A few weeks ago I travelled down to a local cemetery to photograph and film the family of semi-urban foxes that live in the cemetery’s grounds. Whilst out on this walk I noticed a vixen with severe sarcoptic mange.
Sarcoptic mange is caused by the sarcoptes scabei mite. The mite burrows beneath the surface of the foxes skin, defecating and laying eggs (if it is a female) as it does so. Fluids rise to the surface forming a “crust” along with other debris. This is extremely irritating for the fox causing it to nibble and scratch the infected areas, resulting in the typical loss of fur around the hind legs and tail that then spreads up the body.
The nibbling and scratching can lead to some very nasty infections as cuts form and then bacteria are able to get in. As the fox nibbles the infected areas it can directly transfer the mites to its face which can result in conjunctivitis. Sarcoptic mange, if left untreated, can ultimately result in death. Organ damage and weight loss are also directly caused by sarcoptic mange.
Sarcoptic mange is closely linked to diet, with urban foxes more likely to get it due to the poorer quality of their diet than rural foxes. Rural foxes tend to hunt more than urban foxes, and in doing so they have a healthier and much more varied diet. Urban foxes tend to scavenge low quality human food waste that does not contain the vitamins and minerals found in a freshly killed prey item. Therefore the quality of their skin is a lot lower, so they are more susceptible to mange.
Mange is contagious, in 1995 sarcoptic mange wiped out 95% of Bristol’s fox population in just two years, however it can be treated. If you have a fox with sarcoptic mange near you or in your garden, you can order some free fox mange treatment from the national fox welfare society. The free mange treatment can be found here and you can get it directly sent to you!- http://www.nfws.org.uk/mange/treatment01.htm