Outline of species along with related anatomy, handling considerations and rehabilitation, release requirements
Although the deer’s skeletal system is very similar to a dog or cat’s in terms of its basic structure, although there are some adaptations that they require in order to survive the wild. Deer have long necks which enable them to crane it so they can feed off low lying grass and other vegetation. Stefoff, R. (2007)
Deer are prey animals and so they require adaptations that enable them to run fast and this is why they are ‘ugulates’, (hoofed mammals). Ungulates walk on their ‘ungulis’ which is a tough outer plate of a hoof or toenail. When ungulates walk, their feet or digits do not come into contact with the ground but their hooves. Stefoff, R. (2007). This clever evolutionary asset is essential for speed. This is down to the biomechanics of how bodies move- the smaller the area that touches the ground with each stride, the greater the stride is which results in faster movement.
Stefoff, R. (2007)
Hooves are an extremely strong version of human fingernails strong enough not to break when under immense pressure i.e. when the deer is running. Stefoff, R. (2007).The strength of the hooves comes from the keratin which exists in thick sheets and keratin fibres which run in all directions Stefoff, R. (2007)
Deer have a total of four toes on each foot. The middle two toes touch the ground and the outer two are elevated at the back, just above the hoof and are called dewclaws Stefoff, R. (2007). Metapodials in deer are elongated and form the lower part of the deer’s legs. In a deer, the femur and the humerus are short and thick in order to be able to anchor the large mass of muscle needed to propel them forward when running at high speed. Stefoff, R. (2007)
Seven glands are located on the body of a deer, scattered from head to toe to assist with communication amongst the herd and is how deer differentiate between one another (interspecies communication) Nickens, E. (2009). Deer scent is made up of scent glands and their urine. Stefoff, R. (2007) Deer use a technique called ‘flehmen’; this is the act of curling back their upper lip and sucking in air. This is used to detect scents from other deer. Stefoff, R. (2007)
Antler growth is an interesting area of study which provokes questioning as to why antler growth is delayed until the start of puberty and secondly, mammalian organ regeneration. Antler growth only occurs in male deer and is delayed until the start of puberty at 5 – 7 months old. No other mammal can regenerate an organ. The antlers of a 200-kg adult red deer may weigh as much 30 kg but take only 3 months to grow.
Antlers are formed from pedicles; permanent bony horns on the frontal bone of the skull. Periosteal cells (Antlerogenic Periosteum) are collected in the distal parts of the cristae externae of the frontal bones. These are activated by rising androgen levels in the blood. Testosterone binds to specific sites on the AP which leads to trabecular bone being formed beneath the periosteum and a pedicle develops.
There are four ossification stages in the formation of antlers in deer starting with ‘Intramembranous ossification’; this is the proliferation of antlerogenic cells and differentiation into osteoblasts. Osteoblasts form trabecular in the cellular periosteum. This then leads to ‘transitional ossification’, this initiates when pedicle reaches 5-10mm in height. Osseocartilaginous tissue is formed by the antlerogenic cells at the apical surface, which have undergone a change in differentiation pathway to form chondrocytes.
The third stage is ‘pedicle endochondral ossification’ when chrondrogenesis takes place in the pedicle alone. The final ossification stage is ‘antler endochondral ossification’- antlerogenic cells maintain their chrondrogenic differentiation pathway until the very first antler has fully formed. Shiny velvet skin covering the distal end of the pedicle coincidences with antler formation. Un-branched antlers described as ‘spikers’ elongate as a result of an endochondral process in the distal tip. (Deer antlers: a zoological curiosity or the key to understanding organ regeneration in mammals?)
The first antler continues growing until the autumn rutting season where testosterone levels are increased once again. Cessation in longitudinal growth causes this endocrine change. Antler bone becomes fully mineralized and the overlying velvet sheds to reveal bare bone. A single unbranched antler is left attached to the pedicle until it is cast the following spring Deer antlers: a zoological curiosity or the key to understanding organ regeneration in mammals?
The safest method of restraining/handling deer is to try to pull head to its flank, cover their head, hold the leg at the front and push the deer down onto the ground. This technique requires mastering so a well-trained person should only be allowed to do this. Deer bones are fragile so need to be cautious.
When it comes to releasing deer, a few things need to be kept in mind when choosing a location to release them. Deer need as much woodland cover as possible, especially with a male deer as they are very much territorial creatures. It is preferred to release a deer exactly where it was found. If this is not possible i.e. the deer was found in the middle of a road then it must be released no more than 1km from where it was found.
Veterinary diagnosis and treatment
Outline of condition, clinical signs and recommended treatment Roundworm is a condition commonly seen in deer. These are internal parasites that are found in the intestines and soak up nutrients from the animal’s diet which results in the sufferer becoming malnourished and weak because they are not getting the nutrients they require.
The clinical signs of a deer with worms are very hard to detect because they are prey animals and must not show signs of weakness otherwise it would make them a target for predators. Often they won’t show any signs until they are close to death. Should they show signs they would be lethargic, losing weight, scowering (lowering their head) and producing fluid faecal matter.
Deer get stressed very easily and it would be unethical to try and capture them for treatment as it would be putting the person capturing the deer at risk as well as the deer as their skeletal systems are very fragile and is liable to shatter. Deer antlers are extremely dangerous because they are strong as well as being full of bacteria; deer use their antlers to fight and they also urinate on their antlers so it could infect a human quite severely.
To treat worms in deer, Ivermectin “spot on” is used and is placed on the back of the deer’s neck. It is applied at 2 week intervals and, once cleared it can then be applied monthly to prevent it recurring.
What are the nursing needs of this patient and condition etc Deer, ideally should be nursed in a barn or large enclosure and not kept in a veterinary practice. This is purely because they are dangerous animals and are likely to lash out or charge at humans when they feel provoked.
Isolating the deer is ideal to prevent the worms passing onto other animals nearby and to avoid having to treat the others. Deer should not be isolated for too long as they can get stressed and this would not be an ethical thing to do.
Discussion of legal and ethical considerations
What legislation and ethical considerations are relevant
Wildlife and countryside act 1981
Wildlife and natural environment (Scotland) Act 2011
Courtney from Study Moose
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