why do llamas spit and how to keep them from doing it

Why Do Llamas Spit And How To Stop It?

If you ask the average person what they know about llamas, they are likely to tell you two things. First, llamas are amazing pack animals and they spit. The idea that llamas spit is deeply ingrained in the public’s mind. In fact, many would-be llama owners have decided not to add these wonderful animals to their lives because of spitting.

So what is the truth about llama spitting? How can you handle it if your own llama decides to give you a spit bath? Keep reading to learn some key things to know about what makes llamas spit. In addition, I hope to show you how to stop a llama from spitting on you.

Why Do Llamas Spit?

A number of things can cause a llama to spit. However, in most cases, this type of behavior is deeply ingrained in herd dynamics. Like all herd animals, a group of llamas will quickly establish a pecking order. If you watch closely, you can see this play out.

Why Do Llamas Spit At Each Other?

In a herd there are a few reasons that llamas may spit at each other.  This is a normal behavior for them and is not something that you should be worried about.  Do not try to break up a spitting bout between llamas.  If you do, the most likely thing to happen is that you will get spit on as well.

  • One llama may spit at another to establish dominance.  This means that a dominate llama my spit at a lower ranked juvenile as a form of discipline.
  • Llamas will also spit at another to fend off a challenge.
  • Female llamas may also spit at an overly eager male, warning the suitor to back off and leave her alone.
  • Many times when llamas are feeding together, they will spit at another as a way to tell them to back off.

While this does not involve llamas spitting at each other, a llama will also spit when threatened by a predator.  Many times the foul smell is enough to drive off any threats.

Why Do Llamas Spit At Humans?

Many times llamas see humans as part of their herd and the same herd dynamics can play out between llamas and their owners. In these situations, a llama may spit to express its displeasure or annoyance, and it is up to the human to figure out what is wrong.

  • When a llama is carrying a fully loaded pack, any spitting may be an indication that the animal is overloaded and uncomfortable. Checking the pack for proper weight distribution and fit is a good place to start, as the issue may not be disobedience but simple discomfort.
  • Llamas with a history of mistreatment may also adopt spitting as a defense mechanism.  They do this to warn other humans to back off and usually acting out of fear. If you are adopting a llama with an unknown history, you should watch for this behavior and try to learn about the animal’s history. With proper treatment, the spitting behavior should resolve on its own over time.
  • When humans raises a llama by itself, the llama typically sees the human as their herd.  In this case, the llama is likely to spit at the human for the same reason they would spit at another llama.  During these times, they are likely trying to assert dominance.

If raised correctly, llamas are unlikely to spit at humans unless they feel directly threatened.  You should always take a few minutes and examine the situation if your llama is spitting at you.  Once you understand what is causing the problem, you can generally take steps to stop it.

What Is Llama Spit?

You would think the answer to that is simple, after all spit is spit right?  Not so when it comes to llama spit.  That is because llamas will moderate how they spit and what is in the spit depending on the level of threat or irritation the feel.

  • A llama will spray a mist of saliva when it feels only mildly threatened or irritated.  This level of spit does not have the foul stench and stickiness of true llama spit.
  • When llamas are eating and disturbed, they will many times spray this mist; however, the grain or grasses that they were eating will be mixed with it.  Again, the spit will not carry much punch, but it will contain chunks of food that will stick to the llama’s target.
  • Finally, when a llama is feeling truly threatened or is really irritated, things get serious.  At this point, the llama will regurgitate a truly smelly green fluid from one of its stomachs.  While this llama spit will not hurt you or other animals, it smell really bad and a shower is going to be necessary.

When a llama decides they are going to spit at you they are always very accurate.  In addition, they can spit over a distance of about 10 to 15 feet.  So if you feel that a llama is going to spit at you or if you are trying to break up a spitting match, stay on your guard because they can and will hit you.

How Do You Stop A Llama From Spitting At You?

If you want to stop a llama from spitting, it helps to understand the things that can cause this type of behavior.  Spitting does not happen out of the blue, and if you look hard enough you should be able to figure out what is causing this problem.

To start, there are nearly always signs to watch out for if you think a llama is going to spit on you.  First a llama will pull its ears back flat against its head.  Then it will then stare directly at you.  Finally, if a llama raises its chin and begins to gurgle, it is time to get out of the way.

Some Tips I have Learned To Stop A Llama From Spitting

  • I have found that if I am very near the llamas and I notice their ears going back, I can raise my hand directly in front of their face and many times this will stop the behavior.
  • Llamas may be more likely to start spitting at their human companions when they are by themselves.  In this case, adding a second llama to create a herd will be good for the animal.  Llamas are herd animals, and they definitely appreciate having other members of their species around. If you cannot adopt or buy a second llama, companion animals like sheep or ponies can be good substitutes.
  • If you have a llama that is spitting because it was mistreated or abused, you have to build its trust.  This is not always easy and will take a lot of time.  Treat the llama well and prove to it that you are not going to mistreat it and you will likely stop the spitting problem.

In Conclusion

Why do llamas spit?  It is true that llamas spit.  However, it is part of their herd behavior and a normal aspect of their interaction with other members of their species.  Even so, a happy and well-adjusted llama should not spit at its human owners. 

If your llama is spitting, it is possible to figure out what is causing the behavior and put a stop to it. Now that you know a bit more about why llamas spit and under what circumstances, you should be able to control this problem and still enjoy your four-legged trail companion.

If you would like to learn more about renting pack llamas take a look at our pack llama rental post!

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