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Sarcoptic Mange:  Treating the hospital environment as well as the fox

Itching for answers?

Over the course of many years, I have always noted a dust like substance left in the hospital pen when we have moved a fox suffering from Sarcoptic Mange into a clean pen. This dust like substance is a mixture of dead skin and hair.

Although the Sarcoptic Mange mite (Sarcoptes Scabiei Var. canis) is host specific, it can cause a reaction in humans, although this is self-limiting ie once the fox is treated successfully, the reaction will go very quickly. From talking to many people who work with foxes, not all it seems are as prone to the reaction as others, and this may well be the case with foxes.

From a personal point of view, I seem to be very prone to the mange mite reaction and it always seems to be the foxes suffering greatly from Sarcoptic Mange with extensive hair loss and crusted skin, like Molly, Bugsy, and Angelica that cause me a reaction.

To avoid stressing a fox through unnecessary handling,  we always put the clean carrier up against the carrier the fox is in, open both doors and walk around the back of the occupied carrier. The fox then walks into the clean carrier and the door is closed. The fox then buries itself usually within the shredded paper, all of this without the need to scruff a fox and the stress this causes. Whilst on the subject of scruffing, it is often claimed this is the most natural way to handle a fox, as a vixen will move her older cubs by picking them up by the scruff. The reason we scruff a fox is to avoid being bitten and in general we will only scruff them once they have a towel over their heads. 1) they can't see our hand coming towards them and 2) It cuts down on stress for the fox.  Whilst being scruffed we will always support their body. The idea that an adult wild fox finds being scruffed and picked up and dangled as 'natural' I feel is completely wrong.

The points about the handling of foxes are mentioned here because I then wondered how am I getting a reaction to the mange mites if I am not handling the fox with mange or only very rarely. So the only point for cross-infection was the dirty hospital pen. Despite gowning up and wearing gloves and always washing hands and arms after cleaning out a Hospital Pen that had a fox in with mange, I would still seem to get the reaction. So we don't have to go down on bended knees to clean out the pens, the pens are always about 3ft off the ground and despite all the gowning up etc I would always get the reaction on my arms and belly, I assumed because the dirty shredded paper was being pulled out of the pen at waist height.

Early in November 2016, I decided to do some research of my own, and at this stage must point out I have no qualifications in this field, so I am only giving you my thoughts and research from a layperson point of view. I wondered as to whether the dust like substance contained any live mange mites as I thought not only could this be the reason why I would get the reaction, but also importantly, could we cross infect other foxes in our care if these carriers contained live mites.

To do any research I had a small window of opportunity, usually between the first 7 - 10 days a fox with bad mange comes into our care. The reason for this window is in the fact we will always ensure the fox is stabilised before we commence conventional mange treatment and this usually involves a course of antibiotics and rehydration fluids. We have found that Covenia a two-week antibiotic works brilliantly on a fox with mange.

The first part of the research was to try to find these mange mites under a microscope and I thought this wouldn't be as easy as it sounded. I have read on many sites that dogs that have skin scrapes done in an attempt to see if the dog is suffering from Sarcoptic Mange can be very hit and miss, and often the dog will have mange, but the mites don't show up within the skin scrapings.

I got a Petri dish and used a small paintbrush to brush some of the brown dust like substance into the dish and placed a lid on the dish.

Sarcoptic Mange MiteUnder the microscope at X 40 magnification, I then examined the dust. To give you an idea of how much dust was in the Petri dish, it possibly wouldn't have covered the surface of a 1p piece. Within minutes I was watching mange mites moving around at speed, both adults and young. I then decided to do this test two days after a fox with mange had received treatment (Ivermectin Orally) to see whether all the mites discovered in the dust would then be dead. Again after minutes, I was watching live mites, moving around at speed. From this, I can only conclude that the Ivermectin can't kill the mange mites on the dead skin and hair, only the one's feeding from live tissue.

With the evidence of live mites in the skin dust, I then set about thinking how could we safely kill these mites using approved animal products. I got two Petri dishes and two brushes, the first sample I took from the pen was before any products were used, and the second sample was after a product was sprayed into the pen and left for 30 minutes.  The products I was using were approved animal disinfectants.

On examining the dishes under the microscope again I could see live mites in both the before and after treatment dishes and on some occasions couldn't find any mites in either dish. So continued with other products when the window of opportunity arose and time permitting.

A little fox called Molly came into our care and I continued the research within the seven-day window, but still everything I was trying was showing live mites both before and after treatment of the pen.

I then contacted a company called Safe4 and spoke to a lovely lady called Cassie who said she follows our page as she loves foxes and that she would send something she thought would solve the problem, although Cassie wasn't 100% sure it would kill mange mites.

The first opportunity I got to try the new product was from the pen of a fox we had in on January 3rd, 2017 called Angelica.

Angelica the fox was moved into a clean pen and a dust sample was taken both before and after spraying. The before treatment dish, not only revealed live Sarcoptic Mange mites, again moving at speed, and mange mite eggs, but also what we believe to be live Otodectes cynotis MitesOtodectes cynotis Mite, commonly known as 'ear mites'. I use the word We, but it was actually our vet Charly from Higham Ferrers Vets that feels the mite 'could be' Otodectes cynotis, after looking at the video and photos I sent. (Thank you Charly) These could have come from Angelica's ears if she shook or scratched her ear, but Charly also said, if this is indeed Otodectes cynotis mite, they can often live and feed on the tail. Charly said 'Cats will often have the ear mite and as they curl up to sleep, the mites can go from ear to tail! The mites apparently do not dig into the skin, neither do they suck blood, but feed on skin debris, exudates, which are produced as an allergic skin reaction to the mites saliva.

Under the 'Treated dish', all I could find was dead mange mites, the product it seems, works. To be as sure as I could be, I then sprayed the non-treated dish and looked again under the microscope. Once again, all I could discover were dead mites whereas 20 minutes before the mites were moving around quite clearly.

The product that Cassie had sent to us is called Safe 4 insect repellent and the description of the product is as follows: DEET Free Insect repellent. Safe long lasting protection against biting insects. For use on pets and large animals.  Spray directly on to animals coat. The product is also listed as killing Horsefly Culicoides, Tick Dermacentor, Rhipicephalus, Mosquito Culiseta, Mosquito Culex, Sandfly Phlebotomus, Mosquito Aedes, Culex and Anopheles, Tick Rhipicephalus, Tick Ixodes, Tick Dermacentor, fleas and lots more. Available from http://www.safe4disinfectant.com/  


Apart from the free sample from the company Safe4 we have received no payments to promote or test their product. This research was done for our benefit and the benefit of the foxes in our care.

Special thanks to Cassie Taylor for her interest and for the samples and as always to Charly Taylor our vet for being on hand to give her expert advice and opinions. Higham Ferrers Vets



Martin Hemmington (NFWS)


National Fox Welfare Society

135 Higham Road, Rushden, Northants NN10 6DS

Phone: 01933 411996

Emergency: 07778 183954

Email: natfox@ntlworld.com

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