Spring is here, which means mangey animals may soon show up on your property. Here's how you can help them.

The Mangey Fox


Last summer, a family of wild red foxes moved onto my family's property in Connecticut to raise their kits. My family resisted their arrival at first, but the mood changed once we noticed that our residential rodent population was vanishing and that we now had a free security system that alerted us if coyotes were on our property.

Soon, it became a family event to watch the kits bounce around and play in our backyard. Once in awhile, especially after finding the remains of a vole or chipmunk, we'd leave out some eggs as a reward and for enrichment. We eventually named the fox family after book characters, and the kits were called Pippi and Mr. Nilsson, after characters from "Pippi Longstocking." (If you must know, we named the parents Cyrano and Roxanne.)

As the kits grew older, we noticed Mr. Nilsson began showing signs of hair loss.  Soon, all the gorgeous red fur fell off his tail and he began looking sickly. It was obvious he had mange.

Once Mr. Nilsson's family started rejecting him, we feared he'd die if we didn't intervene.

Around the time, I began following a local wildlife rehabber, Kimberly DeFisher, who runs the sanctuary Arctic Fox Daily in Williamson, NY. For fans of the Utica Zoo, Theo the red fox was one of her rescues that went on to become a beloved resident animal.

Ms. DeFisher has several videos on her TikTok account about treating mange in her wild and resident foxes.

@arcticfoxdaily This baby would NOT have survived much longer in the wild in that shape. #wildliferescue #wildliferehab #foxsanctuary #wolfdog #wolfsanctuary #redfox #arcticfox #babyfox #furfarm #furfarmrescue #StemDrop001 ♬ original sound - Kimberly DeFisher

Using the information available online and through wildlife rehabbers, Mr. Nilsson overcame his mange and grew back his beautiful fur coat. He has since found a mate and we are hopeful he'll drop by and show off his kits as his parents once did.

What Is Mange?

Mange should never be confused with rabies. Those are two, completely separate medical issues. Moreover, mange can be cured while rabies cannot.

Mange is caused by microscopic mites that burrow into an animal's skin, which can result in hair loss, bacterial infections, and more serious issues such as emaciation and even death.

Mange on the face can even cause blindness, difficulty eating, and impaired hearing.

The kind of mites that infest foxes are sarcoptes scabiei, which results in a sarcoptic mange infection. This type of mite has infected foxes on every continent, barring Antarctica. Once a fox either interacts with an animal infested with these mites, or enters an environment where they exist, they risk infection.

Healthier animals have a better chance of overcoming mange on their own, but the infection can kill those with weakened systems. Environmentalists believe sarcoptic mange has reduced fox populations worldwide.

While some may think removing a mangey fox will stop the spread of the illness, experts say treating infected animals is more effective in wiping out the mites than taking out a host animal.

Treating Mange in Wild Animals

Utica Zoo via Facebook
Utica Zoo via Facebook

When it's advised to help a fox overcome its mange, it brings to question if it's legal to do so. New York does have a law in its books that prohibits residents from intentionally feeding animals like deer or moose.

When it comes to predators like wild foxes, the state does permit it - but they do strongly discourage it. They don't want foxes, or any natural predator, to associate humans with food.

It is strongly encouraged to reach out to your local wildlife rehabber before taking matters into your own hands, as they will share methods to treat mange in wild foxes without having to domesticate them.

While Ms. DeFisher does rescue foxes in our area, she isn't the only wildlife rehabber you can contact in case you have a mangey animal, like a fox, on your property. Here's a LINK listing all the state's wildlife rehabbers so you can find the one closest to you.

Read More: Watch out for This Extremely Invasive Snail That Carries Parasites

According to Ms. DeFisher's FAQ page, residents have the option to use a treatment known as Bravecto, which will kill a fox's parasites for three months. This option, she warns, is more expensive and hands-on as residents may need to trap the fox in order to effectively treat it.

Essentially, a resident buys a can of easily digestible canned cat food and encloses the Bravecto into a meatball-like shape. You then have to make sure the fox consumes the ball - and the Bravecto.

A second option is more hands-off, but it takes time. Ms. DeFisher advises setting up a feeding station of sorts for the fox, so it learns that it can find food in a certain location on your property. Tempting treats include chicken livers, hearts, gizzards, or even eggs - but Ms. DeFisher suggests using plain, frozen meatballs.

Once the fox becomes comfortable checking for good grub at the feeding spot, she encourages, "Go to your local livestock supply store, such as a Tractor Supply, and purchase a bottle of 1% injectable Ivermectin. The brand does not matter."

Ms. DeFisher further advises the purchase of 18 gauge needles and 1 cc syringes that allow you to read a dose of 0.2cc.

You will be injecting your thawed meatballs with 0.2cc of Ivermectin each. Please do not use “pour on” Ivermectin – make sure it is the injectable that we mentioned above. I usually recommend spreading out a couple (two to three) Ivermectin-laced meatballs around your feeding station, at least several feet apart, in case another animal finds one. If the fox does happen to eat all of them, it is not a huge concern.

Dosage is given on day 1, then day 5, then once weekly for three to six weeks.

If your fox sticks around for that entire time, great, but if not, don’t fret. Getting at least a couple of doses into them is better than nothing. Once you get past the third week, you can push your treatments out to approximately ten days apart if you’d like. You will likely not even come close to finishing your bottle of Ivermectin during this treatment process!

Residents with dogs should be aware that Ivermectin is harmful to certain breeds.

I own a rough collie who has a sensitivity to Ivermectin, so those who own collies or certain herding breeds should take extra precaution to ensure their pet doesn't accidentally consume a meatball.

Benefits of Having Foxes

Fox in yard in Mohawk Valley. (Photo by Bill Keeler / WIBX)
Fox in yard in Mohawk Valley. (Photo by Bill Keeler / WIBX)

There are some people who might not love sharing their property with a fox family. Fears include the foxes killing or harming a beloved pet, livestock, or family member.

Some also worry about the possibility of rabies.  All are valid concerns. However, from my experience, foxes don't want anything to do with humans and have been pretty decent neighbors.

Instead, the foxes will go to town on your local rodent population - so say goodbye to those squirrels, voles, moles, mice, rats and chipmunks.

The foxes will also make a racket, which sound like a bloodcurdling scream, when a threat enters your property. So, if you hear the signature fox scream, it means a predator like a coyote is on your land and they are not happy about it.

Moreover, you get the added bonus of what my family calls "fox TV." When they are active around dusk and hunting for grub, you get some free entertainment. It can be often hilarious watching the fox interact with each other, especially when they sink low to the ground while eying their mate or family member, and begin shaking their tails in a devilish way.

In all, foxes are a pretty decent animal to have around. You offer them a bit of protection by just being a big, loud human - and they exterminate your unwanted rodents in return.

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