In a perfect world, deer, and other animals for that matter, would be unaffected by illness and disease. Unfortunately, this is far from the reality we know and there are several health issues that plague cervids. Although seeing disease in action may be a reasonably rare occurrence, it is still important that Missouri Whitetail hunters familiarize themselves with these diseases. Being able to recognize and identify disease will not only help prevent further spread but also reduces risks of tainted meat being consumed. When it comes to deer illnesses, these are the top five for which you should be on the lookout.
1. Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) is fatal once it manifests and becomes symptomatic. Prior to the presence of symptoms, a deer can live with CWD for quite some time. This disease is acquired through proteins known as prions and is known to impact areas such as the eyes, spleen, tonsils, lymph nodes, brain, and spinal cord, causing degeneration. The only positive identification of CWD is done through testing of the brain stem or lymphatic tissue. However, it is possible to observe tremors, stumbling, grinding of teeth, and excessive salivation. Deer are also severely underweight and sometimes walking in repetitive patterns. Proper handling and disposal of carcasses is vital to containing the spread of this disease.
Photo: Passport to TX
2. Sometimes mistaken for Chronic Wasting Disease is Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease or EHD. Typically occurring in summer, EHD has the potential the kill large numbers of animals in a short time frame, taking as little as seven days for symptoms to appear. What eventually ends with fatal hemorrhaging begins with weakness, fever, appetite loss, blood leaking from the nose and mouth, as well as oblivion in the face of danger. Most obvious, however, will be lesions noted during the skinning process as well as organs that seep. EHD is transmitted by the biting midge and can go on to affect livestock animals and has been found in more than half of the United States, making it a serious threat to deer populations.
Photo: Team Michigan Hunting
3.Bluetongue virus, which presents and is transmitted in a similar fashion to EHD, is sometimes referred to as 'dancing disease.' The reason for this is that, in addition to the deer having a blue tongue resulting from a lack of oxygen in the blood, it causes lesions on the feet that making walking painful, bringing about lameness that can look similar to dancing. It is these foot lesions that ultimately bring about death. The spread of this disease is due to the biting midge and it can affect cattle and elk in addition to other deer species.
Photo: CJ Online
4. Cutaneous Fibromas, also referred to as deer warts, are often easy to visually identify. This disease causes growths on the deer that are gray or black in color which are caused by a virus that infects the skin. It is found more often in bucks due to being able to enter through wounds received when fighting with one another, but it is also transmitted by biting insects. Though the illness itself is not fatal, the growths themselves often present in locations that inhibit a deer's ability to live and function, such as by rendering it unable to eat or drink normally, which can then lead to its demise.
Photo: Whitetail Hunting
5. A skin disease caused by mites which results in hair loss and wrinkled skin is called mange. Though not very common, mange can be fatal to deer, especially those with weaker immune systems such as fawns. When hair loss is present, biting insects are more easily able to gain access to deer skin, causing irritation. This irritation then goes on to be combated with excess grooming, which in turn makes the problem worse. Similar skin conditions can have the same affect, such as lice, which can be seen on the skin of affected deer.
Photo: North American Whitetail
In some cases, consuming the meat of a deer potentially infected with the above illnesses may not pose a threat to those who eat it. However, this is something that should be done at your own risk as there could be harm in doing so, especially in the case of diseases that harbor bacterial infection invisible to the naked eye. Being aware of potential illness in deer is something that all whitetail hunters should embrace. It is also necessary to handle diseased deer in certain manners (wearing gloves and cooking thoroughly) based on their afflictions, so keeping the number of the MDOC (8778535665) on hand at all times is useful should a question arise.
Have you encountered a deer in the field that was clearly ill or were you instead surprised by something you saw while skinning and gutting? Tell us about your experience in the comments!