Types of Foxes People Keep as Pets and How to Care for Them
Can you legally own a fox in the United States?
While this is often asked, this is a complex question to answer. Unfortunately, in most states, foxes have been banned for the 'typical person' to possess. This means a pet owner who is not keeping one for any commercial activity, education, or scientific purposes. Some states allow people to possess foxes if they are using them for purposes such as breeding and selling, presenting them to the public as exhibitors, or even running a fur farm.
- People who engage in these activities require a license from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). People who hold these licenses will be subject to unannounced inspections to ensure they are in compliance with the Animal Welfare Act (AWA).
- There are a small number of states where there is no special requirement to own foxes, and a smaller number of states that issue permits to private, non-commercial pet owners for foxes. Many states also do not allow pet owners to possess foxes that are native to the state or country but have no regulations for exotic foxes.
Are There Domesticated Foxes?
The most common form of 'domesticated fox' are actually descendants from the fur trade. They often come in a myriad of color morphs and have a similar or indistinguishable temperament from a ‘wild’ fox.
Regardless of a 'wild nature', many mammals will become reasonably tame if they are raised by humans from a young age, so this can create the appearance that they are ‘domesticated’ when they are actually just socialized. ‘True’ domesticated fox experiments have been accomplished in Russia. This popular experiment has allegedly produced foxes that are similar to domesticated dogs in their temperament. These difficult-to-obtain animals are still foxes and their owners should expect full fox traits from them. They are not a separate species.
Do Foxes Make Good Pets?
Foxes are a poor fit for the average pet owner. Foxes typically possess high energy levels, odor, and have demanding enrichment needs. They are difficult to find care for if the owner takes vacations and vet care is restricted and expensive. Smaller foxes are a better fit for indoor situations, while in most cases, people who own medium to large-sized foxes keep them outdoors due to space constraints and issues with their strong-smelling urine.
List of Fox Species Kept as Pets in the United States
These are the known species of fox that have been kept as pets in the United States, but sometimes owners can import new species.
- Arctic Fox (Vulpes lagopus)
- Bat-eared Fox (Otocyon megalotis)
- Corsac Fox (Vulpes corsac)
- Fennec Fox (Vulpes zerda)
- Grey Fox (Urocyon cinereoargenteus)
- Kit Fox (Vulpes macrotis)
- Pale (Pallid) Fox (Vulpes pallida)
- Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes) or Siberian or Russian (Domesticated) Fox
- Ruppell’s Fox (Vulpes rueppellii)
- Swift Fox (Vulpes velox)
Information of how different foxes are as pets is limited because they are so uncommonly kept. The experiences of different owners may vary. It is simply best to remember that any fox, domesticated or not, requires a very tolerant and adaptable owner. There is not enough selective breeding behind any line of foxes to accurately predict how they will behave as pets. The information provided is also describing foxes that have been hand-raised and socialized to humans. Truly 'wild' foxes will be a tremendous challenge and are best left alone in a large zoo-type enclosure. It has been recommended to buy a fox no older than 5-6 weeks of age .
Availability: Regular availability but less common and more expensive than red foxes.
Size: 28 inches long without the tail, and 6 to 10 pounds .
Relative Care Level: As the name might suggest, this species can be sensitive to hot temperatures and overheat. Measures must be taken to keep them cool in unsuitable climates. Being a 'true fox', special smelly scent glands can make them poor indoor pets, although other owners report that they have no smell . Due to a small breeding stock in the U.S., arctic foxes are over-bred and some possess genetic problems .
Arctic foxes can have a pleasant temperament (for a fox), some learn to use their litter box 'most' of the time, and they have very smelly urine. They love to play in sand or dirt and they may mark their territory with urine or feces .
Cost: $200-700 for captive-bred animal.
Availability: Rare. At present, there are very limited breeders (possibly just one).
Size: 6-12 pounds.18 to 26 inches long .
Relative Care Level: There is little information available on this uncommonly owned fox species. These are small foxes that have been kept indoors by some owners. They are primarily insectivorous, with insects composing 80% of their diet, and this should be included in their diet in captivity . This species loves to dig and an enclosure with substrate that is escape-proof at the bottom would be very beneficial .
Availability: Very small numbers or possibly none in the United States.
Size: Body length without the tail is 19 to 24 inches and 2700 grams (6 pounds) on average .
Relative Care Level: There seems to only be corsac foxes being kept as pets in the U.K. Some owners suggest they are identical in appearance, temperament, and care level to swift foxes.
Availability: Readily available, but somewhat expensive.
Size: Approximately 2 to 4 pounds and 11.81 to 15.75 inches long .
Relative Care Level: There is a lot of information on fennec foxes since they are relatively common for pet foxes. Many anecdotal reports from owners include that they are extremely energetic, will use a litter box only some of the time (females are reported to use the litter box more reliably), they love to dig, have low odor (may release offensive odor when startled), and some can be nippy. Digging is their main 'destructive habit' which can cause damage to carpets, potted plants, ect. These small foxes are also very noisy during the periods where they have bursts of energy .
As indoor pets, a lot of their negative qualities can be mitigated with large caging. For owners who use smaller housing such as a double level Critter Nation (often recommended as a minimum) more out-of-cage time will be needed.
All fennecs are social and love to interact with their owners, which can be a positive attribute depending on what you are looking for. Fennecs will not make good pets for someone who does not want to spend a lot of time with a demanding, hyper, and stubborn animal that may nip unexpectedly and potty in random areas.
Well-socialized fennec foxes can make rewarding indoors pets for people who are tolerant of their personality.
Availability: Readily available and somewhat inexpensive.
Size: 31-45 inches total length and 8-14 pounds .
Relative Care Level: Most owners of grey foxes report that they are more friendly and calmer than other species . In fact, they are one of the few exotics said to be tolerant and affectionate with strangers . Grey foxes are said to be less smelly than red foxes. Some owners have even managed to keep grey foxes as indoor pets, although larger foxes benefit substantially with outdoor access. Grey foxes, like other foxes, probably will not become fully housebroken, therefore an outdoor space can alleviate this problem.
Grey foxes are smaller than red foxes. To keep them indoors successfully, they will need a space of their own. If given free access to your home, they will dig up carpets, mark their territory (some owners use a 'male wrap' dog diaper to prevent this), and potentially ingest harmful objects.
Some have also scratched furniture . It's important to take into consideration that greys have been known to acquire distemper from certain distemper vaccines, and if this vaccine is given, the vet should have thorough knowledge on what type to use . Grey foxes love to climb and can benefit from this form of enrichment in the house or in an outdoor enclosure.
Pale (Pallid) Fox
Availability: Rare. These foxes are infrequently available.
Size: 4-6 pounds and 15-17 inches long .
Relative Care Level: Because they are so uncommon in the exotic pet trade, little information is known about this species as a pet, however they are occasionally available. They may be very similar to fennec foxes in their care. However, the few reports coming from pale fox owners have been positive. They are said to have low odor, be as easy or easier to tame than fennec foxes, and have a friendly disposition . Like fennecs, they are very vocal.
Pale foxes for sale would likely be imports, and exotic animal experience is probably necessary for prospective owners.
Red Fox or Siberian/Russian (Domesticated) Fox
Availability: Very common. Russian foxes are the rarest fox owned.
Size: Nose to tail, 36-42 inches and 8-15 pounds. Males weigh more than females .
Relative Care Level: There is substantial information available on red foxes from different sources, but owner testimonials vary. One consistent complaint about red foxes is their odor; this species may have the smelliest urine out of all the foxes. Opinions may vary as far as whether or not their urine is worse than arctic foxes, but all red foxes do smell to some extent, and their owners should be prepared to deal with this .
In addition to their smell, they can be destructive indoors, tearing up carpeting and furniture. In most cases, this fox is recommended to be housed outdoors for all except the most tolerant exotic pet owners. However, the well-being of the fox will be greatly enhanced with access to a spacious outdoor enclosure. The most ideal set up for a red fox is an indoor space for them that leads to an outdoor enclosure through a doggie door . Red foxes are the largest fox species available in the pet trade but they have been reported to do poorly with strangers, possibly even having reduced affection for their owners when they mature .
Red foxes, like other foxes, require thorough research and consideration before they are purchased. Here are some more tips to get potential owners started:
- The first 6 months are very important for socializing the fox kit. This is the time to start harness training and to handle the fox as much as possible .
- The outdoor enclosure for foxes should be very secure. A top is required to stop the fox from climbing out, as well as a barrier at the bottom of the cage to stop them from digging out. It is also essential to prevent predators from being able to grab your fox through the cage by applying another layer of wire mesh or chicken wire to the sides .
- Many owners recommend spaying or neutering which may reduce scent marking and odor, but not completely . It may also reduce undesirable behavior and certain health problems .
- Litter box training can be accomplished with the use of multiple trays, a thin layer of litter (foxes don't bury their poop and may want to bury their food in it if it is too deep) and starting early. Try keeping the young fox in a small cage with the litter tray and moving the droppings into the box, or moving the box where the fox chooses to go. It is rare for any fox to use the litter box 100% of the time .
- A good diet for red foxes, which are omnivorous similarly to dogs, can be commercial dog food , however opinions will vary on the brand. It would be a good idea to use a dog food brand with the most research behind it. 'Natural' diets that include raw meat do include risks, as they do for dogs and other pets.
The so-called Russian domesticated foxes are often claimed to have a better disposition (almost dog-like), little or no smell, and other advantages. A 'true' Russian domesticated fox is extremely hard to obtain and will cost thousands of dollars. While differences could possibly exist, one should not expect the care of these foxes to be any different than a 'regular fox. If looking for an 'easier' fox, a smaller fox, such as a fennec or grey, are better options, but these are still challenging pets for most people.
Cost: $300-700 ($8000+ for Russian)
Marble, Silver and Platinum (etc.) Foxes
These are 'domesticated' red foxes with different fur types. They will not act differently from other red foxes with the possible exception of Russian domesticated foxes.
Ruppell’s Fox (Vulpes rueppellii)
Availability: Rare and infrequently available.
Size: Body length is 15-20 inches and they weigh around 2.6 to 8 pounds .
Relative Care Level: This is a new species that has been recently introduced to the pet trade. Most of them are imports, but some captive bred specimens may become available. There is currently no information on what it's like to keep them as a pet.
Swift Fox (Vulpes velox)
Size: 4-7 pounds and 31 inches (80 cm) long .
Relative Care Level: These little known foxes are said to have a loving temperament . This desert fox is one of North America's smallest wild canids. One source suggests their care is similar to fennec foxes, however they may be less noisy and energetic .
Kit Fox (Vulpes macrotis)
Size: 12.5 - 20.5 inches without the tail and they weigh 3.25 - 6.5 lbs .
Relative Care Level: Because swift and kit foxes are closely related and some scientists actually consider them to be subspecies of each other instead of separate species , their care would likely be identical to swift foxes.
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This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.