Newsletter October 2016

Lameness in Whitetail Deer

Lameness is a generic term used to describe foot or leg pain that causes an animal to walk abnormally.  Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines lameness as having an injured leg or foot that makes walking difficult or painful. Lameness in Whitetail deer can be due to a bacterial infection or trauma.  Early recognition, diagnosis of cause, and treatment is important to minimize further damage, as well as life-threatening issues associated with lameness.

It is common for bacterial infection to cause lameness in Whitetail deer. These can be isolated to the hoof or extend into one of the lower joints or tendons. There are several different bacteria that are known to infect the hoof, but Fusobacterium necrophorum, Trueperella pyogenes, and Dichelobacter nodosus are the most common. These organisms are particularly concerning because they produce several types of toxins that can minimize the deer’s local immune response and dissect deep into the soft tissue structures of the hoof. It is not uncommon for a prolonged infection to cause systemic (body-wide) disease and even death.  If the infection is not treated appropriately, surgical debridement is often required. Moreover, surgical removal of the infected claw is sometimes required.hoof2

These bacteria are found in the environment and are usually opportunistic. If there is an injury to the hoof that results in a crack or puncture to the hoof capsule, these bacteria take the “opportunity” to invade that area, resulting in infection or abscess formation. While there are commercially available vaccines produced for cattle, these vaccines have not been validated for efficacy in deer. Autogenous vaccines are also available, but the efficacy of these vaccines is questionable. Talk to your herd health veterinarian about the use of these vaccines on your farm. Perhaps, the best way to prevent the spread of infectious bacteria is through early recognition and treatment of infectious lameness and removing the affected deer from its pen until the hoof has healed. This minimizes spread of the infectious bacteria and exposure to other deer.

Trauma is another common cause of lameness in deer. A fractured leg or toe, injured joint, damaged tendon or ligament, laceration, or non-infected cracked hoof can cause lameness in deer.  Some of these injuries heal without any intervention, while others usually require some degree treatment or surgery. It is common to see horizontal cracks across hooves in the late summer, early fall months. This is often due to negative affects from fever or viralhoof infections, such as EHD or Bluetongue.  If these cracks are not properly trimmed, the deer will be in chronic pain until the hoof grows to a length that the cracked section can break off and eliminate the constant pull on the cracked section that occurs with each step. Additionally, a secondary bacterial infection is a real concern. It is important to have your veterinarian diagnose the cause of the non-infectious lameness and develop an appropriate treatment plan.

It is important to be aggressive with diagnosis and treatment of this ailment in deer. Unfortunately, the “let’s wait and see if it gets better” approach will often make a bad situation worse more often than not. Furthermore, if the cause is infectious, this approach increases the risk of exposure and infection to the rest of the affected deer’s pen-mates.


  1. Jacques Fuselier, DVM, DABVP, DACT – Whittington Veterinary Clinic, Abbeville, LA – 337-893-8522

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