Debbie from North Carolina asks: “I have a deer with a non-functioning rear leg in my yard. He seems to hobble around very slowly, but is eating. Can he be helped or do I just leave him be? The leg is not hanging and he can hold it up while hobbling around. Do you think it will heal? Also, do deer feel pain like we do? I am an animal lover and it breaks my heart. Please advise.”
Dr. Dave Samuel
Debbie, I appreciate the question. My guess is the deer was hit by a car, but no matter how it happened, there really is not a thing you can do. My guess is that he will recover, but coyotes could get him, too. Nature is tough. The good thing is that deer have lots of endorphins in their brain and this means they don’t feel pain like we do at all. They do feel some pain, but nothing like we do. This is true for most animals and with all that happens to them in the wild, that’s a great adaptation.
A quick story about endorphins. One day driving to work, early in the morning, I came upon a group of three cars parked along a road, waiting for a vet. A horse had been hit by a car, and its front leg was gone from the knee down. However, it was still grazing on grass in a field about 50 yards from the road. That was amazing to me. That horse was put down by the vet because he could not survive. But relative to pain, it must not have been too bad as he was still eating.
I hope this answers your question. Even if you could get the DNR people to come and dart/tranquilize the deer, a vet couldn’t do much for that deer. If I had to guess, I’d say it lives, heals by summer and will be OK.
Dr Dave Samuel
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Dr. Dave writes a weekly column for sportsmansguide.com. If you have a question for Dr. Dave, e-mail your question to Dr. Dave in care of Tom Kacheroski, manager of Guide Outdoors & Social Content at www.sportsmansguide.com to firstname.lastname@example.org. Dr. Dave studied deer for 30 years as a wildlife management professor at West Virginia University. In addition he has been a bowhunter for over 40 years, with deer being his main prey. He’s also an outdoor writer and has been with “Bowhunter” magazine for 31 years.