What is the significance of lymph nodes in deer?


- Credit: Archant

When I was gralloching a deer with a friend the other day he asked me if the lymph nodes appeared normal. I must confess I wasn’t entirely sure what these are and what they tell us about the deer.

JELEN DEER SERVICES replies: Lymph nodes are bean-like structures with the consistency of compressed rubber. The internal colour is typically brownish pink. They are effectively filters, or ‘processing centres’ which play an important role as part of the deer’s natural defence mechanism. They play a vital role in detecting harmful micro-organisms (germs, bacteria and viruses) and destroying them, as well as the production of antibodies.

Enlarged lymph nodes are an indication that the deer has been exposed to some kind of infection, but that it may have effectively controlled the infection. However, this cannot be established without detailed investigation in AHVLA (Animal Health Veterinary Laboratories Agency) laboratories.

In the case of zoonotic diseases (diseases that can affect humans) such as Bovine TB, lymph nodes can be both enlarged and contain pus. This shows that the deer has been subjected to a particularly aggressive infection that its immune system is unable to control.

As far as deer managers and stalkers are concerned, care must be taken to avoid liberating what may be harmful bacteria that can be passed on to humans via lesions in the consumable meat, or contamination on the surface of consumable meat.

As part of your responsibility as a deer manager/stalker it is worth reading up on this aspect of deer health, or taking a course, so that you know what to look out for.