Just when the winter is around, your dog might return with antlers that he found near the bush. Upon inspecting, you’ll realize it’s probably shed by someone in the deer family. It came near your house during the night time where it lost its antlers before moving back into the woods.
You might be wondering if the deer, antelope, or moose was in serious pain when it shed its antlers. The concerns surrounding livestock dehorning is already serious since they’re quite painful to the cattle. But in the case of deer, it’s a natural process, and it doesn’t involve any pain, if at all.
In this article, we explain why deer shed their antlers and why they don’t feel pain in the process.
Why Deer Shed Their Antlers?
The shedding of antlers for the deer family is a natural process that happens every year. Except for reindeer and caribou, every other member of the Cervidae family have antlers that they shed. The shedding occurs towards the spring season when the winter is on the cusp.
They undergo this process for a reason. The first is to shed weight and conserve energy. A fully-developed antler can weigh up to 60 pounds. They are composed of bones and fibrous tissues.
When the winter sets in, they find it difficult to move around and gather food. So by dropping off the antlers, deer can conserve more energy for themselves. The shedding takes place naturally, and they don’t willingly have to do it.
Another reason for the Cervids to lose their antlers is hormonal.
It’s worth noting that only male deer and moose have antlers while the females do not. The males use it to attract partners during the breeding season. They also use it to show dominance by pushing the antlers against each other.
The ones who possess bigger antlers are the ones who are higher in the dominance hierarchy. So they easily find their mating partner.
Testosterone drives the growth of the antler. When they’re at the peak of the breeding season, the antlers are correspondingly 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.
Does it Hurt When Deer Shed Their Antlers?
No, it doesn’t hurt when the deer shed their antlers. This is because they aren’t connected to the skull of the animals that possess them. They are extensions of the skull and are a single structure. They can shed them and regrow every year.
But that’s not the case with bones, which are doubled structures and unbranched. They are secondarily fused into the skull and possess centers of ossification.
Shedding vs Dehorning
Shredding is completely different from dehorning that is adopted in the livestock industry.
In the dehorning process, the horns that are attached to the skull are removed. 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.
The sedation reduces nerve transmission, and hence the animal feels less pain. But the discomfort remains, which can affect the animal for weeks.
But in the case of shedding, it’s a natural process. Deer shed their antlers every year. Since it is not fused to the skull, they do not experience any discomfort. It’s as normal as you cutting off your overgrown fingernails or toenails.
How Antlers Grow Back?
The antlers start to grow towards the beginning of the spring season, 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 the short, soft hairs. In their early stages, antlers grow very fast. They’re also the fastest growing tissue of an animal, which can grow up to 8 inches in a matter of nine days.
As males graze around and increase physical activity, their testosterone level increases. This accelerates the growth of antlers.
In and around the month of September, the velvet starts shedding. And what is left is a hard antler bone, which is rather small in size. As time passes and males age, the antlers grow bigger and bigger in size.
The antler, when in its initial stages, isn’t brown but is white in color. To shed the velvet, deer rub their head against the bushes and trees. This darkens the antlers into light brown.
When Do the Shedding and Regrowth Take Place?
Cervids lose their antlers towards the beginning of the winter season. That’s around the month of November and December.
But the shedding and regrowth isn’t uniform and is 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 phase. Body trauma and injuries can also hinder the process. The shedding process can take additional five to six months than average.
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, those are generalizations and will vary from deer to deer.
There are certain deer species like the “cactus buck” that do not shed their antlers at all. That’s mainly because of their low testosterone level.
Moose, on the other hand, are quick to drop the weight and regrow, thanks to their higher testosterone level.
To Sum up
So to answer your question of if it hurts when deer shed their antlers, then no, it doesn’t. They experience no discomfort whatsoever during or after they’ve shed their antlers.
They are not part of their skull, and cutting them off won’t hurt them either. This is unlike cows and bulls, who will feel the pain if they lose their horns.
The next time you see an antler lying next to the roads, do not feel pity for the deer or moose. It’s part of their biological life cycle.