Wildlife diseases

About wildlife diseases

Although most wild animals in the Northwest Territories (NWT) are healthy, diseases and parasites can occur in any wildlife population. Some of these diseases can infect people or domestic animals. It is important to regularly assess and monitor disease in wildlife populations so we can take steps to reduce their impact on healthy animals.

Anthrax outbreak in the Northwest Territories, 2012
Anthrax outbreak in the Northwest Territories, 2012

Chronic Wasting Disease

Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) is a degenerative, fatal brain disease that affects members of the deer family. CWD has not been detected in any wildlife species in the NWT, nor has it been detected in caribou populations anywhere in North America.

ECC is working with hunters and neighbouring jurisdictions to prevent the spread of CWD into the NWT by encouraging hunters to get harvested deer, moose and caribou tested, and by controlling the import of live deer and high-risk deer parts into the NWT.

For more on CWD, read our FAQ on Chronic Wasting Disease.

Ticks of the Northwest Territories

Ticks are blood-feeding parasites that can live on birds, mammals and reptiles. Ticks are rarely found in the Northwest Territories (NWT) on pets, wildlife or people.  

The winter tick (Dermacentor albipictus) has been found on some moose and caribou in the NWT, and can cause hair loss.  In cases with a large number of ticks, this can result in “ghost moose” because of severe hair loss.  Rabbit ticks (Haemaphysalis leporispalustris) have been observed on snowshoe hares in some parts of the NWT.  Occasionally, tick species can be introduced by movement of animals into the territory from other regions (e.g. migratory birds and dogs).

Some tick species can carry pathogens and agents that can cause disease in humans and animals. The risk of becoming infected with the bacterium that causes Lyme disease (Borrelia burgdorferi) in the NWT is very low. Tick species capable of carrying this infection are not known to occur in the NWT.

For more information on ticks, download the Ticks of the Northwest Territories brochure or fact sheet

moose tick
Moose tick photo credit: John Lee

What to do if you find a tick

On a person: Use appropriate methods to remove it and contact your health care provider or the NWT Department of Health and Social Services at 867.767.9066.

On a pet: Contact your local veterinarian or the Wildlife Health Program of ECC at 867-767-9237 ext. 53232.

On a wild animal: Contact your local ECC office or the Wildlife Health Program at 867-767-9237 ext.  


eTick is now available in the Northwest Territories. Download the app or log onto www.eTick.ca to submit ticks for quick, free identification. This surveillance program helps to monitor the types and distribution of ticks across Canada, and to assess the risk of acquiring tick-borne diseases within the Northwest Territories.


Rabies is a zoonotic (can transfer between animals and humans) infection caused by a virus which spreads through the saliva of infected animals. It affects the brain and central nervous system in both mammals and humans. All warm-blooded mammals and birds can be infected. In the Northwest Territories (NWT), Arctic foxes are regularly infected with the disease.

Rabies can be fatal for humans and signs of infection can be undetectable for weeks or months after contracting the infection.  

You can get rabies if you are bitten or licked by an infected animal or if saliva from an infected animal comes into contact with your skin, eyes, nose, lips, cuts or scratches.

To raise awareness about rabies and how it can be contracted, a children’s book describing how rabies can be passed from animals to humans has been developed for the NWT.  Tatqiaq Learns About Rabies tells the story of a little girl from Sachs Harbour who learns about rabies after her dogs encounter a fox in the wild. The book, written by Dr. Hugh Whitney, is available in English, Inuvialuktun and French and has been distributed across the NWT as an educational resource. More information on rabies can be found in A Field Guide to Common Wildlife Diseases and Parasites in the Northwest Territories.


Hunters should look for signs of sickness in an animal before they shoot, such as:

  • poor condition (weak, sluggish, thin, or lame)
  • swellings or lumps, hair loss, blood, or discharges from the nose or mouth
  • abnormal behaviour (loss of fear of people, aggressiveness)

If you shoot a sick animal

  • Do not cut into diseased parts.
  • Wash your hands, knives and clothes in hot soapy water after you've finished cutting up and skinning the animal and disinfect with a weak bleach solution.
  • If meat from an infected animal can be eaten, make sure you take the proper precautions to handle and prepare the meat.
  • Do not feed parts of infected animals to dogs.
  • It is important to report all wildlife diseases.

When collecting sample, make sure you

  • Wear rubber gloves to protect yourself.
  • Place each sample in a separate plastic bag.
  • Unless otherwise noted, samples should be submitted frozen or kept cool.
  • Record the following information:
    • Date and location collected
    • Type of animal
    • Sex and estimated age of the animal
    • Description of the sample
    • Any other conditions that may be important (e.g. unusual weather, signs of a struggle)

A sample kit is available from your local or regional Environment and Climate Change office. It contains a disease form you can use to record your information.


Field Guide to Wildlife Diseases

Although most wild animals in the NWT are healthy, diseases and parasites can occur in any wildlife population. Some of these diseases can infect people or domestic animals. It is important to regularly monitor and assess diseases in wildlife populations so we can take steps to reduce their impact on healthy animals and people. The information in this field guide should help hunters to:

  • recognize sickness in an animal before they shoot
  • identify a disease or parasite in an animal they have killed
  • know how to protect themselves from infection
  • help wildlife agencies monitor wildlife disease and parasites

The diseases in this field guide are grouped according to where they are most often seen in the body of the animal: skin, head, liver, lungs, muscle, and general.

Quarterly report of the Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative

The Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative (CWHC) is a collection of highly qualified people within a cross-Canada network of partners and collaborators dedicated to wildlife health. It includes internationally renowned wildlife disease diagnosticians and researchers, experts in population health, skilled educators and experienced policy advisors.

The CWHC is dedicated to generating knowledge needed to assess and manage wildlife health and working with others to make sure knowledge is put to use in a timely fashion. It issues a quarterly report on wildlife disease and health.

More information

For more information on wildlife diseases, contact your local Renewable Resource Officer, Regional Biologist or the GNWT Wildlife Disease Specialist.