keeping pet foxes: the hard (and stinky) facts
Thinking of taking on a pet fox? If you don't read any other page on this website, please carefully read this one.
Fox keeping is not for everyone and it's not as easy as you might think. There are several factors to take into account and there is nothing more soul destroying for dedicated animal enthusiasts and keepers than seeing animals purchased on a whim and later sold on by people who were not truly ready to keep them in the first place.
Some home truths
On the face of it, the concept of keeping pet foxes probably sounds very much like a fairy tale or a dream come true. After all, foxes are fascinating, endearing and intriguing creatures. They're intelligent, stunningly beautiful and entirely capable of forming a powerful bond with their owner.
But the decision to own them is one that should absolutely never be taken lightly or done impulsively as the negative aspects of fox ownership are many and varied.
Rather like ferrets, foxes have a very distinctive and pungent natural odour but where ferrets smell rather sickly sweet, red foxes have a scent that is not dissimilar to the smell of cannabis and this smell is unfortunately, completely unavoidable. No amount of enclosure cleaning, disinfectant or bathing will prevent this smell and whilst it isn't entirely unpleasant, it's certainly very pervasive. To keep foxes without upsetting anyone, you either need to have enough land or garden that no one else will be able to smell your foxes or you need to have EXTREMELY understanding and tolerant neighbours.
Foxes can also be rather noisy. They have a broad range of calls and vocalisations ranging from quiet trills, squeaks and grunts all the way through to surprisingly deep barks and blood curdling screams. Some of these noises are incredibly loud and rather harrowing if you do not realise what is making such a racket (and that nothing is being brutally murdered!) Again, please consider your neighbours here because if they live very close to you, your foxes WILL disturb them at times.
There is also a great deal of stigma attached to the keeping of unusual or unconventional animals of any sort. Not everyone is going to understand or accept your decision to own foxes and people can be obnoxious and loud in voicing their opinions, even if those opinions have absolutely no basis in fact or experience...
Be prepared to explain (probably repeatedly) that your foxes are not wild now nor have ever been wild animals. Silver foxes were originally bred by fur farmers who selectively bred for thick, luxurious pelts and are well on the road to domestication and many, many generations removed from their wild North American ancestors. They were not born in or taken from the wild, will absolutely not be better off in the wild and would almost certainly suffer and die if set 'free'.
Unfortunately, whilst most people are interested to learn about pet foxes as a concept and are happy to live and let live, you will occasionally encounter someone who feels that no animal should be kept or that nothing beyond a cat or dog is a suitable pet for anyone at all irrespective of the level of care they can offer. Obviously everyone is entitled to their opinion and given that there ARE people out there who do terrible and unethical things to animals or take on species for which they are completely unsuitable keepers, it's almost understandable that there are people who wish to see the end of pet keeping.
Not all veterinarians will be capable of or comfortable with treating a pet fox and this is not unreasonable given that they will likely have had no prior exposure to any canine species beyond the pet dog during their training and what little experience they do have will relate to injured wild foxes bought in by concerned members of the public. It is therefore essential that you find a vet willing to see a fox long before you consider owning one. Just like any pet dog, your fox will need to be vaccinated against canine distemper, parvo virus and other similar contagious diseases (we do a course of puppy vaccinations and do not tend to revaccinate thereafter) and will also need to be regularly wormed and treated for parasites such as fleas, ticks and mange. Parasite treatment is of utmost importance given that your fox will be living outside most or all of the time. We use dog Advocate spot on and Drontol tablets as preventatives. As yet there are no pet insurance companies that will insure pet foxes against injury or illness.
Feeding a fox is not as simple as opening a tin or filling a bowl with biscuits. A silver fox should receive a varied diet of raw meats, suitable raw bones, fish, fruits and vegetables. The odd meal of high quality, grain free dog or cat biscuits wont hurt of course and can make great training treats but it's important to be ever mindful that foxes are neither dogs nor cats... They're foxes!
building a secure enclosure
Even assuming that you didn't object to living in a house that stinks of fox, you'd still not want one as a house pet. They can be enormously destructive and given that they can climb almost as well as a domestic cat, nowhere is safe. Foxes almost never fully litter train and have a habit of urinating on things they consider theirs. As well as staking their claim on things they take a shine to by marking, they also tend urinate and defecate when excited. Foxes are messy indeed. They will eat your houseplants, they'll climb your bookcases. They'll dig holes in your sofa. They'll raid your cupboards.
The best (generally the only) way to keep a fox is to provide it with a purpose built outside enclosure. This can be a converted shed with an outdoor run attached or even a large, sturdy outdoor dog kennel and run. Just make sure that it is a minimum of 100sq foot, has a solid slab, concrete or fully wired base, is made utilising heavy gauge wire mesh (chicken wire is definitely not strong enough at all) and has a fully secure and wired roof. A double door system rather like those used for outdoor aviaries is a brilliant idea and will prevent escapes.
It's worth covering at least half of the roof of the enclosure to help keep your foxes home dry and snug during inclement weather although in our experience and thanks to their gloriously thick coats, most foxes seem practically oblivious to the rain, wind or snow and will merrily sit out in the open during even the most disgusting weather.
Your enclosure should be more than a box. Add as much environmental enrichment in the form of climbing apparatus, digging boxes and toys as you can manage. We had our climbing frames made by THIS COMPANY and highly recommend them.
Foxes cannot be trained anything approaching a reliable recall and should only ever be walked in quiet places in a secure harness where other peoples dogs and opinions do not pose a risk. You'll never be able to let your fox off lead in the park. Many dogs show a strong prey drive towards foxes and if your fox gets out of its enclosure or slips his lead in public, hes gone, so design your enclosure with the fact that it will need to provide plenty of exercise and room to burn energy in mind.
Not put off yet?
If after reading all of the above you can hand on heart accept every negative aspect of fox care, can create a suitable habitat, can afford their day to day care and have ensured that you are permitted to keep foxes (your partner, family, landlord etc must be on board with the idea) then you may well be exactly the right sort of home for a fox.
Just be absolutely sure that you are not kidding yourself as to your tolerance levels, space, time or skill set. We appreciate that saying that sounds a touch demeaning but it's extremely hard on a fox to be re-homed. They tend to bond with their owners and view complete strangers with something approaching suspicion or nerves so please, please think long and hard before you take the plunge and promise to be honest with yourself and your breeder when discussing the best and the worst parts of fox keeping.
Find a good breeder, chat to them about the negatives as well as the positives of fox keeping, ask about their animals, their experiences and opinions. Be sure to grill them on their ethics and knowledge. A good breeder will never be offended by you asking questions as to their motives for breeding or how they house, feed and care for their animals.
Sadly, not all breeders are created equal and frustratingly, the breeding of such animals is currently still completely unregulated. If a breeder does not have several potential suitable homes lined up in advance of breeding their foxes, is advertising litters on public internet sale sites or tries to tell you that foxes are the perfect mix between cat and dog, do not smell and can be reliably litter trained, the chances are they're not reputable and are just out to make a swift sale. By handing over your money for one of their cubs, you are not rescuing it or supporting a loving and careful breeder but instead helping to line the pocket of someone more interested in your money than in ethics or the welfare of the animals they're keeping and selling.
For further information, please contact us as this is a subject that we care very much about and causes us great concern.
Occasionally, foxes in need of re-homing will become available. BLACK FOXES UK is the best place to go to discuss the possibility of taking on a fox in need. Re-homes are generally best taken on by people who are highly fox experienced or very accepting of the fact that they may never fully gain its trust and can accept that it will take a considerable amount of time to build a happy relationship with their fox.
Silver foxes only breed once per year and we are a very small scale breeder, only ever producing a few cubs and ensuring that suitable homes are lined up long in advance of their birth. Because we care about the welfare of less fortunate foxes than our own, we will always donate to the FOREVER FOXY CAMPAIGN any time we have a litter.
If you wish to discuss our foxes and being placed on a waiting list for one of our cubs, please CONTACT US HERE. We can sometimes also suggest other ethical breeders that will have well socialised and carefully bred foxes but like us, they breed just a few cubs a year so much like when looking for a top quality puppy from health tested parents of sound temperament, you should not be surprised if you have to wait a year for a baby. Use this waiting time to meet as many pet foxes as you can, get your enclosure designed and built, speak to and get to know other fox owners and make absolutely sure you know what you're about to let yourself in for.
It really is worth waiting for a fox from a top quality breeder as your cub will have had the best start in life and will be bred from adults selected for their personality and health. Colour is usually an afterthought but given that certain pairings can cause problems (e.g. platinum is homozygous lethal and so two platinums should not be bred together as double-platinum cubs either die in utero or shortly after birth) your breeder should also be knowledgeable on genetics and be able to give you the history and bloodlines of their breeding adults.
If you wish to help pet foxes in need of new homes, please consider donating to THE FOREVER FOXY CAMPAIGN.