A deer hunter never expects to see giant warts or tumor-like growths on a white-tailed deer, but they do occur. Over the years I’ve seen many of photos of both live and harvested deer with “tumors,” although I’ve never seen one while in the field. The technical term for these growths is cutaneous fibroma and it’s caused by a virus. From a deer management perspective, there is not much you can do to keep wild deer from getting fibroma.
Cutaneous fibromas (warts) are caused by a naturally occurring virus of the deer’s skin. The virus that causes these unsightly warts in deer is believed to be transmitted through biting insects and/or direct contact with damaged skin. Once the virus enters the skin, warts begin to form. As the warts increase in size, the skin surrounding them is typically hairless and grayish in color. The number of warts on an infected animal can vary from one to several hundred, they can sometimes clump, and can in some cases end up covering much of the deer’s body.
For the most part, these warts will not cause a white-tailed deer any major problems. However, sometimes the growth of the wart can indirectly cause problems by restricting the consumption of food or the deer’s breathing. Although death from fibromas in deer can occur, death from warts is not always imminent it seems. There have been many hunter testimonials of white-tailed deer with warts “shaking them off,” so to speak. I can’t say for sure.
From a deer hunter’s perspective, warts are quite unsightly. Since fibromasts are a virus of the skin, they willl be removed if the deer is skinned. Notice I said IF the deer is skinned. Although the meat of a deer is typically not affected, most hunters that harvest a deer with a large number of warts are hesitant to put the meat in the freezer. This is understandable and probably the safest thing to do. I’ve read some research that found a buck with warts also had internal and cancerous fibromasts.
The take home message today is that warts occur naturally in white-tailed deer populations. Fibromasts can occur on any deer, healthy or otherwise. With that said, they occur rather rarely and there is nothing that can be done from a deer management standpoint. Deer are the only host for the virus, so fear not for yourself should you find yourself standing over an infected animal.