Chronic Wasting Disease Facts

Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) is a progressive, fatal disease of the nervous system in the deer (cervid) family and is known to affect white-tailed deer, mule deer (elk), and moose.The disease was first reported in Colorado in 1967 and has since been found in parts of South Korea and in Canada. CWD was first confirmed in Canada in 1996 at an elk farm in Saskatchewan and has since been sighted in Alberta. 

The disease belongs in the family of diseases called transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSE) and only harms this family of wild animals. It is not transmittable to herd members outside of the cervid family.

At this time, the disease has not been confirmed in humans. However, recent news has advised individuals not to consume deer meat with possible traces of CWD, as researchers across Canada now say it's possible for humans to contract CWD from eating venison with ties to CWD. Read this blog post to learn more.

In the States, there have been confirmed cases of CWD in 24 states. For Canada, CWD has been alerted in the following provinces: Saskatchewan, Alberta, Manitoba and Yukon. These regions of Canada must test deer for the cervid disease.

Chronic Wasting Disease is transmitted animal-to-animal via shedding of the infectious agent in the feces and saliva. Deer with CWD will show signs of the disease for several weeks or months before they die and are usually within the 3-4 year age group.

According to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, deer species with suspected CWD will show the following symptoms:

  • depression;
  • difficulty swallowing;
  • excess salivation;
  • increased thirst;
  • lack of coordination;
  • paralysis;
  • pneumonia;
  • separation from the other animals in the herd;
  • unusual behavior;
  • excessive urination; and
  • weight loss

Testing of the deer tissue usually occurs after the animal dies and there is no current treatment of CWD.

So far this year, Chronic Wasting Disease has been discovered in elk in Saskatchewan, Canada. In 2016, reports began in the summertime through late autumn in the deer and elk family in Saskatchewan and Alberta. There were six reported outbreaks.

Although CWD has only been confirmed in the deer species, it is important that livestock, including cattle and sheep, remain protected from interacting with herd deer infected with CWD. Deer breeders should pay attention to the signs of CWD and make sure deer are quarantined and displaced from other deer herd members, if infection is suspected. Once the CFIA evaluates the property, farmers can remove the quarantine boundaries.

While the property is quarantined, deer farmers and breeders must perform the following actions (CFIA):












  • to maintain fences and gates around the farm to control the movement of animals and animal products;
  • to report all sick and dying animals, and any that escape the farm;
  • to report any wild cervids that enter the farm;
  • to clean and disinfect all farm tools and equipment that may have been exposed to
  • infected animals; and
  • to inform all persons entering the farm of the quarantine.

Contact for questions on how to protect livestock from deer with Chronic Wasting Disease.