I often get calls and e-mails from people who have a Red fox around that is acting lethargic or unfearful of humans. They will stay close to houses and will eat under the bird feeders, seek refuge under decks and often lay in the hay in barns. A scruffy, thin appearance usually indicates that the fox has Sarcoptic mange.
Sarcoptic mange is the name for the skin disease caused by infection with the Sarcoptes scabei mite. The mites are microscopic and can’t be seen by the naked eye. Female Sarcoptes mites burrow under the skin and leave a trail of eggs behind. This burrowing creates an inflammatory response in the skin similar to an allergic reaction. The motion of the mite in and on the skin is extremely itchy, as is the hatching of the eggs. This creates further allergic reaction and more itching, loss of sleep and reduced immune response. Loss of fur, scaly skin and a general unthrifty appearance is characteristic of a Sarcoptic mange infestation. The condition worsens as a skin infection sets in. The foxes immune system is even more compromised and internal parasites (tape, hook and round worms) begin to take over and absorb any nutrients that fox may find. Mangy foxes are usually starving in the late stages.
These foxes are not a threat to people, dogs, cats, etc. They are close to people and buildings because there may be easy food such as cat or dog food left out in dishes, bird seed, garbage, insects, worms, roadkill and a mouse or two. They are also losing their ability to thermoregulate and need protection from wind, shade, sun, whatever the present need of the body is. Mangy foxes (and coyotes) often seek out a pile of hay to lay in. Hay seems to relieve the itchiness and provide a source of comfort.
Sarcoptic mange is treatable if the animal is treated in time before the process of organ failure begins. The drug of choice is inexpensive and easy to obtain. Although it is an “off-label use” according to the FDA, Ivermectin injection for cattle and pigs is a very effective cure for Sarcoptic mange in foxes. This injectable solution works orally and can easily be slipped into food. The ivermectin also treats a lot of the intestinal worms and any ear mites. The catch is this: it kills the mites living on the skin but doesn’t kill the eggs . These eggs will hatch and reinfect the fox, so it has to be administered many times to kill the mange mites that hatch after treatment. A less expensive injectable version of Ivermectin such as Ivermax 1% or Noromectin 1% are readily available online and in some farm stores. I strongly recommend treating Red foxes very aggressively, giving them the Ivermectin every five days for the first three weeks. After the first three weeks, you can dose them every ten days. Be sure to treat them for at least 4-5 weeks. A daily feeding station using dry cat or dog food can be set up to facilitate the administration of tasty treats laced with ivermectin. Frozen all beef meatballs with no spices work great and when they are warmed up, are easy to inject the medication into. A spoonful of canned cat food, a hard boiled egg, a chunk of cooked chicken or a section of hot dog can also easily be injected with the ivermectin.
Frequently more than one fox or wild animal is coming to your yard. I recommend injecting several different pieces of food with 0.2 ml and tossing them in different directions, at least 100 feet or so apart, in the hope that one animal might find one piece, but not the other. Ivermectin is fairly safe, and if a fox happens to get more than one dose in a day, it will be fine. Meatballs work great for this!
Figure your fox weighs 10 lbs, so give him 0.2 mL for each dose. Many people think they are much larger, but they aren’t. For young foxes in April or May you can cut the dose in half. You will need a large needle to draw the solution out of the bottle because the solution is rather thick. Ivermectin is a non-prescription product and available online through many livestock suppliers, such as Jeffers.com or Amazon.com Here is a link and a picture of the product I recommend:
WARNING: Use ONLY the INJECTABLE Ivermectin NOT the “POUR ON” , as the agents for carrying the pour-on through the skin are highly toxic if ingested! If anyone tells you different, they do not know what they are doing!
Tractor Supply Co stores (www.tractorsupply.com) carry Ivermectin. and it is readily available online. I recommend the 50 ml size 1% sterile solution Ivomec Brand Ivermectin for cattle and swine as pictured above. It averages $40 to $50 for 50 ml. You will need to get a fat needle and syringe to draw it out of the bottle. Tractor supply Co sells vaccines that include a needle and syringe for administration, so you could spend a little extra on a vaccine and use that needle. Some people have used the Ivermectin wormer paste for horses and say it works, though it isn’t palatable for the foxes and I personally have never used it. Use it as a last resort. Don’t use the pour-on for livestock, as it would be toxic given orally!
Of course other wildlife might get to the food before the fox does, so try to use your judgment and administer it the best way that will target only the fox. Placing a leaf or a little grass over the baited food will lower the risk of it being seen and eaten by crows. Using hard boiled eggs will decrease the chances of the food being eaten by cats. Ivermectin is a pretty safe drug and won’t harm most wildlife. Some breeds of dogs can be very sensitive to it, particularly the collie family and Australian shepherds . Don’t use ivermectin if there is a chance a collie breed might eat the bait. Use extra caution around domestic animals. They use Ivermectin in third world countries to treat different things, such as scabies in humans. Ivermectin is also used to treat dogs for mange, and it is also a good wormer for many animals.
Select topical products Advantage Multi and Revolution can be obtained through your veterinarian and used to help prevent your domestic dogs from picking up mange in the grass surrounding your property. I have found Advantage Multi and Revolution to be very effective preventatives for mange in dogs, but very ineffective cures for mange, unless applied every two weeks during the month for at least 6 weeks. I apply Advantage Multi or Revolution to all my foxes just before they are released back to the wild as a preventative measure for them.
Please watch the beautiful short video on Youtube made by a gentleman on Long Island who was able to videotape his treatment of a Red fox with mange in his back yard. He used the treatment outlined above.