We get an alarming number of calls this time of year with variations of this story: “I found a baby deer by itself. I went to the feed store and got all the stuff to take care of it. It’s been living in my house for two weeks. Now it’s weak. I think it’s dying. What did I do wrong?”
Sometimes we have to take a deep breath to avoid blurting out, “Absolutely everything.”
Most fawns found unattended are not orphans. Their mothers leave them, often for twelve hours or more, while looking for the food and water they need to produce milk and recover from giving birth.
When taken into human homes, there are two major killers of fawns: stress and malnutrition. Fawns are at a very high-risk of a bizarre disease called capture myopathy. When they’re constantly being seen and touched by predators (like us and our pets) they simply die.
While we love retail workers and agriculture experts— truly!— the advice people usually get from feed stores tends to be massively incorrect. Whitetail deer milk isn’t at all similar to the formulas sold to replace the milk of goats, sheep, or cattle. Without the right balance of fats, sugars, proteins, vitamins, and minerals, many fawns fail to thrive and pass away.
Then there’s another issue— one of safety. If you raise a fawn as a member of your family, what happens next? A deer that has never met other deer will often believe itself to be human. That may sound cute, but the “cute” disappears during rut, when a male will see his human family as mates or competition and a female will attract an entire cast of competitive males who may go to lengths like jumping fences, attacking your pets, and charging into neighborhood traffic.
And if “I’ll just let it go when it’s older” sounds like a good plan, please consider where that will lead. Deer that have imprinted on humans will naturally gravitate right back to humans. They will approach anyone they see— including hunters— and may be unable to find food, rejected by wild herds, and unable to find mates or raise their young because they were never taught how to be deer.
None of this is the fault of deer raised improperly. They deserve to be allowed to live with their own families in the natural world, and when that’s not possible, they deserve to be in the care of competent rehabilitators.
Here in Tennessee, if you have found a fawn and you are certain that it is an orphan, please contact Walden’s Puddle (in Joelton, Middle Tennessee) or Little Ponderosa (in Clinton, East Tennessee) to arrange to get the little one to safety. Please do the right thing. Don’t risk the fawn’s safety or your own.