I often get calls and e-mails from people who have a Red fox around that is acting lethargic or unfearful of humans. They will stay close to houses and will eat under the bird feeders, seek refuge under decks and often lay in the hay in barns. A scruffy, thin appearance usually indicates that the fox has Sarcoptic mange.
Sarcoptic mange is the name for the skin disease caused by infection with the Sarcoptes scabei mite. The mites are microscopic and can't be seen by the naked eye. Female Sarcoptes mites burrow under the skin and leave a trail of eggs behind. This burrowing creates an inflammatory response in the skin similar to an allergic reaction. The motion of the mite in and on the skin is extremely itchy, as is the hatching of the eggs. This creates further allergic reaction and more itching, loss of sleep and reduced immune response. Loss of fur, scaly skin and a general unthrify appearance is characteristic of a Sarcoptic mange infestation. The condition worsens as a skin infection sets in. The Foxes immune system is even more compromised and internal parasites (tape, hook and round worms) begin to take over and absorb any nutrients that fox may find. Mangy foxes are usually starving in the late stages.
These foxes are not a threat to people, dogs, cats, etc. They are close to people and buildings because there may be easy food such as cat or dog food left out in dishes, bird seed, garbage, insects, worms, roadkill and a mouse or two. They are also losing their ability to thermoregulate and need protection from wind, shade, sun, whatever the present need of the body is. Mangy foxes (and coyotes) often seek out a pile of hay to lay in. Hay seems to relieve the itchiness and provide a source of comfort.
Sarcoptic mange is treatable if the animal is treated in time before the process of organ failure begins. The drug of choice is inexpensive and easy to obtain. Although it is an "off-label use" according to the FDA, Ivermectin injection for cattle and pigs is a very effective cure for Sarcoptic mange in foxes. This injectable solution works orally and can easily be slipped into food. The ivermectin also treats a lot of the intestinal worms and any ear mites. The catch is this: it kills the mites living on the skin but doesn't kill the eggs . These eggs will hatch and reinfect the fox, so it has to be administered many times to kill the mange mites that hatch after treatment. I strongly recommend treating Red foxes very aggressively, giving them the Ivermectin every three days for the first three weeks. After the first three weeks, you can dose them every five days. Be sure to treat them for at least 4-5 weeks. A daily feeding station using dry cat or dog food can be set up to facilitate the administration of tasty treats laced with ivermectin. A spoonful of canned cat food, a hard boiled egg, a chunk of cooked chicken or a section of hot dog can easily be injected with the ivermectin.
Figure your fox weighs 10 lbs, so give him 0.2 mL for each dose. Many people think they are much larger, but they aren't. For young foxes in April or May you can cut the dose in half. You will need a large needle to draw the solution out of the bottle because the solution is rather thick. Ivermectin is a non- perscription product and available online through many livestock suppliers, such as Jeffers.com Here is a link and a picture of the product I recommend
Tractor Supply Co stores (www.tractorsupply.com) carry Ivermectin. and it is readily available online. I recommend the 50 ml size 1% steril solution Ivomec Brand Ivermectin for cattle and swine as pictured above. You will need to get a fat needle and syringe to draw it out of the bottle. Tractor supply Co sells vaccines that include a needle and syringe for administration, so you could spend a little extra on a vaccine and use that needle. Some people have used the Ivermectin wormer paste for horses and say it works, though it isn't palatable for the foxes and I personally have never used it. Use it as a last resort. Don't use the pour-on for liestock, as it would be toxic given orally!
Use 0.2 mL (or 0.2 cc) Giving the solution orally (By mouth) in their food is safe and has a larger margin for error than injecting it in foxes.
Of course other wildlife might get to the food before the fox does, so try to use your judgment and administer it the best way that will target only the fox. Placing a leaf or a little grass over the baited food will lower the risk of it being seen and eaten by crows. Using hard boiled eggs will decrease the chances of the food being eaten by cats. Ivermectin is a pretty safe drug and won't harm most wildlife. Some breeds of dogs can be very sensitive to it, particularly the collie family and Australian shepherds . Don't use ivermectin if there is a chance a collie breed might eat the bait. Use extra caution around domestic animals. They use Ivermectin in third world countries to treat different things, such as scabies in humans. Ivermectin is also used to treat dogs for mange. It is also a good wormer for many animals.
A topical product called Revolution can be obtained through your veterinarian and used to help prevent your domestic dogs from picking up mange in the grass surrounding your property. I have found Revolution to be a very effective preventative for mange, but a very ineffective cure for mange, unless applied every two weeks during the month. I apply Revolution to all my foxes just before they are released back to the wild as a preventative measure for them. I have successfully used Revolution as a treatment on many foxes and a dog that had mange, but it has to be applied every two weeks for at least 6 weeks in a row.
Can people get mange? You bet, but it won't live and reproduce on your skin. It will give you one heck of an itchy red allergic reaction if you are sensitive to mange mites though. I have had it more than a few times. it won't bother some people, and others it will. I happen to be one of those sensitive to it. In fact, I have used my own skin reaction as an indicator of if an animal's skin condition is actually mange or not. Often a veterinarians skin scrape can miss the mites, but, my skin doesn't. I have diagnosed mange in fawns, coyotes, dogs, very young fox pups and other tricky things that a skin scraping had missed. I will share my personal mange experience in a future blog :0)