CWD questions and answers

General questions

What is chronic wasting disease?

Chronic wasting disease (CWD) is a contagious neurological disease that affects cervids – deer, elk, moose, reindeer and caribou. There is no cure or vaccine and the disease always is fatal. It causes the brain of the infected animal to deteriorate, which eventually results in emaciation, abnormal behavior, loss of bodily functions and death. CWD is a prion disease and is in the same family as bovine spongiform encephalopathy (mad cow disease), scrapie (sheep) and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (humans). Visit the about page for more information.

What wildlife species other than deer are affected by CWD?

CWD is a disease that is specific to deer, moose, elk, caribou and reindeer as well as their subspecies. This group of wildlife are collectively called "cervids." Current research suggests that there is no known transmission to other species that come in contact with CWD-infected material. Visit the about page for more information.

What should I do if I see a sick deer?

Please immediately report any sick deer to your local conservation officer or area wildlife office.

Is my deer safe to eat?

Currently, there is no evidence that CWD poses a risk for humans; however, public health officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend that hunters do not consume meat from animals known to be infected. More information is available from the CDC at www.cdc.gov/prions/cwd.

  • Consider having your deer processed and wrapped individually, either privately or commercially.
  • Consider having your deer tested if you are outside of DNR’s mandatory sampling framework. Although CWD testing is not a food safety test it could indicate if your deer is infected.
  • All deer that are tested should either be processed or stored in a manner to prevent wanton waste while waiting for test results.
  • It is the hunter’s choice to consume venison prior to receiving test results.
  • The prions that cause CWD are very resistant to heat and freezing temperatures. Cooking or freezing the meat will not remove prions from any infected meat.

You can find additional information on the about page and the resources page.

Can cattle get CWD?

Currently there are no reported cases of natural transmission between CWD-infected animals and cattle. There are several ongoing investigations and research efforts to further understand the risks.

Where has CWD been found?

CWD was first recognized in a captive mule deer at a wildlife research facility in Colorado in the late 1960s. CWD has been detected in wild and/or captive animals across 26 states, three Canadian provinces, South Korea, Finland, Norway and Sweden. It has been detected in white-tailed deer, mule deer, elk, European red deer, sika deer, Manchurian Sitka deer, moose, reindeer and caribou.

For more information and a timeline of CWD in Minnesota, please visit the about page and click on the Minnesota CWD timeline heading.

Where did CWD come from?

It is not known where CWD originated; however, it was first diagnosed in a captive mule deer at a Colorado research facility in 1967.

How is it spread in deer?

CWD is spread through both direct (animal-to-animal) and indirect (environmental) contact of infected deer to healthy deer. CWD-infected deer can infect a healthy deer through:

  • Infected saliva, urine, blood, feces, and antler velvet.
  • Infected carcasses left on the ground produce vegetation that attracts deer, where they pick up the prion from plants.
  • Artificial feeding sites, or attractants such as salt licks and scents. These sites concentrate deer and create an environment of close contact among animals.
What are CWD symptoms seen in deer?

CWD is a slow, progressive disease; it can incubate for 18 months to three years before clinical signs begin to appear. This means that older deer, males in particular due to their rutting behavior, which increases deer interactions, have the highest infection risk. Throughout most of the infection period, the deer appears to be healthy but is continually spreading the disease. Clinical signs include:

  • Weight loss, emaciation.
  • Excessive drooling and salivation.
  • Loss of fear or humans.
  • Loss of body control, tremors or staggering.
  • Drooping head or ears.
  • Apparent confusion.

Testing questions

How does DNR test for CWD?

Testing is conducted through collection of two lymph nodes from the head of a harvested deer. These samples are sent to a certified laboratory, where the sample is prepared and the test is completed. Results are reported back to DNR as either "CWD not detected" or "CWD positive." Individual hunters can view their test results online at CWD test results.

What is the CWD testing process like?

First, lymph nodes from the neck of the deer are removed. the lymph nodes that we use to test for CWD is only the beginning of the process. Data about the deer (including its harvest location) needs to be proofed, matched with the sample, entered in a database, double- and then triple-checked before the lymph nodes are shipped to the testing laboratory. Once at the laboratory, the sample is cleaned and prepared for testing. The initial screening test is completed within about three days. If the screening test comes back positive, a second test, to confirm CWD, is completed. This test can take up to a week to complete.

The DNR contacts the hunter immediately with a phone call if the test result is positive. Results that come back as "not detected" are posted right away on the website, allowing hunters to view their individual results. Test results typically take up to four business days, but might fluctuate throughout the season when higher volumes of samples are shipped to the lab. 

How long will it take to receive my test result back?

Typically, test results are posted online within four business days. These results might fluctuate throughout the season when higher volumes of samples are shipped to the lab.

I’m not hunting in an area with mandatory or voluntary CWD testing. Can I still get my deer tested for CWD?

If you wish to get your deer tested, you can submit your own sample to the University of Minnesota's Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory or Colorado State University Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratories, which will do individual testing for a fee.

For more information:

  • University of Minnesota: Lab website or by phone at 612-625-8787. (The lab also has created a document with information  for hunters who want to get their deer sampled for CWD but are outside of mandatory surveillance efforts in Minnesota.)
  • Colorado State University: Lab website 

To watch a video showing how to collect your own sample, please watch the DNR video on how to collect your own CWD sample.

Where can I check my DNR test results online?

Your results will be available online on the CWD test results page.

Can I bring in just the head or head and spinal column for testing, or does it have to be the entire deer?

You can bring in the head with 4” of neck, or head and spinal column. DNR staff needs to extract lymph nodes from the neck.

Questions about CWD regulations and the DNR's disease response

What are the feeding and attractant bans? Am I affected?

Currently, restrictions are in place within the state to help reduce concentrations of deer in areas where CWD is known to be a risk. For definitions of feed and attractants, a map of affected counties, and more information, please visit the feeding and attractant bans page.

Are there deer carcass movement restrictions in Minnesota?

Yes. Deer harvested in chronic wasting disease management or control zones are subject to carcass movement restrictions. There are no movement restrictions within the state outside of these areas. Please see the carcass movement and restrictions page for more information.

For carcass movement restrictions, what part of the deer can I take out and what part of the deer can I bring in?

Whole carcasses of all deer, including fawns, taken within a CWD management zone must remain in the zone until a "not detected" test is confirmed. (Whole carcasses of all deer, including fawns, taken within the CWD control zone must remain inside the CWD control zone or the southeast CWD management zone until a "not detected" test result is confirmed.)

The following parts of deer may leave a CWD management zone or CWD control zone before a "not detected" test result is confirmed: 

  • Quarters or other portions of meat with no part of the spinal column or head attached; the main leg bone can remain in each quarter
  • Meat that is boned out or that is cut and wrapped (either commercially or privately)
  • Hides and teeth
  • Antlers or clean (no brain tissue attached) skull plates with antlers attached

See more information on the carcass movement and restrictions page.

Can I import deer, elk, moose and caribou from outside of Minnesota?

Minnesota does not allow whole carcasses from cervids (deer, elk, moose, caribou and reindeer) into the state from any state or province, regardless of CWD status. This is part of a comprehensive carcass importation rule aimed at decreasing risk associated with importing potentially infected carcasses.

Since 2003, carcasses from areas known to have CWD have been prohibited from entry into the state. With the increasing CWD infections in captive and wild cervids across the country, it is difficult to maintain current information that allows hunters to make an informed decision about importation. As we are all very concerned about the long-term health of our deer (and elk and moose), we changed the rules to prohibit all whole carcasses from any state or province, regardless of CWD status. We realize this potentially presents an inconvenience for hunters; however, we ask that you incorporate carcass handling and trophy preparation into your trip planning process.

You can watch these videos to learn how to quarter your deer for legal importation. For your trophy mount, we suggest that you work with your local taxidermist or a taxidermist in your destination state and arrange to have it caped at that location. Alternatively, you can or cape your own animal.

Hunters traveling through Minnesota on their way to their home state are exempt from this regulation.

For more information, please see the movement and carcass restrictions page.

Do other states have carcass restrictions?

Yes. CWD is a disease of national importance and Minnesota is one of 41 states that have imposed some sort of carcass restriction (see the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife map for an overview). Out-of-state hunters are encouraged to check their destination state regulations for more information.

What is the difference between the CWD control zone and CWD management zone?

A CWD management zone is an area that CWD has been found in wild deer and management actions are in place. The CWD control zone borders the southeast management zone (where CWD has been found in wild deer) and was created to help prevent further disease spread.

How does killing deer help control CWD?

Reducing the population helps minimize the spread of disease. Fewer deer means less deer-to-deer contact, reducing the risk of sick deer transmitting CWD to healthy deer. When an infected deer is killed, it is removed from the population and can no longer spread the disease.

Will any hunting or shooting of deer occur on private land as part of the DNR's CWD response?

Landowners must grant permission for any hunting or shooting of deer to occur on their land. All hunters need landowner permission to hunt on any private land. Neither the DNR nor its agents can enter private land for deer removal efforts without landowner permission.