Animal control says stay clear of sickly foxes

Animal control says stay clear of sickly foxes

SMITHFIELD – Smithfield Animal Control officials are reporting an increased number of calls related to sick foxes with mange in town, and are asking residents to not feed or trap the animals, but instead call them at 401-233-1055.

According to Animal Control Officer Bob Salisbury, the sick foxes are infected with mange, a skin disease caused by parasitic mites burrowing beneath the surface of the skin, leading to severe itching and fur loss. The spread of mange requires direct contact with the infected animal or a contaminated environment.

According to the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management, mange is usually a canine issue, affecting mainly foxes, coyotes, and on occasion, dogs.

Salisbury suggests keeping a distance from the animal, and not encouraging wildlife to stay on one’s property. He said that means resisting the urge to feed the sick animals.

Salisbury said that feeding wildlife harms the environment.

“Additionally, by offering food, you would be encouraging the animal to remain in one area, likely also attracting healthy wildlife,” he said. “This would then increase the likelihood that healthy animals would also become infected.”

Salisbury said mange is common every year, and the department receives calls each year about sick foxes. He said he suspects that people are seeing more foxes because residents are home more often.

While foxes are primarily nocturnal, Salisbury said the ones seen during the day are not necessarily nocturnal.

Mange appears as small, localized infections in healthy animals, and can resolve itself. Widespread infections across the body are more difficult to recover from and can weaken the animal’s immune system.

As health declines, it becomes more difficult for the fox to regulate its body temperature or find food, he said. It is illegal for anyone to trap an animal without permits or licensing by the R.I. Department of Environmental Management, and foxes are generally difficult to trap. A trap would need to be heavily baited, which would attract both sick and healthy wildlife, and such a move increases interactions between sick and healthy animals.

Salisbury said as the infection progresses, foxes tend to slow down and become easier to capture by animal control officers using nets or a rabies pole. The animal will then be transported to wildlife rehabilitators for treatment, or if too far gone, humanely euthanized.

“If the animal is still healthy enough to be able to run, then this is not something that can be easily done,” he said. “This should never be attempted by members of the public.”

It is also illegal to administer medication to free-ranging wildlife, he said, as it may be toxic to some groups of animals, and the correct dosage based on weight and species is needed.

There are two types of foxes in Rhode Island – the gray and the red fox – according to the RIDEM. The red fox is known to vocalize yips, howls and screams, which are often confused with a fisher cat, while the gray fox uses barks. A red fox has long, slender legs with orange-red fur and black fur on its feet and ears with a white-tipped tail.

A gray fox has a black-tipped tail, with peppered gray fur and reddish-brown on the back of its ears, sides, chest and legs.

While both species can contract rabies, mange is rare in wild gray foxes. The animals are rarely aggressive toward people, according to the RIDEM.

Despite population suppression efforts, the fox population is generally thriving in the state. The average lifespan is between four and five years.

The animals are omnivorous, including a diet of small mammals, birds, fruits, insects, and occasionally carrion, or dead animals.

To report a sick or injured animal, email or call 401-233-1055.