Deer diseases

How to recognise and manage notifiable diseases in deer.

Given our role in deer management, it is important that we are aware of any changes in the overall health of wild deer. If you work with wild deer in Scotland, you can help by looking out for signs of notifiable diseases.

The following diseases are notifiable. You should report suspected infections to the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA):

  • Chronic wasting disease
  • Foot and mouth disease
  • Bluetongue
  • Bovine tuberculosis (TB)

If a notifiable disease is confirmed in wild deer, it is unlikely to lead to restrictions on their management. However, it may affect the movement and control of domestic livestock and farmed deer in the area.

Learn how to recognise these notifiable diseases and find out what to do to prevent and contain outbreaks.

Chronic wasting disease

Chronic wasting disease (CWD) belongs to a group of transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSEs), which includes scrapie in sheep and bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) in cattle. It is caused by prions (abnormal proteins), which are very tough and can survive in extreme environments. It is highly contagious, progressive and always fatal.

Although CWD has not been confirmed in the UK, it is a threat to Scottish deer. It has been present in wild deer in North America since the 1980s and was first confirmed in wild deer in Europe (Norway) in 2016. It is believed that transmission takes place directly between animals and could transfer though inadequate biosecurity protocols. If the disease became established in the UK, it is unlikely that it could ever be eradicated. This would have serious consequences for wild and farmed deer.

Keeping the disease out of the UK

Chronic wasting disease could be introduced to the UK on contaminated clothing, footwear and equipment by travellers – particularly stalkers – from North America and Scandinavia. Vigilance and good biosecurity (measures to prevent the spread of disease) are vital to stop the disease entering the UK. Natural urine lures should not be brought into the UK, as there is a high risk that they will introduce the disease.

Signs of chronic wasting disease

Look out for the following:

  • animals separated from the herd
  • lowered head
  • drooling
  • teeth grinding
  • listlessness
  • nervousness and excitement
  • stumbling and poor coordination
  • repeated walking in set patterns
  • tremor
  • paralysis

More about chronic wasting disease

For more detail on the disease and appropriate biosecurity, read our leaflet on chronic wasting disease.

To find out more about how to spot and report the disease, visit the Scottish Government's page on chronic wasting disease.

Foot and mouth disease

Foot and mouth disease (FMD) is caused by a virus that can be carried in the air or in water. It is highly contagious and can spread rapidly. The UK is currently considered officially 'disease-free' for FMD.

There may still be occasional outbreaks that will affect deer and domestic livestock. If there is an outbreak of the disease, the Scottish Government may introduce restrictions on culling deer and the movement of carcasses and by-products.

Signs of foot and mouth disease

Deer may not show many of the outward signs of FMD seen in domestic livestock, such as lameness and drooling. The clinical signs can be seen only by close examination of the carcass. The most common signs are small blisters (known as vesicles) on the skin and ulcers in the mouth or on the feet.

More about foot and mouth disease

To learn more about the clinical signs of the disease, read the Best Practice Guide on Foot and Mouth Disease.

For information on the current disease situation in Scotland and any restrictions in place, visit the Scottish Government’s web page on foot and mouth disease.


Bluetongue is a viral disease spread by midges. The disease may be mild in deer and they may not show any outward signs. However, deer can act as a reservoir for the disease, which may then spread to domestic livestock.

The susceptibility of deer to the disease depends on the species of deer and strain of bluetongue virus (BTV).

Epizootic haemorrhagic disease (EHD) is similar to bluetongue and is caused by a virus related to BTV.

Signs of bluetongue

Bluetongue restricts the blood supply to the tongue and lips, turning them blue or even black, and giving the disease its name.

Other signs of the disease include:

  • swelling of the mouth, head and neck
  • discharge from the eyes and nose
  • drooling – caused by ulcers in the mouth

More about bluetongue

To learn more about the clinical signs, visit the Scottish Government's web page on bluetongue.

There is also information on the current disease situation in Scotland and guidance on biosecurity (measures to prevent the disease).

Bovine tuberculosis (TB)

Bovine tuberculosis (TB) is a contagious disease caused by the bacterium Mycobacterium bovis. It is a chronic disease and affected deer may not show clinical signs for years.

Bovine TB mainly affects cattle, but it can be passed between most mammals – including, rarely, humans.

Signs of bovine tuberculosis

Live deer may not show any outward signs of infection. However, animals with advanced disease may have diarrhoea and become emaciated, or they may just be quiet and generally unwell.

Internally, the tuberculosis lesions can develop in any organ.

The signs and symptoms of bovine TB are indistinguishable from those of avian TB, which is not a notifiable disease. Diagnosis can be confirmed only by laboratory analysis.

More about bovine tuberculosis

To find information on the current status of the disease in Scotland, visit the Scottish Government's web page on bovine tuberculosis.

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