Hyperthermia: A Llama’s Achilles Heel


Bred from the hardy guanacos, llamas are resilient animals.  They only need a three-sided shelter as a windbreak in the winter.  When it’s raining, our goats hide in the barn, but the llamas stay outside, grazing contentedly in the pasture while the ducks wander around them.  But they do have a kryptonite. High heat and humidity will send our llamas into the barn for the day.  Llamas do not tolerate heat well and can even die from heat stress.

You’d think being related to the camel they could deal with heat better, but the temperature in their natural habitat ranges from 15-60 degrees Fahrenheit, and that’s what they have adapted to.

Hyperthermia (heat stress) in llamas

Different llamas react to heat differently. Age, weight, coat color and fiber content all affect a llama’s ability to deal with heat.  Similar to humans, newborn crias and older llamas do not regulate their body temperature as efficiently as animals in their prime.  Additionally, overweight llamas, first time moms and overly-excited animals (such as studs) can be more susceptible to heat.  And those characteristics that humans have bred in to them, like a variety of coat colors and differing fiber qualities can largely affect their ability to deal with heat stress.  Naturally, darker colored llamas and those with a heavy coat get hot faster.

You need to keep an eye on your llamas in the heat.  If the heat is affecting them they may stop eating.  Severe heat stress will cause them to breathe heavily, foam at the mouth and sway from side-to-side when standing. A clear sign of heat stress in intact males is swelling of the scrotum. A normal body temperature for llamas is around 100 degrees Fahrenheit.  In a heat stressed animal however, the temperature can rise to 103-104 degrees.

Dealing with heat stress

The best way to deal with heat stress is to avoid it!  If you live in a warmer climate, you should shear your llamas yearly.  Removal of hair along the barrel of the animal will help the animal keep cool when the heat index rises.  Llamas should always have a shaded area in their enclosure.  Leafy trees make great natural shelters and llamas should also be able to go into some type of structure to get out of the sun.  They should always have access to fresh water.  One of my llamas even enjoys a nice cool shower on summer days.  You can also add electrolytes to their water to replace ions that are lost when they sweat.

If your animal does get hyperthermia, you need to get its core body temperature down.  Bring it into a cool building.  If they animal hasn’t been sheared, you can shear the animal, but you don’t want to do anything to overly stress the llama.  Don’t use electric clippers or shear close to the skin.  Use cool (not cold) water to soak the entire animal, paying extra attention to the neck, legs and underside of your animal.  This should bring the llama’s temperature down fairly quickly.  Call your vet.

However, with forethought and careful management, you should be alble to avoid heat stress in your animals.

Blogging my way from A to Z as part of the 2016 April A to Z Challenge!  My theme for this year:  Llama mama.  H for Hyperthermia.

Photo courtesy of Nick Kenrick.

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