Bullwinkle Deer

NWDC is in the process of updating this fact sheet. 

Cause

Bullwinkle deer is a term that refers to a seemingly rare disease of deer that causes inflammation in the snout, giving them a moose-like appearance. The cause of this affliction is currently unknown, though it is believed to be the result of a chronic bacterial infection. 

Significance

Bullwinkle deer was first reported in white-tailed deer by state wildlife agencies in 2005, though it is unclear if this is a newly emerging disease or one that has been unobserved or unreported until recently. The disease is not currently having any significant impact on white-tailed deer populations. Because so little is known about the suspected bacteria that cause the disease, it is recommended that people treat infected animals and carcasses with caution.

Species Affected

Bullwinkle deer has been seen most frequently in white-tailed deer, with one additional case reported in a mule deer. A similar bacteria has been reported in South American cattle, though it has not yet been confirmed as the same bacteria that causes Bullwinkle deer.

Distribution

Limited cases of Bullwinkle deer have been reported throughout the white-tail deer’s range in North America, as far north and west as Michigan and as far south as Alabama. 

Transmission

It is currently unknown how or where animals acquire the bacteria that cause Bullwinkle deer, or why certain individuals are affected and others are not. 

Clinical Signs

Deer afflicted with Bullwinkle deer will have swollen snouts, giving them a moose-like appearance. These swollen snouts are the result of long-term bacterial infections and inflammation in the tissue in the nose, mouth, and upper lip. Infected deer also experience chronic weight loss that makes them more susceptible to predation. While it does not appear that the infection itself causes mortality, deer afflicted with this disease may have trouble breathing and eating.

Diagnosis

Diagnosis of Bullwinkle deer is made based on the appearance of the deer and isolation of bacteria from inflamed tissues. 

Treatment

There are no treatment options at this time.

Management

Since so little is known about this rare disease, there is currently no management plan in place. Any sightings of this disease should be reported to the appropriate wildlife authority. Since so little is known about the suspected bacteria that cause the disease, it is recommended that people treat infected animals and carcasses with caution. It is also recommended that hunters not eat any meat from an infected deer and if possible, submit the carcass for testing.