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Educational Resource Guide #264

Mangy Squirrels 

by Barb Ogg, PhD, Extension Educator

We have heard reports of nearly hairless squirrels in Lincoln that are afflicted with mange. What is mange? Can pets or humans contract mange from the squirrels and other animals? Can something be done to help these squirrels? These questions and others will be answered in this article.

Squirrels are vulnerable to numerous parasites and diseases, including ticks, fleas, internal parasites, and mange. Mange is a term commonly used to describe the obvious signs of a burrowing mite infestation on an animal host. Mites are minute to microscopic 8-legged arthropods, related to ticks and spiders. Many mites are parasitic on plants or animals. Each different animal species probably has some kind of burrowing mite parasite associated with it. Most mites are fairly host specific, meaning that the mite variety survives best on one species of animal or closely related animals (like mice and rats). Some of these mites that infect other animals can attempt to feed on humans and non-related animals and cause some discomfort. However, the discomfort should be short-lived because these mites will not permanently establish on these other hosts. 

Mange mites burrow into the skin of animals, feeding on subcutaneous tissues. The site of the infestation becomes irritated, itchy and results in scratching by the host animal. Hair loss results in a very unkempt appearance.

The itch mite, Sarcoptes scabieiSarcoptes scabiei is a mite species parasitic on humans producing a medical condition commonly called "scabies," which is most commonly contracted from an infested person. Body areas where skin is thin, like between fingers, the bend of the knee and elbow are often infested. Because skin thins with age, the elderly are often more susceptible to scabies. Intense itching accompanies scabies, and scratching can result in secondary bacterial skin infections. A medical doctor should be consulted for proper diagnosis and treatment of chronic skin disorders. 

Dogs, cats and most domesticated animals also have some type of burrowing mite associated with them. Loss of hair and excessive scratching by pets may be a sign of mite infestation. This may also be a sign of fleas or other skin disorders so a veterinarian should be consulted for a proper diagnosis. 

It is sad to see beautiful wildlife animals looking so ragged and pathetic, but very little can be done to help them. Control of burrowing mites requires catching the animal and repeated applications of an insecticide. Like other natural afflictions, mange may be nature's way of eliminating weak individuals, thinning populations so only the healthiest survive.

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