Cultivating a vegetable garden results in a plentiful bounty for all to eat. Chances are that if you have one, your friends and family will also enjoy the products of your efforts. Sometimes sharing is a welcome activity, but in other cases it might not be. No one likes those uninvited guests that always take but never give back, coming over without your permission and leaving a mess in their wake.

One such garden guest that fits exactly this description is the deer. Vegetable gardens are an extremely attractive food source to in the eyes of deer. The temptation to feast on your veggies is so great to members of the cervid family (ruminants that grown antlers including deer, caribou, elk, and moose) that they will go over or through fences in order to fill their belies. Often the end result after a deer makes its way into the garden is a lot of wasted vegetables, but there is something else far more concerning about the presence of deer in the garden about which you should worry.

Deer and other cervids, while dining on your vegetables, are very likely to leave waste droppings in your garden. In fact, deer are known to defecate approximately a dozen times each day. The problem with this is that though some might mistake these droppings as fertilizer additive when in fact they can be quite dangerous. Instead of providing a nutrient rich environment, deer waste in the garden can expose you to E. coli and a deer disease known as Chronic Wasting Disease or CWD. Chronic Wasting Disease in a nutshell is a neurological disease that exists in cervids and is known to cause behavioral abnormalities as well as a malnourished physical appearance, hence its name. This disease is in a constant state of monitoring in order to track and slow the spread, but there have been many cases of it around the country to where it is possible that a deer defecating in your garden could be riddled with it.

Deer Feeding in Garden

Photo: Tomato Casual​

Though research does exist on CWD, it is not entirely clear if/how it can be transmitted to humans. Eating the meat from an infected deer is not advised and the carcasses of potentially infected deer harvested by hunters must be handled and disposed of in a very strict manner. At this time, the possibility of fecal transmission from deer to human has not been determined and no human case of CWD is on record. Even so, deer waste is not something you want to allow to remain in your garden. Additionally, proper handling of deer feces should be done so that accidental contamination of one's own body does not occur from an E. coli perspective if nothing else.

In order to stay as safe as possible, be sure to handle all deer waste with care. First of all, wearing gloves is a must. If waste is present, remove it with a designated shovel for this purpose only and relocate it for burial elsewhere. Keep feces from coming into contact with vegetables and dispose of any that have been nibbled on by deer or fallen to the ground near waste piles.

Even if CWD is not truly a threat to humans, animal waste products are. E. coli can make you very ill and is very much present in the gut of ruminant animals. It also takes quite some time to be destroyed in fecal waste, living on for several months with the potential for infection. In order to maintain good health while gardening, be vigilant regarding any unexpected piles in the garden. Any that you do find should be disposed of carefully, preserving your health and the remainder of your garden at the same time.