Appearance and Symptoms
Mange is a highly contagious disease of the skin caused by parasitic mites. There are several species of mite that cause mange, but Sarcoptic mange (canine scabies) is endemic and is the most common variety seen within the state.
Afflicted animals may appear thin, with gray scabby skin and patchy or absent fur. The skin may be wrinkled, and visible lesions on the ears and face may also be present. Infection is caused by the burrowing of mites into the outer layer of the skin. Nymphs and adult mites may be shed from the host and infect other animals via direct contact or contact with bedding materials or burrows. Animals with mange may exhibit abnormal behavior, including increased affinity for human structures, and overt daytime behavior. Fur loss may lead to excess heat loss, hypothermia, and secondary infection.
Mange has been recorded in a wide array of wild and domestic animals, but is most commonly observed in red fox within Maryland. Occasionally, coyotes, gray squirrels, raccoons, white-tailed deer and black bears with mange may also be detected. Mange in black bears has special implications; Click here to learn more.
Mange in Red Fox
Red fox are common throughout the state, and will readily co-exist with people in suburban and urban settings. Foxes with mange are commonly observed in Maryland during spring and summer months. Mange infections can cause afflicted animals to lose body heat and exhaust energy reserves, necessitating increased caloric intake. As a result, foxes with mange may be more visible during daylight hours due to an increased food drive, and may also seek refuge close to human structures for warmth. Despite this, foxes with mange are not commonly known to behave aggressively and do not pose a threat to human safety as long as there has been no direct contact with the animal. Recovery rates among infected animals are highly variable, and can be dependent upon numerous factors, including the prior condition of the animal and the ambient temperature. Private property owners may wish to contact a wildlife cooperator if the removal of a wild animal with mange is desired.
Sarcoptic mange is transmissible to humans and companion animals through direct contact with an infected animal. Despite this, the sighting of an animal with mange is not cause for concern; mange is readily treatable in domestic animals and is only transmissible through direct contact with infected animals or materials. If you suspect that your dog or cat has been in close contact with a wild animal and is exhibiting hair loss or peeling skin, contact your veterinarian for further guidance.
What can I do?
Wildlife species that commonly contract mange are naturally resilient and adapted to adversity. Individual response to mange can depend on a myriad of factors, including body condition, ambient temperature, and habitat quality. Some individuals ultimately succumb to the onset of the disease, while others may recover; this plays an important role in the selection process that ultimately strengthens individual fitness and overall species health. Although this process can at times be difficult to observe, human intervention can undermine this natural feedback loop and create cycles of dependency. For this reason, Maryland DNR does not recommend treatment or actively treat for mange cases in red fox.
Disease is a natural part of wildlife population cycles, and can play an important role in the modulation of overall population health. Population density is a factor in the transmission of parasites amongst hosts, and spread of the disease is thought to be a self-regulating cycle. Mange is easily transmissible where foxes exist in high densities, and the disease often contributes to localized population fluctuations. Lower fox densities resulting from disease cycles slow the transmission of mange and promote healthier resource distribution amongst the remaining animals. To learn more about the management of furbearing animals in Maryland, click here.