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Alaska Department of Fish and Game

Parasites and Diseases

A Field Guide

BESNOITIOSIS (Bone Meal Disease)

caption follows
Hair loss and roughened skin on caribou muzzle. Sometimes called “sand paper caribou.”

What causes besnoitiosis?
  • Besnoitiosis is caused by an intracellular parasite (Besnoitia tarandi).
  • Lifecycle: The parasite needs both an herbivore (e.g., caribou or muskox) and a carnivore host. The parasite multiplies in the herbivore forming cysts that contain many spores. The carnivore becomes infected when it eats meat from a herbivore with cysts. The parasite comes out in the carnivore’s droppings and contaminates plants that are eaten by herbivores.

Where does besnoitiosis occur?
  • Besnoitia may be able to infect a wide range of ungulates (hoofed animals).
  • It occurs in caribou, reindeer, and muskoxen.
  • In Alaska, besnoitiosis occurs commonly in caribou.

What are the signs of besnoitiosis?
  • Animals usually appear healthy.
  • Heavily infected animals may lose hair on their lower legs and face, and skin may be thick.
  • Besnoitiosis can be most easily identified when skinning the lower legs.
  • Cysts are hard and feel like a slight roughness (“sand paper”) over the bone and skin.
  • Cysts appear as clear to white very small round lumps (like grains of corn meal) embedded in tissue.
  • Similar tiny cysts may be visible on the eye.

How can I protect myself?
  • You cannot get besnoitiosis from infected animals.

Can I eat the meat? [can infect dogs]  [cook well]
  • Meat from infected animals is suitable for human consumption.
  • Cook meat well.
  • Do not feed infected meat to dogs.

Samples to collect
  • Lower front leg or affected tissues.
  • To report an occurrence or to submit a sample for identification/analysis, contact the DWC Wildlife Disease Surveillance reporting hotline 907-328-8354, send an email to or visit your local ADF&G office.