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If you live in an area with deer, don’t be surprised if your dog returns from a walk in the snow with antlers! Obviously, a deer had shed its antlers sometime before and provided your pooch with an interesting toy.
You might be wondering if the deer was in serious pain when it shed its antlers. The quick answer is no. In this article, we explain why deer shed their antlers and why they don’t feel any pain.
Why Deer Shed Their Antlers
Shedding of antlers is a natural process that happens every year. Except for reindeer and caribou, every other member of the Cervidae family drops their antlers. Shedding occurs in winter.
They undergo this process for a reason. The first is to shed weight and conserve energy. A fully-developed antler, which is composed of bone and fibrous tissues, can weigh up to 60 pounds.
When winter sets in, deer find it difficult to move around and gather food. So by dropping their antlers, deer can conserve more energy. The shedding happens all by itself, so the deer don’t even have to try!
Another reason Cervids lose their antlers is hormonal. Only male deer and moose have antlers. Testosterone drives the growth of antlers. When they’re at the peak of the breeding season, the antlers are correspondingly at their biggest. But after the breeding season ends, the level of testosterone dips. Thus, they end up shedding their antlers.
So the reason why deer, moose, elk, chital, and other members of the Cervidae family shed their antlers is to shed weight and because they no longer need it after the breeding season.
Shedding vs Dehorning
Shredding is completely different from dehorning. The latter is a regular practice adopted in the livestock industry.
In the dehorning process, horns that are attached to the skull are removed (deer antlers are not fixed to their skulls). This can be quite painful for the animal. The removal process is done under the supervision of an experienced vet who uses local anesthesia and sedation. But the discomfort remains and can affect the animal for weeks. But in the case of shedding, it’s a natural and painless process.
How Antlers Grow Back
The antlers start to grow back at the beginning of spring, which is around April. There’s a nourishing skin called velvet on the head of the deer and moose that facilitate the growth of antler in its early stages.
Around the velvet area, you’ll notice there are short, soft hairs. In the beginning, antlers grow very fast. They’re also the fastest-growing tissue of an animal and can grow up to 8 inches in a matter of nine days.
As males graze around and increase their physical activity, their testosterone level also increases. This accelerates the growth of antlers.
In and around the month of September, the velvet starts shedding. And what is left is hard antler bone. As time passes and the males age, their antlers grow bigger.
The antler, when in its initial stages, isn’t brown but white. To shed the velvet, deer rub their head against the bushes and trees. This darkens the antlers into the light brown most people are familiar with.
When Do Shedding and Regrowth Take Place?
Cervids lose their antlers towards the beginning of winter. That’s around the month of November and December. But shedding and regrowth aren’t uniform and are rather complicated. There are multiple factors that come into play.
The first factor is the hormonal concentration and neural control of the deer. If the deer has an irregular hormonal level, then he’ll experience a slower cycle of loss and regrowth. Body trauma and injuries can also hinder the process. The shedding process can then take an additional five to six months.
Other factors include the size, age, and weight of the deer, along with climatic conditions and weather.
The regrowth takes place in the month of April through May. But, again, these are generalizations and will vary from deer to deer.
A Quick Summary
At the end of the day, it might look drastic when deer lose their antlers but the whole process is painless. They don’t experience any discomfort at all. The main reasons for shedding are to conserve energy during winter and falling testosterone levels. Antlers grow back every year and increase in size as deer grow older.