I’m sure many Albion students have noticed the rapidly thinning fur of a particular squirrel – nicknamed “Baldy” by the men’s cross-country team – outside Baldwin Hall sometime in the past month, or at least one of the other squirrels around campus with varying degrees of hair loss.
What’s wrong with them? Are they sick? Do they have rabies? Or are they just getting old? I suspected mange because I had a general idea of what it looks like, but I’m no vet.
So, I got in touch with an actual vet: Doctor Jennifer Aschenbrener, of Irwin Avenue Animal Hospital, and adjunct professor in the Institute for Healthcare Professions at Albion College. I sent her my photo, and while she conceded that she’s no squirrel expert, Ashenbrener was able to confirm that Baldy was indeed suffering from mange — specifically, “notoedric mange.” She linked me to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources’ webpage on mange to learn more.
Here’s the long and the short of the DNR’s article: notoedric mange is caused by a species of mite called Notoedres Centrifera, and affects gray squirrels — and, by extension, black squirrels. It’s characterized by fur loss starting at the head and shoulders, then spreading across the rest of the body. Without fur, squirrels are unable to stay warm and can die of exposure to the cold.
It is possible to treat mange-afflicted squirrels by mixing a medicine called Ivermectin into an appetizing treat for them to eat, but Aschenbrener advises against it.
“I think that treating a wild squirrel would be challenging,” she said in an email.
Whoever administers the medication would need to give multiple doses, and would simultaneously run the risk of a curious or hungry dog accidentally ingesting the morsel, which is toxic to certain breeds.
Thankfully, both the DNR and Aschenbrener say that squirrels recover from mange and regrow their fur quite quickly, so there’s no need to worry for our beloved unofficial mascot. Nor do you need to fear for your pets. The notoedric mites are specific to squirrels and can’t affect other animals.
Photo by Kent Davis