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Alaska Department of Fish and Game


Parasites and Diseases
Besnoitiosis

A Field Guide
TO COMMON WILDLIFE DISEASES
AND PARASITES IN ALASKA

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 dfg.dwc.vet@alaska.gov or visit your local ADF&G office.