Can Scenthounds Help Stop Chronic Wasting Disease?

In the ultimate irony, the deer's natural predator may just help save the species.

by
posted on January 19, 2024

Ask any wildlife biologist: Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) is a very real threat to the health of America's whitetail herds. This nasty prion disease causes neurological degeneration in a way similar to "Mad Cow Disease." Part of the reason why it's spreading so steadily is that the disease is progressive, meaning that there's a long timespan during which an infected--and contagious--animal is able to behave normally. It can't tell anything is wrong, and neither can its fellow deer.

What's more, until the very last stages of the disease, human beings can't tell that there's anything wrong with an infected deer, either. But that doesn't mean that it's impossible to tell. It just means we may need to switch species, and once again rely on Man's Best Friend. Can dogs be trained to smell CWD? We know some dogs can be trained to smell when a diabetic human's blood sugar is out of whack, so it's not beyond the pale. 

The National Deer Association reports on a proof-of-concept study conducted by Penn Vet’s Working Dog Center, which has shown that dogs can differentiate feces of CWD-positive white-tailed deer from those that are negative. Members of the Wildlife Futures Program’s Conservation K9 Team are currently field testing this research and assessing the dog’s detection success rates. In this great video, you'll learn more about this very promising field of study ... and marvel at the irony that the deer's natural predator, canines, might just save the species.

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