Life has been a mess lately, with school, work, and moving preparations… Luckily now the winter semester is halfway over and I am on spring break, so I finally have time to post this.
What is this, you may ask? Well, legalizefoxes asked me to write up a small caresheet to share with the Alabama Conservation Advisory Board in her attempt to make domestic foxes legal there. Obviously I agreed – I had to help a fellow fox enthusiast!
So now, I will share my writings with all of you!
FOXES AS DOMESTIC ANIMALS
Foxes, when raised right, can be intriguing and rewarding companions. Of course, these animals are not proper pets for everyone. While understanding the behavior of wild foxes is very important and can be very helpful, foxes have been raised in captivity for their fur for decades. Selective breeding is a common practice in fur farms, a practice that brings about domestication, and all pet foxes are descended from fur farm stock.
An important part in acquiring a fox is finding a reputable breeder. A good breeder will pull kits from their mother at an early age – usually when the kits are 10-21 days old – in order to bottle feed them and have them imprint on humans. A good breeder will send the kits to their new homes when they are about 4-8 weeks old. Some people don’t recommend buying a fox older than 6 weeks old. Foxes are not largely common as pets, so there is no right way to go about doing things. Different breeders believe in different practices.
Wild fox kits should never ever be taken in as pets. Especially if their eyes are already open. First of all, wild foxes do not have the amount of selective breeding that domestic foxes from a breeder have, so it can be very hard for them to adapt. Second, any orphaned animals that one might find most likely aren’t even orphaned at all, and their parents are probably nearby or out hunting. And even if one finds an orphaned fox kit close to its deceased parent, it is still illegal to take animals out of the wild. So one should let nature take its course or take the kit to a certified wildlife rehabilitation center.
It is of common acceptance among owners that foxes should be altered before 6 months of age. Altering slightly reduces urine and feces odor, as well as the chances of urine marking. Foxes should also receive a series of distemper and parvovirus vaccines, as well as a rabies vaccine. A killed or recombinant virus is preferred, however, a modified live virus is also acceptable – for parvovirus only. Some veterinarians prefer to administer ferret distemper and rabies vaccines, while other believe it is perfectly fine to administer canine distemper and rabies vaccines. My fox received a series of killed ferret distemper vaccines, a series of modified live parvovirus vaccines, and a killed ferret rabies vaccine.
Rabies isn’t as big of a problem in foxes as some a led to believe. If you see a fox active in daylight, that doesn’t mean that it is rabid. It’s actually normal and common for foxes to be active during the day. Skunks and raccoons suffer the most from rabies in the United States. In fact, 38% of skunks, 31% of raccoons, 14% of bats, and only 4% of wild foxes carry rabies. Also, in Europe and Canada, the use of oral vaccines distributed in baits is effective, as rabies in foxes has been eliminated from most of Western Europe and decreased significantly in Ontario.
Aside from being vaccinated against certain diseases, foxes should also be protected against fleas, ticks and heartworm, much like a dog. Revolution, Advantage or Frontline Plus are the most commonly used flea and tick preventatives for foxes. I personally use Frontline Plus. HeartGuard can be used to protect against heartworm. Foxes must also be either de-wormed on a monthly basis, or be given a daily dosage of diatomaceous earth. If one chooses to de-worm their fox every month, most breeders and owners recommend using Panacur. I have chosen to go the diatomaceous earth route with my fox. Diatomaceous earth prevents worms and internal parasites as well as gets rid of them in a chemical-free way, but I also find it more cost effective. A fox between 10-20 lbs should be given 2 teaspoons of diatomaceous earth daily.
I do not trust major pet food companies. I personally recommend feeding any carnivorous pet – such as dogs, cats, ferrets, et cetera – a raw meat diet. Raw meat is the healthiest thing you can feed because there are no grains, starches, fillers and preservatives. When feeding raw, animals are only supposed to eat 2-3% of their ideal body weight per day. For my 12 lb fox, that would only be 5.75 oz of meat per day. 80% of that should be muscle meat, 10% should be raw bone, and the remaining 10% should be organ meat. Also, feeding raw meat reduces the size and smell of an animal’s waste.
However, not all people have the freezer space to feed raw, myself included. If that is the case, a fox can be fed a high quality dog food. DogFoodAdvisor.com can be used to determine appropriate foods. I would recommend using a puppy formula for the first year of life, if an all-life-stages formula is not being used. Taurine is very important for foxes. If taurine is not listed in the dog food’s ingredients, it must be given as a supplement. Very few dog foods have taurine in them. Cat food can be used as a supplement, but it should not exceed half of a fox’s daily food intake, because it is much too fatty and can cause some serious health problems.
Every morning, my fox gets a small saucer of plain natural unsweetened applesauce with ½ of a PetAg Taurine Tablet for cats and 2 teaspoons of diatomaceous earth mixed in. After he finishes what I call his “vitamin mush,” he gets 1 cup of Merrick* dog food with a hearty portion of raw meat. Lately the meat he has been getting is either chicken, cornish game hen, or turkey. He normally eats his raw meat first, or caches it for later. If he does run out of kibble during the day, I do not deny him any more. I let him eat his fill.
Most foxes are not indoor pets. While some can adapt to an inside life, most cannot and must be kept outdoors. Kits are usually kept indoors for the first six months of their lives, and for that time, an extra large dog crate can be suitable. After the first six months, an outdoor kennel is a non-negotiable requirement. My fox plays in his kennel during the day, but sleeps in his crate because I do not feel comfortable leaving him outside alone at night. A fox’s outdoor kennel should be no smaller than 8 feet by 12 feet by 6 feet high or 10 feet by 10 feet by 6 feet high. The bigger the kennel – the better. The smaller a kennel is, the more enrichment it should have. Logs and tree branches to climb on are a favorite, along with kiddie pools filled with either water or sand.
Like dogs, foxes love toys and to play. However, foxes are very rough on their things and toys will have to be replaced frequently. Tough, durable toys really are the best. I have found that toys made by the brands Kong, ChuckIt, and Jolly Ball last the longest. My fox loves balls and ropes the best – he will actually play fetch by himself with them. Stuffed animals with squeakers should only be played with under strict supervision. Never play rough with a fox, as it will lead to undesirable behavior. Bite inhibition should be one of the first things taught to a domestic fox as a kit.
Walks are an enjoyable pastime for foxes. However, the safest way to take a fox on a walk is with a harness. I have found that the H-style cat harnesses are the most secure and easiest to put on a fox. Some people have had success with Roman-style harnesses, but my fox is deathly afraid of the slipping-over-the-head motion. Retractable leashes should be avoided, and a strong 6-foot leash should be used for more control. Most foxes will refuse to walk on a leash properly like a dog, because a fox goes where a fox wants to go. You don’t walk the fox – the fox walks you.
Foxes should never be left alone with any sibling pets. While foxes and cats can get along, foxes tend to play rough and can accidently injure or kill a cat when playing. Dogs are a somewhat safer playmate as long as they do not have a high prey drive or are a breed that is known for having a high prey drive. If you have a dog that has killed squirrels, rabbits, woodchucks, et cetera, also having a pet fox is not a good idea. You must be careful when first bringing a fox home as a kit, because it is very possible that your baby will bond to your cat or your dog instead of you. Playtime should be limited during the first six months of age so you can form a proper bond.
Generally, most foxes are one-person animals. However, with proper and extensive socialization, foxes can be just as friendly with strangers as dogs. My fox has two people he “loves,” two people he “likes,” and a handful of others that he “knows.” He loves my father and I, likes my sister and my mother, and knows all of my friends. I am frequently the victim of my fox urinating on my shoes or on the floor in excitement and happiness. Once he even jumped onto one of my friend’s lap while she was sitting at my kitchen table.
I honestly enjoy being a fox parent. I think its one of the best things you can be. There is no way to explain the happiness I feel when I come home and my baby rolls over at my feet, begging for a belly rub and his tail wind-milling around behind him. Foxes do not automatically trust you like a dog will, and that trust, once earned, is amazing, inspiring, and awe-inducing. Knowing that an animal that was once known as wild trusts you and loves you is the best thing ever. I wouldn’t trade it for the world.
RANDOM FOX FACTS**
1.) Foxes are nocturnal hunters. Long winter nights provide extra cover for stalking prey that’s less plentiful to find. Scientists believe that, although foxes are members of the Canidae family, which includes wolves, domestic dogs and their natural predators, coyotes, foxes share a common ancestor with cats. Both have eyes with vertical pupils that allow them to see in any light condition yet offer poor visual acuity.
2.) Cats’ and foxes’ eyes glow with an eerie light. A reflective coating on the back of their eyes, called the tapetum lucidum, delivers twice as much light to their retinas as to ours. Although this provides superior night vision, foxes rely more heavily on their acute senses of hearing and smell. There are more than 200 million olfactory receptors in the snout. Foxes can track prey as small as earthworms and insects.
3.) The largest species of fox in South America is the culpeo, also known as the Andean wolf or Patagonian red fox. Adults stand 23½ to 47 inches long, have a black-tipped 12 to 18 inch brush (tail) and weigh up to 30 pounds. Humans are their only predator and the beautiful animals are plentiful throughout their range in the deciduous forests and grasslands between the Pacific coast and the windward side of the Andes.
4.) Red foxes inhabit a relatively small territory and do not wander far in search of food. Unlike wolves and coyotes, which travel in small packs, foxes live in pairs and take turns hunting. Coyotes are a danger, especially to kits born in the spring. Coyotes will often share a fox’s territory with the two archenemies dividing up the land and avoiding each other. If space is limited, coyotes will drive away the shier foxes.
5.) Red foxes mate for life and return to the same birthing den every year, which must be located near a source of water. After a gestation period of only 7 or 8 weeks, a litter of pups or kits is born. Both parents share in taking care of their young. Summer field trips teach the kits how to scavenge for food and practice important social behaviors such as marking their territory with urine.
6.) Play fighting prepares young kits for adulthood when males (dogs) will rear up on their hind legs and push their forepaws against each other in a fight for territory or a female (vixen). With teeth bared and ear flattened, they seldom inflict serious injury, merely trying to knock each other over to assert their dominance. The display may be repeated several times, interrupted with chases, snapping and snarling.
7.) Foxes resemble cats more than dogs in the way they move. They are stealthy hunters. Between each foot pad and on the bottom of their paws, foxes have fur to insulate their toes against cold and to mute their steps. Their body frames are light, with thin legs that make them extremely agile for soundless, graceful stalking and sudden pouncing. Each foot has four claws for pinning prey, even in deep snow.
8.) Fox kits are born between February and April. While females may stay with their parents, young males leave the family at the end of the fall, seeking to establish their own territory. It will be similar to the one they’ve just left, where there’s an abundant source of fresh water and a great diversity of animal life and plants to forage. Instinct drives the dog to find a secure place to support the family he’ll soon have.
9.) Foxes are important members of the ecosystem, keeping rodent populations in check and helping to control insects. The red fox (Vulpes vulpes) is plentiful throughout its range. In North America, global warming and habitat loss are pushing red foxes farther north. Unable to tolerate the constant sub-zero weather, however, they don’t venture beyond Yukon Flats Wildlife Refuge in Alaska.
10.) In North America, rabies is not nearly as common among foxes as people believe. Britain’s strict quarantine laws have prevented the virus from being established there. In other European countries, most notably Switzerland, aggressive vaccination programs have virtually eradicated the disease. Foxes are successful, opportunistic hunters which has also contributed to their undeserved bad rep.
11.) The arctic fox (Vulpes lagopus) is well adapted to live in harsh northern climates. Its luxuriant, oily fur provides camouflage year round. Thick, warm and snowy white in winter, it renders the fox virtually invisible to prey. The white fur is molted and replaced by a thinner grey and brown coat that blends into spring’s landscape. Like their main predator, the polar bear, arctic foxes are adept ice floe travelers.
12.) Fox hunting started in Europe in the 1400s. A century later, colonists in America and Australia imported the European red fox, not realizing the species was already native to their new homelands. Red foxes have been known to live 9 to 14 years in captivity but usually only survive only 2 to 3 years in the wild. In 2005, the United Kingdom made it a criminal offence to hunt foxes with dogs.
* = Since this article has been written, I have begun to feed Loki Infinia dog food. Because Infinia has taurine added to it, he no longer needs a taurine supplement. However, he still gets a daily dosage of diatomaceous earth.
** = These facts are copied directly from a fox calendar that I had in 2012. I do not claim that any of these are correct, so I do not hold any responsibility if they are actually found to be false.
In other news, Loki has been shedding like crazy. That is all.