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Bringing a fox cub into your home is nothing like adopting a cat or dog. Smelly, destructive, loud and disobedient; any honest breeder will tell you that for the casual owner, they simply do not make good pets. Yet, in patient, dedicated hands they can prove to be incredibly rewarding animals to keep.
This post is more the result of me being curious about fox ownership and how people do it. I'm not promoting you actually get a fox unless you are one of the unusual sorts that works well for them.
DO NOT GET A FOX BEFORE STUDYING UP ABOUT THEM.
You may need to watch several youtube videos or talk to owners who have them to be sure they are suitable for you. You do not want to take in an animal you ultimately aren't equipped to handle.
Remember that there are plenty of dogs and cats already out there chilling in animal shelters that may suit you better. Or you might know a local small-time breeder with some good practices and good animals. As an animal owner, it is important to be sure what sort of pet SUITS YOU SPECIFICALLY.
When I had my pet Akita it was a much more challenging dog than my experience with Pomeranians. I love Akitas, but they are definitely not a dog for everyone just as a fox isn't a suitable pet for everyone.
If you're already smitten with the idea of raising foxes and you are stuck on getting one, it's important that you learn to do it right. Following this 7-step guide will make that process a little easier and give you an overview of the many challenges which lie ahead.
1) Check the Legal Status
Before doing anything else, you'll want to make sure that foxes can be kept legally in your country of residence. The legality of different species can also vary between different towns and counties, so it is important to pick one which won't upset your local authorities.
In Ireland, for instance, keeping foxes is entirely prohibited, whereas in the UK any captive-bred species is allowed. In parts of Europe, even wild foxes can be caught and kept without a license.
U.S. law on exotic pets differs on a state-by-state basis. New York allows only Fennec foxes (Vulpes zerda) as pets, whilst in Virginia, the red and gray varieties (Vulpus vulpes and Urocyon cinereoargenteus) are prohibited for anyone but fur farmers.
If you are found to be in possession of an animal illegally, it will be confiscated and potentially euthanized, and you could face a hefty fine. Stay legal or work to change the law.
2) Find an Exotic Pet Vet
If your fox gets sick or suffers an injury, you'll need professional assistance to return it to full health. Most veterinary surgeries are not trained or prepared to care for foxes and other exotic animals, so finding a specialist practice before you buy is essential.
The best place to ask about specialist practitioners is at your local vet. They can provide insider information and contacts relevant to your area, while also clarifying the general procedures they are permitted to carry out on exotic animals.
Alternatively, online resources such as ‘www.foxesandfriends.com' in the U.S. and ‘www.exoticdirect.co.uk' in the U.K. can offer some suggestions.
Be warned that depending on your location, the nearest exotic veterinary service may be several hours drive away.
3) Find a Legitimate Breeder
Breeding foxes is an expensive, time-intensive process, and cutting corners can easily result in a poorly domesticated animal. The temptation is certainly there for you to jump on a cheap deal or buy online and avoid traveling to the breeder in person. Yet the long-term consequences of this could make it a regrettable decision.
Good breeders are, first and foremost, licensed to breed exotic animals by the relevant authorities in your area. They should be able to provide the appropriate documentation to prove this upon request.
Secondly, they should be willing to explain exactly how their foxes are raised, what their temperaments are like, and how best to care for them, among any other relevant questions you might have. A breeder with nothing to hide has your best interests and the interests of their animals at heart.
In the U.S., ‘www.exoticanimalsforsale.net' is a good place to start looking, else various message boards like ‘www.sybilsden.com' and ‘www.reptileforums.co.uk' can point you in the right direction.
4) Prepare a Living Space
oxes do not behave like cats or dogs, and leaving one to roam free in your house is a surefire recipe for destruction. Some smaller species such as the Fennec Fox are best kept in indoor, multi-level enclosures, however, most foxes will require a secure outdoor pen for housing and exercise.
Depending on the space you have available, it may be preferable to devote an entire room to your fox - sparing the rest of your house from their shenanigans - keep them entirely outside, or strike a balance somewhere in between.
Outdoor enclosures do not have to be particularly large, but they must be escape proof. Foxes are highly intelligent animals and will dig under fences which are not partially submerged, or squeeze through chain link that is too wide.
They are curious and crave variety, so it is important to include lots of different materials such as straw, wood chips and sand for them to play with.
5) Stock Up on Food
Despite their reputation as remorseless chicken killers, foxes are omnivores and in the wild eat a variety of foodstuffs including berries, fruits, insects and small mammals. Sounds like an expensive diet, right?
Feeding domesticated foxes is relatively easy, and most breeders simply recommend high-quality dog food. Their natural diet often leaves them malnourished and isn't worth replicating. Some owners like to mix in fresh meat or even release live prey into their enclosure however this is more personal preference than necessity.
Foxes go mad for treats, especially sugary things like marshmallows, small pieces of fruit, or the occasional carrot. This varies depending on the animal so you may have to do some experimenting to find their ideal snack.
6) Educate Yourself on Training
If you've owned a dog before, you'll know how important the first few months are when attempting to instill them with desirable behaviors. A fox is a far more sensitive creature and more difficult to housebreak, so you must educate yourself on how to train and handle them from day one.
Foxes are not naturally predisposed to be sociable towards humans, and left to their own devices, they will grow up wild. Be prepared to spend several hours a day in their company, regularly picking them up and petting them so that they become used to your touch.
Foxes can be litter trained, but this will not come naturally, and you may have to set up several trays around their living area to encourage them.
Research appropriate toys for you and your fox to use. Plastic is not recommended as they are likely to chew through and eat it over time. Do not encourage play-biting as you might with a dog since they will grow up learning that it is acceptable to bite - use stuffed animals for rough play instead.
7) Welcome Your New Friend Home
If you've followed each step carefully, you will be ready to begin caring for your fox. All that's left to do is pick a name and start making memories!
During their first few days at your house, the fox may be confused and seem distressed. This is normal for most animals upon entering a new environment. Allow them to become accustomed to it at their own speed and ease off on handling them until they grow more confident.
A fox's trust must be earned slowly, but with patience, you will soon find them a lively and excitable addition to your home.
The Rescue Foxes
There is a group that helps abandoned or rescued foxes find homes. If you opt to try to take in a rescue a good place to start is Save a Fox which appears to be based in Minnesota.
They primarily take in foxes bred in "fur farms" as some people are still raising and butchering animals for fur. These foxes are unlike wild foxes and are unable to be released back into the wild due to legal and ethical reasons since they can't survive in the wild.
They also take in abandoned pet foxes which is something I do not want to add to as my organization is about minimizing harm where possible. I highly encourage you to investigate this route first.
While not a traditional farm pet or homestead pet, I think it is in the interest of farmers to give animals a safe haven if their operation can support such things.
Not Correct on September 22, 2020:
Your save a Fox link is not save a fox
The Logician on September 22, 2020:
Very good article. Having owned red, silver, Arctic and gray foxes in NY I have a couple of things to say about it. 20 years ago I was a wildlife rehabilitater and lived in NY which is where I and friends of mine had all those species of Fox and I can tell you for a fact at least at that time NY state law classified all species of Fox farm animals because of the existence of fur farms which years before were prevalent in NY state. As long as your Fox was not obtained from the wild and you had proof of purchase it was totally legal to have any species of Fox as a pet.
That may have changed since I left NY but 20 years ago that was a fact. I bought my foxes from a private breeder, a game farm and a dealer who sold animals to game farms, all in NY.
I also have to say the most rewarding of the three species I had were the gray foxes of which I had four that I purchased at 8 weeks old. They were a hoot. Gray foxes actually spend a lot of time in trees and love to climb often sitting on my shoulders when I’d take them out to outside of the mall, on a leash and they loved seeing people and interacting.
I would take them to schools for a show and tell and the foxes were enamored with the children checking them out as much as they were interested in the foxes.
Fox urine has a strong skunk like smell which isn’t pleasant having them in the house even though they can be litter trained. The gray foxes however are not as pungent. My dogs would chase the foxes through the house. Whenever a Fox would go behind a chair or couch they always doubled back and came out from behind the way they went in. When the foxes got tired of it they would stand in the middle of the room and stare down the dogs who would appear baffled and totally stand down, even back away!
Next to my crows, raccoons, squirrels and owls, gray foxes were one of the coolest pets I ever had.