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Hunters beware: allergy to deer, elk, bear, antelope and buffalo


It is that time of year again and the gun hunters are wearing blaze orange and bow hunters invisible in their camouflage.    In search of the great horned beast, hunters will be exposed to triggers of asthma such as cold air, campfire smoke, other hunters with cold viruses and the “exercise” of tromping through the woods with decaying vegetation (mold).

The successful hunter will be directly exposed to the animal fur, dander, flesh and blood of the animal.  It is possible to be allergic to your trophy buck?

Deer allergy:  There have been 26 cases of deer allergy reported in the medical literature as of 2000.  The youngest was 4 years old.

  • In 1985, allergy to deer and elk was published in the Annals of Allergy by Dr. Yunginger. The authors investigated 15 patients with allergy skin test positive or symptoms on exposure to deer or elk fur.  All of these patients had cat, dog or horse allergy.  Twelve patients had elevated IgE to deer hair/dander while 6 had elevated blood IgE to elk hair/dander.  Also, 6 patients had elevated IgE to deer or elk urine or serum.
  • A 4 year-old boy exposed to a live deer had anaphylaxis (shortness of breath, hives, and swelling) requiring epinephrine.  He was skin and blood test positive to deer and cattle.
  • Two workers at an animal rehab center in Spain who cared for Roe Deer (look like spotted dear with antlers similar to moose) developed allergic rhinitis and conjunctivitis.  Both were skin test positive to Roe deer hair and dander extract.  They also had a positive conjunctiva challenge—yes, they dropped some Roe deer hair extract in their eyes resulting in immediate redness, itchy, swelling and tearing.  One worker had positive serum (blood) test for IgE that also showed cross sensitivity to cattle.
  • In Korea, a farmer raised 3 red deer for 2 years and he developed asthma when he was near them.  His allergy skin and blood tests to these deer were positive.  He also had positive skin tests to goat, sheep, camel and cow.  He performed an inhalation challenge (yes, he inhaled deer hair extract) and had an asthmatic response.
  • A scrimshaw artist using deer bones developed anaphylaxis to the bone dust after it had been processed with chemicals.  He was not allergic to the natural deer hair

Elk allergy:  In Korea, a worker who filled elk feeders developed asthma on exposure to their hair.  He had both positive blood and skin tests to elk.  He underwent bronchial challenge (inhaled elk hair extract) and had an asthma reaction confirming the diagnosis.

Bear allergy:  While there have been allergic reactions reported to Teddy Bears (dust mite) and Gummy Bears (gelatin), those real bears don’t seem to be a trigger.  If there is a taxidermist or bear hunter who has experienced asthma or allergic symptoms around bears, call me!

Antelope allergy and Buffalo allergy (I stand corrected- in the U.S. these are called Bison). There have been no scientific or medical reports on allergic reactions to antelope or bison meat, hair or fur that I could find.

Interesting points:

  • There can be cross reactivity between animal meat and dander.
  • There can be cross reactivity between meats of related species.

At Family Allergy & Asthma Care of Montana, we evaluate all types of animal allergy including those wild ones (just bring your own fur for testing).

This information is solely for informational purposes and not intended as a substitute for consultation with a medical professional.

  1. WendyWendy12-07-2016

    Only 26 cases of deer allergy reporting? The medical literature must not look at deer allergies that much. My sister missed part of her Black Friday shopping because she found out the hard way that she’d developed an allergy to deer (after 25+ years living with a hubby that took multiple deer most seasons). Guess we now know where her sons got their deer allergies from.

    Makes you wonder if something hasn’t changed to make people more snsitive: they say you can outgrow allergies, but it seems my family’s growing INTO allergies–that’s two sisters now that developed allergies in their 50’s. (The other one’s allergic to three species of trees and most Wisconsin grasses.)

  2. MaDonna RaganMaDonna Ragan11-20-2017

    Have you ever heard of anyone only having an allergic reaction to fawn or yearling white tail deer?

    • MZach17MZach1706-30-2019

      Greetings, MaDonna; Thank you for your question. I have not heard of allergic reactions to just fawns or yearlings, but in full disclosure, I have not specifically asked. This allergy tends to be more in hunters who harvest adults. I will keep your question in mind. Dr. Zach

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