“You Mangy Fox!” Isn’t Just a Saying… It’s a Skin Condition Caused by Mites

Mange is a common skin disease among wild animals. Red foxes are the most commonly affected wildlife species in Fairfax County; coyotes are also frequently observed with mange. Fairfax County Animal Protection Police have experienced an increase in call volume in recent weeks reporting unhealthy foxes afflicted with this skin disease. Foxes suffering from mange are often mistaken as being rabid because of their sickly appearance and abnormal behavior.  Wildlife officials have provided the following information to increase awareness about mange and how it may affect local domestic and wild animals.

Sarcoptic mange is a naturally occurring, common skin disease caused by a microscopic burrowing mite, Sarcoptes scabiei. Mange is highly contagious and spread through direct physical contact with infected animals or through prolonged contact with an environment contaminated with scabies mites, such as a den site.

Mange causes intense itching and inflammation from an allergic reaction to the mite. Wildlife with mange often exhibit hair thinning, hair loss, scabs, skin lesions and secondary skin infections due to self-mutilation as they scratch and bite themselves constantly to relieve itching. Animals may show little fear of humans and will often be seen out during the day laying in the sun in attempts to regulate their body temperature following hair loss.

Animals may recover from mange without intervention when low-level infections are present and their immune system is not severely compromised. Young, old or injured animals are more susceptible to the disease. Severely affected animals may become emaciated, dehydrated and lethargic as they have difficulty locating food, are unable to rest due to discomfort and cannot maintain appropriate body temperature. Mange can be especially debilitating in colder months and often leads to starvation and hypothermia.

Medications are available to treat mange, but there is currently no treatment program in Fairfax County for free-ranging wildlife. For domestic animals, consult your veterinarian.

If you have concerns about a fox exhibiting the symptoms above (or if an animal is immobile, has remained within the same area for an extended period of time or exhibits aggressive behaviors towards humans), please notify the Animal Protection Police immediately through the Fairfax County Police non-emergency line at 703-691-2131.

In many cases, foxes with mange are still agile enough to avoid capture and wildlife professionals may be unsuccessful in getting close to, or even locating, them. In severe cases where mange has caused severe infection or inhibited the animal’s ability to move freely, Animal Protection Police Officers may humanely euthanize sick animals. It is unlawful to treat sick or injured wildlife in Virginia without a permit from the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. Only licensed veterinarians or wildlife rehabilitators working under the direction of a veterinarian may treat infected animals in their care with an approved permit.

For more information about resolving human-wildlife conflicts, the Virginia Wildlife Conflict Helpline is available toll-free at (855) 571-9003, 8:00AM-4:30PM, Monday through Friday. This helpline is a collaborative effort between the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries and the U.S. Department of Agriculture – Wildlife Services.