6 Deer Species That Are Kept as Pets
Deer as Pets
Interest in keeping deer as pets might have risen in popularity among the general public due to the old Disney film Bambi and the recent movie Frozen. Deer can be cute, but can they really be kept as pets?
In the United States, most captive deer are ranch-raised, and this can be considered a type of pet ownership. However, they are typically bred for their meat or for the purpose of providing hunting opportunities in large preserves. Raising deer can prove more profitable than traditional livestock because they consume less fodder, are less damaging to pastures, mature faster, and can reproduce for 20 years in captivity.
Some people do keep deer as private pets, however. There is one small species, the muntjac deer, that can be kept as a house pet in a similar vein as a dog. Those who are lucky enough to live in a state where keeping native deer is legal sometimes find themselves adopting abandoned wild white-tailed deer. Deer can actually make wonderful pets with the right owners. When they are raised by humans and socialized with humans, they are not "wild animals."
1. Sitka Deer
Best exotic pet? In a recent study, Dutch scientists analyzed 90 mammal species for pet "suitability" in response to a Dutch national animal welfare policy that took effect in 2013. The policy stated that people can only own "production" animals or animals that require no special knowledge or skills. Through statistical methods, they determined that the "best pets" outside of dogs, cats, and other conventional pets are the sika deer, agile wallaby, Tamar wallaby, llama, and Asian palm civet.
This might be due to the calm nature of sitka deer which make them popular pets for a deer species. Nara Park, Japan is a famous landmark where deer from the adjacent park roam freely and are comfortable enough to approach humans.
- Sitka deer have been introduced to different areas as both an ornamental and game species.
- They have spots into adulthood
- They can live up to 25 years
- As a very social species, if they are kept alone, they will need a lot of attention and socialization.
2. Muntjac Deer
Muntjac deer are one of the few species of deer, and probably the only obtainable one, that can be kept as house pets because they reach the size of a medium-sized dog. Unlike other deer species, this is exactly what they tend to be kept for. While they can be kept outside and some breeders recommend that, they are compact, clean, and well-mannered enough to live in the home of a 'tolerant' pet owner. These deer, like all deer, do tend to chew on things, so destruction to furniture and carpeting is likely to occur. Muntjac deer owners do however report that they can be trained to use a litter box.
- The most common species of muntjac is the Reeves muntjac, but sometimes the smaller leaf muntjac is also kept.
- These deer actually have protruding "fangs," which are canine teeth. They also have scent glands on their head that they enjoy rubbing on their owners.
- They and their droppings have very little odor.
- This is a very affectionate exotic pet.
If you are seriously considering a deer as a pet, it is important to find out if they are legal in your area. This information might not be available online, or can be addressed by another law when they appear to be legal with another exotic pet law. For instance, North Carolina's pet possession ordinance has a short list of prohibited species that does not include deer; however they are strictly illegal under another law due to attempts to prevent the introduction of chronic wasting disease, an illness only deer can catch that devastates wild populations. Always check to see if there are bans on deer as pets due to CWD or restrictions under other wild game laws.
3. Axis Deer
Axis deer, also known and chital, cheetal, or spotted deer, originate from India. They are sexually dimorphic because the females don't have antlers and are smaller than the males. These deer are very popular with hunters and are commonly ranch raised for the purpose. Populations of the deer were intentionally introduced to the Hawaiian islands of Molokai. Maui, and Lanai to increase hunting opportunities which has been damaging to the environment. In 1932, they were also introduced to Texas.
- Axis deer are a commonly ranched deer species, and their populations in the United States are highest in Texas.
- These deer are grazers that may browse for food if grass is not in sufficient quantities.
- They are disease-resistant in ranches and do not require de-worming or inoculations.
Reindeer, also known as caribou, are the only deer species that have populations considered to be domesticated. While wild caribou are traditionally hunted for meat in some cultures, domestic reindeer populations (sometimes called 'semi-domesticated) are herded and provide milk, meat, hides, and transportation for people in Arctic regions.
- In the winter, they mainly eat lichens
- In captivity, they should be fed a commercial diet of grain and roughage. They are very sensitive to changes in their diet.
- They are the only animals except for some gastropods in which the enzyme lichenase has been found.
- The use of reindeer as semi-domesticated livestock in Alaska was introduced in the late 19th century by the U.S. Revenue Cutter Service as a means of providing a livelihood for Native peoples there.
5. White-Tailed Deer
White-tailed deer are naturally occurring in many areas of the United States, sometimes even being considered to be pests. Unfortunately, they are often victims of car collisions and can cause conflicts with humans for their incredible fence-jumping abilities that they use to raid ornamental plants and gardens. These deer are also farmed for meat, but many people keep them as outdoor pets. Some game farms even sell specimens that are completely white.
White-tail deer can make great pets, but unfortunately, being native wildlife, they are illegal to own in most states, especially if they come from the wild. There have been numerous situations where people have stumbled upon orphaned fawns, raised them successfully, and then were subjected to animal control confiscating and killing their well-loved pet. If these deer cannot be released into the wild and if no licensed wildlife rehabilitator can take them (those who specialize in deer are less common) they will automatically be euthanized. This law should be changed.
- Hand-raised deer can be very tame; however, males can become aggressive during rut.
- Mother white-tailed deer will often leave their fawns alone when they search for food, so make sure a seemingly abandoned fawn is actually abandoned
- Many human-raised deer will remain in the vicinity of their human caretakers. One deer, confiscated by animal control after someone reported the owners for keeping the native deer, was released into the wild only to walk the 50 miles back to its real home.
6. Fallow Deer
Native to Western Eurasia, fallow deer are also a commonly-ranched, spotted, and sexually dimorphic species (only the males have antlers). They are frequently kept in estates, parks, and zoos. They are a calm species that readily adapt to captive situations. They've been domesticated as early as 9th century BC. Because they can't breed with other deer species, they are less regulated in some states.
- They live 15-25 years
- Because they can jump up to 7 feet, 8-foot fences are needed to fence them in
- They will thrive on any pasture that can support other commonly kept ungulates.
- Aside from being raised for their meat, fallow deer produce the renewable crop of antler velvet, which is popular in Asian markets.
- They cannot contract or transmit chronic wasting disease and are resistant to many diseases that devastate other deer species.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
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© 2017 Melissa A Smith