Dear Think Tank
I just love wild animals and I think my initial attraction to Shelties was probably due to the fact that I think they look a lot like little like foxes! When I moved to this house I was delighted to discover that a fox already regularly visited our garden and I started leaving out scraps for her as I suspect the previous resident did before. I have greatly enjoyed watching this beautiful fox from my window. Unfortunately, lately she's been looking a bit scrawny and poorly. I'm no vet, but it looks like mange to me - her coat is starting to look very grotty.
Whatcan do to help this poor, usually beautiful creature get better? And is there any chance that my Sheltie could now catch mange, too? Am I putting my dog at risk by putting food out for the fox? What should I be feeding the fox? I've been leaving out meaty bones and left over cooked meat. Are these okay?
Lucy Trent, Leatherhead, Surrey
Fox or sarcoptic mange would certainly be very high up on my list of possible explanations for this fox’s ‘mangy’ appearance. If that is the case, then your dog could well pick up the mite and develop signs of sarcoptic mange. It is well known that fox populations have increased in recent years in both rural and town environments. I would therefore suspect that having one fox visiting your garden probably means more in your immediate neighbourhood, so your dog could be at risk of contracting mange whenever you go out for walks anyhow.
It is not a very pleasant skin condition, both through causing the affected dog or fox to be very itchy as well as cosmetically with the fur loss and other effects on the coat and skin. It particularly affects the ears, elbows and hocks, armpits and tummy, because the mite likes skin with less of a fur covering. Classically, rubbing an ear between finger and thumb will cause an almost reflex movement with a hindlimb, as if to scratch at the ear.
It used to be very hard to treat sarcoptic mange because there was not a product specifically licensed for use in the dog. In fact, the treatment used (a cattle wormer) was not recommended in the border collie and Shetland sheepdog because adverse reactions had been reported.
Fortunately, the situation has changed in recent years so it might be worth considering treating your dog pre-emptively. In fact, you might even find that your current flea control strategy is already affording protection to your dog against sarcoptic mange. I would contact your vet for more specific advice, since it is likely you will be needing a prescription (POM-V) product.
Alison Logan, vet
This certainly sounds like mange. There are two courses to treat mange. The first is a drug that we use here at Wildlife Aid that is highly effective and takes just three weeks of actual medication, and then after a further rehabilitation period we release the fox back into the wild. This, however, MUST be done here, and cannot be administered in your garden as it is a very specific course of treatment. On the whole we prefer not to have to take a fox in unless absolutely vital as we are very strict about the need to avoid unnecessary human contact. As an alternative to the conventional drug, there is a homeopathic treatment which can be put in the fox's food, and it is reported to be very successful. Please get in touch with Wildlife Aid (09061 800132) for more information.
We have been dealing with foxes for over 30 years and have had numerous cases of mange that we have treated here at Wildlife Aid. I have always had dogs here and at no time has any of them caught mange. As far as feeding foxes is concerned, we always advise strongly against it as this lessens their instinct to hunt and means they get used to one easy food source, it also means that if you move away or go on holiday their food supply will abruptly cease, and besides which plenty of people don't like foxes and it is not uncommon for people to put down poison or to seek to do them harm in other ways.
Simon Cowell MBE, Wildlife Aid
To order the fox mange treatment from Wildlife Aid click here