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Antler Growth, Mixed With Stress, Illness or Injury

by Edward Haugen DVM
Date Posted: 01-01-2010

Deer Health       
Arcanobacterium Pyogenees, Formerly Actinomyces Pyogenees and before that Corynebacterium Pyogenees.

This bacterium is fairly common in the environment. This last year I have seen a few cases of sick deer with the disease. In three cases the animal was found dead with no apparent reason for death. On necropsy (autopsy for animals), case 1 was found to have TB like lesions in the lung, case 2 had no visual evidence of disease, besides the discoloration of some organ tissues, and case 3 had an abscess in the brain. I have also had a few other cases that I suspected this disease, based on the presence of pus.

In veterinary school the pathology instructor told us if you see abscesses draining pus in a sheep or goat it is probably this bacteria. Pyo means pus, Pyogenees is a pus producing organism. Inserted below is a description of this disease in cattle, sheep, and goats from the Merck Veterinary Manual (http.www.merckmanual.com). The name has not been updated yet in the manual to Arcanobacterium.

Actinomyces (Corynebacterium) pyogenes is the etiologic agent associated with a number of disease entities, primarily in cattle but also in goats, sheep, and pigs. These include acute and chronic suppurative mastitis, suppurative pneumonia (usually as a sequelae of acute bovine respiratory disease caused by Pasteurella haemolytica or P multocida ), septicemia, vegetative endocarditis, endometritis, septic arthritis, wound infections including umbilical infections, seminal vesiculitis (bulls and boars), and summer mastitis. Wound infections and summer mastitis may also involve anaerobic bacteria. Diagnosis depends on the nature and site of the infection. Suppurative wound infections in cattle are almost always attributed to this organism. In other types of infections, determination of the etiologic agent may require isolation and identification. The treatment of choice is surgical debridement and drainage (when possible) and penicillin.

What this means is that you can see an infection with this bacterium causing pneumonia, heart disease, uterus infections, arthritis, wound infections, mastitis, septicemia (overwhelming systemic infection-bacterial growth in many organs, even blood) and testicular infections. Often the infection of a wound causes large amounts of pus to form at the site of injury. Many times the injury will not be visible, but you will see a large pus filled abscess somewhere on the animal. When this sack is cut open it will drain large volumes of a sticky white material.

For those of you keeping deer for years it is very likely you have seen this disease. You may have seen enlarged testicles, possibly a foot infection that continues to drain and drain, abscesses on limbs or head, or even in cases of pneumonia and sudden death.

The first case: Case 1 was a deer that was not seen sick but found dead. A necropsy showed a fatal case of pneumonia with thick pus and abscesses in the lung. This buck was one of three bottle fed three year old bucks in a dry pen with all the feed they could want. All had their antlers removed. In this case increased territorial fighting stress may have played a part in the onset of the disease.

The second case: Case 2 was a deer that had recently been moved to a new location with strange deer just before fawning.  Her necropsy showed some organ discoloration. When her tissues were looked at microscopically, there were numerous tiny abscesses throughout her organs. She died from a massive bacterial overload.

The third case: Case 3 was a doe that died suddenly. Her head was brought in for CWD testing and I found abscesses in the head and brain. Her level of stress was not known.

The incidence of this disease in deer is significant. Since it is a commonly found bacteria it is hard to avoid exposure. What would seem to make the most sense is to avoid stress. Stress depresses the immune system and renders an animal susceptible to infection. If bacteria enters the body with an ineffective immune response, disease will occur.

Removing stress is not always possible. We can however, prevent much of the stress our deer undergo.

Prevention of Arcanobacterium:

Control parasite infection:

Use a good worming program, especially in fawns and young deer.

Ivermectin injectable: it has been shown that Ivomec at 1 ½ times the cow dose is effective. They also find the eprinex pouron effective. You can see if it is working by bringing stool samples in to your vet.

Liver flukes are 100% preventable. Fence out all water and it solves the problem. Ivomec + has been found to be less than 20% effective against flukes in deer using 4 times the recommended dose so I would not recommend buying the + for your deer. The only way to stop the disease is to FENCE OUT THE WATER.

Coccidia is treatable. The deer coccidia seems a bit tough to effectively treat. The feed additive may not be effective. If you find a fresh diarrhea sample in the pen, bring it to your vet and find out if it is coccidia. Deer can be treated by using corrid in the water. Two treatments 2-3 weeks a part pre-fawning may be very helpful.

Vaccinate with a program recommended by your veterinarian.

Control herd stress:

Keep the number of deer per pen low.

Avoid changing groups around or adding new deer less than a month pre-fawning.

Do not process deer around fawning time or in warm weather.

Monitor the buck pens and remove stressed bucks to a nursing pen (when they start getting thin compared to the other bucks).


Treatment of Arcanobacterium:

1. If the animal is septicemic (infection spread throughout the body), treatment is probably ineffective.

2. Abscesses can be drained and treated with antibiotics. Be aware that is ti common for them to return.

3. Pneumonia is difficult and long term antibiotics may be somewhat effective. 

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