MARS MOMENT: Feeding the deer is a slippery slope

This adult black tailed deer enjoys a jaunt through the tall grass. Black tailed deer are the only type of deer found on Vancouver Island. - Photo courtesy of MARS
This adult black tailed deer enjoys a jaunt through the tall grass. Black tailed deer are the only type of deer found on Vancouver Island.
— image credit: Photo courtesy of MARS

One of the most endearing and enchanting of our local wildlife species has to be the deer, especially when they are fawns.

The black tailed deer are the only deer species found on Vancouver Island but other deer species inhabit the coastal mainland, Vancouver and the Fraser Valley.

Each year during the winter months M.A.R.S. receives many deer related inquiries; “why do they look so mangy”, “why are they eating plants they don’t usually touch”, “there’s a dead deer in my shed”, and tragically, “what should I do when a deer is hit by a car?”

Deer have inhabited our area long before we came along foraging on native shrubs and plants and also in natural grasslands.

With urban development and the introduction of farmlands and non native plants, shrub and trees, deer habits are changing along with their habitat.

It is not an unusual sight in our local areas to see a herd of deer grazing alongside a herd of cows, both sharing the same field.

In addition, urbanization has replaced their local habitat with parks and back yards complete with a cornucopia of fresh plants, flowers, apples and many other tasty morsels they try for the first time only to spit out uneaten.

The number of pristine golf courses has also provided the deer with a safe habitat away from natural and domesticated predators where they can raise their fawns in relative safety.

However, the increased human contact has posed a set of new problems – they are either being encouraged to spend more time around homes and rely for supplemental food, or they are facing dangers posed by humans and our dependence on vehicles to transport us to work or play.

The B.C. Ministry of Environment has published a guide line to answer some of the more common questions that are asked, and to offer advice on how to deal with the poor health that seems to plague many of the deer especially the young in the winter months. Some of the following indications may signify a deer in distress.

  • Loss of fear around humans.
  • Weakness and hanging out around homes, porches or in out buildings.
  • Poor to extremely thin body condition.
  • Poor condition of coats, missing tufts or large patches of hair.
  • Digestive upsets – obvious diarrhea, liquid feces or impacted feces.
  • Dead deer from no apparent cause.

All of these problems can be exacerbated by over populations at feeding stations, this provides the perfect environment for parasites and potentially the diseases they carry to infect the weakened deer.

It is very difficult not to want to help by feeding the deer that come to your property but by doing this you may push them over the edge causing their death.

Many people try to help by providing high energy carbohydrates, like grain, alfalfa, apples and hay, which normally would be acceptable but when a deer is in a weakened state this food is too rich and results in diarrhea, which leads to dehydration that eventually causes the deer to die.

The fawns that are born in the early fall are especially vulnerable to digestive disorders as they are still trying to regulate their body temperatures and at the same time their muscles and bodies are still growing adding more stress to an already weakened immune system.

M.A.R.S. now has a special fawn enclosure where we can care for orphaned fawns; once they are weaned they are transferred to another temporary home until they are released back into the local herd.

To better understand the stresses of fawns raised in a captive situation, last year we tagged the 2012 fawn’s ears with yellow identifying numbers A1-A12; 2013 will be a series of B numbers.

This information will be passed along to the Ministry which is tracking the health of local wildlife species; if you see one please call us with the number and location.

Please remember that adult deer can become aggressive if cornered by humans or if a dog or human comes between the doe and her fawn.

If you hit or see a deer hit on the road where possible try to move it to the side and report it to the RAPP line 1-877-952-7277 or Emcon 250-336-8897.

“Expect deer on our roads slow down” If the deer dies on your property you are responsible for its disposition.

Deer are truly beautiful animals and with more understanding we can live in harmony with each other keeping them wild and healthy.

Please visit our web site to follow our patient’s progress and find out what special events are happening in your community.

To report injured wildlife call 1-800-304-9968, for more information visit our web site at

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