How to Care for Reindeer

Sarah Beth Cavanah shares what you need to know about how to care for reindeer, including possible medical problems, seeking out a vet and diseases that can afflict reindeer.

| December 2001/January 2002

Learn about about how to care for reindeer to maintain their health.

How to Care for Reindeer

Reindeer are no more susceptible to disease than other domesticated animals, but they do have their own medical quirks. Bob Dieterich, a retired veterinary professor, said anyone who thinks they might be interested in raising reindeer needs to let their intentions be known to their local vet.

Although veterinary programs are covering an increasing number of animals, reindeer generally are not included in the general U.S. curriculum. A source of veterinary information for you and your vet can be obtained from the Reindeer Research Program at the University of Alaska. Dieterich said people who don't have a regular vet should search out one in their area who deals with horses and discuss whether the vet would be willing to learn to treat reindeer.

New buyers of reindeer need to have detailed conversations with the sellers about the particular animals, especially what they've been eating. In their natural environments, reindeer live off lichen and grasses, but should be fed a commercial diet of grain and roughage when moved into captivity. Reindeer are extremely susceptible to changes in diet and should only be fed what they're used to. Buyers should ask that some of the feed be sent with the reindeer when they are transported to their new home.

Brucellosis is a serious bacterial disease found in most Alaskan and Canadian herds. Animals should be tested. Reindeer can also acquire diseases common in other domesticated herds. The best treatment is prevention, and once again, a vet with reindeer knowledge is important. Owners must also be vigilant in watching their reindeer for subtle behavior changes. Reindeer don't show symptoms of sickness until they are very ill, and by then it may be too late to save them.


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