Deer warts are one of the most easily visible diseases of whitetails, and every year deer hunters ask us about this health problem. Deer warts are hairless black or gray tumors caused by a type of papillomavirus that can be spread from deer to deer. Though grotesque, deer warts rarely affect a deer’s overall health.
Where Do Deer Warts Occur?
Deer warts are also known as “cutaneous fibromas” because they are non-cancerous fibrous tumors of the skin. They most often appear on the head and neck of deer, though they also sometimes occur on the legs and body. They can be as small as a quarter-inch in diameter or as large as several inches.
Experts believe that deer-to-deer contact, especially grooming, plays a role in the spread of the virus, so the tumors often show up in areas like the head and neck where deer groom each other and themselves most frequently. Deer warts are found throughout the entire whitetail range.
The doe in the photo above had a fibroma just below its eye. Wildlife photographer and NDA member Tes Randle Jolly of Alabama saw and photographed this deer. She said the doe appeared healthy other than the fibroma below its eye, and it had a healthy fawn following along each time Tes encountered it. The fawn did not have any fibromas that Tes could see.
Deer Warts and Deer Health
The papillomavirus that causes deer warts is uncommon and affects only a small percentage of deer, probably due to varying susceptibility among individual deer. Most cases are minor, temporary, involve a small number of fibromas, and do not affect the deer’s health otherwise. Deer warts do not significantly affect deer populations.
In a few rare cases, tumors grow in large clusters or across large areas of an affected deer’s body. If these clusters affect a deer’s ability to see, breathe, or eat normally, they can indirectly cause a decline in health or death by predation. Large clusters can also rupture and become infected with bacteria, leading to secondary health issues.
All cases of deer warts are uncommon, but extreme cases are especially rare. Deer with serious cases of deer warts may have some other underlying health issue that affected their ability to fight off the virus.
What About the Venison
Deer warts attach to the skin and do not penetrate muscle or bone. For this reason, it’s safe to eat the venison from a deer that had a small number of minor fibromas, as long as the deer appeared healthy otherwise.
In rare cases like the ones mentioned above, in which large clusters of fibromas involve open wounds with a secondary bacterial infection, you should not eat the venison. You may see pus or other drainage from such a wound. Do not eat the venison from any deer that appears unhealthy or shows signs that it is fighting internal infection.
The photos below show a large fibroma on the leg of a Georgia doe. Though large, it was attached to the skin only and was easily removed. The inside of a deer wart is firm, fibrous material similar to fat in color.
Can People Get Deer Warts?
Since the papillomavirus is unique to deer as a species, it does not affect people or pets. Deer cannot transmit it to people, and you won’t get warts if you handle a deer that has them. Cattle, sheep, horses and other domestic animals are also immune to the papillomavirus that causes deer warts.
Should You Shoot a Deer Just Because it has a Wart?
Most deer warts are minor cases and will heal and disappear on their own without affecting the deer’s health. Killing a deer with fibromas, even a serious case, will not reduce the prevalence of the virus in the population. Most deer are capable of fighting off warts with normal immune defense reactions.