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Berserk Llama Syndrome

May 15 2024

llamas have experienced a surge in popularity over the past few decades? The llama is a docile (and super cute) relative of the alpaca and camel. In addition to being profitable wool producers, they are also easy to care for and train. Also, unlike cows and horses, they don’t require a lot of room. Because of all these benefits, it’s no wonder that many homesteaders and small farmers are interested in these adorable creatures. However, while llamas can be lovable mascots, they can get moody or territorial and, like any animal, can lash out if they feel threatened. In this piece, a Mt. Airy, MD veterinarian talks about llama drama and how to keep it at bay.

Are Llamas Actually Berserk?

Not exactly. In a technical sense, that term is really incorrect. The disorder is known as Berserk Llama Syndrome (BLS). However intimidating it may sound, BLS is fairly normal llama behavior. Improper treatment and socialization are common causes of this in most situations.

Generally, most llamas will remain submissive … unless and until they perceive danger.

Berserk Llama Syndrome: What Is It?

Camelids raised by humans are susceptible to the Berserk Llama Syndrome.

In its most basic form, the phrase denotes llama aggressiveness or simple bad behavior. That includes things like screaming, spitting, and kicking. Llamas may also refuse to move, or may shove people or other llamas.

Although it happens in females occasionally, it is more commonly observed in unneutered males.

Do Llamas Enjoy Being Petted?

Not really. Llamas are friendly and sociable animals, and can become very deeply connected to the people who pet them. (We should say eventually connected; a llama may take some time to figure out whether it likes you or not.)

Llamas may tolerate affection, but that doesn’t mean they love it. They often dislike head or face pets … even after they warm up to you. To put it another way, these things just don’t register as affection for llamas. To make a point about this, llamas don’t even lick their babies affectionately, which is something many animals do. You could also just say they are wired a bit differently.

That said, many do seem to like being talked to! 

What Causes Llamas To Spit?

The majority of the time, llamas only spew at one another. Most llamas won’t spit at people without a good reason.

When camelids feel frightened or furious, they can and will spit. This is somewhat defensive and somewhat aggressive. It goes without saying that getting sprayed with llama spit is nasty: that spit contains the animal’s digestive juices. (To be fair, it’s not much fun for the llama, either. After all, it is quite a bit like projectile vomiting.)

Does Every Llama Act Aggressively?

Not at all. Actually, most llamas are usually very kind and amiable, which is a big part of why they’re gaining in popularity.

What Can I Do to Circumvent BLS?

Taking good care of your llamas correctly from birth is your best bet. People sometimes make the mistake of spending too much time caressing and petting crias, or baby llamas. We know, it can be difficult to refrain from stroking them because they are so adorable.

That’s where the pitfalls are.

If you pet a baby llama too much, it will begin to think of you as another llama, although a strange-looking one. That seems lovely, doesn’t it? The trouble is that your wooly pal will think you’re just another llama and treat you that way. Llama communication includes spitting, yelling, and kicking.

Being too affectionate with a cria, according to some llama experts, is actually abusive, because it sets the stage for dangerous behavior down the road. While sometimes llamas with BLS can be trained, in extreme cases they may not be handled safely and must be put down.

(Anyone with experience in the equine industry may find this particularly perplexing because it’s the opposite of foal care: many horsemen make it a point to handle newborn foals immediately and often.)

It should be noted that, as stated before, is typically observed in males that are intact. When males aren’t neutered, they can exhibit aggressive territorial behavior. Unless you want to breed them, it is usually best to have your studs gelded.

How Much Attention Should I Give a Cria?

There is definitely a sweet spot. We aren’t suggesting that you ignore crias, either. Do not go to extremes and completely avoid contact with your llamas; doing so will result in llamas that are unaccustomed to being touched.

For example, you might have to use a bottle to nourish your newborn llamas. That’s fine! The key is not to linger and get lost in cuddles and petting them.

Sufficient training is essential. Llamas should be used to being haltered, handled, having their feet touched, and entering and exiting catch pens or chutes. This goes beyond simple petiquette, even if your llamas will be treated as pets. Being able to manage a sick or injured llama safely is crucial.

That is of course the tip of the iceberg. You should absolutely read up on this if you’ve never owned camelids before. Studying llama language is another worthwhile endeavor. For example, some llamas get aggressive when people stare at them for too long. The llama’s way of communicating is by humming and other nonverbal cues.

As you might expect, treats can go a long way toward befriending llamas. Just don’t go overboard. Ask your vet for specific advice on this.

What Is the Best Way to Train a Llama?

You must exercise patience, consistency, and firmness, just as you would with any other animal. A firm “No!” spoken loudly and firmly may be enough to scold certain llamas. You should never hit an animal with any kind of force, but a gentle swat might be effective. Another option is to use a water gun, which the llama may interpret as “spitting” which it will be able to translate.

Do Llamas Get Lonely?

Yes. Llamas are incredibly social animals who should always have at least one other llama as a companion. Your pet needs to be carefully selected when it comes to pasture mates. They don’t need a lot of space, but you don’t want to put too many of them on a small farm, either.

How Do I Avoid Llama Drama?

Taking excellent care of them should usually be enough! That begins with a healthy diet, just like it does for other animals. Although they can eat grain or hay, llamas typically thrive better with rich pasturage. Important as well are a clean, cozy barn or shelter, as well as access to clean water. You’ll also need to schedule regular appointments with your Mt. Airy, MD veterinarian.

Conclusion: Berserk Llama Syndrome is a technical name for what is essentially a very simple issue: bad llama behavior. This is often caused by improper handling and training. While it’s fairly rare, it is concerning, as an angry llama can be quite dangerous. Ask your vet for more information.

Schedule An Appointment At Our Mt. Airy, MD Animal Clinic

Are you interested in learning more about llama care? Is a fantastic local veterinarian something you’re after? For any and all llama veterinarian treatment, please contact us. We are happy to be of service to you here at your Mt. Airy, MD pet hospital.