A Different Kind of Fox News:
Recently we received a call about a fox wandering around on the White House grounds. Apparently, he had an injured leg, but that wasn’t slowing him down much. DC Animal Care and Control was notified, but as long as the fox was mobile, there was really no way to help him. In fact, unless the fox were to become entrapped or debilitated to the point of immobility, the rule of thumb —according to animal control officers — applies: “If there’s three, let it be.” Wild animals can survive with one injured limb, and their chances of survival are best when simply left alone.
Increasingly DC residents are coming into contact with foxes, not just in their neighborhoods, but downtown, on the National Mall, and all over the city from Northeast to Southwest. And some of these animals may be sick or injured. Mange, in particular, is prevalent among foxes. Animals may be missing large patches of their fur due to seasonal moulting (generally in the summer). But foxes can also carry Sarcoptic mange, also known as scabies due to the parasitic mite that causes it, Sarcoptes scabie canis. The mite burrows under the skin, most commonly causing hair loss, crusting of the skin, and intense itchiness in the infected animal. The mite itself is not usually deadly, and animals may recover from mange without intervention when mild infections are present and their immune system is not severely compromised. But in severe cases, mange can lead to secondary health issues, such as inability to maintain body temperature, and crusts on eyelids which can cause vision problems. It is these secondary issues which can sometimes cause debilitation and/or starvation.
So what can be done? Maybe you’ve read about treatment of wild, mange-infected animals through the use of bait laced with medications. Aside from being against the law, the inherent problem with such a tactic is that it is very difficult to control what animal eats the medication in the bait, and one common medication used for such purposes can cause toxicity if eaten by the wrong animal, or in the wrong dosages. These efforts can cause more harm than good and should be avoided.
For your own safety, and the safety of your pets, it’s best to just leave all foxes be. In many cases, foxes with mange or other diseases may still be agile enough to avoid capture, and wildlife professionals may be unsuccessful in getting close to, or even locating them. There is also some evidence that forcibly removing foxes from a locale may simply result in a larger breeding population the following year.
For trapped foxes, in severe cases where a fox is debilitated enough to be immobile, or if an animal is showing signs of aggression toward people, we recommend that you contact DC Animal Care and Control at 202-723-5730.
If you are seeing a fox and have non-emergency questions or concerns, please contact us at City Wildlife, 202-882-1000, or by email at info@CityWildlife.org.
Diane Wood says
Thank you for this advice. We were visited by a gorgeous fox in our DC backyard where we do not mow. It stayed hours soaking in the sun. This fox also had a limp and I am glad to know it was ok to leave it alone.