While alpacas are generally very gentle creatures, they aren’t always perfect little angels. It can be a little bit shocking, especially for new homesteaders, to see them play fight, actually fight, or even bite each other. So, what are the most common reasons why alpacas bite each other?
In general, there are seven main reasons why alpacas bite each other.
- Breeding rights
- ABS Syndrome
- Self-harm or illness
As we’ve mentioned above, alpacas are docile animals and don’t attack or bite anyone without any reason. So, in this article, we’ve decided to provide you with the reasons why alpacas fight or bite each other. This will help you understand your alpacas’ behavior, which is essential in raising them. Ready to do this? Let’s talk about alpacas.
7 Reasons Why Alpacas Bite
Now, don’t forget that most alpacas don’t bite often – and it’s almost always got a reason behind the behavior. So let’s go into a detailed explanation of what causes this behavior.
Reason #1: Male alpacas fight for breeding rights.
Male alpacas have hierarchies when it comes to breeding rights, and they are willing to fight each other to establish that right. It doesn’t matter where they are from; it can be in the wild or just on your backyard farm.
Alpacas from the wild are very dominant; they will immediately leap into action if another alpaca threaten their rights. In the wild, the dominant alpaca will run after the challenger and try to bite off its testicles with its sharp teeth. Then he will bite his challenger’s neck. It can be a little brutal as they use their bodies to fight each other off until one of them gives up and runs away.
If you are planning to raise and breed alpacas on a backyard farm, make sure to keep the males and females separated from each other. Ideally, keep them out of view of each other until it’s breeding season. This will avoid future damages not only to your farm but also to your alpacas’ physical health.
Reason #2: Alpacas are protective over resources.
As long as there aren’t any resources in short supply, then there’s usually not an issue with fighting or biting each other among alpacas.
However, alpacas can get possessive over resources that are scarce and/or in prime locations. This can be especially true when it comes to food in a prime location under a tree. I mean, who doesn’t want the best meal and a beautiful place to enjoy eating? We all love food.
Alpacas have been known to fight over resources like food, water, and territory, especially when they’re scarce or at risk of being lost. The fighting is their way to possessively protect it by restricting access to the resource in question. In the most dire of circumstances, this helps protect the herd’s continuance, although many individuals may be lost.
In any case, alpacas will spit in annoyance at anyone who approaches their resources; it can also lead to biting, neck wrestling, and chest butting if it develops into a proper fight over resources.
Reason #3: An alpaca has Aberrant Behavior Syndrome (ABS).
ABS, or Aberrant Behavior Syndrome isn’t a common issue in alpacas, but it does happen. It’s also known as Berserk Male Syndrome, as it happens more often in intact (not-gelded) males than it does in geldings or females. However, it can still happen in gelded males and even in females, which is why it’s now ABS instead of BMS.
ABS is a psychological condition, especially in llamas and alpacas. Alpacas, who humans have raised, have a higher chance of experiencing this condition. In fact, there may be some nurturing aspect to this syndrome, meaning it could develop.
Alpacas with ABS are more dangerous because they can suddenly attack, scream, bite, spit, and sometimes lay on top of people. This extreme behavior is rare; it is incurable and irreversible without intensive training. In all of my research, I’ve only heard of a few cases where alpacas with ABS were able to be trained out of the behavior – and it required them to live in a large herd of alpacas.
Alpacas who show signs of ABS need to be immediately examined by veterinarians before taking further action.
Reason #4: The Rabies virus can affect alpacas.
I know we’d all like to think that rabies is a thing of the past – but it’s not. It’s still very much naturally found in the wilds of North America.
In fact, there was a reported case in 2016 in South Carolina wherein a female alpaca started to show signs of aggression towards another alpaca and other animals. Her owners thought she has a severe illness so; she underwent a clinical evaluation to know if she has any sickness. During the clinical period, she showed signs of aggression like biting other animals and disorientation to things. Later on, tests confirmed that she was positive for rabies.
Sadly, the alpaca had to be euthanized because of it, and the whole farm where she lived went into an enforced quarantine to prevent further cases of rabies.
So rabies among alpacas can happen, even if it is rare.
Reason #5: Some alpacas bite just because, but it’s not harmless.
Sometimes alpacas bite other alpacas or themselves for any other reason, including accidentally. Sometimes they bite themselves to get an itch. Others may be ill, and prone to self-harm by biting due to the illness. However your alpacas come by biting, it is a serious matter because it can lead to a severe infection called an abscess.
According to Ohio State University – Veterinary Teaching Hospital (OSU-VTH), they admit between 900-1100 alpacas and llamas each year with abscesses. Many of the abscesses are within the biting animal’s mouth. This infection can be due to alpacas biting their cheek, which can damage the periodontal membrane in their teeth because of the penetration of food particles.
Translation: alpacas with dirty mouths bite, and then the bite site gets infected. This is usually in their own mouth, but it can also be on the skin of other animals.
Thankfully, the alpaca’s fiber can help protect it from many bites – helping to lower the incidence of nasty abscesses.
OSU-VTH literature also says that alpacas who have abscesses show signs of decreased appetite and an overall poor body condition. Alpacas who bite at themselves should be examined by a veterinarian to check if they have it to be immediately isolated from other alpacas.
Reason #6: Alpacas bite when play-fighting with each other.
Young alpacas like to play a lot, and it can lead to them fighting each other. This is normal behavior for them. It helps them hone the fighting skills they’ll need as adults to protect valuable resources and establish their breeding rights.
Usually, the play-fighting is limited to the younger alpacas. However, some adult alpacas have been known to join in the fun with younger alpacas. Or at least to bite them in an actual show of dominance to persuade them to move the play-fighting to another part of the yard. 🙂
Play-fighting may involve chest butting, neck wrestling, and biting. However, it’s much lighter and more gentle than an actual fight between dominant adults.
Reason #7: Bored alpacas bite things – and each other.
Alpacas can quickly get bored, depending on what their paddocks and pastures look like. Based on my research, this is especially true during summers. They’ve got plenty of food to eat, so they don’t have to search for it as hard. This can leave them bored more easily than during leaner, colder months.
When alpacas get bored, they may start picking fights with each other – especially if one of them is already in an irritated mood. These fights can lead to biting each other’s ears, necks, groins, and other areas.
To prevent boring fights, you’ll want to give your alpacas things to do. This doesn’t have to mean toys. Instead, you could add additional hay racks or pasture space. Sometimes just having more options and space is enough to end the boredom.
If you see symptoms of aggressive behavior in your alpacas, please discuss it immediately with your veterinarian – especially if any of your animals have a visible sign of an injury.
Can Alpacas Be Aggressive towards Each Other?
In general, alpacas are very calm and gentle animals; their aggressiveness really depends on the situation. Usually, they’re only overtly aggressive when fighting over breeding rights. Other than that, most only show signs of minimal aggression when there’s a dispute over a favorite spot or food.
There are some instances where they may also use some aggression to make sure that the rest of the herd knows where they stand in the pecking (herd) order. The older alpacas will totally spit at an uppity youngster who’s trying to get out of line!
Will alpacas bite other animals?
If an animal has been deemed part of an alpaca’s herd, then the alpaca will tolerate and protect the other animals. They probably won’t bite them – unless they’re being an uppity animal who needs to learn their place! And even then, it’ll be a gentle nip – with plenty of spitting to go along with it.
On the other hand, alpacas don’t get along well with any animal that’s seen as a predator. Dogs tend to get lumped in with predatorial canids like coyotes, foxes, and wolves. So your alpacas may not care for your dog – and it may require some time to get them acclimated to each other. This step is critical if your dog is going to be guarding your animals.
Alpacas will bite, chase, stomp, kick and spit at animals they perceive as a threat – especially if there’s a cria (baby alpaca) involved in the equation. I’ve seen videos of alpacas chasing off cougars, coyotes, and people. Some of the action gets too frantic to tell if there’s actual biting, but I got the impression that if the alpaca had to, they’d definitely bite the other animal.
If you want to read more about keeping alpacas with specific animal breeds and species, I’ve got a crazy-long article where I’ll share all of my research about keeping multiple species of animals together.
Will alpacas bite people?
In regards to human interaction, alpacas are generally very affectionate. They will gently put their nose forward and will briefly nuzzle you. They have these adorable eyes that you can’t avoid! Their cuteness will literally pull you to them.
Alpacas can also quickly get accustomed to people who are always around them, especially if those people bring them their food. There are some instances when an alpaca suddenly charges at humans if they feel threatened. This is pretty rare, though, and can be the first symptom of an aggressive male. It’s also more common with intact, breeding male alpacas and their female human caretakers.
However, it is infrequent for alpacas to bite people. Sometimes, an alpaca will nibble on a hand that holds a treat. But as long as their teeth are properly cared for, then it’s truly just a tickling nibble and not a bite.
Final Thoughts on Alpacas that Bite
After all of my research on alpacas and biting, I’m not too worried about adding alpacas to our backyard homestead. They’re generally very gentle – and biting is reserved for big situations. The biggest risk of an alpaca bite would be someone (or an animal) who didn’t take the spitting hint that the alpaca needed some more personal space already.
And that should be pretty rare – the more likely scenario is a little bit of nibbling on fingers while feeding the alpacas some treats. After feeding some alpacas in real life, it’s more of a tickling sensation than a proper bite. So it’s really not an issue – as long as you keep their bottom teeth trimmed.
But if we ever do have an alpaca that bites as part of being too aggressive? We’ll also know that it’s an unusual sign – and that we may be dealing with an animal with early stages of ABS. From my research, those animals may be rehabilitated – but only ever on a ranch with lots of other alpacas.
So stick to looking at alpacas with a history of gentleness – and that just want the treats. Happy homesteading!
Learning from your own experience is essential, but learning from others is also intelligent. These are the sources used in this article and our research to be more informed as homesteaders.
- Bennett, Marty McGee. “Understanding Male Behavior in the Alpaca.” CAMELIDynamics, Alpacas Magazine, 2014, www.camelidynamics.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/HER10Undertandmalebehav.pdf.
- Griffler, Zee. “Potential Alpaca Health Challenges.” The Open Sanctuary Project, 15 Feb. 2021, opensanctuary.org/article/common-alpaca-health-issues/#anaplasmosis.
- Nick Harrington-Smith, Et al. “Alpaca Behaviour.” Alpaca Evolution, alpacaevolution.com/about-alpaca/about-alpacas/alpacas-behaviour/.
- “How to Understand Alpaca Behavior and Positively Influence It.” Cotton Creek Farms, Web Savvy Marketing, 13 Jan. 2021, www.cottoncreekfarms.com/alpaca-behavior/.
- Mallon, John. “John Mallon Gentling & Training Llamas & Alpacas.” John Mallon – Gentling & Training Llamas & Alpacas (Aberrant Behavior Syndrome), John Mallon Clinics, www.johnmallonclinics.net/llearning4.html.
- Paul, Elizabeth. “ANIMAL HEALTH AND WELFARE.” Alpaca Behaviour, AAA Inc. Animal Health, Husbandry & Welfare Sub-Committee, www.alpacaconsultingusa.com/library/AA_AlpacaBehaviour.pdf.
- Pomeroy, Steven. “Alpaca Fights Are Surprisingly Brutal.” RealClearScience, BBC Earth, 11 Jan. 2018, www.realclearscience.com/video/2018/01/11/alpaca_fights_are_surprisingly_brutal.html.
- Starr, Kimberly. “Why Alpacas Fight Each Other and How You Can Help.” Backyard Homestead HQ, 16 Apr. 2020, backyardhomesteadhq.com/why-alpacas-fight-each-other-and-how-you-can help/