Can Deer Get Rabies?

Rabies is one of the most fatal diseases that can affect warm-blooded animals. And the reason why it is so fatal is because the chances of survival are very low. Almost all mammals including humans can contract the deadly disease; rabies. But, can deer get rabies too?

Yes, they can. Many people assume that deer are less prone to develop rabies as the possibility of a deer getting bitten by a rabid animal is rare. This is why veterinarians rarely test deer since the prospects are minimum. Although the chances are low, it is not entirely impossible for deer to contract rabies.

If you’re interested in finding out how deer can get rabies, stay with us till the end.


Can Deer Get Rabies?


First, What is Rabies?

Rabies is a malignant disease that occurs due to a viral infection affecting the nervous system. This disease can occur in almost pets, human beings and livestock. Commonly affected animals include bats, raccoons, coyotes, foxes, dogs, skunks, wild cats, etc.

The virus transmits through the saliva of the affected animals and is also present in the brain tissue of the rabid animals as well. Most of the animals show severe symptoms before dying while others die without being detected.

The chances of survival are very low as the virus affects the brain in no time and once the nervous system is attacked, death is certain.

How is Rabies Virus Transmitted?

Rabies virus is transmitted through saliva, bite or through the neural tissue of the animal tested positive for rabies.

In most cases, when a rabid animal bites another animal, the chances of contracting rabies are high.

Other than a bite, if an animal is licked or scratched by a rabies infected animal, it may contract the disease as well. The virus in the saliva enters in the bloodstream of the victim and later affects the brain and the spinal cord.

Rabies is not only carried only by feral or vicious animals. It can spread through unvaccinated pets, livestock and smaller animals that test positive for rabies.

What are the Symptoms of Rabies in Deer and Other Animals?

Since rabies affects the central nervous system, the symptoms are mainly neurological. However, in deer, apart from neurological manifestations, alopecia of loss of hair is the main symptom. It is followed by abnormal behavior which confirms that the deer is affected with rabies.

The combination of these two symptoms i.e., alopecia and abnormal behavior helps the vets identify if they are positive for rabies. Alopecia also occurs in other rabid animals, but is usually one of the first and main symptoms that affect them.

If the affected deer is suffering from fever and swelling, the main cause is most likely EHD or hemorrhagic disease.

Other symptoms that affect deer and other animals affected with rabies include-

  • Aggressiveness
  • Confusion
  • Lethargy
  • Eye or nose discharge
  • Increased salivation
  • Unsteady movement
  • Trouble standing
  • Difficulty in maintaining balance
  • Paralysis of one or both of the hind legs
  • Loss of fear of humans or natural enemies
  • Convulsion
  • Spitting
  • Choking

Rabies Incubation Period

The incubation period of the virus is around 3-8 weeks and, in most cases, the affected animal dies within a week or two of showing the clinical signs of rabies.

The symptoms of rabies are quite similar to the chronic wasting disease in deer. So, many people get confused initially what the deer is suffering from. Since both diseases are fatal, it is best to seek immediate medical assistance from local health department if a deer is showing any of the mentioned symptoms.

What is Chronic Wasting Disease?

Chronic wasting disease is another fatal disease that shows similar symptoms to rabies in deer. This disease is so deadly that it is commonly known as the zombie disease.

The zombie deer disease is a fatal disease that takes place when abnormal prions affect the brain and spinal cord. Just like rabies, the brain is affected and there are serious neurological manifestations.

Abnormal and aggressive behavior, staggering gait, trouble standing, convulsion, unusual nose discharge, paralysis, etc. are the common symptoms of this deadly disease. Without prompt medical treatment, a deer ultimately faces death.

What Can Happen to A Rabid Deer?

Although rabies is quite rare in deer, there is still the possibility of contracting the disease. Once a deer is affected by rabies, the effects are life-threatening and in most cases the deer dies.

Usually, deer gets affected by rabies after getting bitten by wild dogs, raccoons, feral cats, foxes or coyotes. In most cases, raccoons are the main offenders and are responsible for transmitting the rabies virus.

The virus enters the bloodstream of the deer through the animal’s saliva and gradually attacks the nervous and spinal tissues.


The rabid deer starts showing signs of unexplained aggressiveness and loses hair on the head. Fear of humans, severe weight loss, loss of bodily functions and degradation of nervous and other tissues are the later signs of a dying deer.

Human beings particularly hunters or people spending time outdoors can get affected if they are bitten by a rabid deer or if they end up hunting and eating the flesh of a dead deer.

What Safety Measures Can Deer Hunters Take?

Since deer hunters handle deer while hunting on a frequent basis, they are also the ones at highest risk of contracting the disease from a rabid deer.

The following precautions can help hunters prevent disease transmission in the hunting season:

  1. Avoid contact with infected deer i.e. any deer acting abnormal, showing excessive aggression, making unusual noises, having difficulty breathing or not fearing humans
  2. Stay away from eating the deer that showed signs of unusual behavior
  3. Wash boots and instruments after field dressing
  4. Put on rubber or latex gloves when field dressing
  5. Avoid bringing your pets to the sites of field dressing
  6. Maintain aseptic precautions during field dressing
  7. Refrain from handling the brain or spinal cord
  8. Get rid of all the lymph nodes, fat and connective tissue and wash hands after completing field dressing
  9. Thorough cooking at proper cooking temperatures to ensure safe food

Can Deer Get Rabies Disease Summary

So, can deer get rabies? Of course, they can and the effects can be life-threatening without immediate medical assistance. It can be dangerous for all the other animals in the wild as well as hunters or people living outdoors.

Additionally, if you have any questions about deer or regarding this rabies issue, let us know in the comments.

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