Feeding of Casualty Deer (Wildlife Casualty Management)

Summary Information
Type of technique Health & Management / UK Wildlife Casualty Management / Techniques:
Synonyms and Keywords N.B. This information should be read in association with Wildlife Casualty & Convalescent Feeding which contains background information together with links to the Electronic Library and Organisations (UK Contacts). The related Species pages contain similar linkages.
Description This page has been prepared for the "UK Wildlife: First Aid and Care" Wildpro module, and is designed for the needs of the following species: Capreolus capreolus - Western roe deer, Cervus elaphus - Red deer, Cervus nippon - Sika deer, Dama dama - Fallow deer, Hydropotes inermis - Chinese water deer, Muntiacus reevesi - Chinese muntjac.

These species are from the family Cervidae.

Fluids (water):

  • Offer a rehydration (electrolyte) solution such as Lectade (Pfizer Limited) to drink on admission.
  • Water should be freely available at all times unless the casualty is unconscious or severely debilitated and unable to hold its head up.
  • Both water and a rehydration (electrolyte) solution, in separate containers, should be made available initially.
  • (V.w5, V.w26)

Convalescent Diet:

Suggested convalescent diets include:

  • Syringe feeding with baby cereal, as thick as possible, may be tried with care.
    • Squeeze into the side of the mouth and allow the animal time to swallow.(B199)
  • Parenteral nutrition has been used for deer which are debilitated or recovering from surgery and are reluctant to feed.

Short term Maintenance Diet:

Suggested short term maintenance diets include:

  • As large a variety of foods as possible should be provided.
  • Roughage items such as grass hay and browse should be available ad libitum.
  • Provide natural food as far as possible to reduce the risks of food refusal and digestive upset.
  • Give access to grass if possible for grazers and fresh-cut browse (e.g. from local hedgerows) should be provided for browsers whenever possible: bramble and ivy may be particularly palatable.
  • If cut grass is fed it must be freshly cut and not have had any chance to ferment.(V.w5)
  • Alfalfa may be given for increased roughage, protein and calcium.
  • Concentrates such as browser pellets (Mazuri Zoo Foods) may be used to build up a deer which is in poor condition.
  • Calf rearer pellets may be used if browser pellets are not available. (V.w5)
  • Coarse goat mix may be used. 
  • Cereals may be offered.
  • Small amounts of foods such as green leafy vegetables, chopped carrots, chopped potatoes, chopped apples and brown bread may be useful to encourage eating.

(B151, B199, B224, D24, P19.3.w1, V.w5)

Capreolus capreolus - Western roe deer

  • Mainly a browser. 
  • Best in a pen with a natural scrub layer for food (and shelter). 
  • Should be given fresh-cut vegetation whenever possible, e.g. bramble, ivy, shoots of shrubs and bilberry, also acorns, sweet chestnuts, horse chestnut. Tolerate yew. (B117.w10)
  • Green browse e.g. brambles, plus flaked maize and calf starter pellets may be used.(J3.96.w2)
  • Fresh-cut browse (willow, alder, aspen, bramble, rosebay willow herb, rowan, hazel, horse chestnut) daily (summer); fine meadow hay in winter, with sheep coarse mix (1.5 lb / 0.7kg) per deer (Described for use as a long-term diet). (N4.21.w1)

Cervus elaphus - Red deer 

  • Graze and browse.
  • Take hay readily but are selective. (B117.w10)
  • Hay and rolled oats may be accepted readily.(J3.96.w2)

Cervus nippon - Sika deer 

  • Graze and browse.
  • Take hay readily but are selective. (B117.w10)
  • Hay and rolled oats may be accepted readily.(J3.96.w2)

Dama dama - Fallow deer

  • Will take hay and pellets. 
  • Ivy, holly and (in moderation) yew are eaten, also a range of autumnal fruits (acorns, sweet chestnuts, horse chestnuts, crab apples, apples, beechnuts, fungi, blackberries, bilberries). 
  • Molasses will be taken (watered down or as an adjunct to dry feed).
  • (B117.w10)
  • Hay and rolled oats may be accepted readily.(J3.96.w2)

Hydropotes inermis - Chinese water deer

  • Mainly grazers.
  • Will take hay, and will also take e.g. carrots and potatoes. (B117.w10)

Muntiacus reevesi - Chinese muntjac

  • Grazer and browser. 
  • Take considerable quantities of dead leaves. Brambles, ivy and various branches bearing leaves are appreciated. 
  • Meadow hay may not be taken readily. 
  • Potatoes and carrots will be eaten (cut into pieces or slices if large). 
  • Whole rather than rolled grains are preferred and wheat or maize rather than oats or barley, to avoid excessively rapid gut fermentation.
  • (B117.w10, V.w5)
  • Green browse e.g. brambles, plus flaked maize and calf starter pellets may be used.(J3.96.w2)
Appropriate Use (?)
  • Fresh drinking water should always be available in a container of an appropriate size and type for the species concerned.
  • Fluid replacement therapy other than oral fluids may be required for casualties which are extremely dehydrated on admission or are unable to take in and absorb oral fluids.
    • Fluid therapy should continue until the animal is no longer dehydrated, even if it is self feeding.
  • Feeding of convalescents should take into account their requirement for additional nutrients for healing as well as maintenance requirements.
  • The required fluid intake for maintenance should be considered when designing convalescent diets.
  • Energy requirements for maintenance and healing should be calculated and used to determine the quantity of food required for both convalescence and short-term maintenance diets.
  • Convalescent diets should be easily absorbed/digested.
  • Care should be taken not to under or over supplement with vitamins/minerals.
  • Diets intended for feeding from a syringe or by stomach tube (gavage) must be of a sufficiently fluid consistency to pass through the syringe nozzle or down the tube without it becoming blocked.
  • The natural diet should be considered when deciding on suitable ingredients, including consideration of taste/smell.
  • Fresh food must be provided daily.
  • Regular cleaning of food and drinking water containers (e.g. daily) is important to reduce the risk of disease.
  • Food and water containers should be sited to minimise the risk of contamination with droppings/faeces/urine. 
Complications/ Limitations / Risk
  • Wild deer may be reluctant to eat a diet of concentrates. (N4.21.w2)
  • The feeding of large amounts of carbohydrate-rich foods may interfere with normal fermentation and cause digestive upset.
  • Water bowls should not be left in the accommodation of a casualty which is unconscious or is severely debilitated and unable to hold its head up.
  • Dehydrated and malnourished individuals sometimes drink rehydration fluids but refuse plain water initially; others will drink water but not rehydration fluids. Both should be made available.
  • No diet, however well balanced nutritionally, is useful if the animal does not eat it, for example because it is not recognised as food.
  • Ingestion of food should be monitored, not assumed. This may include weighing food before presentation and weighing waste food after removal, and periodic weighing of the animal.
  • Monitoring of weight/body condition is particularly important for group housed/group fed animals, within which some individuals may take more food and others not get the food they require.
  • Diets suggested on this page are intended for short term use for wildlife casualties; they are not necessarily suitable for long-term use or in individuals which are breeding.
  • Diets suggested on this page are not necessarily suitable for feeding infants; information on appropriate diets for very young individuals are described in the page on hand-rearing.
  • If naturally-available food items are gathered for feeding to casualties it is important to be aware of the possibility of contamination with chemical such as herbicides and pesticides.
Equipment / Chemicals required and Suppliers
  • Oral rehydration (electrolyte) solutions are widely available from veterinary suppliers and chemists. 
  • A basic oral rehydration (electrolyte) solution may be made by dissolving one tablespoon of sugar and one teaspoon of salt in one litre of water.(B203)
  • Lectade, Pfizer Limited: from veterinary suppliers and agricultural feed suppliers.
  • Hay may be bought from farms.
  • Alfalfa may be bought from saddlers/tack shops selling general horse supplies.
  • Concentrate prepared foods and grains may be bought from agricultural feed merchants.
  • Browser pellets may be ordered from Special Diet Services/Mazuri Zoo Foods, POBox 705, Witham, Essex, England, CM8 3AD
  • Fruits and vegetables may be bought from greengrocers, supermarkets etc.
Expertise level / Ease of Use
  • Maintaining a secluded environment and providing preferred food items may be vital to encourage feeding.
Cost/ Availability
  • Cost of feeding a single deer for a short period is not high, however the cost may be considerable over time.
  • Availability of natural food items varies with season.
  • Vets or rehabilitators expecting to be presented with deer should keep hay and appropriate concentrate feeds in storage.
Legal and Ethical Considerations
  • Under the Protection of Animals Acts 1911-2000 it is an offence not to provide animals (including captive wild animals) with necessary food and water.(J35.147.w1, B156.21.w21, B223, P19.2.w1)
  • Care should be taken not to let an individual become accustomed to a single food item as this may result in difficulties in feeding the animal if the food item becomes unavailable, and in preparing it for release.
  • Every effort should be made to provide appropriate natural, locally available foods to animals which have been maintained in captivity for prolonged periods before they are released, in order to re-accustom them to a natural diet and reduce the chance of digestive problems following release.(P24.233.w11)
  • The release of animals which, by virtue of an inadequate or inappropriate diet whilst in captivity, are not fit to survive when released may be considered an offence under the Abandonment of Animals Act, 1960.
Author Debra Bourne
Referee Becki Lawson and Suzanne Boardman

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