What Are the Dangers of Deer Meat for Dogs?

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Deer meat, venison, can be a risky source of protein for your dog.
Deer meat, venison, can be a risky source of protein for your dog. (Image: Purestock/Purestock/Getty Images)

Venison, or deer meat, is frequently used in fed raw feeding programs. It can be a nutritious source of lean protein for dogs. As with all wild game, however, feeding venison has its risks. Raw deer meat, even from carefully harvested deer, can harbor bacteria and hidden illnesses. Careful handling, both at the time of butchering and at the time of preparation or feeding, can minimize the risks that come with giving your dog venison.

Bacterial Contamination

Properly handled deer meat can be as bacteria-free as any other meat. However, proper handling is needed at two stages to prevent it from becoming contaminated with bacteria. First, the deer must properly chilled after it is shot. Properly eviscerating the deer shortly after it is killed will help cool the carcass, which will reduce the spread of any bacteria that might be present. Second, the meat must be kept clean. The hunter must keep any stomach, bladder or intestinal contents from being spilled onto the meat. In addition, the body cavity should be rinsed with water or, if possible, a water/vinegar solution, to reduce the possible spread of bacteria. If you do not hunt your own deer, it is best to purchase your dog’s venison from a trusted hunter, a deer processing plant or taxidermist that handles local game or from a ranch that you can trust to handle the meat properly.

Chronic Wasting Disease

In addition to the potential for bacterial contamination, venison may be contaminated with a disease called chronic wasting disease. Chronic wasting disease is a prion disease that affects deer and elk in more than a dozen states and two Canadian provinces. It is similar to mad cow disease. Although chronic wasting disease has not been shown to affect humans or domesticated animals such as dogs and cats, meat from affected animals should not be eaten. Chronic wasting disease is not known to affect domesticated livestock, with the exception of deer and elk being raised in captivity.

Chronic wasting disease is exclusive to North America, infecting both deer and elk in the United States and Canada.
Chronic wasting disease is exclusive to North America, infecting both deer and elk in the United States and Canada. (Image: Tom Brakefield/Stockbyte/Getty Images)

Foreign Substances

It is possible for ammunition fragments to become lodged in the deer carcass. If these fragments are missed during processing and subsequent preparation, they can end up in your dog’s meal. The risk of fragmented ammunition contaminating venison is greater in ground meat, in which the shot can become embedded. Venison also may be contaminated by hair, dirt and other substances that entered the wound, if the meat is improperly cleaned. Proper handling of the meat during processing or prior to feeding will minimize the risk of introducing foreign substances to your dog by feeding him deer meat.

Handling and Processing Raw Venison

Regardless of where the meat is obtained, it is best to handle raw venison while wearing rubber or latex gloves. Venison should only be processed using utensils reserved for the task, never with other eating or cooking utensils. Do not handle brain tissue or spinal cord tissue. Wash thoroughly with soap and hot water after handling raw venison.

After using utensils to process venison, they should be washed thoroughly with soap and hot water. After washing soak them for an hour in a 50 percent solution of bleach and water, then rinse them in fresh water.

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