Question: “I live in Llano County and have a whitetail deer feeder in my back yard. We watch the whitetail throughout the year and they will let us get pretty close too. Yesterday, we were watching the deer eat at the feeder when one came from over the tank dam. I thought it was a small buck with its head down, but when it came up to the feeder the other deer ran off, like it had some kind of disease. It was not a buck, but I actually thought the deer had been shot in the head.
I grabbed my binoculars and looked and the doe’s tongue was huge, hanging out at least 6 inches! She looked bad, so I got my gun and put her down. I was still thinking that it was a shot deer so I got a tag and walked outside. I got up to her and she had no marks or entry wounds on her what so ever. The doe was very skinny and the tongue was huge. Do you think this is blue tongue?”
Answer: Yes, in my opinion it sounds exactly like blue tongue or Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease (EHD). These diseases have very similar symptoms and even blood samples from infected deer test out about the same. Since these diseases are so similar, most deer that die with the symptoms you have described get reported as deaths caused by blue tongue. However, I should note that most deer that die from blue tongue do not actually get a blue tongue… it’s only found in a small percentage.
White-tailed deer develop signs of illness about 7 days after getting bitten by an infected midge fly. Deer initially lose their appetite and fear of man, grow progressively weaker, often salivate excessively, develop a rapid pulse and respiration rate, and fever. Affected deer commonly visit ponds and creeks in an effort to reduce their body temperature. Hemorrhage and lack of oxygen in the blood results in a blue appearance of the oral mucosa, hence the name “blue tongue.”
Within eight to 36 hours following the onset of observable signs, deer pass into a shock-like state, become prostrate and die from both blue tongue and EHD. Since the deer you shot was both skinny, as in starving, and had a huge tongue, I would put money on the deer having either blue tongue or EHD. I would not feel bad about putting the deer down. It was going to die shortly, put probably in a lot more pain.