Chronic Wasting Disease


​​​​​​​​​​What is CWD and what is t​​he Department doing about it?

Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) is a fatal, neurological disease of white-tailed deer, mule deer, elk, caribou and moose. The disease was first recognized as a "wasting syndrome" in mule deer in a research facility in Northern Colorado in 1967 and has since spread to free-ranging and captive populations in 30 U.S. states and four Canadian Provinces. The disease is currently present in six of seven Kentucky-bordering states (Missouri, Illinois, Ohio, West Virginia, Virginia, Tennessee).

Healthy Deer.

Photo by: Joe Lacefield

In December 2021, the disease was found in Henry County, Tennessee within 8 miles southwest of the Kentucky border from Murray, Kentucky. In response, the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources has developed a CWD Response Plan that serves to guide the Department in strategically managing CWD, in preparation for if the disease were to be detected in Kentucky. 

The Kentucky Fish and Wildlife Commission (board) has also adopted the authoritative Best Management Practices for addressing CWD. This report was produced by a panel of deer, elk and wildlife disease experts from the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (AFWA), of which the Department is an active member agency.

Important Chronic Wasting Disease Updates

The Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources is taking action to protect and monitor the state's deer and elk herds after a deer in northwest Tennessee tested positive for chronic wasting disease.

The always-fatal neurological disease that affects deer, elk, moose and caribou has not been detected in Kentucky. However, Kentucky Fish and Wildlife's response plan calls for the implementation of specific measures following a positive detection within 30 miles of Kentucky's border. This is because deer are highly mobile, and can range up to several miles in a single day.

Kentucky Fish and Wildlife activated its response plan Wednesday, Sept. 8, 2021 after the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA) announced confirmation of chronic wasting disease (CWD) in a 3 ½-year-old female deer collected in Henry County, Tennessee, which is southwest of Murray, Kentucky and approximately 8 miles from the Kentucky-Tennessee border. The deer was thin and exhibiting strange behavior. Multiple tests confirmed the presence of CWD in the deer.

In December 2021, the TWRA announced confirmation of CWD in a deer harvested 28 miles from the Kentucky border in Weakley County, Tennessee between Dresden and Henry County.

For the latest information on this disease, please continue to follow our CWD Updates and follow the department’s social media channels.

CWD Proximity to Kentucky from Tennessee as updated August 29, 2022​​​​
Calloway 395
Hickman 124
Marshall 296
SZ Subtotal 1534
Outside SZ 2171
*Testing data from March 1, 2023 - February 28, 2024  ​**Includes deer and elk samples

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Hunting Deer, Elk, Moose or Caribou in Other States? Carcass transportation restrictions apply:


If you hunt big game outside of Kentucky, you may not bring any member of the deer (Cervidae) family back into Kentucky unless the brain and spinal column have been removed first.

Allowed parts from outside of Kentucky include: portions of meat with no part of the spinal column or head attached, boned-out meat, antlers, antlers attached to a clean skull plate, a clean skull, clean teeth, hides and finished taxidermy products.

CWD has not been detected in Kentucky.

CWD has been found in 30 states, four Canadian provinces and in Europe and Asia: Arkansas, Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming, Alberta, Ontario, Quebec, Saskatchewan, Finland, Norway, Sweden and South Korea.

Up-to-date news regarding CWD can also be found at the site of the Chronic Wasting Disease Alliance.

KAR 2:095 Importation of Cervid Carcasses and Parts

​​ If you plan to hunt outside the state of Kentucky for cervids (white-tailed deer, mule deer, elk, caribou, or moose) please know the requirements of what you can bring back with you on your return. Hunters can now only bring back the following:

  • Deboned meat
  • Antlers
  • Antlers that are attached to a skull cap having no meat matter or tissue attached
  • A skull having no meat matter or tissue attached
  • Teeth having no meat matter or tissue attached
  • Finished taxidermy products
  • Hide

Hunters shall not import a cervid carcass or carcass parts that has any part of the spinal column or head into Kentucky. These requirements are implemented to help slow CWD's movement into Kentucky.​

Causative Agent

CWD belongs to a group of diseases called Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathies (TSE), which includes scrapie in sheep and goats, bovine spongiform encephalopathy (commonly known as "mad cow” disease) in cattle, and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in humans. It is suspected that the agent responsible for causing TSEs is an abnormal protein called a prion.

CWD is transmitted through direct animal-to-animal contact and indirectly through environmental contamination from feces, urine, saliva, and infected carcasses. There is evidence that CWD prions can survive in the environment even after infected animals have been removed.

Clinical Signs

Animals can be infected with CWD for months or years before clinical signs are evident. If deer and elk survive long enough to reach the terminal stages of infection, these animals will show signs of progressive weight loss, excessive salivation and urination, increased water intake and depression. Other noticeable changes include decreased interactions with other animals, listlessness, lowering of the head, blank facial expression, and repetitive walking in set patterns. In elk, hyper-excitability and nervousness may be observed. There is no known treatment for the disease and the disease is always fatal. 


These signs are also symptomatic of other more commonly seen diseases, such as meningeal worm infections (“brain worm”) in elk and epizootic hemorrhagic disease or blue-tongue virus in white-tailed deer and elk.


No obvious lesions can be seen in affected animals. With advanced disease, the brain will have a “spongy” appearance when examined under a microscope. This is the result of the disease agent creating holes in the brian. 


The only definitive way to diagnose the disease is by examination of a portion of the brain stem (the obex) and lymph node tissue (the retropharyngeal lymph node). There is currently no practical live-animal test for chronic wasting disease.

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