Blue Tongue in White-tailed Deer

Blue tongue is an insect-borne, viral disease primarily of sheep, but it occasionally goats and even white-tailed deer. The disease is non-contagious and is only transmitted by insect vectors, especially during periods of drought. The disease is actually caused by a virus belonging to the family Reoviridae.

Species That Can Be Affected

As mentioned, this is primarily a disease of sheep but other species such as goats, cattle, buffalo, antelope and whitetail deer can be infected. Don’t worry, humans can not be infected.

Distribution of Blue Tongue

The virus is present in the United States, so any area can potentially harbor the virus. However, outbreaks typically occurs repeatedly in areas where it has occurred before and especially during dry conditions.

Blue Tongue Disease in Deer

Key Signs To Look For

Characters of disease include fever, widespread bleeding of the oral and nasal tissue, excessive salivation, and nasal discharge. In acute cases the lips and tongue will become swollen and this swelling may extend below the lower jaw.

Lameness, due to swelling of the cuticle above the hoofs and emaciation, due to reduced feed consumption because of painful inflamed mouths, may also be symptoms of this disease. The “blue tongue” that actually gives the disease its name occurs only in a small number of cases.

How Blue Tongue is Spread

The virus cannot be transmitted between susceptible white-tailed deer without the presence of insect carriers. The incidence and geographical distribution of bluetongue depends on seasonal conditions, the presence of insect vectors, and the availability of the density of deer. The insect carriers, biting midges, prefer warm, moist conditions and are in their greatest numbers and most active after it rains.

Life of the Blue Tongue Virus

Bluetongue virus does not survive outside the insect vectors or susceptible hosts. Deer carcases and products such as meat and hide are not a method of spread. Survival of the virus within a location is dependent on whether the vector can over winter in that area.

Controlling Blue Tongue

Within a wild population of deer, there is not much that can be done. With domestic animals, you can use a combination of quarantine and movement controls to prevent spread and reduce transmission and protect susceptible animals. As with just about every disease, less animals will become infected under lower densities.

27 Replies to “Blue Tongue in White-tailed Deer”

  1. I have found a deer on my property and I suspect it to have blue toungue disease. I live in Marinsville, Indiana. Can the DNR come out and get rid of the carcus because this is one of my best hunting spots.

  2. Jared, just remove the animal from the area yourself or find someone else that will if you are unable. The DNR is unlikely to remove the animal, but it never hurts to ask. Blue tongue and EHD are very widespread, so the disease will be in the area whether or not the dead animal is.

  3. I have found 2 dead deer by a couple of my ponds. Will the cattle get infected
    from the rotting carcasses? Can the deer transmit disease by drinking out of the cattle tanks? I live by Mason City, Nebraska.

  4. CJ, the meat from blue tongue and EHD infected deer is good to eat. Many deer may get the disease and recover, as well. Many deer have probably been exposed to it at one time or another.

  5. Jonathan, blue tongue and EHD are spread by biting insects. Drinking from a trough will not spread the disease, although biting insects tend to be prevalent around water sources.

  6. I live in Mclean County. On the news at 5 today they said that there has been 50 deer found dead due to blue tounge. Is this a bad out break and are more deer going to die?

  7. I live in NE Kansas bout 6 miles from Nebraska border. I’ve found 3 dead deer in the last two weeks. Two as recent as today… all on the same property. I was pretty skeptical as to what caused the first one to die but after finding the other two today they were all near water or right beside it. So I’m pretty sure blue tounge is the cause. I’m assuming the carriers of this disease will not survive the cold winter here?

  8. What is the mortality rate af the herd once it is here? I personally know of at least 100 dead im my region of east-central Illinois.

  9. Two dead does were found across the road from where I live, both died of bluetongue. My neighbor said he found several dead of bluetongue down the road from us. This is St. Joseph County, Michigan.

  10. I think Blue Tongue is nature’s way of thinning the head since there are so many deer, especially doe. More doe need harvesting but everyone wants that buck for a wallhanger.

  11. My brother recently killed a dear with blue tongue in NE Arkansas and the game wardens said that the doe would have not survived another day if he hadn’t of put it down.

  12. You would think that the PGC would get a plane and spray something that would kill the knats that spread the disease, like a crop duster spreads chemicals to kill bug’s that damage crops. If this matter continues between the coyotes and the knats there will not be a deer herd to hunt.

  13. My brother has some antlers for my dog to naw on. I’m concerned because he said this particular deer died of blue tongue. Is it safe for my dog to have these antlers? There is still some velvet on them. It is a large rack. The deer was found in Ilinois, fall of 2012

  14. I live in Valentine, Nebraska, and we usually see around 200 deer on our land this time of year but this year there have only been 7 sighted. Two immature bucks and five does. It’s sad to see this and know I can’t go hunting with my dad this year because of it. That was our father/daughter time too.


  16. I wonder if that is what killed the antelope like creature in Uzbekistan or one of the stans? Thousands died all at once.

  17. We have recently learned of BTV when we contacted Fish and Wildlife here in Washington because we found 3 dead white tailed deer on our property. All three were near, or at, ponds. What a shame that they have gone to waste!

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