Hailing from the rough terrain of the Andes Mountains in South America, llamas are hard-working pack animals that can travel over any landscape and withstand extreme weather conditions. Since they’re trained to travel on narrow mountain trails, you may wonder if llamas have hooves? No, unlike other common pack animals, llamas do not have hooves. Instead, they have two nailed toes on each of their four legs.

Like human toes and fingers, llama feet have three phalanges per digit. Llamas and other animals in the Camelidae family have a unique walking gait that utilizes the second and third phalanges. Most farm animals only walk on the second phalange, and they are not as stable on uneven terrain as llamas. The furry creature’s two-toed feet allows it to travel on rough landscapes that are inaccessible to mules or horses.

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Is the Llama’s Foot Structure Beneficial?

A two-toed foot does not seem very stable to humans, but the camelid foot structure is advantageous in the animal kingdom. Hooved animals are not as sure-footed as llamas, and they’re more likely to incur injuries on rougher landscapes. Instead of solid hooves, llamas have soft pads on the bottom of their feet. The pads help them navigate more effectively than hooved creatures because the pad is always in close contact with the ground, unlike a hoof. The gap between the llama’s toes is wider than a camel’s toes, but each animal in the Camelidae family, including camels, alpacas, llamas, vicuñas, and guanacos, are two-toed creatures without hooves.

When llamas in mountainous regions travel on rocky trails, their long nails typically do not interfere with their mobility. Hard surfaces keep the animal’s toes filed down, but in flatter areas with soft soil or wetlands, the nails need to be frequently clipped to prevent infections and maintain stability when walking.

Llama legs with hooves shown
Image Credit: Melissa Tate, Shutterstock

How Are Lamas’ Feet Maintained?

Depending on the animal’s habitat, a domesticated llama cannot walk normally without human assistance. In areas with rugged rocky paths, the nails may only need maintenance twice a year, but the nails may require monthly clipping on softer surfaces. Farmers and pet owners can minimize the frequency of nail grooming by modifying the landscape.

Installing Stone Pavers

If the path that leads from the llamas’ enclosure to the pasture is composed of soft ground, you can install stone or concrete pavers to help grind down the animal’s nails. Pavers are an affordable alternative to paving an entire road or path on your property, and you can save more money by buying plastic templates and filling them with concrete to create homemade pavers.

Clipping After Rainfall or Snowfall

Dried-out nails are more problematic to clip than softer ones, and you can wait until the day after heavy rain or snow to clip the animal’s claws. After grazing on wet ground, the llama’s nails are softer and easier to cut.

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What is the Best Way to Clip a Llama’s nails?

Young llamas and adult llamas unaccustomed to being handled by humans usually have a more challenging time with clipping than animals that have had their nails manicured before. For wilder llamas, you need another person to assist you to keep the animal safe and relaxed. If a llama is irritated when you try to pull its legs up, it’s better to postpone the clipping for another time.

When the llama is relaxed and tolerant of you handling it, you can carefully begin the manicure. Sitting on a small stool or bending over are the two ideal positions for the nail clipper. If you try to clip from a standing position, you must raise the animal’s leg too high, and the llama may become upset if it’s in an uncomfortable position.

Young llama licking its feet
Image Credit: InstagramFOTOGRAFIN, Pixabay

Removing Dirt and Debris

Using a natural-fiber brush, you can prep the nails by scrubbing away the dirt and debris accumulated over time. If the llama has not had a manicure in a long time, you’ll probably remove a sizable portion of soil. Cleaning the nail makes clipping easier because the nails and toes are more identifiable.

Clipping the Sides of the Nail

Before clipping a llama’s nails for the first time, you can ask a trainer or livestock veterinarian to assist you. Professional assistance will ensure you practice the correct techniques and keep their feet healthy. When handling the llama’s leg, you should only raise it in a natural position corresponding to the knee’s bend. Lift the leg gently and begin clipping the sides of the nail and any outlying pieces growing towards the pad. If left unattended, the llama’s nails can grow into their pads and cause pain and mobility issues. The sides of the nail should not be wider than the pads underneath.

Avoiding the Quick

Like a cat’s nails, llama nails have a tiny section of soft tissue in the center called the quick. Taking smaller chunks of the nail off with the shears is a better strategy for avoiding damage to the quick than taking off large pieces. If you cut into the quick, the toe will start bleeding but you will not have to rush to the doctor’s office if you treat the wound quickly. You can stop the bleeding by applying a styptic powder or using witch hazel or alum.

Trimming the Bottom and Tip

After the sides of the nails are smoothed out, you can cut the bottom of the nails to ensure they do not grow into the pads. Paying close attention to the quick, you can complete the manicure by carefully clipping the nail’s tip. When you’ve finished all eight toes, you can allow your llama to walk around the property. Watch your pet closely while it walks to confirm that its clipped nails are not bothering it or hindering its motion.

How Do Lama Herds Benefit the Environment?

Unlike hooved livestock, llamas are better for the environment. The soft pads on their feet are less damaging to pasture and fields. The structure of their feet gives them more control while walking, and the paths where they travel require less maintenance than those used by horses, sheep, cattle, or goats.

a close up of four white llamas
Image Credit: Noe Besso, Shutterstock

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Final Thoughts

Most four-legged farm animals have hooved feet, but the llama relies on its padded feet to help it navigate through multiple terrain types. The animal’s two-toed feet stabilize it during long hikes and allow it to travel to areas inaccessible to hooved creatures. Llamas are tough animals that thrive in warm and cold climates, but they require frequent nail grooming when they live in flat regions with softer terrain to prevent injuries and infections. When they’re cared for properly, these furry beasts can be affectionate pets for up to 20 years.


Featured Image Credit: Pezibear, Pixabay