Malnutrition and Starvation
Risk Factors
  • Malnutrition is the condition that occurs when a diet provides nutrients in sub-optimal amounts.
  • Malnutrition occurs prior to starvation, which is simply the long-term deprival of food and its adverse effects.
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Malnutrition - Moose Malnutrition - Marrow
A moose in poor nutritional condition. Sections of leg bones from caribou showing depletion of fat stores from left to right.
  • Can occur in areas of food shortage brought upon by drought, heavy snow-pack, etc.
  • Occurs most often during the winter when food sources are scarce or with coexisting disease conditions.
Mechanisms of Action
  • Malnutrition leading to starvation occurs because of poor quantity or quality of food (e.g., drought), the inability of an animal to reach the source of food due to environmental factors (e.g., deep or hard-crusted snow), or physical ailments that prevent the animal from foraging or eating effectively (e.g., physical injury, poor teeth).
  • Malnutrition and starvation may occur in any wildlife species, and occur more often among the very young, aged, weak or sick animals.
Signs and Symptoms
  • Animals are weak with very little body fat.
  • Signs of malnutrition and starvation in mammals include:
    • bones of the shoulders, ribs, back-bone and hips protrude;
    • sunken eyes;
    • tucked up abdomens;
    • when butchering, a lack of fat under the skin, around the heart, kidneys and other organs and within the bone marrow;
    • bone marrow of malnourished and starving mammals resembles a reddish jelly or liquid in contrast to the marrow from healthy animals which usually is solid, white and waxy;
    • muscles and organs may be shrunken or decreased in size;
    • little food or food of poor quality may be found in the alimentary tract.
Meat Edible?
  • Meat from starving or malnourished animals is suitable for human consumption, but may be of poor quality.
Samples for Diagnosis
  • Appearance at post-mortem can be used for a tentative diagnosis, and confirmed by breaking open any long bone (e.g., femur) that normally contains marrow to examine extent of marrow depletion.
Similar Diseases
  • There is often a pre-existing condition that make animals more susceptible to malnutrition and starvation. A full post-mortem examination may be required to identify chronic diseases that result in malnutrition or starvation.
Further Reading
Return to Manual Home Page Disease List - Body Region Affected Disease List - Causative Agent or Risk Factor Disease Surveillance Form Glossary Contact Information
Return to Manual Home Page Return to Disease List - Body Region Affected Return to Disease List - Causative Agent or Risk Factor Disease Surveillance Form Download Glossary Contact Information