Elk Hygiene 101: How Do Elks Keep Themselves Clean?

Elks, Cervus elaphus canadensis, or Wapiti, are the largest species within the deer family or Cervidae. They are usually present in Central and East Asia and North America.

Like all living beings, elk tend to get dirty from laying down in the mud, running around in the forest, and just from doing their everyday activities, which is why you may wonder how these animals keep their hygiene.

In this article, Floofmania will guide you through everything you want to know about elk grooming and cleaning. Keep reading!

Do Elks Clean Themselves?

Most animals groom themselves or bathe in some way in order to keep clean. They have different ways of doing it. The most common method of grooming themselves is through the use of their tongue, or through scratching.

Elks use three body parts to maintain their hygiene: teeth, tongue, and feet. 

How The Elk Does Oral Grooming

Oral grooming consists of alternating use of an elk’s tongue and teeth. Elks usually scratch their lower incisors against their skin in an upward scraping motion, followed by a lick using their tongue on the same area.

Elks often do oral grooming with other elks. They will clean and lick each other around their neck and shoulder areas.

Generally, you may see mother elks (cows) perform that to maintain their bonds with their young calves. Meanwhile, non-family-related grooming processes may start with a dominant elk followed by the subordinate.

Nevertheless, this method may cause the elk to ingest the ectoparasites that have fallen from the scraping motion, or these harmful parasites may also drop directly to the ground after oral grooming.

How An Elk Uses Scratch Grooming

Elks sometimes use their feet to perform scratch grooming. This method includes scratching the head, shoulder, or neck using the hoof of the elk’s hind leg. 

Moreover, they can also do head-rub grooming, where they rub the side of their heads against their bodies. It can also become paired with head or body shaking to remove the dirt or dust from their skin. Lastly, elks have also been known to scratch their entire bodies against trees.

How Often Do Elks Clean Themselves?

Whenever elks get a chance to take a break or rest from their activities, they spend their time grooming themselves to eliminate parasites and dirt.

In most cases, you can see elks cleaning themselves in the midday sun before they doze off for an afternoon nap. They will often stand for an entire hour licking their bodies and legs to give themselves a full bath.

When Do Elks Usually Groom Themselves?

Mooring and Samuel of Point Loma Nazarene University have observed the grooming behavior of several elks in order to know in which instances these animals usually clean their bodies. 

According to their data and discussion, elk grooming patterns differ depending on three factors: tick infestation, hair loss, and body size and age. These considerations are as follows:

Elk Grooming Is Reflected In Tick Infestations

Pest or tick infestations can be severe during October and November due to wet and cold conditions. For this reason, oral grooming on elks usually increases during these months because winter tick larvae start to feed on their skin and blood.

Aside from that, they can also perform oral grooming more in March and April due to nymphal and adult ticks. These parasites may also arise and harm an elk’s body during these seasons, so they tend to clean themselves more to dust these ticks off.

Hair Loss Affects Elks Grooming

Elks can suffer from hair loss on their collar or at the base of their necks. The more severe it gets, the more these elks try to increase their grooming activity.

Mooring and Samuel’s research found that elks with hair loss performed oral and scratching grooming more than those without hair loss. Like the tick infestation, this phenomenon usually happens between November and December rather than in March and April.

Body Size and Age Plays A Role In Elk Grooming

Lastly, the researchers explained that younger elks also maintain their hygiene more than older elks because they are more susceptible to ticks and pests. 

Since younger elks have smaller legs, their bodies are much nearer to the ground where ticks can attach to them quickly. Moreover, they also have a larger surface-to-mass ratio, so they must clean themselves more to keep pest infestations minimal as much as possible.

Do Elks Get Diseases Due To Poor Hygiene?

Elks can suffer from different diseases and health issues once exposed to dangerous microorganisms without proper hygiene. Furthermore, over 53 species of parasites and protists can live inside their body, so if they do not maintain their hygiene, they can experience severe pest infestations.

For example, brain or meningeal worms are parasitic nematodes that can affect an elk’s spinal cord and brain tissue. Ticks and pests can also go to snails and slugs, which elks can consume as they search for food.

An elk that lives in the wild can also be more vulnerable to bacteria and germs. Once it fails to clean and eliminate these things, they can stay and multiply in their coat and skin, leading to more parasites and pests on their bodies.

In Woodbury et al.’s research on the causes of morbidity and mortality in elks, such factors as winter ticks, chronic wasting disease, and other related elements cause higher mortality rates in young and old elks. These things can be due to poor hygiene or dirty surroundings in which harmful microorganisms can exist.

Similarly, elks without proper hygiene can also have gastrointestinal parasites that affect their digestive systems. This bacterial infection can result from accidentally ingesting worms and organisms from eating wild grass.

Nevertheless, in some cases, elks can still suffer from such unwanted consequences despite grooming themselves regularly. Since they often use their teeth and tongue in oral grooming, parasites can come in contact with their mouth, thus entering their bodies without knowing.

In such instances, living and eating in a clean, hygienic place can help an elk remain clean and healthy.

How Can You Help Maintain An Elk’s Hygiene?

If you currently have elk on your farm, helping them maintain their hygiene is the best way to reduce the risks of getting pest and tick infestations.

Various routine farm operations, such as animal handling, feeding, milking, contact with equipment and vehicles, medical treatments, and interactions with visitors and service providers, are possible contact points for diseases and pest transfers. Accordingly, keeping your place clean is also necessary to prevent such consequences.

With that in mind, sanitation, cleaning, or disinfection can be the best ways to stop pest transmissions and other infectious agents. You can do the following processes below.

Sterilizing Food and Water Containers

Before feeding your elk, sterilize its food bowls and personal belongings to kill all forms of microbial life. You can do this process by using dry heating, stem under pressure, or liquid chemicals.

Cleaning the Place

You must also remove dirt, germs, and other impurities from objects and surfaces around your elk’s enclosure. You can use soap, detergents, and water to remove these things.

However, note that this process does not necessarily kill these harmful particles. It only removes and lowers their numbers to lessen the risk of spreading them. 

Disinfecting Surfaces

You may also use physical or chemical agents to eliminate germs on objects and surfaces. In most cases, you can proceed to this process after cleaning to ensure that the place is clean and germ-free, which lowers the risk of spreading pests and bacteria.

Sanitizing Objects

Lastly, sanitizing also lowers the number of harmful microbes and germs to a safe level. You can accomplish this step by either disinfecting objects and surfaces or cleaning them to lessen transmission.

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