A red fox infected with what appeared to be Sarcoptic mange was recently sighted one hour north of the GTA.
The fox was missing fur from the tips of its ears and along the underside of its belly, which is typical of an animal infected with mange. Every five paces the animal would stop to vigorously scratch or rub itself along the ground, also symptoms of mange.
The sighting occurred in the early afternoon on a wide-open expanse of farmland less than half a kilometre from a small grouping of rural homes. The animal was completely exposed to any onlookers, contrary to their usual secretive nature.
Sightings like this one have become commonplace in and around the GTA.
Another fox with mange was spotted in the Keele St. and Wilson Av. area on Nov. 29. As reported by The Toronto Sun, the police were called to trap the young fox, but the creature eluded the authorities.
Nathalie Karvonen, executive director at the Toronto Wildlife Centre in North York, said the disease ebbs and flows as it makes its way through a wild canid population.
“There is no money to go into any real research of how many foxes and coyotes in the GTA have mange,” Karvonen said. “But we have at least one fox in treatment with us right now.”
According to research out of the University of Northern British Columbia, Sarcoptic mange is caused by the Sarcoptes mite. The effects of the skin parasite include loss of hair, oily skin and the appearance of scabs.
According to Karvonen, mange was introduced intentionally in the early 1900s by individuals in the state of Montana with the intention to cull wolf populations in areas where cattle farmers were experiencing loss of livestock. From there, the disease spread to other wild canids and those most affected are fox, coyote and wolves.
In severe cases of the disease, a general listlessness is observed, making the animal unconcerned with human contact. In addition, a severely infected animal may scavenge very frequently with little concern for the surrounding environment. In untreated wild animals, death occurs due to complications related to the disease and exposure to the elements, cold weather in particular.
“The fox we just brought in was sunning itself on someone’s front porch for warmth,” Karvonen said. “This is clearly unusual behaviour for a fox.”
Karvonen said a fox infected with mange is very unlikely to be a danger to the public. Weighing in at under 12 pounds, the average weight of a house cat, a fox offers little threat.
“The only real danger would be if someone managed to corner the animal and then tried to handle it,” Karvonen said. “(Even then) the worst they would get is a bite, but I’ve never heard of that happening.”
Sarcoptic mange is transmittable to humans, but it is ill advised to handle a wild animal without the assistance of a professional regardless. Professionals handling infected animals wear rubber gloves and long sleeves to protect themselves from contact with the parasite.
Karvonen said foxes or coyotes suffering from acute cases of mange may appear disoriented.
“The reason that a fox with mange might act strangely is basically because they are dying and they are feeling very crappy and very sick,” Karvonen said.