I was asked the other day about CWD in wild deer and the risks of giving (presumably raw) deer bones to dogs. I’ve done some digging, and here’s what I’ve dug up.
CWD stands for Chronic Wasting Disease. It’s part of a family of diseases known as “Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathies” or TSE. Other members of this family include Mad Cow Disease in cattle, scrapie in sheep, and Creutzfeld-Jakob Disease (“CJD”) in humans. While all of these diseases are related, they are not identical. But they all have similar effects on their victim’s nervous systems, causing a slow, progressive deterioration and eventual death.
These diseases are associated with an abnormal form of a particular protein, known as a prion, which is found in the brain and nervous tissues of affected animals. In the case of CWD, abnormal prions have also been found in the muscle tissue and saliva of deer.
TSEs usually are associated with particular host species. For example, scrapie is limited mostly to sheep, CJD is a human disease, and CWD is found in deer, elk and other related species. But, under the certain conditions, the disease can jump to other species.
The most nimble species-jumper is Mad Cow Disease, which has caused disease in other bovines (such as oxen), humans (variant CJD), and cats (both wild and domestic). CWD appears to stick much closer to its home species. It has been transmitted to cattle, goats and sheep in the lab, but does not jump easily into these other animals under natural conditions.
Dogs do not appear to be susceptible to any of these TSEs - at least not yet. So, if you give your dog a deer bone, he or she will probably be safe - at least from CWD. In fact, you are almost certainly at greater risk of falling victim to the CWD prion than your dog.
Please keep in mind, though, that CWD is the least of your worries. Wild game carries a full complement of bacteria, protozoa and parasitic worms. You might want to think twice before exposing your family pet to these risks - but that’s another topic.