Many people would not consider llamas pets in the traditional sense. Strictly speaking, they're considered livestock—however, because they're friendly, social, calm, and easily trained, they're often a great option for people looking for a more exotic companion. Many times, llama ownership arises from a case of "love at first sight." Of course, they are not for everyone, and given their size and needs, are only appropriate for those with enough room to house them and care for them properly.
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?
Owning a pet llama is typically allowed in most areas—however, it's always a good idea to check with state and local ordinances in your area before pursuing pet ownership. In some areas, llamas may be considered livestock and come with zoning regulations that restrict their size, number, or how close they can be to your home (or a neighbor's).
Because llamas take a lot of care and attention, it's important to consider if you have the time and means necessary to own one. In addition to being able to properly care for your llama, you should ensure you acquire your pet ethically, either through a certified rescue organization or a reputable breeder.
Llama Behavior and Temperament
Llamas are social animals and, if properly socialized from a young age, they can make very calm, gentle companions. They have a reputation for spitting, but this is more typical between llamas and usually not directed at people (unless poorly socialized). They also make a variety of sounds and can actually act as a guard for sheep and other livestock, fending off a lone dog or coyote and alerting owners to problems.
Llamas are very curious and will approach most people easily and unprompted. They will take a bit to warm up to you, but once you gain their trust they are happy to have you with them in their enclosure, around the yard, etc. Owning more than one llama is fine as they're herd animals, but you should be aware of various behavioral issues that can arise as they fight for dominance, such as spitting, neck wrestling, kicking, and ramming each other.
The amount and type of shelter you provide for your llama is very dependent on your climate. In cold weather, an enclosure like a barn or other windproof housing may be necessary to keep your llama comfortable, while in warmer climates, a three-sided shelter would likely do the trick. In really hot areas, a roofed area with open sides is more effective to allow cooling airflow. Additionally, they'll need plenty of room to run and roam for exercise.
Proper fencing is also necessary to keep llamas in and other animals out. The complexity of the fence depends on your situation, like the number of llamas (or other pets) you have and how important it is to keep them separate. Llamas do best with a companion—another llama of similar age is best (and unless you want a breeding farm, the same sex, too).
Specific Substrate Needs
In their enclosure, llamas should have a dry and warm spot to rest. Typically this can either be lined with straw, wood shavings, or wood chips—however, llamas love to roll in wood chips and they can stick in their fur for quite a long time.
Nutritional requirements and information on feeding are available on the LlamaOrg site. They can be fed on pasture as long as it is free from poisonous plants (as for cattle, sheep). Hay and complete rations are also acceptable. The type of feed available and what should be fed will vary by area. Also, supplementation with vitamins and mineral will depend on the area and is best discussed with a veterinarian or agriculture extension specialist. Ample fresh water is absolutely essential at all times.
What Do Llamas Eat & Drink?
Llamas can eat pretty much anything, which makes them fairly easy to feed. If you have a yard or landscape where your llama can roam freely, they may just fill up on grasses already available to them. If a natural pasture is not available to them, you can feed your llama a fresh supply of hay, along with commercially-available llama food.
Llamas also need plenty of fresh, clean water available to them daily. You should plan to supplement your llama's diet with a salt or mineral supplement for the proper nutrients—corn can also be added to their diet around the winter to help them maintain the proper weight and energy levels throughout the season. Keep a general eye on how much your llama eats—they can easily overeat if they have food readily available to them at all times. If you have any concerns with how much your llamas should be eating, you can consult your veterinarian.
Common Health Problems
Llamas are pretty hardy animals but should have a vaccine schedule designed by a veterinarian based on potential disease threats in your area (which often overlap with diseases and parasites cattle and sheep are prone to). In general, though, they are quite hardy and do well as long as veterinary care is sought early on if something does go wrong. Just know that regular veterinary care will be required and may be expensive if health problems arise.
Provided that you give your llama plenty of room to roam, you should have their exercise needs covered. As a general rule of thumb, you should aim to have an acre of land for two to four llamas. Beyond general roaming and exploring, you shouldn't need to keep tabs on your llama's exercise schedule unless directed to do so by a vet.
Properly grooming a llama is a very in-depth job, so if you don't feel up to a lot of learning and time investment, it's best to hire the task out to a pro in your area. The quality of a llama's fur is a direct reflection on their overall health, so a proper diet and ample care is the first step in maintaining a llama's appearance. In general, llamas will need occasional brushing and sheering, as well as regular check-ups on their ears and teeth and toenail trimming.
In order to groom your llama adequately, you need to care for them in accordance with their fur type (a vet can give you insight into this). For instance, classic llamas can be brushed, while woolly llamas and those with Suri fiber (straight-looking fur) should not be. The same differentiation goes with shearing, so check with a local shearing expert before you commence with grooming your llama.
Training Your Llama
Llamas take well to elementary training methods, which may explain why they have been used for packing in South America for centuries—their agility and calm nature make them excellent companions on even the wildest terrain. Chances are you aren't scaling a mountain with your llama any time soon, but they can be trained to walk on a leash or carry small items around your property.
Llamas also do well with kids and are becoming increasingly common as 4-H projects. Not only are they gentle and easy to handle, but their calm nature makes them great in parades and public appearances. The llama show circuit is growing as well, with many different classes, as well as trials based on athletic abilities. They are even being used in animal-assisted therapy, where animals are taken to retirement homes and hospitals to reach out to residents and patients.
Purchasing Your Llama
You should always look to obtain your llama (or any pet) from a skilled and conscientious breeder that practices good preventive healthcare and has an excellent track record with previous generations of llamas under their care. It's always a good idea to visit the breeder whenever possible so you can observe the conditions their llamas are kept in. If you have trouble finding reputable breeders in your area, you can always reach out to livestock rescue foundations geared towards llamas to help unite you with your new pet.
Similar Pets to the Llama
If you are interested in other barnyard animals like a llama, check out:
Are llamas hard to take care of?
Llamas take a lot of care and while none of it is particularly hard, it is time consuming. It's important to consider if you can manage to care and provide for a llama before adopting or purchasing 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?
Generally speaking, more llamas live within domestication (either in a farm environment or as true pets) than out in the "wild." They adapt very well to life alongside humans and other livestock and will thrive with the right care for many years to come.