The removal of antlers, or de-antlering, of deer is performed to help protect other animals and handlers from injury. However, antlers are also removed in the production of antler velvet which is used for medicinal purposes. Antlers in velvet are growing antlers with a covering of fine soft hair both of which are rich in nerves and blood supply. Hard antlers have ceased growing and no longer have a functional nerve and blood supply.
Antlers in velvet
The RSPCA is opposed to the removal of antlers in velvet for commercial sale as a medicinal or other product, as the procedure offers no direct benefit to the animal concerned, nor its conspecifics.
Where removal of antlers in velvet does occur, the only acceptable method is for the animal to be appropriately restrained, and then either of the two following anaesthetic techniques utilised:
- local anaesthetic using a high dose ring-block technique, plus xylazine sedation where appropriate (depending on the species of deer), performed by an experienced veterinary surgeon or an accredited lay operator under the supervision of a veterinary surgeon; or
- general anaesthesia performed by an experienced veterinary surgeon.
Once anaesthesia is established, the antlers can be removed above the coronet using appropriate means to control blood loss and prevent postoperative infection and fly-strike. Post-operative analgesia must be administered and the animals monitored regularly for the first 48 hours.
Hardened antlers can be trimmed above the pedicle at any time, provided that the animal is appropriately restrained after the application of suitable tranquillising drugs to minimise shock or fear in the animal.