Urban foxes: Health

A fox dead on the road
© The Fox Website

Foxes, like many other wild mammals, are susceptible to several diseases and parasites. However, there is no evidence to suggest that urban foxes suffer from more diseases than rural foxes. For more information on fox diseases please see the Disease section.

How long can urban foxes live?

In captivity foxes can live up to fifteen years but wild foxes live very short lives, on average about two years. In London, when local authorities were still culling foxes, the average life expectancy was just fourteen months. In Bristol, before mange, life expectancy was slightly longer, on average eighteen months.

In cities that are mange-free, the commonest cause of death for urban foxes is being hit by a car. For instance, in Bristol each year before the spread of mange, some 60% of foxes that died were killed by cars. Comparable figures for Copenhagen and Illinois were 89% and 47% respectively.

Question & Answer

TopWill my cat catch mange from foxes?

The parasite causing sarcoptic mange in foxes, Sarcoptes scabiei, is a mite infecting mainly foxes and domestic dogs. Cats can be infested but the chances are very remote. The mite commonly causing mange in domestic cats is a different one (Notoedres cati).

To put the chances of a cat catching mange from a fox into context, between 1973 and 2006 there have been 11 documented cases of sarcoptic mange in cats worldwide. Cats had been in contact with foxes in only two of these cases.

TopWill my dog catch mange from foxes?

A plastic model of a mange mite
Mange mite; © M. Gorman

The parasite causing sarcoptic mange in foxes, Sarcoptes scabiei, is a mite that can infect both foxes and domestic dogs. The disease can be fatal in foxes but can be easily treated in dogs (contact your veterinarian for advice).

However, the chances for dogs to catch mange from foxes are pretty slim. In Bristol, only when fox density was very high (one the highest ever recorded in the world, i.e. 37 adults/km2) was mange transmitted from foxes to dogs. Since then, fox density has decreased but it is still higher than in rural areas. At this lower, more typical, fox density the number of cases of mange in dogs has fallen to negligible levels.

TopWill I catch mange from foxes?

Sarcoptic mange exists in a variety of strains which are specific to different animals. The fox strain can be transmitted to humans but cannot persist, so people infected develop a rash that naturally dies away in a few weeks. The chances of infection increase with the degree of contact so it is not advisable to handle mangy foxes without protection.

References

  • Gosselink, T.E., van Deleen, T.R.,Warner, R.E. & Mankin, P.C. (2007) Survival and cause specific mortality of red foxes in agricultural and urban areas of Illinois. Journal of Wildlife Management 71, 1862-1873.
  • Harris, S. & Baker, P. (2001) Urban foxes. Whittet Books, Suffolk.
  • Harris, S. & Smith, G.C. (1987) Demography of two urban fox (Vulpes vulpes) populations. Journal of Applied Ecology 24, 75-86.
  • Malik, R., McKellar Stewart, K., Sousa, C.A., Krockenberger, M.B., Pope, S., Ihrke, P., Beatty, J., Barrs, V.R. & Walton, S. (2006) Crusted scabies (sarcoptic mange) in four cats due to Sarcoptes scabiei infestation. Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery 8, 327-339.
  • Rabinowitz, P.M. & Gordon, Z. (2004) Outfoxing a rash: clinical example of human-wildlife interaction. EcoHealth 1, 404-407.
  • Wincentz, T.-L. (2004) Population dynamics of urban and rural red foxes (Vulpes vulpes) in Denmark. MSc Thesis, University of Copenhagen, Denmark.