Melissa cares for a variety of exotic animals and has completed a certificate in veterinary assisting and a bachelor's degree in biology.
Domesticated and Pet Foxes in the United States
The buying and selling of pet domesticated foxes are rife with controversies, misinformation, and myths. Throughout the internet, there are more reasonable claims, including the existence of "domesticated" foxes in contrast to "wild" foxes in the pet trade, and the downright bizarre, such as an artist's toy being claimed to be a real species called a "Canadian marble fox".
Many people are aware that "Russian domesticated foxes" are special foxes that have been produced from a strict breeding program, and the resulting animals are "dog-like". This article will clear up the misconceptions about the domesticated fox.
Pet Fox "Breeds"
Within the world of pet foxes, there are only three ways to categorize these animals at the moment:
- There is, of course, the species of the fox. The species name of the red fox is Vulpes vulpes, while a fennec fox is Vulpes zerda.
- Then there is whether or not the fox is domesticated; a complex and ill-defined concept that will be discussed below.
- And last, while some foxes have different coat colors in captivity, they are not different "breeds" of fox. Instead, they can be described as having different genetic lines.
To define the terms that have been floating around on the internet:
- Canadian marble fox: This is nothing more than a domesticated red fox that has a "marble" fur coloration. They descend from the fur trade. Someone made up the "Canadian" part of the word (although some foxes do descend from fur farms in Canada) and its mythological status, claiming an art doll is the animal in question. Who knows why.
- Domesticated fox: Any fox that descends from a multi-generational breeding program or from fox populations that evolved around human influence.
- Russian domesticated fox: A fox that descends from the breeding program that is part of Dmitry Belyaev's Farm Fox Experiment, that was selected for tameness.
- Silver fox: This is another red fox coloration, like the marble, but darker in color. They are common in fur farms.
- Dwarf fox: Just a word some people might use to describe naturally occurring small species of foxes such as the fennec fox or pale fox (Vulpes pallida).
Where Can You Buy a Domesticated Fox?
In the United States, it is relatively easy to find breeders or brokers of "domesticated foxes". They are also relatively inexpensive for exotic mammals, generally costing under $1000, including unique color morphs. These foxes descend from fur farms and have been domesticated in the sense that they have been bred to proliferate under fur farm conditions.
Where to Buy Russian Domesticated Foxes
Owners of true Russian domesticated foxes are exceptionally rare. These special animals are part of a study that has spanned more than half a century. They can only be imported from Novosibirsk, Siberia, as they are only sold spayed or neutered. The final costs of importing a Russian domesticated fox will be in excess of $9000.
What Is the Russian Farm Fox Experiment?
This experiment, founded by Dr. Dmitry Belyaev in 1959 at the Institute of Cytology and Genetics, was designed to test for the existence of "domestication syndrome", which is the theory that certain traits and behaviors, such as smaller skull size, upright tail, and unique fur coloration (such as what is seen with the "marble fox") appear when mammals are bred for tameness only.
This theory has been the explanation for why Belyaev's foxes seem so similar to pet dogs, despite not being closely related to them taxonomically. The foxes the experiment began with were silver foxes from a fur farm, and it has been reported that some foxes exhibited traits of domestication only 10 generations in. This experiment is ongoing.
Are Russian Foxes Not So Special?
There have been some recent revelations about the domesticated foxes that come from the Farm Fox Experiment that bare mention, in order to fully understand not only what it means to own a "domesticated" fox, but the issues with our understanding of what domestication means in general.
A new study, titled The History of Farm Foxes Undermines the Animal Domestication Syndrome, reviews the evidence for the existence of domestication syndrome. These researchers have concluded that the study does not provide sound evidence for the existence of domestication syndrome, because the "wild" foxes the experiment began with were actually domesticated fur farm foxes that already exhibited various traits of domestication syndrome.
Human-Tolerant Foxes Occur Naturally
As the researchers began to look into the evidence for domestication syndrome, it became apparent that there is not even one stable definition of what domestication is. The described traits of domestication seemed to vary between species, and even members of the same domesticated species have different traits.
There is a popular misconception that there is a significant, night at day difference between domesticated and non-domesticated animals, as the new paper reveals. For instance, many people erroneously believe that domesticated cats (Felis catus) descended from some felid that was substantially different or "wild", while in reality, the ancestor of the domestic cat is nearly indistinguishable from its wild ancestor, which is the African wildcat (Felis lybica).
Domesticated vs. "Wild" Red Foxes
While the views of the new study have been contested by the researchers carrying out the experiment and some other biologists, who claim that some of the behavior and physical characteristics of the experiment's foxes were unique from the founder fox population, some facts remain clear.
- Animals exhibiting docility can be selectively bred to produce results that can be considered "domestication" in a small number of generations, contrary to the often-repeated claim that animals need "thousands of years" to be domesticated.
- The researchers have revealed that domestication has no clear definition in the first place, and the domesticated animals we think of (dogs, cats, horses, hamsters, etc.) have major differences from each other. Domestication means different characteristics for different species and domestication methods.
- A fox being "domesticated" tells us very little about it. Even fur farm animals that are not specially-bred Russian foxes can be docile and "dog-like". It is probable that the Russian foxes, given being derived from a strict breeding program for tameness, would have better "pet quality" as they were described by the researchers to uniquely seek out human attention, but all of these animals are still foxes, and potential owners should not expect dramatic differences between them.
Caring for a Pet Fox
Most likely, a red fox is not for you. Domesticated or not. They make challenging pets for most people, especially if you are expecting the behavior of "biddable" dog breeds. Red foxes may be friendly, but there's more to owning them than that. All red foxes have very smelly urine, and most owners keep them partially or fully outdoors due to this.
Red foxes have high energy levels and can be destructive. Many owners of indoor red foxes have to make permanent alterations to their home to accommodate this. There are better alternatives to red foxes for one who is determined to own a fox, provided it is legal in their state. Fennec foxes, which pose their own challenges as indoor animals, make for less hair-pullingly frustrating pets.
- Pet Fox Guide: Legality, Care, and Important Information
More in depth information on pet fox care and legality. It is essential to do thorough research for any major exotic pet mammal like a fox.
- Every Pet Fox "Breed" and How to Care for Them
This article includes a list of types of pet foxes and a profile of their care, temperament, legality information and what it's like to keep them as pets.
- Dugatkin, Lee Alan. "The silver fox domestication experiment." Evolution: Education and Outreach 11.1 (2018): 1-5.
- Gorman, James. Why Are These Foxes Tame? Maybe They Weren’t So Wild to Begin With. New York Times. Dec. 3, 2019
- Lord, Kathryn A., et al. "The history of farm foxes undermines the animal domestication syndrome." Trends in Ecology & Evolution 35.2 (2020): 125-136.
- Perri, Angela. "A wolf in dog's clothing: initial dog domestication and Pleistocene wolf variation." Journal of Archaeological Science 68 (2016): 1-4.
- Trut, Lyudmila N. "Early Canid Domestication: The Farm-Fox Experiment: Foxes bred for tamability in a 40-year experiment exhibit remarkable transformations that suggest an interplay between behavioral genetics and development." American Scientist 87.2 (1999): 160-169.
- Trut, Lyudmila, Irina Oskina, and Anastasiya Kharlamova. "Animal evolution during domestication: the domesticated fox as a model." Bioessays 31.3 (2009): 349-360.
- Zeder, Melinda A. "Straw foxes: domestication syndrome evaluation comes up short." Trends in Ecology & Evolution (2020).
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.
The Logician on December 02, 2020:
Interesting article Melissa.
I have owned Arctic (from a pet store) Red, Silver and Gray foxes (from game farms in NY where Foxes were considered farm animals and legal to own as long as not obtained from the wild) and I have to say of the three species Gray Foxes were the most interesting and made the best pets. Of course they were all hand raised before and after being weaned.
Gray’s urine is not as pungent as the other species though smelly. Mine loved people especially children and in the house they ruled the roost putting my dogs in their place when they got tired of teasing them. Gray Foxes are smaller and cat like, they love to climb and in the wild spend a lot of time in trees. I would take my two on leashes to outside the mall where there was a picnic bench. When I’d walk them they’d climb up and perch on my shoulders as people admired them. I would take them to elementary schools where they were as enamored with the children as the children with them.
They never showed any sign of aggression toward humans and were very affectionate however, birds, well that was another story as you can imagine.
If I were to choose a species of Fox to domesticate it would definitely be the Gray Fox. I wonder if they could be crossed with a Fennec Fox which I’ve read can make excellent pets intensely socialized.