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Victorian Eastern Region of the Australian Alpaca Association Ltd.

Is Your Alpaca Quidding?

By Allison Quagliani

Quidding is the carrying of a cud or quid of grass or hay in the mouth. Alpacas with overgrown or very sharp molars use this ball of food to protect their cheeks and gums from the pain incurred while chewing their food.  The quid is not swallowed and if you are very observant you may find them on the ground in the area where the alpacas live. From the outside an animal with this protective pad in its mouth looks like it has a swelling, often the size of a golf ball on the side of its jaw. 

Fig. 1 - Petunia's "swelling" on the side of the jaw
Fig. 1 - Petunia's "swelling" on the side of the jaw

The alpaca in Figure 1 had a much larger, very obvious swelling. Quidding is usually accompanied by other symptoms that indicate severe dental malocclusions and animals should be treated as soon as practicable to restore correct mouth function and ultimately good health.

The meeting of the lower teeth with the upper teeth and dental pad is called occlusion. If for some reason they don’t meet together correctly it is called malocclusion. Teeth continue to erupt for most of an alpaca’s life at the rate at which they are worn.  If a tooth is not wearing against another tooth it will become protuberant, meaning to stick out above thesurface of the others.

Fig. 2 - Hook and ramp shown digging into the gums (dotted line).
Fig. 2 - Hook and ramp shown digging into the gums (dotted line).

Other terms used to describe types of malocclusions are ramps, hooks (Figure 2) and wavy mouth.  Wavy mouth is the uneven wearing of the cheek teeth creating a “roller coaster” effect on the grinding surface of the teeth


In my work as an Alpaca Dentist I come across a variety of cases of varying severity. Below I will discuss three case studies of animals I have successfully treated. All three were found to have severe dental malocclusions.


Petunia is a nine year old female who was brought to my attention during November 2006. At that time she was in her ninth month of gestation and had been examined by a vet to treat a large swelling on the side of her face (Figure 1). The “swelling” turned out to be a small football-sized collection of food that was packed between her teeth and her cheeks! Petunia was referred on to me by the vet, who suspected a tooth problem.  

She presented with a low body condition score, a generally unhappy demeanour and she had a constant stream of frothy green dribble running out of her mouth. I removed several large handfuls of partly chewed, matted grass from inside her mouth

Petunia did have serious teeth problems. Her molars were all wearing unevenly creating a wave mouth. Two of the lower molars at the back of her mouth had become so long (ramps) the opposing upper teeth were worn down below gum level. Every time she chewed her teeth were digging into her gums and the outside edges of her upper molars were cutting her cheeks. Imagine the pain!  Her only defence mechanism against this was to use the quid or grass ball as a buffer between the sharp teeth and the sensitive parts of her gums and cheek.

Petunia sat patiently while I worked on her teeth to file down the longer molars and remove all the sharp edges. Doing this removed the pain she felt while chewing and gave her a much more efficiently functioning mouth.

In the following two and a half weeks Petunia gained a mighty 5.6kg and has since given birth to a healthy cria. The collecting of food in her mouth did not stop immediately, it took a couple of months, partly because it had become habit and partly because she didn’t realise she no longer needed the protection it was providing.


I treated Prince, a rather special, stud male in March 2006. At twelve years old he had a low body condition score, was storing balls of food at the back of his mouth on both sides and had dribbled so much he had dermatitis on his lips. He was spending more time than the others sitting around and had also lost interest in the girls. 

Prince had dagger- like ramps on his rear molars and hooks on his upper premolars see Figure 2. The ramps were long enough to penetrate the opposing gum. The pain was preventing him from eating enough to maintain his weight. 

I provided the necessary treatment and he soon gained weight, stopped dribbling and collecting food in his mouth and importantly has cria due later this year.

Fig. 3 - In side view of Rocky's mouth, showing the protuberant tooth
Fig. 3 - In side view of Rocky's mouth, showing the protuberant tooth


I treated Rocky during winter. This 8yo wether had become very grumpy and started spitting. This was not his normal attitude. He was on good feed but not able to maintain body condition as well as his companions. His other symptom was a swelling slightly larger than a golf ball on one side of his face. His owner had noticed these symptoms and gave me a call after attending one of my presentations.

Two of his molars were more than 12mls protuberant, digging into his gums (Figure 3). These teeth were trimmed removing any pain associated with chewing. He was back to his normal, happy, easygoing self within a few days. 


These three alpacas and many others that I have treated usually displayed some common symptoms:

The majority of these animals tend to be in the 8 to 12 years old age group. Females with problems are often identified when nutritional demands are high during later pregnancy and lactation. 

Dental malocclusions do not appear overnight and take years to develop to the advanced stage of the above case studies. Watch closely how your animals eat and monitor body condition regularly. As with all health issues, the earlier dental problems are diagnosed the easier the treatment and of course the amount of stress and suffering to the alpaca is greatly reduced.

Further Reading

Dental Malocclusions in Australian Alpacas by Allison Quagliani, AAA Conference Proceedings, 2006