Pet Columns, Office of Public Engagement, College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

U of I logoCollege of Veterinary Medicine

Back to search page.

Llamas: A Different Kind of Pet


Pet Column for the week of October 23, 1995


Office of Public Engagement
2001 S. Lincoln Ave.
Urbana, Illinois 61802
Phone: 217/333-2907
By Linda March
Information Specialist

So you don't want to walk a dog, clean the litter box for a cat, or change the papers at the
bottom of the bird cage. Well, maybe a llama is the pet for you.

Llamas, as well as alpacas, vicunas, and guanacos are all tylopods, which are in the same
family as camels. Llamas have two toes like a cow, but walk on pads and have toenails
instead of hooves. They are like a ruminant (an animal with four-chambered stomachs) in
that they have a dental pad instead of upper teeth. However, their stomachs have three
chambers instead of four. Llamas have a split upper lip and can move each side
independently.

After 11-1/2 months of gestation, a cria (baby llama) is born. It may be long or short haired
and could be any color such as brown, black, white, or tan. It could be spotted or solid in
pattern. Since llamas were adapted to the Andes Mountains, they are well suited for life in
colder climates and in general are very hardy animals.

According to Dr. Dawn Morin, large animal veterinarian at the University of Illinois College
of Veterinary Medicine at Urbana, "These unusual animals are used for pets as well as for
breeding, showing, and as pack animals in the western United States."

Llamas are lighter than horses or donkeys and do less damage to the trails. They may also
be used as guard animals to protect sheep flocks from predators. Some llamas are used for
their wool. In South America they are used as a food source. It has been reported that
some adventurous owners even use their llamas as golf caddies!

Llamas are fairly easy-keepers. They do well on pasture grass, grass hay or grass/alfalfa
hay mix. Unlike some other animals, llamas don't require high protein and energy diets;
therefore, over-conditioning may be a problem.

Heat can also be a problem for llamas. Most of their heat exchange is through the relatively
hairless underbelly. Owners can provide their llamas with wading pools or put fans on them
to help keep the animals cool in hot humid weather. Shearing the llama also aids in the effort
to keep them comfortable.

"Since llamas are very sensitive to heat and humidity, they are susceptible to heat stress,"
notes Dr. Morin. "Once they go down they have a hard time getting up and are hard to treat
successfully."

Llamas need vaccinations and dewormings like other pets. Tetanus and Clostridium
perfringens types C & D are the vaccines normally needed, with other vaccines added
depending on the disease problems in your area. These animals also need their toe nails
trimmed periodically. Male llamas have fighting teeth that are sharp and curved. These
fighting teeth also need occasional trimming.

Dr. Morin points out, "Llamas have a bad reputation for spitting. They can also kick and
rear like a horse, but they are usually fairly docile animals and are very good with children."

These animals can have some of the same diseases that other domestic animals get, like
parasites and skin conditions caused by mites or ringworm fungus. Occasionally, they will
also have a fertility problem.

Llama milk is lower in fat and salt and higher in phosphorous and calcium than cow or goat
milk, but dairy farmers don't have to worry about serious competition--a llama only
produces about 60 milliliters at a time when she gives milk. Since she produces such a small
amount, the young llama must suckle frequently to receive the nutrients it requires.

There are over 75,000 llamas in the United States and Canada. If you would like to add to
that number and have a desire for an unusual pet, talk to your veterinarian about llamas.