International Llama Association Educational Brochure #4
(Editors note... This was one of a series of educational brochures put out by the ILA and now published through the ILR. I apologize to our alpaca members for the llama, but I think most of this will be pertaining to alpacas also, except for the weight.)
The purpose of this brochure is to aid new and old llama owners in recognizing signs of illness in their animals, so that assistance may be sought and appropriate measures initiated. The science of veterinary medicine is adequate to serve the needs of wild and domestic animals. The art and practice of llama medicine is advancing steadily, with adequate literature and continuing education courses avail-able to train veterinarians and owners alike. Following are a few fundamental characteristics of health that all llama owners should know. First, it is important to know the normal llama.
The Normal Llama
Adult Llamas vary in size from 240-550 pounds, while newborns normally weigh 18-40 pounds. Knowing the weight of your llamas is important in order to calculate food consumption, dosages for medication and anesthesia and, if you are packing, how much weight they should carry. Smaller animals can be held and weighed by difference on a bathroom scale or placed in a sling and hung from a spring scale. Larger animals may be taken to a commercial weigh station at a feed supplier. Commercial scales designed for llamas are on the market.
Normal rectal temperatures vary from 99.0-101.8 F and babies up to 102.2 F. Animals kept in warm climates may have body temperatures of 104 F during hot summer days. The heart rate of a resting llama ranges between 60-90 per minute and respiratory rate 10-30 per minute. Llama feces are pelleted and the color varies with diet. Initially the newborn baby passes orangish brown feces called meconium. The meconium may be retained, requiring an enema to stimulate passage. Urine may be colorless to deep yellow depending upon its concentration. However, there should be no white, chalky sediment in llama urine.
Llamas have several unique anatomical structures that have an important bearing on an evaluation of their state of health. The llama and other Camelid separated from the true ruminants (cattle, sheep. antelope. deer) early in their evolutionary history. Llamas are not true ruminants in a taxonomic sense. They do, however, regurgitate food from the stomach, chew it again and reswallow it. This act is called rumination, and the stomach functions much like the rumen of a sheep or cow. However, there are only three compartments to the llama stomach, whereas the ruminant has four compartments. Llama stomach movement, which can be heard with a stethoscope over the left rear flank, is an important consideration in a physical examination. Llamas have 3-4 contractions per minute.
The location of the jugular vein on the neck differs from other domestic animals. The jugular vein is separated from the carotid artery for only a short distance near the angle of the jaw. The collection of blood samples or the administration of intravenous medication anywhere along the neck must be done carefully to avoid penetration of the carotid artery. The thickness of the neck skin of the adult male makes it especially difficult to visualize and locate the jugular vein.
A casual look at the mouth of an adult male llama will reveal the presence of sharp canine teeth. Male llamas use their teeth in fighting other males, especially when receptive females are present. Rendering the canine teeth less dangerous to other llamas or people is a common and simple surgical procedure. Consult your veterinarian for details. Female llamas have smaller canines, which usually are not a problem.
TTEAM training has become a popular method of working with llamas. Other training systems are also used. Trained animals may not require the restraint method described as follows. Always use the least amount of restraint possible.
(Ed. Note: Many training methods are now used, from TTEAM, to Mallon and imprinting, Clicker Training, and many more. The important thing it to train them with the method most comfortable for you and the animals!)