‘Chipmunk Deer’ Likely Infested With Arterial Worm Larvae

If you see a deer with swollen cheeks, don't eat the meat.

Brad Gill | September 9, 2020

A deer in Walton County with hugely swollen cheeks has a chipmunk-like syndrome, according to R.G. Baker, long-time subscriber to GON.

“I saw a deer in my back yard that looked as if it were a chipmunk with stuffed cheeks,” said R.G. “The first time I saw it I thought it was an optical illusion, but when I saw it again a few days later when it was closer, I could see that both sides of its face were puffed out. I have never seen or heard of a deer in this condition.”

GON reached to WRD’s State Deer Biologist Charlie Killmaster to see if he had a clue as to what may have given this doe swollen cheeks.

“It’s difficult to say for certain without a necropsy, but it could be arterial worms,” said Charlie. “These worms get in the bloodstream and attach to the inside of the carotid arteries in the upper neck. The restriction in blood flow causes some paralysis in the jaw leading to food impaction. Bits of food get stuck deep in the cheeks and build up because the muscles aren’t working properly.”

R.G. Baker said he plans to let this doe walk this fall, hoping it’ll bring a buck in.

Arterial worm larvae are transmitted by horseflies, and the worms cannot infect humans.

“Many otherwise healthy deer will clear the impaction once the parasites complete their life cycle, so there are no population level concerns,” said Charlie. “While the worms cannot infect humans, deer with arterial worms may have bacterial infections associated with the food impaction and should not be eaten.

“If I had a deer with a food impaction where I hunt, I would give it the benefit of the doubt and let it walk.  I would prefer to give it an opportunity to heal and later have the opportunity to use the meat.”

R.G. had some very specific plans for this doe.

“Hopefully it will recover and draw a buck in,” said R.G. “I do not plan to take this deer unless it looks like it is suffering. The last time I saw it, it appeared healthy with no noticeable weight loss.”

When you see odd things outside, email GON at [email protected].

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