Cats and dogs might be the most popular pets in America, but some folks love to break the mold and dream of keeping larger, less-common animals instead. Enter llamas and alpacas, two of the world's hardest-working pack animals. Known for their long necks and soft wool, these camel relatives have lived and worked with humans for thousands of years. Llamas are even used for herding and protecting smaller livestock, like sheep. Both alpacas and llamas are calm, loyal, and protective animals who can also make great pets, but there are a few things you should consider first.
First things first: Both llamas and alpacas live anywhere from 20 to 30 years, so getting one as a pet is a big commitment. You should only get these super-sized pets if you can provide care and housing for them in the decades to come.
If you've never spent time with a llama or alpaca before, visit breeders and get to know the animals before taking the big leap. These capable animals thrive with owners who understand their needs and personalities.
Llamas and alpacas are both big animals, so you probably realize they take up a lot more space than a cat or dog. You'll need a securely fenced yard or field to keep them. You don't need a ton of land, though—many llama and alpaca varieties will do fine on as little as one acre. Just remember that they also need an enclosed shelter to bed down and get out of bad weather.
Chances are your city or county's zoning laws don't consider llamas and alpacas pets. They're considered livestock animals, which means your property must be zoned for livestock if you want to get one. Read your local laws carefully, as some areas specify the minimum lot size you need to keep a livestock animal.
Don't make the mistake of thinking you can hide a llama or alpaca from neighbors and local authorities. They are curious creatures and will make their presence known.
As members of the family Camelidae, both llamas and alpacas are social animals who thrive in herd settings. Keeping just one of these animals is possible, but solo llamas and alpacas tend to become distressed or agitated because they're lonely. If you're set on having one as a pet, consider a pair instead. They'll be much happier and are likely to live longer too.
Alpacas and llamas require special veterinary care. Call vet offices in your area to see if a local doctor deals with livestock animals. It should go without saying, but don't buy one if you can't find a qualified vet.
Llama and alpaca wool is used for making clothing, ropes, rugs, blankets, and fishing nets. While no wool is truly hypoallergenic, people who can't tolerate the common sheep variety often wear alpaca wool without itching. Alpaca wool is also flame resistant, making it a great choice for clothing and household textiles.
Llamas and alpacas have thick, tightly curled wool that becomes matted and soiled over time. Shearing your pet's wool annually will help prevent dangerous parasites and skin infections. A dog groomer or sheep shearer can do the job—and you can even sell the wool.
Shearing should be done in the spring to prepare your pets for the heat of summer.
Is your alpaca going to live in your house? Probably not. Can you teach it to do its business in one designated area? Yes, you can! Training your alpacas to go to the bathroom in one area of their enclosure is smart. It makes cleaning up feces less demanding. Both llama and alpaca poop also make great fertilizer and will be easier to collect if it's not spread all over the enclosure.
Maybe you went to a zoo as a child and found out what llamas do when you make faces at them: spit. Strong spitting is a defense mechanism that both llamas and alpacas use when they feel threatened. The spit is only gross—it won't hurt you.
If you get one of these animals, never tease it or agitate it on purpose. While both llamas and alpacas are usually gentle, they can become aggressive when they feel threatened.
Bringing a new pet home is exciting. However, you shouldn't expect your llama or alpaca to be your bestie from day one. Both are highly intelligent animals that take time to get used to and bond with humans. Approach any new pets slowly, and don't force them to have close contact with you until they're ready.
Once they've bonded, llamas and alpacas make incredibly loyal, protective pets who are well worth the time and space needed to care for them.
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