Deer Diseases | Outdoor Life

Deer Diseases

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.

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

Photo: David Osborn

Lesions and bald spots indicate mange.

Photo: David Ray

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.

Photo: Brandon Dillston

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.

Photo: David Steckler

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.

Photo: Hal Jackson

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.

Photo: David Ray

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.

Photo: Morgan Dennie

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.

Photo: Justin Huffstetler

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.

Photo: Jared Bistodeau

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.

Photo: Nathan Pyle

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.

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

Photo: Roy Torres

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.

Photo: Tom Grall

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

Photo: Ryan Spikes

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.

Photo: Todd Reabe

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 or call (800) 209-3337.

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

Yes, that's a bucket stuck on that deer's head.

Photo: Outdoors Weekly

No, we don't know how he got it stuck on there or how he got it off.

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.

Photo: Outdoors Weekly

This young buck has clearly never seen a cat before.

A doe showing her dominance.

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

Photo: Outdoors Weekly

Luckily the big droptine buck made it out.

Photo: Outdoors Weekly

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.

This big buck takes a stand against a raccoon.

Photo: Outdoors Weekly

This poor old boy is going to be pretty disappointed when he finds out she isn't real.

Photo: Wood Family Hunting

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.

I would hate to be the deer on the receiving end of this kick.

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

Photo: Wood Family Hunting

At one moment the deer are ready to brawl ...

… and the next moment everything is fine.

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

Photo: Outdoors Weekly

This photo was taken on Rabbit Creek in northwest South Dakota. The deer are floating across the river on a mini iceberg.

Apparently, those deer weren't the only ones who thought riding and iceberg was a good way to cross a stream.

It's unknown whether this buck actually wanted to cross the river or if he just got stuck out on the ice.

Apparently, he made it safely to the other side.

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.


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