Extension Logo
Extension Logo
University of Minnesota Extension

Animal damage to trees and shrubs

I have been receiving numerous calls over the past few weeks from residents concerned about their trees and shrubs due to rabbit damage that occurred this past winter. In most of these cases, the tree was completely girdled because of the vandalism that the rabbits caused. The snow was so high this year that the rabbits were able to girdle trees higher than expected. So, if you have rabbit or animal damage from this past winter, what do you do?

Assess the situation

You first need to make sure that you have rabbit or animal damage before you proceed any further. Refer to the animal damage guide provided by the University of Minnesota Extension.


  • Branches, leaves and twigs browsed by deer have a rough, torn or shredded appearance. 
    • Deer have no upper incisors and must grasp and tear leaves and buds from plants. 
  • Deer typically do not leave tooth marks on the bark. 
  • Deer usually browse branches less than one inch in diameter. 
  • Male deer also will damage or shred the bark of small trees by rubbing their antlers to remove the velvet during the fall breeding season or rut.  
    • Antler rubbing can be a bigger problem than browsing and can occur even if you do not see browsing. 
  • Deer droppings are a clear sign that deer were present. 
  • It is important to further examine the damage, as deer may pass through areas where other wildlife congregates to forage. 


  • The bark is completely removed from stems or in irregular patches.
  • Damage occurs in winter and the bark is removed only below the snowline.
  • Branches or small stems are cut off.
  • Their browsing is characterized by a neat cut at a 45-degree angle and is concentrated lower to the ground than deer damage. 
  • Rabbits and rodents also will leave tooth marks when gnawing at the bark of small trees and branches. 
    • Rabbit tooth marks are typically the width of the tip of a spoon, and rodent tooth marks appear to be made by the tine of a fork.


  • The bark is completely removed from stems or in irregular patches.
  • Damage occurs in winter and the bark is removed only below the snowline.
  • Only bark is removed and no branches or small stems are cut off as in rabbit damage.
  • Wood will show scrapings the size of fork tines.

What should you do?

If you have confirmed you have animal damage, check out the resources below to find out what course of action to take.


  • You can prune off damaged branches that deer have eaten. Prune just below where the damage occurred. 
  • Here are some articles to consider when preventing and managing deer: 

Rabbits + Voles

  • If rabbits or voles have completely girdled your tree, according to Iowa State Extension, removing the tree is the best course of action especially if your tree is young.
    • There are no treatments that will save a severely damaged tree. Wound dressings, pruning paints, latex paints, and other protective barriers do not help.
  • Shrubs are able to produce new shoots and will eventually recover.
    • In the spring, prune branches below the damaged area.
    • It may be wise to wait to prune until you see where the new growth is beginning. That way you do not prune off a healthy branch.
  • Resource:

If you’re not sure if you have animal damage or what you should do, you can always contact your local county Extension educator.

Emily Hansen, Extension Educator, Horticulture, Wright,  McLeod, and Meeker counties
hans6005@umn.edu or 612-394-6302

Providing horticulture related assistance to residents of Wright, McLeod, and Meeker counties. 

Subscribe to the monthly Tri-County Horticulture Newsletter to receive regular updates on horticulture-related hot topics and current events in Wright, McLeod, and Meeker counties. 

Page survey

© 2023 Regents of the University of Minnesota. All rights reserved. The University of Minnesota is an equal opportunity educator and employer.