As we’ve been researching adding alpacas to our backyard homestead, we’ve wanted to make sure that we’re ready for anything. And because our kids love feeding treats to the animals, we’ve wondered about the best treats for alpacas.
Alpacas love bite-sized treats of apples, berries, broccoli stalks, carrots, pumpkin, raisins, turnips, and other safe-to-eat fruits, vegetables, and plants. Treats must be cut up or shredded to prevent choking in this herbivorous animal, as they only have lower teeth for tearing, not chewing.
Ready to learn more about treats for alpacas? Then keep reading – and we’ll share all of our findings and research on alpacas, treats, and the not-treats that are safe for alpacas!
Bite-Sized Treats You Can Safely Feed Alpacas
While Alpacas are primarily herbivores, they also love treats. Some of the best treats you can feed them includes raisins, pumpkins, iceberg lettuce, carrots bananas, watermelons, strawberries, and apples.
Don’t worry – that’s not the complete list. Here is the complete, alphabetical list of alpaca treats. Just remember to make sure they’re safe and bite-sized for your alpacas. Oh, and to feed your alpacas their treats in moderation.
- Apples – remember to cut the apple up into bite-sized pieces!
- Beet shreds – this is a favorite for pregnant or nursing alpacas.
- Broccoli stalks (but NOT the broccoli)
- Carrots – shredded are best.
- Clover – not all sources agree that this is 100% safe, depending on what else is growing in with the clover. This one is listed, but with this warning, not every alpaca owner and expert thinks it is always safe. When in doubt, skip the clover.
- Grains – this is a favorite for all alpacas, but especially nursing and pregnant females. Just be careful with the quantities and types of grain. Grain overload is a real risk.
- Green Beans (fresh is best – alpacas will likely turn their noses up at thawed, previously-frozen green beans)
- Lettuce (iceberg and romaine)
- Radish greens
- Tree leaves or needles
- Weeping willow
- Turnips – some of my research indicates small amounts of turnips are okay. Other sources list it as dangerous. Be cautious with turnips.
Treats aren’t their regular diet, so make sure any special goodies aren’t a regular, everyday thing. Or feel free to change things up day to day – that way, your alpacas can get a daily treat without it ever being too much of one good thing.
And before giving your alpacas any treats, make sure you cut them up into small pieces. Alpacas can’t chew their treats, so they need them as small as possible so you can prevent them from choking. Once you know the best bite-sized treats you can safely feed alpacas, you shouldn’t have any issues.
One last quick treat tip for when you want your alpacas to gain weight, like if they’re young, pregnant, or nursing: focus on treats of alfalfa, shredded beet, and even calf manna. Many alpaca ranches say calf manna is totally safe for alpacas, and that it helps them get to a healthy weight.
To be safe, though, always run treat ideas by your veterinarian first. Especially for growing alpacas!
Why You Need to Cut Up Treats for Alpacas
Alpacas need their treats sliced or shredded because of their biology. Mostly their teeth, actually.
Alpacas have a set of lower teeth that keep growing and growing. You’ll probably need to trim them, but that’s a topic of another article I wrote. In any case, they have an upper dental pad and some molars. But they can’t do a lot of chewing or crushing of food.
Instead, alpacas bite and shear off food – then swallow it. Once swallowed, the food (or treats) travel down that long neck into a 3-chambered stomach system that digests the barely-chewed food.
Those stomachs are primed and evolved to handle grasses, leaves, and other grass roughage. But trying to digest a whole carrot for the first time? That’s going to be hard on your alpaca’s digestive system because they couldn’t chew it up first. So save them the stomach ache and just cut or shred the carrot for them before giving it to them.
Dangerous and Unsafe Treats to Always Avoid
Sometimes even the smartest of animals will eat something that’s not good for them. Unfortunately, dangerous treats and poisonous foods are sometimes overlooked by even the best-of-meaning animal owners.
While minor exposure to some of these is not bad, large amounts can be dangerous and lead to death. Some treats are dangerous in even the smallest of amounts. To ensure that your animals remain healthy, you need to avoid treats such as:
- Animal products
- Bean Family of Vegetables – these legumes contain cyanide, which can also be poisonous to the animals.
- Lima Beans
- Broccoli – while the stalks are safe, the broccoli itself isn’t safe for alpacas. It’s a small but important distinction.
- Mustard Family of Plants:
- Brussels sprouts
- Turnips – Many alpaca owners do feed their animal’s small amounts of turnips without any issue. Just be careful with the quantity, as it is known to be potentially problematic.
- Nightshade Family of Vegetables and Plants – these contain alkaloids that will poison your animals:
- Horse Nettle
- Nitrite-rich plants – may cause cyanide poisoning.
- Onions – if eaten in large amounts they can lead to nitrate poisoning.
- Rye grasses
- Tree leaves or needles:
- American Yew
- Black Cherry
- Black Locust
- Mountain Laurel
- And to restate an important, dangerous potential for alpaca health problems: grain overload.
Here are some more especially dangerous things for alpacas to avoid in general. Some of them seem crazy simple, but they’re still dangerous. Not all of them are edible, but these are things that are still a danger to alpacas who are eating – feed or treats. So let’s make sure they’re listed and known, too.
- Algae – alpacas don’t usually eat algae, but they may inadvertently ingest it while drinking. Make sure their water is algae-free.
- Cantharidiasis – Blister Beetle Poisoning happens via a blister beetle infestation in alfalfa. Make sure you’re only giving alpacas fresh, beetle-free alfalfa.
- Copper-based treats – alpacas are sensitive to copper, so a copper-rich treat or mineral lick can be toxic for them.
- Grain overload – this is a real risk with too much grain.
- Things alpacas shouldn’t eat (like screws – seriously)
- Lead toxicity from licking paints, pesticides, fence posts, etc.
- Fungus – can lead to mycotoxin poisoning. Alpacas don’t usually eat fungus on purpose. However, it can grow in and on some kinds of food, especially if it’s left wet and sitting out for long periods of time.
- Pesticides, herbicides, rodenticides – not something an alpaca will intentionally eat. However, they can be accidentally ingested if they’re left to pasture in an area that was just treated.
- Snakebites – alpacas can get surprised by snakes as they’re grazing.
Grain overload is really a big problem. It’s big enough we’ve listed it in each list, despite grain being a favorite alpaca treat.
Grain overload may lead to symptoms such as decreased energy levels (usually seen as too much lying down), a depressed appearance, bloating, a staggering gait, diarrhea, or even death.
Treats to Feed Alpacas with Caution
Now, we’ve mentioned a few treats that can be potentially iffy. Some of my research indicates they’re okay treats to feed alpacas. Others say to avoid it like an alpaca plague.
So to be safe, let’s list the “iffy” treats here – that way, you can always have a quick reference for double-checking the potentially problematic treats. Some of these may be fine – in limited quantities. But be aware that there is some conflicting evidence (some research-based, other anecdotal) on these treats.
- Broccoli – my research shows that the broccoli itself is the problem and that many alpaca owners feed their livestock the stalks without issue. Just be aware of the weird dynamic here, and proceed with caution.
- Clover – I’ve found conflicting evidence about clover. Some experts say it’s fine, and that it’s what else that’s in the clover that’s the issue. If you aren’t sure about the clover, then, it’s best to avoid it or proceed with extreme caution.
- Turnips – Again, my research offers conflicting evidence with this mustard family plant. Too much can be a problem and cause respiratory distress, while a quick treat may be fine.
Please be aware of the symptoms of poisoning, which differ from plant to plant. When in doubt, please double-check with your veterinarian. And be sure to follow their advice.
What Can You Feed Alpacas? (besides treats)
We’ve talked about what treats you can feed alpacas already, so now let’s talk about what they need on a regular basis. Because if all you do is give alpacas a treat, they’re going to end up with a tummy ache or worse.
As herbivores, alpacas’ food mainly consists of grass, fodder, plant material, roughage, and whatever else they’ll nibble. Besides munching weeds and grazing on grass, they also feed on shrubs and trees. The bulk of their food should come from plants and roughage found grazing, so getting their food should be pretty easy if you’ve got sufficient pasture for them.
However, if your alpacas don’t have enough pasture space, then you’ll need to provide them with hay or commercial feed, too.
And whether your alpacas graze their way to a full stomach (or three stomachs, as the case actually is) or raid the feed bin to fill up, make sure they don’t have access to any dangerous plants in any of their paddocks.
How to Feed Alpacas (Treats or Food)
Treats can be fed to an alpaca like they would be given to a horse: put the treat on a flat, extended palm with the fingers and thumbs tucked in close. Offer the treat to the alpaca and let them nibble it up off of your hand.
It may feel weird and tickly – but they shouldn’t bite you. Especially if you keep your fingers together and as un-food-like as possible.
For food, alpacas will usually feed themselves by grazing or eating out of a hay rack. If you want to offer them some grass (or hay), you can do that by offering it as if it were a treat.
If you offer them a fist of food, they may try to pull harder – or even bite. It wouldn’t be a malicious bite, but rather an attempt to get the food that’s harder than expected to get. So make sure you’re offering your treats (or food) in an open palm.
FAQs About Alpacas, Feed, and Treats
My goal is always to provide the best information on whatever the topic is. Today’s article is all about alpacas and treats. So let’s answer a few more questions that I’ve seen across multiple platforms.
And if you’ve got a question that I haven’t answered (either at all or in enough detail), I’d love to fix that. Please send me your question (here is my contact information) to answer your question better.
And I’ll try to remember to add it here, too. Because if one person has a question, odds are someone else is wondering the exact same thing. So please don’t hesitate to ask me! I’d love to help.
Can Alpacas Have Horse Treats?
Many alpaca ranches and owners say that horse treats are generally safe for alpacas. You do need to make sure that they aren’t a treat that’s really a vitamin, though. Horse vitamins are great for horses – but alpacas have different micronutrient needs than horses do.
If you’re not sure if a horse treat is safe for an alpaca, be sure to ask your veterinarian for their advice.
Can Alpacas Eat All Fruits and Veggies?
Alpacas can’t eat all fruits and vegetables. They generally don’t do well with nitrogen-rich fruits or veggies – nor should they eat anything from the mustard or nightshade plant families.
There is some wiggle room in there with turnips, but even skipping turnips you’ll still have plenty of other fruit and vegetable options that are 100% safe for alpacas to eat as treats.
Can Treats Be Used to Train Alpacas?
Alpacas can most definitely be trained – and treats are a great way to encourage food-motivated alpacas to learn! Training alpacas will be both totally different than training a dog, while still looking similar to it.
For more information on training alpacas, make sure you read my article on keeping alpacas indoors and my article on how to house-train a lamb. A lamb isn’t an alpaca, but that article shows how to train livestock based on common dog-training techniques.
Between the two articles, it’ll at least be enough information to get you started.
How Should I Introduce Alpacas to Supplementary Foods and Treats?
While intruding alpacas to new treats or supplementary foods, make sure you do this slowly. And do it one food at a time. This way, you can monitor them for a bad reaction to foods as well as make sure that there isn’t one alpaca hoarding all the treats.
Make sure you know the best treats for alpacas and what to avoid and do it gradually. This way, you’ll enjoy keeping these amazing animals as happy, healthy additions to your backyard homestead.
Final Thoughts on Alpacas and Treats
Alpacas really are amazing animals. We are still in our research phase, but we are excited about the idea of getting alpacas in our backyard. And now that I know more about their biology and specific treat tolerances (and which treats to avoid), I feel more confident that having alpacas as part of our homestead could be a positive experience.
Even so, make sure you’re subscribed to my newsletter so that you can see exactly if and when alpacas officially join our livestock menagerie.
Happy homesteading, friends!
Are Alpacas Dangerous? Alpacas are generally safe and docile. A dangerous or aggressive alpaca is an anomaly caused by overexposure to humans and will need to be rehomed, retrained, or culled. Read my article called, “Are Alpacas Dangerous?” for more details and information.
Do Alpacas Like to Be Pets? Alpacas may tolerate or enjoy being petted by their owners, depending on their socialization level. Alpacas generally do not enjoy being petted by strangers. For more information, read my article on the do’s and don’ts of petting alpacas.
How Many Alpacas Should You Get? Ideally, alpacas should be kept in a herd of at least 2-3 alpacas. In some cases, they may adopt another species as their herd. Read my practical guide to how many alpacas you should get for more details, examples, and ideas.
It’s important to learn from your own experience, but it’s also smart to learn from others. These are the sources used in this article and in our personal research to be more informed as homesteaders.
- Barnes, Amber. Things That Are Toxic To Alpacas. 4 Aug. 2020, opensanctuary.org/article/things-that-are-toxic-to-alpacas/.
- Griffler, Zee. “The Open Sanctuary Project’s Global Toxic Plant Database.” The Open Sanctuary Project, 17 Aug. 2020, opensanctuary.org/article/the-open-sanctuary-projects-global-toxic-plant-database/.
- McKenzie, RA, et al. “Alpaca Plant Poisonings: Nitrate–Nitrite and Possible Cyanide.” Wiley Online Library, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd, 22 Feb. 2009, onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1751-0813.2009.00400.x.