PEI

P.E.I. researchers investigating mange outbreaks in rural and urban foxes

Foxes in urban areas like Charlottetown are catching mange and dying from it far more frequently than in rural places on P.E.I., said an assistant professor from the Atlantic Veterinary College.

'Try not to let your dog come into direct contact with foxes or fox denning areas'

If people do see a fox they think has mange, Megan Jones says people should contact Fish and Wildlife. (Submitted by Paul Gauthier)

Researchers on Prince Edward Island are gathering data on mange outbreaks in rural and urban foxes, trying to determine which population is more susceptible to the disease.

Megan Jones works in the pathology and microbiology department at the college and is the regional director of the Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative, Atlantic region.

She has been researching the spread of mange in Island foxes with an AVC student, and although there are still questions to be answered, she said the idea that foxes in P.E.I.'s urban areas are catching mange and dying from it more often makes sense.

"We know that with any contagious disease the more animals or people that are in one area the more likely it is to be transmitted from animal to animal," Jones said.

Jones said her team had an assumption that the disease was more common in Charlottetown because of the density of the fox population in the city, but hadn't been able to confirm it before.

'We would really discourage people from feeding foxes because their natural food is abundant,' says Megan Jones. (Randy McAndrew/CBC)

There were 22 recorded fox deaths on P.E.I. last year from mange, she said. In 2017 two deaths were recorded.

With that spike came bodies to analyze, but most were coming only from Charlottetown. That skewed the results. This year, Jones's team started working with the P.E.I. Trappers Association to get samples from rural areas and figure out if their assumption was right.

This year four deaths have been confirmed, but Jones said that should definitely not be taken as an indication of a decrease yet. At the same time, she said the fox population across P.E.I. also shouldn't see a drastic decrease.

A fox with mange might have crusted skin and a loss of fur. (Randy McAndrew/CBC)

The disease is caused by a microscopic parasite. It causes itchiness and irritation in the skin and, in severe cases, the skin thickens or crusts over, and hair loss can occur.

Doing your part

Jones thinks other causes could be stress among foxes because of population density, or health issues such as eating food not meant for their diets.

"We would really discourage people from feeding foxes because their natural food is abundant, especially in the summer," said Jones. "That's really their most healthy source of food."

Mange mainly occurs in canids like red foxes, wolves, coyotes and domestic dogs.

"Try not to let your dog come into direct contact with foxes or fox denning areas," said Jones, since the organism that causes mange can live in those areas. Contact your vet if you suspect your dog might have mange, said Jones.

A microscope slide of fox skin tissue infected with mange. The fox this sample came from died in Charlottetown this past May. (Randy McAndrew/CBC)

Her research is currently looking at tissue samples of foxes to find mites, but next they will be looking at blood samples for antibodies that will tell them if a fox has previously had a mite.

"That answers our other question," said Jones. "Are the mites present in lots of places, but we're only seeing the disease in the city, or are the mites just not present in other areas of the Island?

If people do see a fox they think has mange, Jones said to contact Fish and Wildlife with the provincial government.

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About the Author

Sean is a P.E.I.-born journalist splitting his time between Canada's smallest province and Toronto. Email him at sean.young@cbc.ca or find him on Twitter at @seanpatyoung.

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