in cria and weanling llamas or (alpacas). Although they appear normal at an early age, they later stop growing. Such was the case with Charlie. He never grew the entire time we had him. Pinpointing the cause is a slow, trial and error endeavor, often impossible because the causes are so varied: parasites, rickets, digestive abnormalities, iron deficiency anemia, immunodeficiency syndrome (JLIDS), low birth weight, birth defects, heart defects, thyroid problems, Coccidia even with CD/T immunizations, being weaned too young, Bovine Viral Diarrhea Virus (BVD virus or BVDV),  even genetics, to name just some.

We knew something was wrong because even though his appetite was good, he kept losing weight. Twice he had diarrhea, for which fecals indicated parasites, so he was treated for these, along with probiotics and an electrolyte/vitamin supplement because of the diarrhea. These problems could have interfered with weight gain, but even when everything was normal, he continued to lose weight.

I talked with other llama owners on a llama forum about feed and weight loss, and switched from the sweet feed recommended by the breeder I bought him from, to a llama formulation. When that didn't help, I started offering it to him twice a day. I continued to give him probiotics and made sure he had a good free choice mineral supplement. I offered treats of carrots and apples, but he really wasn't interested in these. He continued to get thinner.

As the days went by he grew weaker, though he was still eating and his beans (manure) were normal. I started taking him out to fresher grazing in the yard, worrying because he was having trouble getting up and seemed wobbly on his legs. I had to force him to get up and move, because somehow he seemed to stop caring. It was at that point that I began to wonder if llamas could have such a thing as failure to thrive. I started to research, and discovered that it is actually quite common with young llamas. Too often however, by the time FTT is identified it's too late.

His last morning he couldn't even lift his head up. I had already accepted that he was dying, but his death was no less devastating to me. When it finally came, I was flooded both with grief, as well as a sense of a burden having been lifted. Dan was on the road at the time, but we spoke by phone and agreed on a burial place in the woods, a small cleared spot where someone had dumped a pile of dirt a long time ago.

I clipped Charlie's fleece, feeling that this gave some small meaning to his short life of 11 months. After that the only thing I felt like doing was digging. I didn't think I could dig a burial hole deep enough, but I figured I could start. I figured I'd dig as long as I could, and Dan could finish it when he got home the next day.

I worked slowly and thought about Charlie. I had become very attached to him because I had worked so closely with him for training. I thought about what happened to him and what I could have done differently. When I started first researching FTT, I learned about Indian Creek Llama Sanctuary in Tennessee, where Pat and George Brandon provide permanent homes for "unadoptable" llamas, and have a special interest in FTT. I had gotten in touch with them, and George was able to provide a lot of helpful information, as well as give me some sense of personal peace about Charlie's death.

I kept on digging. The ground was wet so the clay soil was heavy, but with a weather forecast of more rain and snow, I kept on digging. I needed a physical outlet for my grief, a channel for my emotions. By the time the sun was low in the sky, I had dug a huge deep hole, big enough for Charlie's final resting place. I covered the grave with logs and branches, making a huge but neat pile. This was important to prevent some hungry critter from coming along later and digging up the body. I headed back to the house as the sun was beginning to set.

For Charlie, my best guess is that he was one who was weaned too young. He was advertised with a group of weanling llamas, described as approximately 5 months old. That means they had been weaned prior to that, though llama experts don't recommend weaning before 6 months of age. In all likelihood, his digestive system hadn't developed enough to obtain the nourishment he needed from grass, hay, and grains alone. He still needed his mother's milk. He was hungry and eating, but his body was not capable of absorbing the much needed nutrients, and the probiotics weren't enough to make a difference.

Even though I did everything I knew to do, it is hard not to take this as a personal defeat. As humans, we want to control the circumstances in our lives. We want to control the outcome of the situations we are in, and when they don't turn out as we wish, we demand to know reasons why. We are quicker to blame than to accept. In reality, nature is neither compassionate nor kind. Nor does it place greater value on life than on death. This is difficult for those of us in the modernized 21st century to understand. We don't have enough experiential knowledge of the natural world to understand its processes. We do not understand that some things are beyond our ability to control, and that these things require only acceptance on our part. We do not know how to cope with things that a less industrialized culture accepts with grace.

Will we get another llama? Unless someone mysteriously leaves one abandoned on our doorstep, no. For now we are doing well with our chickens, goats, and cats, and that is enough.

Farewell sweet Charlie

Failure To Thrive © January 2011 by Leigh 

52 comments:

Mim said...

So sad! I'm so sorry for you.

-Heidi said...

I am so very sorry! My heart goes out to you!

~Heidi

evelynoldroyd said...

What a sad day for you. I am glad you wrote about Charlie.

MiniKat said...

Oh Leigh I'm so sorry about Charlie. My fuzzy husband asked me to pass along his condolences too.

I know you did everything you possibly could for Charlie and that he was loved.

Farmgirl_dk: said...

Oh Leigh - Damnit, I am so sad. I am so, so sorry for your pain. And for how you will miss this sweet little guy. *Please* don't take this as a personal defeat - you did everything you could. You loved him and cared so well for him and when you had questions, you reached out to others for information and guidance. You gave your heart to this little guy; please don't let what you had to learn in a very hard way prevent you from giving your heart again in the future. You are a wonderful critter mama. All my thoughts are with you, Leigh - thank you for posting this. I know how hard this was to do. ♥

Alison said...

Oh, Leigh, how sad! I am so, so sorry for you and Charlie both. I know you did everything you could - and the last of that really is writing about him here.

Many hugs.

Robin said...

I am so sorry. That is completely awful. I have never heard of FTT before.

Theresa said...

Oh Leigh, I'm so, so sorry. I know of this in llamas and the FTT is a common term for many animals although doesn't apply in quite the same way as in llamas.
Poor little guy. I know it breaks your heart being so helpless, but you provided all the things he needed to make his short life as good as possible, love,
and companionship and certainly a lot of try in an impossible situation. Big big cyber hugs.

Angie said...

I am so very sorry, Lergh.

Razzberry Corner said...

I'm so sorry, Leigh. I've never heard of such a thing. Take care!

denise/deBRAT said...

Oh Leigh I'm so sorry you, dh and your farmstead animal clan have had such a terrible loss. Please accept my heartfelt sympathies and I'm so glad you (and we) have your blog to easily remember Charlie by.

denise/deBRAT

icebear said...

i'm sorry. its hard to lose a sweet little friend. ((hug))

Woolly Bits said...

every comment said it all. and from your post I think you already thought this through - I am sorry that this had to happen, for you and for Charlie of course. it's so hard to see animals wasting away and nothing helps:(( something like that happened to a pet of mine a long time back - and not nowing how to help was the worst thing to me.

Cally said...

Oh poor Charlie and poor you. Losing a member of the family is devastating, whatever species they are. It sounds as though his early circumstances meant he would never have lived, but how lovely that the months he had were with people who cared so much for his welfare and were there for him to the very end.

Jane said...

I have tears in my eyes as I was reading this. I am so deeply sorry for your loss. At least while he was with you he knew love and kindness.

The Mom said...

I'm so sorry Leigh. You did everything you could. It isn't your fault. It's so hard to lose any living thing. Take the time and grieve him properly. So sad.

Mr. H. said...

I'm so very sorry, poor little guy.

Laura @ Getting There said...

Leigh, I'm so sorry to hear of your loss. Your post was very well written, and true--we 21st century humans want to be able to control everything, but sometimes, we simply can't. You did everything you could for Charlie. May he rest in peace. (hug)

Mama Pea said...

What a beautiful, all-encompassing tribute to Charlie. I think perhaps Charlie was sent to you so he could live his short life with someone who truly loved and cared for him in the best way possible. You could not have done more to give him the best possible chance of making it. Nature's way is the best, including the fact that he should have been left with his mama longer than he was. Nothing you could have done about that.

Like Jane, I was teary reading this post. All the same, thank you for sharing with us.

The Apple Pie Gal said...

Oh Leigh, I am so sorry for your loss. I was crying like a baby for you. I admire that you dug his resting place and totally understand why that would be theraputic for you.

He seemed like a sweet soul. Charlie at least was very loved. Of that you can relieve yourself of doubt.

hugs

Toni aka irishlas said...

I'm sorry to hear about Charlie.

You did everything you could for him and gave him the best possible that you were able.

You're in my thoughts.

Teresa said...

I am so sorry Leigh, Prayers to you.

Renee said...

Hugs! I'm so sorry for your loss. I know you and Charlie were working on a great relationship.

luckybunny said...

I'm very sorry for your loss. We went down this road once too, it's very sad and I know very difficult.

tami said...

My thoughts are with you, Leigh.

...Miss...Maddie's... said...

Just like any creature we bring into our homes, barns and pastures they run the risk to succumbing to sickness beyond our control.
For the few short months he was part of your lives he brought enjoyment and an appreciation of the llama family.
Rest assured like all God's creatures he is running about in some heavenly pasture amongst those that have gone before him...
Susan

Pam said...

Oh Leigh! I am so so sorry for your loss. Charlie was so cute and adorable, please know that when things happen like this it is for a higher purpose even though we may not know it or like it.....but it is always sad when it takes place....love to you! p.s. I know that you did all that you could...you are such a kind and wonderful person!

Bubbles, Madness and Trouble said...

We are so sad to hear about Charlie. Hugs.

Life Looms Large said...

My heart goes out to you. So sorry about Charlie. Thank you for sharing the story with us.

Sue

Sara said...

Leigh, I am so sorry to hear about Charlie...Another friend of mine lost her llama or alpaca recently and the symptoms sound similar...

My heart aches for you...

Helen said...

Oh Leigh that is so sad. I feel so sad that he was weaned to soon so nothing you could do would have been enough. Poor you Poor Charlie.

bspinner said...

My heart aches for you!!! I am so sorry to hear about Charlie!!! We all appreciate you sharing your loss with us and know you did all you could for Charlie. He was lucky to have you as his human!!!

Michelle said...

Oh Leigh, my heart goes out to you and my arms would go around you if I were close enough! You two are such awesome stewards of all God has loaned you, and He knows you did your very best by Charlie. And since He even notices the fallen sparrow, you know He is sorrowing, too. I'm so sorry for your loss and sadness; what a gift to be able to work through some of your pain and lay him to rest.

What Pigs Don't Know said...

I'm truly sorry to hear about this, Leigh. Thanks for sharing your story with us - I know the last few days must have been hard. -Carrie

Jo said...

I'm very sorry for your loss, it sounds like you did an awful lot to help him improve. Thank you for writing about it.

Sharon said...

I am so so sorry. It's a huge blow to lose an animal and they always leave a hole. Llamas are a little tricky, like mohair goats, and the nursing and subsequent loss is all the worse.

Phoebe said...

Remember he loved you too. He just finished his work here. If only we could all die at peace and as loved as Charlie.
Have a good cry and then take care of yourself. Take a hot bath and snuggle down with the kitties and a good book.

Benita said...

Oh, my dear, I am so sorry. Loosing an animal like that is always hard, more so because you had been working so closely with him. You are in my prayers.

DEEP END OF THE LOOM said...

I'm so sorry for your loss. I know you did everything you could for him, but most of all he was loved. {{hugs}} I can only hope that writing your post is helping you deal with the grief.

Kari said...

Oh, I'm so sorry, Leigh. From your writings, I know without a doubt that you did everything you could possibly have done for him.

Take care,
Kari

Katrien said...

We are all so sorry to hear this sad news. You did all you could and gave him a wonderful and fulfilling life.
Love,
Katrien and family

Geodyne said...

Oh, Leigh. I'm so sorry. Poor Charlie. He'd really caught my affection.

Mary Ann said...

I am so very sorry about your Charlie. We lost a cria in April and it hurt very badly, he was 9 months old. They are such sweet babies. I'm sorry you lost him, he looks so very sweet.

Leigh said...

Thank you to everyone for your heartfelt sympathies. I know I'm going to miss him for some time to come, but life goes on.

Cynthia said...

Oh, Leigh, that must have been so hard. How maddening that he was weaned too early.

Grace said...

Leigh, I'm so sorry to hear about Charlie. Our animal family members are such mysteries, aren't they? Sometimes doing everything you can do just isn't enough.

Your post shows that you are both sensitive and sensible, and I'm glad you thought to dig his grave as a therapeutic exercise as well as one last way to take care of him. I admire your fortitude.

Hugs!

Leigh said...

Cynthia, well, I reckon it's one of those live and learn things. If I ever were to get another llama, which I doubt we will, I'd have a whole lot more questions to ask before buying.

Grace, thank you so much. The digging and burying really helped. I'm still sad, but accept what happened. Life goes on.

Anonymous said...

what a sad way to start the new year, i'm so sorry.

Leigh said...

Anonymous, I still miss him. Never dreamed I could love a llama so much. Thank you for your kind words.

Beth said...

Leigh Anne told me that Charlie had died. I'm so sorry! I'm sitting here with tears running down my cheeks as I read your blog. I was looking over some of your other posts, Sarah saw a picture of Charlie and she said, "That's Charlie!" I think I have a picture or two of him from our visit in August. If you'd like I could try to send them to you via email.

Angel Andrewson said...

Thank you for the article. We have gone through this twice now. Both times, we were told the llamas were 6 months old and weaned, but it was soon apparent that they were not. They tried to suckle everything. .the dog, my coat, gloves, etc. Though both had great appetites, and drank water well, they also dropped weight, rather than gaining. Both died while I was in Colorado on business, leaving my family to deal with it first hand. :-( I appreciate this article because it does seem like I had failed them both, though I know we tried everything to help them. Like you, I am sticking to my dogs, cats and chickens for now.

Leigh said...

Angel, I'm so glad it helped, but am so sorry you had to experience this. It's frustrating because by the time you figure out what's going on it's too late. I would love to have a llama again, but that hasn't happened. Not sure it ever will. The very best to you, your dogs, chickens, and cats. :)