Strange foot malady has hunter and our biologist stumped.
QUESTION: I am a life member of Buckmasters and multiple other hunting organizations. For 15 years I have had a hunting lease in the middle of Iowa. Over the last several years, I have noted, with some anxiety, that several deer we harvested have the same physical issue. They have extremely swollen and often puss-filed feet/lower legs.
Both of the bucks taken this year had the issue, one significantly worse than the other. The butcher shop would not even allow us to bring the buck with the worst foot issue in his establishment. I then thought about earlier harvests from years ago and discovered that at least two of the bucks (from 4 or 5 years ago) had the same issue.
This year, the farm had the worst drought the owner has seen in more than 50 years. I noted, however, that in the deepest, darkest part of the property, the deer have spent so much time in the wet areas that it literally looks like a cattle pen. Does any of this sound familiar?
I will tell you we had no losses from EHD when it hit other areas of Iowa over the last several years. And we are the only real woodlot for several miles.
Finally, we have an incredibly high deer population on this farm of less than 500 acres, a good part of which is in crops.
ANSWER: My knee-jerk reaction would be EHD, but you could almost as quickly dismiss that for several reasons. One is your claim of no EHD or epizootic hemorrhagic disease losses in the area. The term epizootic implies the disease is widespread and prevalent.
In the Southeast, EHD is often chronic, meaning deer will exhibit some symptoms, like sloughing of the hooves, but often survive. In the Midwest, EHD is typically acute, meaning deer exhibit other obvious signs of infection before they ultimately die.
The symptoms you describe sound more like hoof rot, which is often the result of some type of injury that becomes infected. But it’s highly unlikely that would occur on multiple legs or on multiple deer. However, I did find a couple reports of contagious hoof rot in Kansas deer.
Biologists are not sure of the cause, but a couple possibilities cited are secondary infection resulting from EHD or animals stressed from the rut or over-crowding. — Recent Ask the Biologist Question:
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