Deer Eat Meat: Here’s When and What Types of Meat

Do deer eat meat? Well, deer are among a class of animals called ruminants because of a special structure called rumen for digesting tough substances of plant-like cellulose, etc.

Ruminant animals include sheep, cattle, goats, deer, buffalo, elk, moose, giraffes, and camels. Ruminants have a unique digestive system that differs from our own. Instead of a single stomach compartment, they have four interlinked compartments.

But does this mean they could eat meat? Deer can be grouped as mainly opportunistic herbivores, i.e. they feed on plants mainly but eat flesh when needed.

Deer are herbivores, but they do eat small mammals, they are not physically equipped to deal with a large or continuous carnivorous diet. They cannot bite through the thick hides of larger, tougher animals. Their teeth are not sharp enough and lack the required jaw strength.

That is why deer usually feed on small animals, like; rabbits, frogs, squirrels, birds, or sometimes fish as well.

While having a fairly large bite, it would struggle to bite through tough hides and eat through to the nutrition enriched organs inside, so it generally munches on the limbs.

Why do deer eat meat?

Deer, like some other vegetation-oriented animals, have been known to have predatory behaviors.

This often happens during the driest winters, excessive shortage of food leads to a lack of essential minerals like phosphorus, salts, and calcium. This then leads to malnutrition.

Therefore, during seasonal extremes, some varieties of deer are reported to feed upon flesh when plant life is is in short supply.

Deer have a complex stomach and digestive system, having four digestive chambers in which many symbiotic bacteria reside and digest food in various stages for the deer to process through its gut.

deer eat meat - picture of a deer
deer eat meat – picture of a deer

You might also like to know:

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What happens when herbivores eat meat

Let’s take a look at what happens if and when a herbivore begins eating meat occasionally vs regularly.

  • A few pieces of meat are not a problem for a herbivore. Similarly, for a carnivore, a few pieces of vegetables will not cause any major issues.
  • Herbivores like deer are more likely to digest cooked meat compared to raw meat. However, exceptions are for those animals having mutualistic or symbiotic bacteria residing in their guts. They not only feed on flesh but can also digest it in their gut to draw nutrients from it.
  • Animals like opportunistic herbivores instinctively know that eating something unusual means they may be able to digest some of it, but not as a regular or long-term diet. So generally, if they had another option, they would take it.

Do deer only eat meat from animals already dead?

Deer can eat most types of meat during a period of scarcity to help cope with the needs of some kind of diet and to maintain a healthy metabolism. Deer will, oif pushed, seek to eat anything which does not involve engaging in a fight. It can be dead animals, insects.  

Do deer hunt small animals?

Deer usually eat herbs and shrubs, but in times of low availability of vegetal nutrients, they are likely to fill up their malnutrition body by seeking out small animals that do not require them to engage in either a race or a fight. These include small rabbits, mice, rats, and voles.

How often do deer eat meat?

Deer are mostly herbivores and are rarely seen eating flesh. Wintertime is the season in which food is less plentiful. Therefore, deer will resort to eating the remains of the dead bodies of different animals or kill and hunt the small animals to meet their nutritional requirements. But this is rare.

In some of the prodigious reports, researchers spotted a deer chewing a human bone. This was the first-ever observation of a deer eating human flesh, although they have been considered as being omnivores for a time before this discovery.

Do white-tailed deer eat meat?

White-tailed deer are considered herbivores and rely on a diet of commonly available plants, including many crops, beans, nuts, fruits, and twigs. However, they, like other deer species, are suspected to feed on flesh during a famine or low availability of required nutrients.

Do Chinese water deer eat meat?

The diet of Chinese water deer (vampire deer) includes reeds, coarse grasses, vegetables, beets, mosses, and, lichens mostly. However, they are sometimes observed eating birds, or fleshy remains to fulfill their mineral and vitamin deficiencies.

Do deer eat birds?

In a study, established by Canadian teams of ornithologists, scientists collected birds and bats in nets, intending to release them after observations. But a herd of deer appeared and set about eating the birds alive.

Deer have also been seen eating a hatching bird or a nest of unhatched eggs. Biologists believe that this behavior is very rare.

A few years ago, another incident was reported by some wildlife photographers when they saw a deer eating a hatching bird while the parent birds were trying to save their baby.  

Do deer eat squirrels?

Deer do often feed on small animals like squirrels or rabbits during harsh winters. A deer might turn to these sources of food in times of vegetal food shortage. However, whether the deer killed these animals has yet to be proven. 

Do deer like meat?

On September 26, 2011, a blogger reported an incident in which he shared a few pieces of beef steak with a white-tailed female deer. He recorded the incident which you can see below. Aside from this, there have been other reported incidents of deer eating fleshy foods.

Do deer eat each other?

Some biologists believe that deer are so omnivorous at times that they would even feed on the corpses, abdomens, and limbs of other deer. Deer have been spotted eating larger animals including those of other deer.

More wildlife help…

So deer eat meat. I hope this has provided an insight into this area for you. There are a wealth of other interesting articles available on Ranger planet so be sure to check them out.


A Certified Ecologist and an Entomologist, Michael has been interested in all aspects of Nature for many years. It's only now he's decided, along with his partner Fran, to begin documenting what he knows.

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