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Mange spreading in P.E.I. fox population with unconfirmed observations in Stratford and Cornwall

This fox with mange was spotted on Bolger Drive in Charlottetown on Tuesday.  -Christine Snowden/Special to The Guardian
This fox with mange was spotted on Bolger Drive in Charlottetown on Tuesday. -Christine Snowden/Special to The Guardian

An outbreak of sarcoptic mange has been discovered among the fox population in the Charlottetown area.

According to the Canadian Wildlife Health Co-operative, located at the Atlantic Veterinary College in Charlottetown, sarcoptic mange is a skin disease caused by parasitic mites that burrow under the superficial layers of skin, causing itching, hair loss and skin damage to domestic and wild animals.

Dr. Megan Jones, the co-operative’s regional director, said once they have mange, animals itch and scratch at their irritated skin, causing it to become infected, thickened and inflamed.

“It’s almost like a really bad type of allergic reaction in that area,” she told The Guardian, adding she wasn’t sure how painful it is for the infected animal.

While mange can be serious when transferred to a domestic animal, like a dog, it can also be transferred to humans, causing mild skin irritations, she said, adding people and animals should stay away from infected animals.

If a pet does come into contact with an infected fox, they should be check out by a veterinarian.

Jones said her department provides wildlife disease surveillance for all of Atlantic Canada, and based on its data, the uptick in the number of infected Island foxes began in December of 2017, but prior to that there was only a single case in late 2016.

Diseases like mange thrive in densely populated areas, which might explain the increase, she said.

“We’ve been seeing it mostly in urban and suburban areas of Prince Edward Island, and that is where the fox population seems to be the most dense.”

  • To report sightings of foxes with mange, contact the department of fish and wildlife at 902368-4683.
  • For more information about sarcoptic mange, visit this link

Seeing foxes with mange can be alarming, but officials aren’t concerned it will have a lasting effect on the species’ overall population.

Garry Gregory, a conservation biologist with the department of fish and wildlife, said the provincial fox population is considered healthy, sustainable and viable, adding there are roughly 90 fox dens in the Charlottetown area.

Between Charlottetown, Cornwall and Stratford, Gregory said there are “at least a couple hundred individuals, if not more” in that area.

There isn’t much the province can do to prevent the spread of mange, he said, adding there are substances that can be put out to treat the infected foxes, but they can be fatal to certain breeds of dogs, so “any treatment would probably not be suggested”.

A disease like mange can function as sort of a natural control mechanism to help control a species’ population, he said.

“If the population exceeds the capacity of the environment that it can support naturally, often times a disease will occur and will knock down the population to a level that’s more in line with what the environment can support.”

There have not been confirmed cases mange in foxes outside of Charlottetown, but Gregory said there have been unconfirmed observations in Stratford and Cornwall.

Jones said she wanted to remind the public that it’s never a good idea to feed wildlife, as it artificially increases the density of the population and makes diseases, like mange, more likely to spread.

“Foxes are very resourceful animals and there should be enough food available for the population in P.E.I. over winter and over the summer without people having to feed them.”

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