Kaycee is an exotic pet owner, zoo-lover, and animal welfare advocate.
Why Are Fennecs so Popular?
When you think of the word "exotic pet," chances are that one of the animals that will come to mind is the fennec fox. These tiny, hyper foxes are the smallest members of their family. For a variety of reasons discussed in this article, they are also the best fox to be kept as a pet in the opinions of many.
Fennec foxes have won the attention and adoration of millions of animal lovers, boasting comedically large ears and a dainty, refined face with huge eyes that pull at your heartstrings. It's no wonder they're popular! With many viral videos showcasing these animals, it's also not rare to see comments declaring, "I want one!" But what really goes into owning one of these adorable little critters? Turns out, it may not be as simple as you'd imagine.
The Legality of Fennec Fox Ownership
Before you even consider purchasing a fennec fox, read the care guides and plan your visits to meet one, or ogle babies for sale near you, you must realize that these animals are not legal in many places due to overbearing laws on exotic animal ownership. The majority of states in the United States have some form of restricting legislation on fennec foxes, be it an outright ban, or requiring owners to apply for a state permit. Some permits states require cost annual fees, which can be costly, and others will not provide permits to people looking to own fennecs as pets.
Purchasing fennecs without checking if they are legal is irresponsible and leads to animals inevitably being seized and either sent to a sanctuary or euthanized by the state. There are never happy endings and you will not be given lenience. It is your responsibility to contact your local Fish & Wildlife Services or Wildlife Resources Commission in your state and to look up the current, up to date laws your state has.
In addition, cities and counties have the right to restrict what animals you may own as well. Therefore, even if the state you reside in is legal, your city or county will still punish you and your pet if they have their own laws that say otherwise.
How Much Does It Cost to Care for One?
Fennec foxes are not cheap pets, especially when compared to other animals. They are very popular, in demand, and somewhat difficult to breed. This leads to the animals themselves being pricey: a whopping $2500–$3500! Different breeders will, of course, have different prices, but scams run amok on the internet. If you are paying less than $1500 for your fennec fox, you are being scammed. In addition, breeders selling fennec foxes must be USDA licensed for the sale to be legal.
Fennec foxes are best purchased as newly weaned kits. Adult fennecs may be sold for much cheaper than babies, but fennecs are not like dogs or cats. You cannot purchase an adult and expect it to be tame and friendly with you right off the bat. They are shy and flighty by nature, and bonding with an older fennec can take months of hard work and patience. It's worth paying the extra money for a kit.
If you do not live near a breeder, you will need to arrange for shipping. Fennecs are shipped on airplanes, in a secure and comfortable carrier, and will be awaiting pickup at the airport they are sent to. Shipping is anywhere from $300–$500, so you also need to keep this in mind while tallying the costs.
Your new fox will also need a place to live. Enclosures for your fox can cost anywhere from $500 to $2000, as discussed below. You will easily be spending $4000 or more on your fennec fox's upfront costs.
What Kind of Housing Do They Need?
Providing housing for fennec foxes is relatively simple, if expensive. There is no one method to it, many people report success using different setups, enclosures, and techniques. Fennec foxes can be allowed to free roam a room in your home so long as it is fox-proofed. They will dig carpet and chew anything left out. They may also cause expensive damage or break things precious to you if left out.
One option you may decide on is providing an outdoor enclosure for your fennec fox. This will provide all the space your fennec could want, as well as room for them to dig, forage, climb, and mess about in an area that you can customize and make as complex or natural as you like. Fennec foxes especially enjoy large tree limbs or wooden platforms to climb, and soft sand or dirt to dig in.
Enclosures may be difficult to construct if you have no experience with construction. The topic of building such structures is beyond the scope of this article, but there are basic guidelines you must follow if this is the option you decide on:
- Enclosures must be completely enclosed, roof and floor, with wire, wooden roofing, wire buried a few feet below the ground of the enclosure, concrete flooring covered in dirt, or other materials that cannot be broken out of. Fennecs are adept at both climbing and digging.
- Enclosures must supply adequate drainage during rain to avoid becoming flooded
- Enclosures must provide shade from intense sunlight and heat
- Enclosures must not use anything less than 12 gauge wire. In addition, the wire must not have large enough holes for the fennec to stick their heads in or slip through (A fennec's skull measures width: 1.73"–1.9" and height: 1.46"–1.6")
- Enclosures must provide furnishing and enrichment.
If you live in an area where the weather falls below 60 degrees in winter, you will not be able to keep your fennecs outdoors year-round. Fennecs are extremely sensitive to cold and will quickly die if left outside.
Some people choose to keep their fennec foxes indoors, as mentioned above. If this is something you would like to do, then the most widely used method is purchasing multiple Ferret Nation brand cages and connecting them together to form one giant cage. However, this can not be used as a permanent house for your fennec. Fennecs are extremely active and keeping them caged for the majority of the day or extended periods of time is not humane.
Setups such as this one require your fox to be out, free-roaming your house or room, and are used as cages for when the fennec cannot be supervised. Fennecs are not animals that are to be caged all day and only taken out to play when you feel like it.
Diet and Feeding
A fennec's diet should consist of 90% of lean meats such as chicken or rabbit, and insects such as mealworms, silkworms, or dubia roaches, and 10% fruits or vegetables. Contrary to the belief of some, fennec foxes are not omnivores. They are obligate carnivores, much like ferrets, and need a diet that reflects this for their health. However, the specifics of their diet is widely debated among keepers.
Fennecs are sensitive to retinol, and too much of it can cause a variety of health issues such as liver and kidney damage. Whole prey diets using domestic mice and rats are full of disproportionate amounts of retinol and not recommended to be fed often for this reason; a great alternative is feeder lizards that have been humanely euthanized before feeding.
Taurine is essential to their health as well. At least 100mg-200mg per is necessary, and adequate amounts are not found in dog or cat food. These two factors make pre-packaged kibble that is acceptable for fennec foxes hard to find, taurine supplementation may be required.
The following brands of kibble are most popularly documented as being fed to fennecs in zoological facilities, with varying success, and often multiple of these foods are mixed or fed interchangeably:
- Zupreem Exotic Feline Diet
- Mazuri Exotic Canine Diet
- Stella & Chewy's Absolute Rabbit Dinner Freeze-Dried Dog Food
- Instinct Ultimate Protein Canine Chicken Kibble
- Blue Buffalo Wilderness Chicken
On the other hand, for best results with a raw or whole prey diet, you will need to get your hands dirty and order whole ground rabbit and day-old chicks online, from websites such as MyPetCarnivore or others. Starting a colony of dubia roaches, crickets, and mealworms will also help tremendously as these insects can get expensive to repeatedly buy every week when fed daily.
Fennec Eating Mealworms
Behavior and Personality
Most people seem to believe that fennec foxes are cuddly, laid back, and cat-like animals. This is not true. Fennecs are extremely energetic, independent, hyper, and cautious. Most owners cannot cuddle their fennecs, and most fennecs don't enjoy being cuddled. Fennecs love to play, but they may not always want to play with their owners. Most fennecs allow their owners to pick them up, but they also don't seem to enjoy it that much. If you are looking for a little cuddle bug to lay in your lap and watch TV with you, a fennec is probably not the right animal for you.
Fennec foxes are very flighty by nature. In the wild, they are prey animals for numerous predators, and they reflect this in their personality. Sudden movements or sounds may put them on high alert, and new people entering the house will send them off to watch cautiously from a distance.
Another fact people are not aware of is how loud these foxes can be. They are vocal, and when excited or upset will make sure everyone in your house knows it. This may annoy some people who prefer quiet pets.
Does This Bother You? If so, a Fennec May Not Be Right for You
Fennecs are not good animals to have around young children. They are extremely delicate, and their bones can break simply from being dropped a few feet. Older children who cannot respect your fennec fox should not be allowed around it.
Fennecs can, and will, bite—any animal with teeth can. The bites are not severe and rarely require medical attention, but they can hurt pretty badly. These animals are incapable of severely injuring you but if you cannot tolerate nips or bites, this fact may be a deal-breaker for you.
Many people in our society hold the belief that fennec foxes and other exotic animals should not be kept as pets. This is hotly debated and as the purpose of this article is to inform you about basic fennec care, it will not be covered with much depth. Instead, some common claims against keeping them will be debunked.
Claim: Fennec foxes are stolen from their home in the wild and smuggled into countries like the United States to be sold as pets.
Truth: Fennec foxes in the United States are sold by USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) licensed breeders as per federal law. These animals have been bred in captivity for decades, there is no demand for wild-caught ones aside from zoological facilities that sometimes need to import new bloodlines. They are not taken from the wild and do not harm wild populations.
Claim: Fennec foxes are impossible to be cared for as pets and are perpetually stressed.
Truth: Fennec foxes can absolutely be cared for as pets, and are not too difficult to, but just like any other animal, prospective owners need to be aware of their needs. When cared for correctly fennec foxes thrive as pets and are happy, relaxed members of the family.
Claim: Fennec foxes live shortened lifespans as pets due to stress and improper care.
Truth: The majority of pet fennecs are cared for correctly, as their care is not difficult to provide for, and when proper care is provided, live lives much greater than their wild counterparts; up to 15 years compared to the 6-10 seen in the wild. There is absolutely no evidence supporting the notion that pet fennec foxes have a shortened lifespan.
Are You Ready for Exotic Pet Ownership?
So, after reading all of this, you may be feeling overwhelmed. Or, you may be thinking to yourself, "Bring it on! I can do this!" Both are absolutely fine. The most important part of purchasing any animal is to have one hundred percent certainty that you will be able to handle it and provide for it for the entirety of its lifespan.
This article is not intended to be your only source for learning about pet fennec fox care; just the bare-bones basics—the beginning of a journey. Exotic pets are for dedicated, patient, and creative keepers with a passion for animals, and the fennec fox is no exception. If you are still interested in owning or learning about fennec foxes, the sources below will be of great value to you.
Sources and Helpful Links
- Dempsey, Janet L., et al. “Nutrition and Behavior of Fennec Foxes (Vulpes Zerda).” Veterinary Clinics of North America: Exotic Animal Practice, vol. 12, no. 2, 2009, pp. 299–312., doi:10.1016/j.cvex.2009.01.004.
- Brahmi, Karima, et al. “First Quantitative Data on the Diet of the Fennec Fox, Vulpes Zerda (Canidae, Carnivora), in Algeria.” Folia Zoologica, vol. 61, no. 1, 2012, pp. 61–70., doi:10.25225/fozo.v61.i1.a10.2012.
- “Basic Information Sheet: Fennec Fox.” LafeberVet, 12 Feb. 2019, lafeber.com/vet/basic-information-sheet-fennec-fox/.
- “Treating Fennec Foxes.” Treating Fennec Foxes.
- “Fennec Care Sheet.” Tiny Foxes.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.