Ever seen a fox with missing fur, crusty skin or irritated eyes? Chances are, it’s got Sarcoptic Mange. This is exactly what I saw last year in my garden…
This is the most common infection in foxes, and invariably leads to death. That is, unless you treat them – more on that later.
It is caused by a parasitic mite, only a few millimeters long, Sarcoptes scabiei. The mites burrow under the fox’s skin, causing tissue fluids and debris to form a crust on the surface. This is extremely irritating for the poor fox, which will scratch at the area, leading to distinctive hair loss. The scratching also causes cuts, which are likely to become infected. In severe cases, conjunctivitis is also a side effect, giving the fox a crusty face.
Less visible effects are weight loss and organ damage, the eventual causes of death, which will come in 4 to 6 months after infection.
Sarcoptic mange can have devastating effects on local populations – in 1994 an outbreak in Bristol caused 95% of the population to be wiped out. This is one reason why it is so important for us to treat it if we notice any of the characteristic symptoms.
You can get free treatment for your foxes by visiting the National Fox Welfare Society website – fill in some details and they will send you it in the post with no cost at all. Instructions on how to use it can be found on their website and on an instruction leaflet that comes with the treatment. The general idea, however, is that you put a few drops of it on some food that you can put out for them – jam sandwiches are ideal.
If you want any more info, you can find it on the NFWS website or on Wildlife Online. I can also try and answer your questions if you comment.
UPDATE: THE NFWS no longer seems to do treatment (apart from some homeopathic ‘potion’, I am afraid I am no longer sure where it can be sourced)