Fibromatosis in Wild Deer

Reader Contribution by Bruce Mcelmurray
article image

A few days ago we had a deer just outside our back door that looked horrible (see photo, above). I obtained a few photos of him and readers will see what the problem is from viewing the photo. Since it is a wild animal, it is hard to get any closer or have them hold still while you examine them. Thanks to some very good friends who viewed the photo and did some research, we have learned that this is fibromatosis.

I have found two web sites that go into more detail regarding this disease: Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. The data states that fibromatosis is not life-threatening to deer and occurs infrequently. Up close, it looks pretty gross and the deer in the photo had large sacs hanging off it plus a raw wound on near its haunch that was approximately 6-8 inches in diameter and appeared to be raw and bleeding.

A Connection Between Fibromatosis and Herbicides?

None of the reports I have read on fibromatosis actually had very much detailed information on the disease and stated its origin was unknown or possibly caused by insect bites or a virus. The last time I observed it on deer and elk was approximately 6 years ago when our community was spraying 2-4-D Amine 4 to kill Canada thistle. At that time, I would see community volunteers spraying meadow areas and sometimes within 2-3 hours following the spraying the deer would be browsing in the same area eating the sprayed weeds.

I had speculated at that time that their skin condition may have had something to do with consuming 2-4-D Amine 4, but had no proof the spraying was in any way connected with fibromatosis lesions and growths on the animals. I just assumed this because I had not seen animals in this condition before they started spraying weeds on our community’s 4,000 acres of common land. Furthermore I could not locate any reports that indicated any connection between spraying herbicides and the condition I observed on their bodies. This appears on the deer like warts on humans but appears far more severe with sacs hanging off the animal and open raw sores.

After seeing this deer in this condition, I checked to see if any spraying was taking place locally. I found that an adjoining community to the one in which we reside has been spraying noxious weeds with glyphosate, or Roundup. Animals wander between our adjoining communities daily and having not seen fibromatosis on deer since the last episode of herbicide spraying I found this to be quite the coincidence and wondered again if there was any possible connection between spraying herbicides and the skin issue on this deer. If any readers have noticed a similar connection or have seen any study regarding the etiology, please post in the comment section that reference study.

It seems to me that spraying noxious weeds presents a conundrum of sorts. The state Department of Agriculture (DOA) mandates the killing of certain noxious weeds and the preferred method is spraying them with a herbicide. If the reports I have read wherein several herbicides are clearly toxic to humans and domestic pets, it can only be assumed that they are equally toxic to deer and elk.

Whether the herbicides would cause this particular disease in deer and elk has apparently not yet been positively determined. If it takes many years for these studies to surface relating herbicide spraying to human health conditions it may take decades for a wild animal study to determine if the herbicides are connected to fibromatosis or not; coupled with the fact that wild animals are not willing volunteers or participants in any such study. Also, wild animal studies are not funded as well as human studies. It would, however, be prudent to err on the side of caution and stop spraying herbicides in deer and elk habitat. Since there is presently no scientific study that connects the two, it is unlikely that will happen.

Does Firbromatosis in Deer Risk Humans or Pets?

The studies I have read on this disease stated that this disease doesn’t seem to bother the animal, nor does it affect the meat or internal organs. Hunters can safely eat the meat of these animals that they kill. They don’t think that the disease is transferable to domestic pets or humans but can‘t state absolutely that it won‘t happen. The reports on this ailment seem non-specific as to cause and treatment. I also don’t see how those reports can indicate that an animal isn’t bothered by these sacs hanging off it and open raw wounds. Some of these areas may be like large warts but others would appear troublesome to the animal from what I observed.

I find the fact that the two times I have observed this condition were the two times herbicide sprays have been used, and it may only be totally coincidence or not related. When I looked at this deer, it is hard to believe that this condition does not irritate the animal in some manner. There may be absolutely no connection between spraying herbicides and fibromatosis but if, on the other hand, there is a connection, perhaps more care could be exercised to resolve the disease. If per chance we humans are causing this, it is my opinion that we should rethink our approach toward killing weeds with herbicide sprays, especially in wild animal habitat or where deer and elk browse. The good part is this condition is not life-threatening to deer but looks bad to uninformed viewers.

For more on Bruce and Carol McElmurray and living with wildlife go totheir blog.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.