Should You Keep a Llama As a Pet?

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Llamas are not commonly thought of as pets in the classic sense. They're technically cattle, but because they're friendly, sociable, quiet, and easy to teach, they're a popular choice among those wanting for a more exotic pet. Llama ownership is frequently the result of "love at first sight." Of course, they are not for everyone, and because to their size and requirements, they should only be kept by people who have the space to properly house and care for them.

Species Overview

Common Name: Llama

Scientific Name: Lama glama

Adult Size: 5 to 6 feet tall (to top of head); 250-450 pounds

Lifespan: 15 to 20 years

Can You Own a Pet Llama?

Legality

Most locations allow you to keep a llama as a pet, but it's always a good idea to check with your local state and municipal regulations before getting one. Llamas may be classified livestock in some regions, and zoning laws may apply that limit their size, quantity, or proximity to your residence (or a neighbor's).

Ethics

Because llamas require a lot of attention and care, you should think about whether you have the time and resources to care for one. You should purchase your llama responsibly, either through a licensed rescue group or a reputable breeder, in addition to being able to properly care for it.

Llama Behavior and Temperament

Llamas are gregarious creatures who may make peaceful, gentle companions if properly socialized from an early age. They are known for spitting, however behavior is more common among llamas and is rarely directed at humans (unless poorly socialized). They may also protect sheep and other animals by battling off a lone dog or coyote and alerting owners to issues.

Llamas are naturally interested and will approach most people without being asked. They will take some time to warm up to you, but after you have earned their trust, they will welcome you inside their cage, around the yard, and so on. Because llamas are herd animals, having more than one is great, but you should be aware of the different behavioral concerns that might occur as they compete for dominance, such as spitting, neck wrestling, kicking, and ramming each other.

Housing

Your climate will determine the amount and type of shelter you offer for your llama. In colder areas, a windproof enclosure such as a barn or other windproof housing may be required, although in milder climates, a three-sided shelter would suffice. A roofed space with open sides is more effective in allowing cooling breeze in extremely hot locations. They'll also want lots of space to run and wander for exercise.

To keep llamas in and other animals out, proper fence is also required. The fence's intricacy is determined by factors such as the number of llamas (or other pets) you have and how vital it is to keep them apart. Llamas thrive when they have a companion—ideally, another llama of comparable age (and unless you want a breeding farm, the same sex, too).

Specific Substrate Needs

Llamas should have a dry and warm place to relax in their enclosure. Typically, this is lined with straw, wood shavings, or wood chips; however, llamas enjoy rolling in wood chips, which can become stuck in their fur for quite some time.

The LlamaOrg website has nutritional needs and feeding information. They may be fed pasture as long as there are no harmful plants present (as for cattle, sheep). Hay and full rations are also viable options. Depending on the locality, the type of feed available and what should be given will differ. Also, vitamin and mineral supplements will vary by region and should be reviewed with a veterinarian or agriculture extension professional. At all times, plenty of fresh water is required.

What Do Llamas Eat & Drink?

Llamas can eat almost anything, making them relatively easy to feed. If your llama has access to a yard or landscape where they may graze freely, they may just consume the grasses that are already present. If you don't have access to natural pasture, you may provide your llama with fresh hay and commercially available llama chow.

Llamas also require enough of fresh, clean water on a regular basis. For the right nutrition, you should supplement your llama's food with a salt or mineral supplement; maize may also be given to their diet throughout the winter to assist them maintain the proper weight and energy levels. Keep a watch on how much your llama consumes in general—if food is readily available at all times, they can easily overeat. Consult your veterinarian if you have any questions about how much your llamas should be consuming.

Common Health Problems

Llamas are tough animals, but they should follow a vaccination plan devised by based on local disease concerns (which often overlap with diseases and parasites cattle and sheep are prone to). In general, they are tough and perform well as long as veterinary treatment is obtained as soon as possible if something goes wrong. Just be aware that frequent veterinarian care will be necessary, which might be costly if health issues occur.

Exercise

If you offer your llama enough space to wander, you should be able to meet their exercise requirements. You should strive for one acre of land for two to four llamas as a general rule of thumb. Unless recommended by a veterinarian, you shouldn't need to keep track of your llama's activity program beyond general roaming and exploration.

Grooming

Grooming a llama properly is a highly involved process, so if you don't feel up to a lot of learning and time commitment, it's preferable to rent the job out to a local specialist. Because the quality of a llama's fur is a direct indication of their general health, the first step in preserving a llama's look is to feed them properly and provide adequate attention. Llamas should be brushed and sheered on a regular basis, as well as having their ears and teeth checked and their toenails trimmed.

In order to properly groom your llama, you must take care of them according to their fur kind (a vet can give you insight into this). Llamas with woolly fiber (straight-looking fur) and those with Suri fiber (straight-looking fur) should not be groomed. The same distinction applies to shearing, therefore consult a local shearing professional before beginning to groom your llama.

Training Your Llama

Llamas respond well to basic training methods, which might explain why they've been used for packing in South America for centuries—their agility and placid disposition make them good partners on even the most difficult terrain. You won't be conquering a mountain with your llama anytime soon, but they can be taught to walk on a leash and carry little goods about your property.

Llamas get along nicely with children and are becoming more popular as 4-H projects. They're kind and simple to manage, and their placid demeanor makes them perfect for parades and public appearances. The llama show circuit is expanding as well, with many various divisions and athletic ability trials. They're even employed in animal-assisted therapy, in which animals are brought to nursing homes and hospitals to interact with residents and patients.

Purchasing Your Llama

Always purchase your llama (or any pet) from a knowledgeable and responsible breeder who provides great preventative healthcare and has a proven track record with past generations of llamas. It's usually a good idea to pay a visit to the breeder as often as possible to see how their llamas are kept. If you're having problems locating reliable breeders in your region, livestock rescue groups that specialize in llamas can help you discover your new companion.

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FAQ
  • Are llamas hard to take care of?

    Llamas require a lot of attention, and while none of it is difficult, it does take time. Before adopting or acquiring a llama, think about whether you can care for and provide for one.

  • How long to llamas live as pets?

    With proper care, llamas can live between 15 and 20 years in captivity, with some reaching as many as 30 years old.

  • Can you domesticate a llama?

    Llamas are more commonly seen in domestication (either on a farm or as actual pets) than in the wild. They adapt well to living with humans and other cattle, and with proper care, they will flourish for many years.

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