The farm was at least half an hour’s drive away, over in Nidderdale. As we got closer, Laura switched on her camera, pointed it straight at me (as usual) and began quizzing me about the visit; what I might expect to find when I got there, what might be the nature of the problem and how serious it might be? I didn’t really have any answers for her.
All I knew was the llama was flat out in the field and couldn’t stand up. It sounded very serious, and I suspected that the outcome might be a sad one.
We arrived at the farm and, as I gathered everything I thought I might need to treat a collapsed llama, I scanned the pastures for my patient. All the animals I could see were grazing happily.
It wasn’t long before Suzanne, to whom the llamas belonged, appeared. Since the panicked phone call to the practice, she explained, the llama in question, whose name was Aztec, had been coerced to his feet and coaxed into one of the buildings. He was already in the specially made crush-cum-stocks arrangement that keeps these long-legged animals standing and restrained in just the right way.
“We managed to get him up just after I’d called,” said Suzanne. “But he doesn’t look happy. His ears are back and he’s not eating properly. He’s an old boy, but it’s just not like him, so I’m glad you’re here because I’d like him to have a proper check over.”
I started, as usual, at the head and worked my way back, examining each part of the body and asking questions as I went. Was he lame? Was he wobbly after he got up? The only clue came from Suzanne’s comment about his gait.
“He was walking with his back legs apart, as if he was sore around his back end.”
This made sense. Any kind of pain around the back legs could have caused him to have difficulty when he tried to stand. My examination had taken me to the appropriate part of his body and I lifted his tail to take his temperature. It was at this point that the cause of his problem became clear.
Poor old Aztec’s bottom was ulcerated and very sore. It had been sore for some weeks – Suzanne reminded me that I had briefly looked at it earlier on in the summer, in passing, when I was on the farm treating other animals. She had been regularly applying a salve-like ointment, which had provided some relief, but this was much worse than I remembered.
The lesion looked quite sinister, and as I probed with my lubricated finger, it became evident that the thickened and painful area extended several centimetres inside. I was concerned it could be a cancerous growth. We discussed all the options.
It was impossible to make any further clinical decisions without a diagnosis, and so I embarked upon a procedure I had never done before: an anal biopsy on a llama.
It was more straightforward than we all imagined it might be. I placed an epidural so the whole area was completely numb, which enabled me to take two biopsies of the abnormal tissue. I put the two little samples in a formalin pot, ready to send to the lab. The results will be back next week. We all have our fingers crossed...
The Yorkshire Vet continues with the second special episode on Tuesday on Channel 5 at 8pm.
Julian’s new book, A Yorkshire Vet Through the Seasons, is available now for £14.99, published by Michael O’Mara Books.