VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — The Virginia Beach Animal Control has addressed concerns about mangy foxes in North End.
Officers have noticed and are monitoring the rise in sick foxes in the area since October. The weather is warming up, so more foxes will be around and Animal Control wanted to educate the public about the situation.
Animal Control said the foxes in the area are NOT suffering from the rabies virus. They appear to be suffering from Sarcoptic mange, which is caused by an infestation of Sarcoptes scabiei canis, a burrowing mite, causing intense itching from an allergic reaction to the mite and resulting in hair loss.
The foxes also seem to have a secondary skin infection, which is also common.
The season and weather conditions can influence how readily afflicted animals may succumb to the disease. If the animals have mange in the winter they typically do not, or rarely, survive. In late spring or summer, the foxes can survive the infection, and some might even improve if their immune system is not too compromised.
The Divison of Fish and Wildlife in New Jersey said the mites are spread through contact with sites, like dens where the mites are present, or through contact with infected animals. In this case, foxes are infecting other foxes. In that sense, it’s a "social" disease. Although a healthy animal, well fed and non-stressed, may have the mites present on their body, their immune system fights off and overcomes any problems.
The Virginia Beach Animal Control officers have been proactively trying to address the situation for several months. Once a pattern of illness was indicated within the community, they reached out to local wildlife rehabbers to see if they would be willing to rehab and treat any of the afflicted foxes.
Animal control officers would catch the foxes and pass them off to a rehabilitator.
Since the situation has been being monitored, the officers were readily able to identify several locations to set traps where infected foxes were known. Unfortunately, after several months animal control officers have been unable to catch any infected foxes in the traps.
When the mange and potential skin infection becomes so severe it compromises the foxes' senses.
The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries released the following statement about the mangy foxes:
The main point is that there is not much we can do. You all are welcome to attempt to trap the animals, and rehabbers can legally treat them, but that only addresses individual cases and is resource-intensive. I have seen some of that research indicating rodenticide can bioaccumulate in predators and compromise immune systems, but it is only speculation as to the cause here.
Another thing to make sure of is that people are not feeding the foxes (cat colonies!), as that concentrates them and allows the mites to easily move to the next host. This is likely what is causing your outbreak.
One thing NOT to do is to leave out baited, medicated food (such as ivormectin-treated hot dogs). This will not dose the target animals properly, and can lead to resistance in the sarcoptic mites. It can also harm or kill non-targets such as collies and related dog breeds.
If anyone sees a fox that seems compromised enough to the point that an officer may be able to readily capture the fox, please have a case entered with dispatch at 757-385-5000.
Animal Control is asking that citizens understand that while this situation may seem frustrating, it is also frustrating and taxing to the officers being unable to do anything.
If anyone had any further questions, please contact an Animal Control Supervisor. The Department of Game and Inland Fisheries also has a helpline (855)571-9003.