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Can Llamas Swim? Fun Facts about Llamas and Water

When you’re looking at adding animals to your homestead, a llama may not be your first choice. But when you look at how versatile it is – both as a pack animal, a guard animal, and as a cuddly homestead citizen, a llama can be a fun choice. But what if you’ve got a pond or a large body of water? Do you need to worry about your llama, or can llamas swim?

Llamas can swim and may enjoy playing in the water, though they won’t do well in deep water without previous experience. Llamas, like alpacas, are too lean to float well, although their fiber can help them pseudo-float and swim for a while. Water is a fun way to help llamas keep cool when it’s hot.

At first thought, it may seem that these big land animals would not like water. After all, their dense and lean bodies mean that they don’t look like ideal swimmers. But you may be surprised to learn that llamas love and enjoy the water. Swimming is a pleasurable activity that helps them keep cool. They could spend the whole day lying in the water. Their love for water doesn’t stop with swimming. Keep reading as we explore some fun facts about llamas and water.

image of llama approaching water or getting a drink

Llamas can swim – and here’s proof!

Yes, llamas can swim, and not only can they swim, but they really enjoy it too! These creatures, however, are not as strong of swimmers as some of their other livestock counterparts, such as cows. Nevertheless, llamas will enjoy and happily wade or even lie down in shallow waters such as ponds, puddles, or a kiddie pool. This affinity for water is a coping strategy for llamas as they can get extremely hot in the summer.

Heatstroke is a deadly complication for these beautiful creatures. Water is actually a means of cooling off, so you’ll see llamas gravitating towards the water in the summer to keep the heat at bay. Swimming is an effective way to reduce their body temperature and prevent heatstroke. They will naturally seek out shady areas or water sources to stay cool. Having a kiddie pool for them to swim in is an excellent way to allow these animals to self-regulate their own temperature.

Llamas release heat from their bellies in the summer. Because of this they will enter the water up to their bellies to cool off. They also enjoy getting sprayed on the legs and armpits to cool off as well.  They are not fond of getting their faces wet so they’ll hold their head up above the water as they float around. These creatures are very dense internally and are quite lean making floating difficult for them. When they first enter the water they will float because of their hair which initially gives them buoyancy. But in a short time they will become waterlogged making floating much harder.

Swimming for llamas is much different than conventional swimming seen for other animals. Before going in they may paw or splash the water to get a feel for it first. For llamas swimming is more of a wading, bouncing or splashing around motion. Llama may also run or flail in the water especially in the warmer months.

How well do llamas swim?

Now you may be thinking, enjoying swimming and swimming well are two different ideas. Llama are not natural swimmers and don’t swim as well as some other livestock that can swim in deep water for long distances.

Swimming for llamas consists of mainly standing or wading in shallow water. It is used more as an exercise to cool off rather than a play activity. A llama will float initially but their lean build and water absorbent fibres make them waterlogged and sink quite quickly. Shallow waters such as streams or ponds are ideal for llama to swim in. If there’s none available, a kiddie pool will also do just fine.

Taking a llama into deep water is not recommended. It may be possible once the llama is more accustomed with water or with a proper trainer, you may be able to teach your llama. But swimming in deep water is not instinctual for llamas and will require work. Ideally llamas don’t want to get their heads wet so dunking their heads underwater is not a good idea and can be distressing for the animal.

Since swimming for llamas is really only pleasurable because it helps them stay cool. From my research and experience, it’s not advisable to get llamas’ backs wet. This will trap heat and can worsen the chances of heatstroke. As the fibers on top get wet, they actually lock in heat rather than allowing heat to escape.

Allowing your llama to wade or lie down in shallow water is the best way to let the llama swim. Sticking to shallow waters will also prevent the fibers of hair from getting matted and damaged. This brings us to our next point: what happens when a llama gets wet?    

image of two llamas standing in water

Can llamas get wet?

As you’ve discovered by now, llamas love water and they love getting wet especially in hot and humid climates. Although allowing your llamas to sit in the kiddie pool, pond or stream is a great idea to help them cool down, it also presents its disadvantages.

When llamas stay in water for extended periods of time, this can damage their fibers and destroy their wool. This also causes the hairs to get matted. Having open access to a pond and stream is not recommended. Llamas love to sit and lay in water all day especially if it’s hot. This prolonged water exposure will cause damage to the hair fibres on the animal’s legs and belly, which will eventually rot causing potential fungal, yeast or bacterial infection on their skin.

Llama can get wet but they should not stay wet for prolonged periods. Having a sprinkle system is a good option to avoid this problem. The llamas are able to cool off by walking through the sprinkler, spraying the legs and belly. This will prevent the constant long exposure of water to the fibres that leads to rotting. Again, it’s important to remember avoiding getting the back wet, especially for full fleeced llamas. Wet fleece will have the opposite effect of cooling and actually insulate the creature.

Are llamas ok in the rain?

Llama are strong resilient animals and are able to tell you what they want. If a llama is given a load that is too heavy for it to carry, it won’t move. Likewise if a llama doesn’t want to be in the rain, it will find shelter.

Llamas have a thick layer of wool that protects them. This allows them to withstand many weather conditions such as the cold, wind, snow and rain. Overall, llamas don’t mind getting wet and the climate they originated from, the Andean mountain range of South America, gets a lot of rainfall. So these creatures are no strangers to rain and will actually enjoy it.

With that being said, it is important to provide them with shelter if they do need to get out of the rain. A three sided shelter with a high roof and good circulation can also be used in the summer for solace from the sun.

It’s also important to diligently inspect your animals for rain rot. Similar to the concept of overstaying in water, excessive exposure of rain can also lead to a similar rot. Though rain rot is easily treated, it is necessary to be aware of it. Identifying it early is crucial to prevent the rot from spreading or worsening.

Do llamas need water?

Llamas have occasionally been called the camel’s hippie cousins. This is because both these creatures belong to a group of animals called camelids.  They share many similarities, especially physically, such as a long neck and cleft top lips.

But where they differ in the amount of water they need. Unlike camels, llamas enjoy and gravitate towards water especially in hot climates.  There is a misconception that llamas do not need water when in fact, llamas need water! They do not share camels’ abilities to go long periods without water.

Llamas in comparison to other livestock of their size, such as horses or cows, will drink considerably less water. Llamas need more water than a camel but less than a horse.Their need for water will also change depending on their environment and heat.

Overall llamas have a relatively high thirst tolerance. They have stronger endurance and are able to travel on long voyages. These characteristics are typically more apparent in Andean mountains; where the temperatures may not be as hot as, for example, Ohio.

Llamas require fresh cool water especially in extreme heat. Water should be available in multiple locations, so the pack won’t need to fight with one another for it. The water should ideally be in the shade. As we’ve learned, llamas like to dip their feet in water to stay cool. So a cool bucket on the ground is an invitation to walk in. This dirty drinking water is a common source of infection for llamas and can make them sick. It’s best to elevate the water buckets on a fence or the barn walls. Elevating the bucket will avoid this problem.

Final thoughts on llamas and water

Llamas love water and they enjoy swimming. Allowing your llamas to swim in the summertime is a great way to help them cool down! Llamas will spend the whole day wading in the pool, creek, or pond. This love of water will also keep llamas in the rain. 

But the affinity for water can lead to its own set of problems for the animals. It’s important to provide balance to keep your lovely llamas safe and healthy. This includes limiting their time in the water and always providing them with enough clean drinking water.

Want to know if alpacas can swim, too? Make sure you read our article on alpacas swimming next!

Resources

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. 🙂

  • Anderson, David E. “Are You Ready for Summer? (A.k.a. Have You Sheared Your Llama / Alpaca Yet ?). rmla.com, 21 July 3AD, www.rmla.com/html/-heat_stress.htm.
  • Alpaca & Llama Care for Beginners -A Primer. Maryland Alpaca Farm, https://www.marylandalpacafarm.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/Alpaca-Care-for-Beginners.pdf.
  • Free, Rose. “Heat Stress in Llamas and Alpacas.” rmla.com, 3 Dec. 2003, www.rmla.com/html/-heat_stress.htm.
  • “Preventing Heat Stress in Llamas and Alpacas | Urban Livestock & Equine Veterinary Services.” Urbanlivestockvet.com, urbanlivestockvet.com/content/preventing-heat-stress-llamas-and-alpacas.

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