Have You Seen These Deer Diseases In Your Local Woods?

Weird deer conditions from the Quality Deer Management Association

A crucial aspect to managing a healthy deer herd is being able to spot sick animals. Check out these weird deer conditions from the Quality Deer Management Association.

Editor’s Note: Some of the images in this gallery are graphic.

Abnormal Antler Formation

The combination suggested the deer had been hit by a car.
The combination suggested the deer had been hit by a car. David Osborn

This buck displayed an abnormal left antler throughout its life and was always seen walking with a limp. David Osborn, deer research coordinator at the University of Georgia, examined the deer after it was harvested at age 5 1/5 and found its right “elbow” joint had fused together after being shattered and the left side of its skull around the pedicle also showed signs of injury (the combination suggested the deer had been hit by a car). Both the leg injury and the skull injury likely contributed to the abnormal antler formation.

Mange

Lesions and bald spots indicate mange.
Lesions and bald spots indicate mange. David Ray

Look for lesions and bald spots like this deer, which may indicate mange.

Piebald Deer

Piebald deer may also display other unique traits.
Piebald deer may also display other unique traits. Brandon Dillston

The coats of piebald deer are mottled with patches of white and patches of normal brown or gray. Piebald deer may also display other unique traits, such as short legs and an overall “dwarfish” appearance compared to normal deer, and abnormal curvature of the spine.

Injury to the Jaw

This buck took a beating.
This buck took a beating. David Steckler

This buck took a beating. The damage included loss of the right eye and injury to the verges or muscles around the mouth, resulting in a dangling tongue. Based on experiences with captive deer, experts say that dangling tongues are most likely the result of an injury to the jaw or mouth rather than a disease issue. One doe with this problem, photographed over a period of months, was able to eat normally and appeared to remain healthy.

Bacterial and Viral Infections

A wide range of potential causes could be involved from injury to infection.
A wide range of potential causes could be involved from injury to infection. Hal Jackson

Like humans, deer can acquire many types of internal and external tumors, cysts, swellings, cancers, and defects. Causes vary from injuries to bacterial and viral infections. None are known to be a serious concern for populations and the outcome for each individual is never certain.

This buck was photographed feeding and moving about normally, in spite of its obvious problem. A wide range of potential causes could be involved from injury to infection.

Normal Seasonal Coat Transitions

This is a normal transition from summer to winter coat.
This is a normal transition from summer to winter coat. David Ray

Many hunters fear they see mange or some other strange disease in a photo when really the deer is just in a pelage transition. This is a normal transition from summer to winter coat.

Strange Growths

Neither the cause of the growth, nor the doe's fate, are known.
Neither the cause of the growth, nor the doe’s fate, are known. Morgan Dennie

This doe was photographed over a period of weeks, during which time the strange growth on its nose grew in size and then began to break up. Somehow the deer was still able to eat and breathe. Neither the cause of the growth, nor the doe’s fate, are known.

Overbite or Underbite

It rarely affects the health of the individual and is not a population concern.
It rarely affects the health of the individual and is not a population concern. Justin Huffstetler

A prominent overbite or underbite in deer is usually the result of a rare genetic anomaly that is present in most deer populations. It rarely affects the health of the individual and is not a population concern. Harvesting deer displaying a particular genetic trait will have no measurable impact on the trait’s prevalence in a free-roaming population.

Albino Deer

True albino deer lack skin and hair pigments and are completely white.
True albino deer lack skin and hair pigments and are completely white. Jared Bistodeau

Both piebald and albino deer display genetic anomalies that occur rarely in all deer populations. True albino deer lack skin and hair pigments and are completely white. Their eyes are tinted pink.

Deer Warts

It is not transferable to humans.
It is not transferable to humans. Nathan Pyle

Deer warts, or “cutaneous fibromas,” are caused by a papilloma virus. They are usually temporary and can vary from half an inch to several inches across. The virus is uncommon and affects only a small percentage of deer, so it has little or no impact on deer populations.

It is not transferable to humans. Most cases are minor, but in rare cases, dense fibromas may interfere with eyesight, breathing, feeding or mobility.

Hemorrhagic Disease

Sick and dead deer with HD are often found in or near water because of the high fever.
Sick and dead deer with HD are often found in or near water because of the high fever. Outdoor Life Online Editors

Hemorrhagic Disease is caused by a virus that is transmitted to deer in summer and early fall by biting insects. It is fatal to some deer, while others survive. Symptoms include high fever (and associated thirst), lameness, and cracked or sloughing hooves. In the photo on the right, notice the open sores on the buck’s knees, which are associated with lameness.

The deer has literally been walking on its knees. Since it was likely recovering. Sick and dead deer with HD are often found in or near water because of the high fever. If you locate sick or dying deer in any season, alert your state wildlife agency.

Complications with Pregnancy

The swelling appears excessive even for triplets.
The swelling appears excessive even for triplets. Roy Torres

While it’s likely this doe is, or was, pregnant, the amount of swelling appears excessive even for triplets and suggests complications.

Arterial Worm

Food builds up in the cheek and becomes impacted.
Food builds up in the cheek and becomes impacted. Tom Grall

Among the many potential parasites hosted by whitetails is the arterial worm, which lives in the carotid arteries of deer at one stage of its life cycle. the worm reduces blood flow and interferes with the function of the jaw muscles that control chewing and swallowing.

As a result, food builds up in the cheek and becomes impacted. Death is possible in the most serious cases, but infection rates are not significant enough to be enough to be a population concern.

Infection

The exact cause is not clear.
The exact cause is not clear. Ryan Spikes

This bucks’ facial swelling is thought to be related to infection, but the exact cause is not clear.

Abnormal Antler Growth

Some hunters blame
Some hunters blame “genetics” for weird antlers when in most cases injuries are the cause. Todd Reabe

Some hunters blame “genetics” for weird antlers when in most cases injuries are the cause. A wide range of injuries can affect antler growth, from damage to the antler bases to the skull around the pedicle, or to the antlers while they are growing.

Other Weird Deer

It also helps you interpret buck movement patterns based on the latest science.
It also helps you interpret buck movement patterns based on the latest science. Outdoor Life Online Editors

You’ll find these and many more photos in the new book, “Deer Cameras: The Science of Scouting,” published by the nonprofit Quality Deer Management Association (QDMA). The book was written by a team of whitetail experts and explains how to use trail-cameras to estimate deer density, buck age structure, herd health and more. It also helps you interpret buck movement patterns based on the latest science, and use photo evidence to more effectively hunt mature whitetail bucks. Deer Cameras: The Science of Scouting is available at www.QDMA.com or call (800) 209-3337.

Doe Battle

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WEIRD DEER
Check out some of the other strange predicaments that deer have gotten themselves into. Most of the time bucks get credit for being bruisers and duking it out with other deer, but does often go head to head as well. Like these two deer for example. Photo: Outdoors Weekly

Most of the time bucks get credit for being bruisers and duking it out with other deer, but does often go head to head as well. Like these two deer for example.

Bucket Head

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Yes, that’s a bucket stuck on that deer’s head. Photo: Outdoors Weekly

Yes, that’s a bucket stuck on that deer’s head. No, we don’t know how it got there.

Doe with a Flock

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Having a strong maternal instinct, this doe decided to raise a flock of turkeys as her own. The turkeys, which are not the brightest creatures in the animal kingdom, decided to go along for the ride. Photo: Outdoors Weekly

Having a strong maternal instinct, this doe decided to raise a flock of turkeys as her own. The turkeys, which are not the brightest creatures in the animal kingdom, decided to go along for the ride.

Buck vs. Cat

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This young buck has clearly never seen a cat before.

This young buck has clearly never seen a cat before. What do you think the cat was thinking?

Dominant Doe

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A doe showing her dominance.

A doe showing her dominance.

Polar Plunge Deer

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Deer are good swimmers, but this buck looks really cold. I wonder if he fell in or jumped in on purpose. Photo: Outdoors Weekly

Deer are good swimmers, but this buck looks really cold. I wonder if he fell in or jumped in on purpose. Luckily, the big droptine buck made it out.

Velvet Transition

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This buck is in the process of rubbing off his velvet.

This buck is in the process of rubbing off his velvet. When he’s done rubbing, he licks the blood from his antlers off of the branches.

Buck vs. Raccoon

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This big buck takes a stand against a raccoon. Photo: Outdoors Weekly

This big buck takes a stand against a raccoon.

Milwaukee Bucks

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This deer broke into a restaurant in Wisconsin. Oddly enough, patrons of the restaurant were watching a Milwaukee Bucks game at the time of the break in.

This deer broke into a restaurant in Wisconsin. Oddly enough, patrons of the restaurant were watching a Milwaukee Bucks game at the time of the break in.

Snow Trail Walkers

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This photo comes from Maine, where the deer use snowmobile trails for easy walking in the winter. Photo: Wood Family Hunting

This photo comes from Maine, where the deer use snowmobile trails for easy walking in the winter.

The Moment Before Surprise

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This young buck is about to be very startled by a flying squirrel. Photo: Outdoors Weekly

This young buck is about to be very startled by a flying squirrel.

Can One of These Deer Diseases Kill a Human?

The disease that struck the three hunters is ominously similar to another disease that’s spreading in deer and elk in Colorado and Wyoming. This possible connection has some people pointing to deer meat and crying killer.

The accusation could prove true. The disease found in deer and elk is called Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD), and it’s closely related to Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD), which is what killed the hunters. Both CJD and CWD are classified as “transmissible spongiform encephalopathies” (TSE). Diseases don’t always make the leap from one species to another, but there is a connection between chronic wasting disease and Creutzfeldt-Jacob that has many scientists concerned: Another TSE-bovine spongiform chronic encephalopathy (BSE)-spread from cattle to humans in the United Kingdom, where it was dubbed “Mad Cow Disease.”

Mad Cow Disease exploded in U.K. cattle herds in the late 1980s and early ’90s. But it was not until 1996 that it was found to have crossed over to humans. Since then, 43 people are known to have died in the U.K. from Mad Cow Disease, but because of its long incubation period-possibly up to 20 years-it may yet kill many more. The disease resulted in European bans on British beef and forced the destruction of more than half of the cattle in the U.K.

Because of the similarity, CWD has already been nicknamed “Mad Deer Disease,” but it hasn’t yet proved as sinister. In fact, another TSE called “scrapie” has afflicted sheep for at least 250 years and has never been found to cross over to humans. Still, because of Mad Cow Disease, CWD is hitting the hunting world like a horror movie monster, lurking unseen in the shadows.

Scientists, however, are on the monster’s trail. More than a dozen states and the federal Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in cooperation with the Animal Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) are pouring money and resources into a thus-far-quiet, but nevertheless massive, investigation. They’re trying to answer two questions: Is CWD killing people? And where is CWD?

To answer the first question, the CDC is taking a street cop approach by chasing down every lead that comes into its Atlanta headquarters. And with what they’ve found so far, this horror movie is starting to feel more like an X-File. Larry Schonberger, a medical epidemiologist for the CDC, says, “I’ve sent one of our epidemiologists out to investigate to see if there’s a link between CWD and the (three) hunters’ deaths. I did this because two of the victims were young gone was 27 years old, the other 30. That’s very unusual. CJD normally shows up in people well over 30. But our scientist’s initial report is that the deer eaten by the victims had not come from (known])infected areas. But we’re taking no chances. In fact, a young girl died in a southern state from CJD who had reportedly eaten venison that her father had shot in Maine, so this year 300 deer will be checked for the disease in Maine.

“At this point we can’t rule out a link between Chronic Wasting Disease and the hunters’ deaths, but I think it’s unlikely. CJD occurs all over the world at a ratio of about one in 1 million people. Each year in the U.S. 250 to 300 people die from CJD. So it’s understandable that a few of the victims happened to have eaten venison,” says Schonberger.

Meanwhile, APHIS and many state agencies are doing a broader search to discover if CWD can be found outside known infected areas, and to find out how fast it’s spreading from the infected area. Since there is no accurate test that can be performed on living animals, scientists are checking brain samples. The samples are collected at deer check stations and meat processors. From there they are sent to a number of labs for analysis. Colorado and Wyoming each check thousands of samples annually at their own research facilities, but other states, such as Nebraska, South Dakota, Montana and Nevada, seend their samples to the APHIS lab in Ames, Iowa. So far no wild deer or elk outside of Wyoming and Colorado have shown up with the disease. CWD has been found in elk produced in the game-farm industry, however.

Both CDC and APHIS efforts are designed simply to get a fix on the situation. Right now not much can be done to stop or prevent Mad Deer Disease because scientists know so little about it. To get answers, however, labs worldwide are intensively studying all spongiform encephalopathies. The CDC, for instance, is investigating this group of pathogens at its Prion Disease Pathology Surveillance Center at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. But despite the intensive research efforts, answers are slow to come.

In fact, scientists don’t even agree on what causes TSEs, although there is wide support for a theory put forth by Stanley Prusiner, M.D., a professor of neurology at the University of California at San Francisco, whose research won him the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1997. Prusiner theorizes that “prions” (proteinaceous infectious particles) cause this family of diseases, and not a virus, as was previously assumed. His chief reason for fingering “rogue proteins” is that the chemical and physical procedures that destroy most viruses don’t affect TSEs, whereas procedures that have been found to degrade proteins seem to inactivate them. Prusiner’s hypothesis is that prions kill by turning normal proteins in nerve cells into infectious ones by forcing them to alter their shape.

A Doomsday for Deer?

In light of the recent conjecture about CWD killing humans, it’s easy to overlook one certainty about this disease: It kills deer. The ramifications of that indisputable fact are almost as unsettling. Before we go on, keep three things in mind: CWD is spreading, CWD is always fatal and CWD has no known cure.

In the infected areas of Wyoming and Colorado, about 4 to 8 percent of deer and 1 percent of elk have the disease, according to Beth Williams, a professor of veterinary services with the University of Wyoming, and Mike Miller, a biologist with the Colorado Division of Wildlife.

“It’s been spreading slowly since it was first found in the wild in 1981,” Williams says. “We think (CWD) passes from animal to animal through bodily fluids. So it probably takes physical contact of some kind to pass the disease.”

That said, the spread of CWD may soon pick up speed because whitetails may be next on its hit list. Thus far the disease has mostly spread in mule deer up the South Platte drainage in northeastern Colorado. Mule deer have fairly thin population densities along the river, but whitetails have heavy population densities in this area. This dilemma has Miller worried because the whitetail’s heavier population density means there is a greater chance of physical contact, which means CWD could move more rapidly. “Based on some computer models that we did at the Division of Wildlife, this scenario could prove devastating,” Miller says.

“The only preventive measure we can take is to cut down the deer population in the infected areas. But these areas are popular with hunters, so that would be controversial. As a result, right now we’re just checking for the disease, but unless something is done, CWD could spread farther and farther east. I’m not saying that it’ll be in New Jersey next year, but in 10 or 15 years, who knows?”

So this article ends not with a climax, but with a “to be continued.” Many questions still surround what we hope is erroneously named Mad Deer Disease. Consequently, we’re left in the dark, speculating as to what it means to deer, to hunting and to hunters. –– Frank Miniter