Can Dogs Get Chronic Wasting Disease?

Chronic wasting disease is found in deer, elk and moose. This disease is what biologists describe as a prion, a catalyst for infectious diseases. Because mad cow disease (bovine spongiform encephalopathy, BVE) is also a prion, many virologists worry that chronic wasting disease could pass onto humans.

However, despite several studies, scientists have found that the likelihood of CWD passing onto humans is low. Additionally, no reported cases of CWD occurring in humans have been reported.

Since prions are known to pass between species (an infected deer excretes waste in a pasture where cows feed), pet owners may wonder if their dog is at risk of contracting this fatal, infectious disease, as well.

Can Dogs Get Chronic Wasting Disease?


There are no reported cases of dogs with chronic wasting disease. Some dog owners, particularly in rural parts of states with high activity of CWD, have voiced concern of whether their dog may be able to gain the disease by ingesting the meat of a dead, infected animal.

New York, Michigan, Colorado, Illinois, Wyoming, Wisconsin, and Kansas are just a few of the states named in recent outbreaks and rising rates of CWD in the nation. It’s here that pet-owners in rural counties may worry about the potential of CWD infecting not just their dogs, but also their cattle.

Fortunately, virologists note that CWD is not currently able to pass onto dogs. As the disease progresses, it may evolve, tweaking its strands, potentially making it possible for other species to acquire CWD. Due to this, many veterinarians will advise dog owners to be wary of infected animals, dead or alive, coming intto close contact with their pet.

Does My Dog Have CWD?

It’s highly unlikely the symptoms you may be witnessing in your dog are linked to CWD. If they happen to be exhibiting signs similar to CWD, you should check for other medical conditions with a veterinarian.

In deer, elk, and moose (the only species in which CWD occurs), these are signs of CWD:

  • Jittery or anxious, abnormal movements

  • Excessive salivation

  • Jaw grinding

  • Strange, erratic behavior

  • Severely emaciated

  • Drooping head and ears

  • Excessive urination combined with thirst

As CWD affects the function of the brain, neurological or nervous system dysfunctionality in your pet may look a lot like CWD symptoms. And even though it’s unlikely they’ve become the first case for canine chronic wasting disease, they should be taken to a veterinarian as soon as possible for proper diagnosis and treatment.


We all know infectious diseases are caused by any number of contact with an animal carrying the disease. But what about the very first infected animal? How did they develop it?

At least in the case of CWD, the initial catalyst is a kind of rogue protein forming in the body from cellular tissue. This is called a prion and its abnormality is that it begins to infect and destroy the body from the inside. Prion “live” in the nervous system, which explains the main symptoms of CWD.

Once this animal is infected, they become contagious, spreading the disease with their waste, bodily decomposition, and interaction with other animals of its species.


Because CWD has only been shown to affect deer, elk, and moose, diagnosis is mostly created by those in the field of wildlife conservation, virologists, and hunters. Many counties across the country utilize local government to inform hunters about the dangers of consuming meat infected by CWD. Communities are also taught what symptoms and signs to look for in an infected animal.

Case Study

There isn’t a viable case study for chronic wasting disease as it has not been proven to affect dogs, or any other species outside of cervidae (deer, elk, moose).

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