Note from Penfield Animal Control regarding incident involving rabid fox in Brighton
Penfield Animal Control has received several inquiries following a recent incident in the neighboring Town of Brighton, New York where a wild fox tested positive for the rabies virus after biting six people.

It’s important to note, although rabies does occur in mammals in New York State, this should be considered an isolated incident. It is NOT common for events like this to occur where negative physical contact is made by an infected animal. 

In an effort to keep the public informed, please review the following information about the fox population in Penfield.

The Town of Penfield has a large population of foxes. Both red and gray foxes reside here. The way to differentiate fox type is by the tip of the tail. A red fox will always have white on the tip, and a gray will always have black on its tail tip. Both foxes are susceptible to contracting rabies (as are all mammals), and distemper (a common neurologic disorder that can closely resemble rabies).

Rabies is a virus spread by the saliva of an infected animal through the bloodstream of another, typically from a bite. It can be transmitted through infected animal saliva via broken skin or mucus cavities. This virus can impact ALL mammals (bats, raccoons, skunks, foxes, coyotes, beavers, deer, bears, bobcats, livestock, cats, domestic dogs, and humans).

Distemper can have the same behavioral cues as rabies, but distemper is a viral disease that can be transmitted through inhalation as opposed to saliva transmission. The disease affects a wide variety of mammal species including domestic and wild canids (dogs, foxes, coyotes, and wolves), as well as cats, raccoons, and skunks, but does not affect humans.

Typical behavior to look for in an animal with a neurologic disorder (distemper/rabies):
  • Appears emaciated (very skinny) – later stages
  • May appear “oily” or “wet” in appearance – mid to late stage
  • Unable to walk in a straight line
  • Going in circles for no apparent reason
  • Seizing or convulsing
  • Overly friendly
  • Overly aggressive
  • Avoiding water
  • Unable to eat or swallow
  • Overall erratic behavior
  • May give off a slight “skunky” or “musky” odor
Both diseases are 100% fatal in all mammals if left untreated. 

If you see any of these behaviors, please call animal control immediately to respond. While waiting for animal control to respond, please monitor the location of the animal if you can do so safely.

The most common issue sighted in the Penfield fox population is mange. Mange is a skin disease that affects mammals caused by microscopic mites that burrow into the skin. Sarcoptic mange is most common in the area and affects wild and domestic mammals such as foxes, coyotes, and wolves.

  • Typical behavior to look for in an animal with mange:
    • Hair loss which typically starts in the tail region and works forward to the head region
  • Loss of coats hinders or eliminates the ability to thermal regulate their body temperatures properly. 
  • Animal is in the open more often searching for food (if the sarcoptic mange has worked to the eyes, it becomes harder to navigate in dense wooded, brushy areas)
  • Seeking out sources of heat or material that retain heat such as leaf piles, mulch beds, asphalt driveways, concrete patios or pool areas, decking, and dryer vents.
  • Allowing a person or pet to approach closer than normal, especially if they are on a source of heat. 
  • Infected animals will scratch or bite at affected areas to the point of almost a manic state. They will scratch along surfaces like fences, posts, tailpipes, etc. to get relief.

Mange can be (and is most often in foxes) fatal if untreated. Just because an animal has mange does NOT mean it has rabies. If you see an animal with mange, it is not a reason to contact animal control unless coupled with neurologic behaviors previously listed.

Remember, this time of year, ALL animals are having babies so seeing them out in the daytime is not uncommon.

Residents are asked to recognize the behaviors before contacting animal control for intervention. Each case is different, but intervention by animal control will occur if warranted. If animals are acting within the normal parameters of their species, animal control will not intervene.

Penfield Animal Control is available to answer questions about wildlife, ordinances, and laws. The Penfield Animal Control office is located at 1587 Jackson Road and the office phone number is (585) 340-8616.

Animal control hours of operation with a staff member on duty are:
  • Monday through Friday: 7 a.m. - 11:30 p.m.
  • Saturday and Sunday: 9 a.m. - 3:30 p.m.
  • After hours: an officer is always on call after hours and on holidays. If you have an emergency, please call 911 and animal control will be dispatched.
Steve Shicker
Senior Officer, Penfield Animal Control