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Is It Dangerous to Own a Pet Fox?

Melissa holds a bachelor's degree in biology and is a plant and animal enthusiast with multiple pets.

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More now than ever, some people are choosing to make their childhood dream of fox ownership a reality. Foxes are a popular choice of exotic pet because they resemble our beloved dogs, are extremely personable, and have an adorable appearance. However, some people, when researching these unusual pets, discover that there are many drawbacks to keeping them.

Concerns Over Fox Ownership

One of the first obstacles that potential fox owners face is the legality of owning pet foxes. Unfortunately, every U.S. state places some regulations on exotic pet ownership and foxes are illegal in the majority of them. Foxes are also restricted in other countries including the U.K. and Australia for the following reasons:

  • They are rabies vectors.
  • They are considered in most cases to be "non-domesticated."
  • Some legislation defines them as inherently dangerous.
  • They can be invasive in some countries.
  • As they are native to the United States and other countries, they are illegal under laws that ban the public from owning indigenous wildlife.
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Are Pet Foxes Dangerous?

Many states define foxes as "dangerous". For instance, the state of New York includes all species of Canidae "with the exception of domesticated dogs and captive-bred fennec foxes (Vulpes zerda)" as "dangerous wild animals" that are "capable of inflicting bodily harm upon a human being". This is rather common, but why? Are foxes and other "exotic" pets dangerous?

Disease Risks

Rabies is often cited as a concern for foxes and other members of the family Canidae. Foxes are indeed rabies vectors, however, they can be vaccinated against rabies just like domesticated dogs. Unfortunately, this vaccine has not been tested in foxes and while it is likely effective, legally, the animal will not be considered vaccinated if it bites someone. This is only a concern for the fox, however.

The standard protocol if your pet fox bites someone is that it will be confiscated and killed to be tested for rabies as an excessive precaution; none of these confiscations have led to the discovery of a rabid pet fox. In order to contract the disease, a fox must come into contact with another rabid animal. While wild foxes are found to be rabid often, captive foxes, especially those living indoors, are unlikely to be at risk.

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Undomesticated and Dangerous?

Some may find that foxes are non-domesticated animals and therefore are not suitable as pets, just as bears and lions are dangerous because they aren't domesticated.

However, this is not true. "Domestication" is an ill-defined concept that really has no meaning when it comes to how "dangerous" animals are. Big cats, bears, and hyenas can be dangerous, even potentially lethal, because of their size and strength, regardless of "domestication". Dogs and cats on the other hand are generally smaller animals and are less dangerous.

The same goes for foxes. All foxes are relatively small, especially species like fennec and bat-eared foxes, and they have never been recorded as having killed a human. On the other hand, dogs have killed humans and they are always "breeds" that are larger or more powerful.

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In addition, foxes have actually been domesticated in two forms: for the fur trade and for experimental purposes to test the theory of "Domestication Syndrome" in Russia.

Pet red foxes in the United States descend from fur farm fox lines, however, they have been bred as pets for multiple generations as well.

Do Foxes Bite?

Is there a risk of getting bitten by a pet fox? Absolutely, yes, because any animal with teeth can bite. This includes even dogs and cats. The real question should be, how serious are these bites, and what is the likelihood you will get bitten?

Your Chances of Getting Bitten Are Largely Dependent on a Variety of Factors:

  • Is the fox hand-raised and human socialized?
  • Did you acquire the fox as a baby or adult?
  • Are you its primary caretaker?
  • What species of fox is it?
  • Do you understand fox behavior well enough to cease interacting with it when it's showing signs of aggression?
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However, for the most part, foxes are not generally considered to be "bitey" animals, nor are their bites really "severe." For example, kinkajous are relatively popular pets for their adorable, monkey-like appearance. However, not only are they prone to aggression, but their sharp teeth are also loaded with nasty bacteria, similar to domesticated cats, and can easily put you in the hospital with a dangerous infection.

Fox bites can hurt you, but they are often not "serious." Foxes can leave small puncture wounds. They do not "maul" people and rarely bite without provocation.

Least "Dangerous" Pet Fox

As previously stated, in general, size matters when it comes to how "dangerous" animals are, with an exception being if they possess toxins, venom, poison, etc. Fennec foxes are the smallest foxes in the world and in effect, probably have the least damaging bite in terms of trauma.

Grey foxes are also known among exotic animal owner circles to have a more pleasant disposition and be less likely to bite. They are smaller than red foxes. Less is known about the uncommonly kept bat-eared foxes, but anecdotally, when properly socialized, they are known to be an even-tempered smaller fox species.

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The Verdict: Dangerous or Not?

Foxes that have been raised in captivity have a low rabies risk, especially if they live indoors. Foxes may be capable of biting, but their bites would be similar to that of dogs, which would make them less prone to becoming infected than bites from house cats. There is no evidence that foxes are "dangerous" any more than other canids their size, including "domesticated" dogs, regardless of being uncommon pets.

All species of foxes may be considered to be unruly, destructive, and energetic when kept as house pets, and some have a very strong odor to their urine. Making the decision to acquire a fox as a pet is not one to be taken lightly. If you are considering a pet fox, expect the worst outcome, even if you've seen or heard of foxes that have had excellent temperaments and behaviors as pets.

If you are unsure about some of the negative qualities of pet foxes or find the possibility of getting bitten to be unacceptable, pet foxes probably aren't the best decision for your lifestyle.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2022 Melissa A Smith

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