Have you had a chance to catch a glimpse of the elusive red fox? Many of us have. That beautiful thick coat and that cute fluffy tail. When they are healthy they are one of the most beautiful creatures we have in our area. What’s better than seeing that beautiful red coat in the snow? Or catching a family playing in your yard in the spring when the kits are just coming out?
So cute and lovable that we think of them like our family pet and would like to get out there and pet them…. not a good idea. It’s always important to remember that wildlife is wild, and we need to respect that. Handling and befriending wildlife can be dangerous to you and the animal you are trying to help.
But what happens when you see that beautiful coat missing sections and the fox walking a bit funny? Your immediate thought may be rabies and assume the animal needs to be put down. But there is another scenario, mange.
Fox are susceptible to a mite called sarcoptes scabiei. These mites will bore into the skin creating “tunnels”. They will lay eggs and leave waste that will irritate the animal’s skin and cause itching. The mite’s life span is about 2 weeks. If the infestation is not too bad the fox is likely to recover without much issue. If the infestation is severe it can cause loss of hair, showing of a thick layer of skin (from waste build-up beneath the skin) and even chewing off their tail to stop the itching.
It is not unusual to see a fox out during the day as they feed on small animals like squirrel and chipmunk which are out during the day. In the spring they are not only feeding themselves they are feeding their kits. Working overtime. A fox with mange may be out during the day as they are irritated. They are thirsty and will drink more than usual. They are likely to get conjunctivitis and have crust around their eyes. They will also walk as if they have very heavy paws. They will look for warm places because the mites like hairless areas and cause hair loss. The fox needs their coat to survive the cold weather.
Unfortunately, wildlife rehabilitators are not permitted to rehab adult fox, only the kits. The problem is the medication only kills live mites, not the eggs. Therefore, it can take several doses over several weeks to fully cure the animal. This can only be done if the animal has not gone into organ failure.
We do have a protocol to treat adult fox in the wild. This is the only time we encourage feeding wildlife.
Never approach an animal you see as sick. Rabies is spread through saliva, but mange can be spread through the mites. The mites can get onto your dog but there is treatment. You should never handle adult wildlife, babies only when necessary and then only with gloves and proper coverage using a towel or long sleeves. Put the animal in a well ventilated container until you can get them to help.