Should I pack an alpaca?!

You may have seen the video of Alfie the Alpaca or a boy skateboarding with his pet alpaca while you were browsing the internet and it might have sparked a thought about owning one yourself. After all, who would not want to own a doe-eyed fluffy unconventional creature as a pet? Before jumping in and bringing one home to the surprise of your family, it is important to determine whether you can handle the responsibilities that come with owning an alpaca. And whether it is the right pet for you.

So why a pet alpaca?

Alpacas are generally easy to care for, fairly disease-resistant and hardy as they are able to thrive in an extensive range of weather conditions. Good with children as well as easily trainable, you are able to bring your leashed pet alpaca out to the beach for a picnic with the family. If you are a tidy person, you might appreciate that alpacas always defecate and urinate in the same spots. A bit like the concept of cats and their litter trays. Alpacas have an average lifespan between 15 to 20 years, giving you a slightly longer time to spend with them than other conventional pets like dogs, rabbits or guinea pigs. They also come in a variety of colours. Twelve groups of colours were recognised by The Australian Alpaca Association – that is a lot of choices for colour!  

Before commencing

Although domesticated, it is important to keep in mind that alpacas are livestock and are different from your typical dogs and cats. If you are expecting lots of cuddly interactions, you might be looking at the wrong pet. Rarely do alpacas come up and curl up with you. Not all alpacas will tolerate standing still to be petted. Patience is the key to building a relationship with this animal. Do not rush them and let them approach you at their own pace. 

Yes, they do spit and kick! But these are not deliberate acts against you. These are just their defence mechanisms and will only do so when they feel threatened. More often than humans, they spit more at other animals when they are frightened, establishing hierarchy or to ward off male alpaca advances if they are pregnant.

As an owner, it is important to keep in mind the routine procedures they require. For instance, as with dogs and cats, alpacas also require vaccinations and parasite prevention control. However there are some variations in vaccination protocols for alpacas such as they occur twice a year using a sheep “5-in-1” vaccine. They have other needs as well such as foot trimming and shearing. It is advisable to discuss with your vet regarding what is required and when they should occur to keep your pet up-to-date and protected.

Alpacas are reported to get along with other animals such as cats as well with other livestocks. Commonly used as guard animals for sheeps and goats against canids, alpacas can be wary and stressed amongst the presence of dogs. They will often stomp, potentially injuring your dog. The reverse is possible, where your dog could potentially injure your alpaca – reports of this have happened before. If you have a pet dog, it might be a good idea to introduce them slowly with a fence between them or with your dog on the leash. Be aware of neighbouring dogs and their possibility of getting into your property.

Beware of berserk male syndrome!

Imagine this, your friend has offered to give you a baby male alpaca (cria) that was rejected by his mother. Thinking to yourself “Score! I got a cute baby cria!”. As you spend your time snuggling together in bed, playing and bottle feeding him, he started to play rougher and turn aggressive as he got older. 

This occurrence is known as “berserk male syndrome” whereby a cria is pampered and handled too much, giving the cria an impression that you are one of their own – an alpaca. Although it may seem like an innocent and adorable when the cria is young, these gestures can quickly turn dangerous for you and your alpaca. Hence, ensure you do not treat male crias like your family dog. Any improper behaviour seen in crias need to be addressed and dealt with immediately. 

Make it double

An animal of herd nature, alpacas have been known to suffer from loneliness and can die from it. It all sounds a bit far-fetched and whimsical but it’s true! Therefore, two is the recommended minimum to keep each other company. 

So, is it still a good idea?

The answer is yes it can be… BUT! Preparation is key. Ensure you research the relevant materials you need such as the space requirements, companionship, nutrition and preventative measures they need. It would help if a camelid vet is nearby your area to advise you with your first alpaca. Or to assist if any issues arise. Keeping an alpaca as a pet requires considerable responsibility. Thus it is important to identify whether a pet alpaca is suitable for you and to have realistic expectations.