Melissa cares for a variety of exotic animals and has completed a certificate in veterinary assisting and a bachelor's degree in biology.
We all know that dogs, specifically classified as Canis familiaris, are some of the most commonly kept pets in many nations, but what about other members of the biological family Canidae? Can animals like wolves, foxes, and coyotes be kept as pets?
Of course! As a general rule, it is achievable by private owners to keep most animals that zoos do (in fact, some zoo animals in unaccredited facilities are essentially pets), provided they do not have extremely expensive requirements, such as sea lions and king penguins, and are legal.
Yes, even pet tigers are doable if you have the space and know-how. Most of these animals, however, are not for people new to the care of animals with more ‘extreme’ characteristics. In other words, these species are not popular pets for a reason—they may have bad house manners, need large enclosures, and require an owner with the flexibility to adapt to unexpected behaviors.
Most people find so-called exotic pets more trouble than they’re worth, but others live for the challenge of these unique animals and may even customize their homes to meet their needs. Responsible exotic pet owners buy from reputable breeders and research their selected species before and after purchase
I have already listed and described the exotic cats that are somewhat commonly kept as pets. There are fewer canine species regularly available, but most are relatively common.
Six Legal Wild Dogs That Can Be Kept as Pets
- Wolves and wolfdogs
- Coyotes and coydogs
- New Guinea singing dogs
- Red fox and domesticated foxes
- Other foxes: Arctic, Grey, Swift and Corsac
- Fennec fox
1. Wolves and Wolfdogs
Dogs descend from wolves, so owning one should be similar to living with a dog, right? Sort of. Genetically, dogs differ little from their ancestors. Domesticated dogs however express a wide variety of behaviors that are a mish mosh of wolf-like actions and novel behaviors that have arisen due to selective breeding.
Most dog breeds are adaptable to living with modern humans indoors, however, some breeds demand jobs like herding, protection and chasing. These dogs are known to have high ‘drives’ that stem from their predatory and territorial roots. So with possessing a wolf and some high content wolf mixes, you will experience the origins of these instincts in its complete, natural form.
All domesticated dogs express neotenic features, which make them akin to wolf puppies, but some ‘primitive’ breeds like akitas and basenji retain wolf-like traits that make them more independent or reserved with strangers.
Information About Wolves and Wolfdogs as Pets
- Wolves and high content wolfdogs are only born in the spring, and produce one litter a year.
- Assume that your wolf or wolfdog will require outdoor containment with very high fencing. Most wolves do not do well indoors and are difficult to house break.
- While single wolves can hardly be considered dangerous, wolfdogs can have a high degree of unpredictability because they possess both domesticated dog and wolf traits.
- They should be fed a nutritionally complete (meeting the standards of AAFCO), meat-based, high-energy extruded dry dog food; with possible supplementation of (also for enrichment) whole prey items (around 5-10% of the diet).
- Wolves are very social just like dogs, but these needs may be more challenging to meet with animals not as well adapted to life in a human household. It is recommended that they have other wolf/wolfdog or confident large dog companions.
- Many sites discourage the ownership of wolves. It is true that they are not pets for everyone, but no pet is.
Most people find it difficult to distinguish between wolves and wolfdogs. Many also believe Siberian Huskies look like wolves! When you look at the two side by side, the differences are obvious. 'High content' wolfdogs can often resemble so-called pure wolves.
2. Coyotes and Coydogs
Coyotes are popular in cartoons and commonly persecuted as pests but are they kept as pets? Pet coyotes are rare outside of zoological facilities and individuals with licenses to hold them (often for 'educational' purposes) but owners do exist. They are not as commonly bred and sold like wolves and wolfdogs because they are regulated as native wildlife, making them illegal in most, or all states.
Some people might find coyote pups and raise them, such as in the below video. This is illegal, however the story of the coyote in the video is compelling and shows one of the many benefits exotic pet ownership has for animals and people, as well as how environment is important in shaping a pet over genetics.
Wiley the coyote is owned by Rick Hanestad, a prominent hunter who was taught to kill coyotes by beating them to death. He's had a change of heart after rescuing and raising an orphaned coyote pup that has grown to be a very dog-like member of his family's household. It even plays with his young daughter. He was very blessed and lucky that his state's DNR was willing to issue him a license to keep the animal after some persuading by supporters. While Hanestad's state-issued licenses to torture coyotes in canned hunts, they do not do so for pet owners.
Wiley is now a great ambassador animal that changes the perceptions of coyotes. Still, these governing bodies are rarely rational about exotic or wild animals as pets and probably won't let anyone else have Hanestad's good fortune.
On the other hand, coydogs cannot be regulated as native wildlife because they are hybrids between domesticated dogs and coyotes, a nuisance animal often sought for removal from the ecosystem. They are likely technically illegal to own in most states, but most people probably can't tell for sure if it's actually a hybrid or not. It's possible some dog-owners don't know their pet is a coydog, and other owners incorrectly think they have a coydog (as are many people completely wrong in thinking they have a high content wolfdog). Such hybrids are rare and should be considered dogs until proven otherwise.
3. New Guinea Singing Dogs
They look like a typical dog, but it is said that they are actually a species of 'wild' dog. Taxonomists can't seem to agree on the origin or classification of this animal; do they originate from feral domesticated dogs (and if so, would that make them not an 'exotic' pet?), are they a hybrid between dogs and dingos? Are they a subspecies or a breed? Some have classified the singing dog as a distinct species with the scientific name Canis hallstromi, but later they were grouped with the Australian Dingo as a feral wild subspecies of the domestic dog, (Canis familiaris dingo), and this caused zoos to stop breeding them.
Whatever the scientific description, these animals are unique and are called "evolutionary significant". Native to the densely foliated, high mountains of New Guinea, in the wild, singing dogs are extremely elusive and hard to find. In captivity, breeders can be found in exotic pet circles, and they can easily make good pets for people who understand the species, or breed.
Information About New Guinea Singing Dogs
- Their closest relative is the dingo, which they can resemble
- Physically, they differ from domesticated dogs. They exhibit increased flexibility, moving more fluidly, similar to a cat.
- Singers are shy and reserved with strangers, not extroverted like many domestic dog breeds. They are an independent breed that will take off, following the scent of an animal if allowed off leash.
- Because whether or not this animal is conserved in a species survival program is dependent on their classification as a distinct species or sub-species, the exotic pet trade can be an important player in their conservation.
4. Red Fox and Domesticated Foxes
Red foxes, despite the name, come in a variety of interesting colors including black, white, and marble. They are indoor-outdoor pets with most fox keepers recommending that they have an outdoor pen for two reasons. These foxes enjoy time outdoors but cannot simply be taken out on a leash like a dog without a significant risk of them escaping, and they will be nearly impossible to re-capture as one might expect. Also unlike domesticated dogs, they will spray and mark in your home, and their urine and scent glands have a strong odor resembling skunk spray. So if you want an indoor fox pet, the easy winner (or only candidate) is the fennec fox, described below.
- Red Fox Family Care Sheet
This article contains red fox care information and pictures of an extremely cool homemade fox enclosure, for anyone wondering how responsible exotic pet owners operate.
Pet Red Foxes: Differences Compared to Dogs
- Skunky odor
- They must be hand-raised at an early age (5-6 weeks of age) to be a tame pet
- They do not have a dog-like psychological cooperation with humans and do not understand correction.
- Will require more stimulation than many dog breeds and they have a high activity level, so an outdoor pen is a requirement
Russian Domesticated Foxes
Do not fall for the domestication myth; the idea that these foxes are 'domesticated' is misleading. When most people hear the word domestication, they think of dogs, but do domesticated chickens behave like dogs? No, dogs are a domesticated wolf species, and domesticated foxes are still foxes, despite close relation to wolves taxonomically. Like cats, they don't differ from their progenitor as substantially as wolves and dogs. They are still relatively skittish.
What Does Domestication in a Red Fox Mean?
- Unique coloration. Russian foxes found in the U.S. tend to be silver.
- Increased tameness and seeking of human socialization. Domesticated foxes have been selectively bred to reduce fear aggression.
- Decreased (or removed, it's hard to verify which) odor.
But remember, they still aren't dogs, even though some of their behaviors may cross paths. This shows the uselessness of the term, given that these animals still qualify as domesticated even though they do not drift as dramatically from wild-type foxes behaviorally as do dogs. A big player in the behavior of all animals, domesticated or otherwise, is their environment, or how they're raised. Only get a domesticated fox (if you can find one) if you are prepared for a typical fox.
Special Statement on Sibfox.com: This used to be a website where people could get into contact with breeders of domesticated foxes from Siberia. It now appears to have been taken over by some idiot [entitled Tame Fox: Diseases, Child Attacks, Illegal in USA] that uses the most asinine lies to discourage people from getting foxes, such as citing incidences of wild foxes, likely rabid, biting people. It isn't credible to say the least.
- My Pet Fox
This is a blog about a domesticated fox.
5. Other Foxes: Arctic, Grey, Swift and Corsac
In general, a lot of what applies to red foxes is also true of the other species relatively common in the exotic pet trade. Foxes in general are high energy, aloof, and skittish.
- They still have a strong odor
- They are a smaller species compared to red foxes and have a more mellow disposition
- Obviously, they can tolerate colder temperatures and might overheat in high heat.
- Reportedly not as smelly as arctics and reds.
- Relatively calm (for a fox)
- Smaller size
Both the Corsac and swift foxes are less common than greys, reds, and arctics.
- Around the size of a cat, 5-7 pounds.
- Faint skunk smell but not as intense, however they can emit a more pungent, unpleasant smell at certain times.
- Social for a fox
- Originates from a desert climate
- Also smaller and less smelly than red and arctics
6. Fennec Fox
Fennec foxes are arguably one of the more popular exotic pets, and they excite people who didn't know such unusual-looking animals can be pets. I've listed them as one of what I consider to be closest to an ideal exotic (mammalian) pet (for a person tolerant of non-dog like ease). These are the only foxes suitable for 100% indoor life, although some people might choose to make outdoor pens for them anyway.
In my opinion, their size makes them very manageable, and unlike some of the other foxes, they have little smell, an enormously desirable trait. Being desert foxes, they conserve water and have dry droppings. Some people might let them free-roam, but it is recommended they have their own cage or room. Once again, these are still foxes and they still might make bad pets to people expecting the home adaptability of domesticated dogs.
Negatives of Owning a Fennec Fox
- It might seem like a good idea at first, but it is very dangerous to take them outside even in tight-fitting jacket harnesses. If they escape, you will likely never see them again. There are many stories of fennecs and other exotics slipping out of seemingly secure harnesses.
- Fennecs are extremely loud and hyper, as this video presents effectively.
- Litter training is possible but probably won't be 100% consistent.
- They can be temperamental and go through unexpected behavior shifts upon maturity, so despite the fact that this animal might be a good 'beginner species' into high-maintenance exotic pets, be prepared for the changes that dog and cat owners typically don't go through.
Honorable Mentions: Other Canids I've Seen in Private Ownership
- The bat-eared fox and pale fox
- Cape hunting dogs (or African wild dogs)
- Dingoes (similar to New Guinea singing dogs, found mostly in Australia)
*Note, hyenas are not canids.
These canids are very uncommon but some people do possess them, notably if they have a license or run an exotic animal-related business. Here is one example of a licensed zoological propagator that breeds bat-eared foxes. This facility based in Oregon has pale (pallid) foxes and numerous other species.
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.
Maya baidan on June 04, 2020:
my favorite dog is an Aussie pom
Spam on April 21, 2020:
Nope, don’t mess with nature.
a person on April 09, 2020:
if u get a fennec fox can u get it to be less hyper
Melissa A Smith (author) from New York on May 27, 2019:
Melissa Kelley: Vulpes and Canis are of the genus Canidae, therefore they are related. Hyenas are feliforms.
Melissa Kelley on May 23, 2019:
Vulpes and Canis are not related. I'm glad you cleared up the misinformation that hyenas are dogs but please know to differentiate foxes from dogs in future articles. Otherwise beautifully written.
Melissa A Smith (author) from New York on June 06, 2018:
Janine: Sorry none whatsoever. I don't think they are in the American pet trade.
Janine on June 05, 2018:
Have you had any experience with Dholes? Do you know of anyone who has tamed them?
brent on April 01, 2018:
foxes are not dogs. theyre far from it
Eric Farmer from Rockford Illinois on February 22, 2018:
What an interesting list of pets! I have heard of wolf-dog hybrids before and usually, the descriptions come with many warnings.
Monika on May 21, 2017:
In India and Egypt they have tigers and cheetahs as pets
Jerry on March 12, 2017:
I love those African Wild Dogs. A few years ago I saw some in the San Antonio Zoo, and I was an instant fan. They are the most bizarre looking dogs on earth, but fascinating social behaviors. Smart, alert, good size. I would love to have one as a partner on my farm.
wyatt on February 23, 2017:
I had a dog that was half dingo when I was a kid. It was probably the most ill behaved dog ever, but it was absolutely amazing with kids. He actually saved my brother from falling down a flight of stairs when he was a baby.
Mikaela on October 25, 2015:
i`m only 13 right now, but my best friend and i are going to raise wolves. were addicted.
Melissa A Smith (author) from New York on May 08, 2015:
Breck123--I just had to come back and say I found out 'Park Exotics' is based in the UK. DAMMIT.
Melissa A Smith (author) from New York on April 20, 2015:
That message is making me physically sick. What do you mean when you say "Pricey copied HSUS". Did she copy what they told her or did she forward your message to someone from there? Can we continue this via email? Go to fan mail and send a message there for my email. Thanks.
Nicole on April 20, 2015:
Sent emails, Pricey copied HSUS who replied to me about exempting USDA and ZAA. Email is below.
Hi Nicole. Just a few points to consider:
Exempting USDA licensees severely weakens any law that is intended to restrict the private possession of dangerous wild animals to qualified facilities for the following reasons:
. Exotic pet owners can easily acquire a USDA exhibitor license to circumvent state laws
. As has been confirmed by audits of the agency, the USDA is unable to effectively enforce the limited and inadequate standards of the Animal Welfare Act (AWA)
. Licensees can (and often do) keep animals in inhumane and unsafe conditions, yet can still be in compliance with the AWA
. USDA licenses are easy to obtain, but difficult for the agency to revoke
. USDA licenses are automatically renewed every year, even when a licensee has had serious and/or repeated AWA violations
. USDA licenses are not species-specific
. USDA licensees are often the biggest problem
In addition, the ZAA must not be confused with the highly respected Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). The deceptively named ZAA is a fringe group with weak standards that endorses poorly run roadside zoos, traveling zoos, and private menageries, and promotes the private ownership of exotic pets as well as the commercialization of wildlife. Despite threats to public safety and animal welfare, ZAA standards allow public contact with dangerous wild animals. In 2012, when Michigan Governor Rick Snyder vetoed changes to Michigan's Large Carnivore Act he stated, "[Expanding permission to ZAA facilities to keep large carnivores in Michigan] could lead to gaps in public health protection and animal welfare."
Aside from ignoring the rest of my email, which covered everything from public health concerns to public safety and animal cruelty, they really do want to ban USDA and ZAA facilities...
Should I reply to the HSUS lady, Pricey, or both? Should I even try with the HSUS?
Frida Nyberg from Sweden on April 14, 2015:
I've seen that someone in the UK has African wild dogs (or painted wolves as I prefer to call them) privately. Sadly the forum where the thread was has now been removed, but it was mentioned on this other forum: http://www.raskbb.com/sybilsden/viewtopic.php?f=68...
Melissa A Smith (author) from New York on April 13, 2015:
I don't think they are, I saw a licensed private facility with them.
It's not fair.
Breck123 on April 13, 2015:
Interesting. I didn't know that african wild dogs were in the pet trade.
Melissa A Smith (author) from New York on April 08, 2015:
I guess it would depend on what the mean by those things. It would be crazy for them to be OK with circuses and not with zoos that are not accredited by the AZA. That just shows they don't know what they're talking about, and hopefully that will work to our advantage.
It might be a good idea to use your NC address if you know. Just make it clear that you will be a resident.
Nicole on April 08, 2015:
Under the legislation link, it says to post your address. I'm currently living in Ohio but will be attending the University of North Carolina in the fall and moving there afterwords. Should I just post UNC's zip code and my email address? It'll be a few months before I'll be living in NC.
Nicole on April 08, 2015:
Here's the bill link http://www.usark.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/20...
I looked under "exemptions" where it lists all of the statuses that would exempt animal owners. Those include AZA institutions, circuses, research facilities, accredited sanctuaries, veterinarians, and wildlife organizations. Truthfully I don't understand why it wouldn't list ZAA as well, but that is what the bill means, right? I don't want to send something out with the wrong information. Thanks for the link!
Melissa A Smith (author) from New York on April 08, 2015:
Nicole, yes, I heard about that yesterday and sent emails to all the sponsors and I've received two responses. Please also do so, using this format: http://www.nea.org/home/19657.htm Be very polite, and state you will be a resident of NC (as I will be, we've bought our land down there).
"but NO USDA exemptions: to own one of the listed animals, you must be specifically AZA certified, not even ZAA works."
How is that possible? NC has many respectable zoos with no AZA. This would shut down businesses. I highly doubt NC's mostly Republican representatives would push for that. I know that in my area, that would be the end of Tregembo Animal Park (admittedly it's crappy, but that's not the point. It's a major attraction that is advertised in travel booklets in hotels). Duke Lemur Center is highly respected and isn't accredited by the AZA, so that can't possibly be the case.
Nicole on April 08, 2015:
Hey Melissa, great article but this comment isn't about canids: North Carolina just introduced an exotics bill and I thought you should know. It's H554 and would only ban certain mammals and primates, including all felids (even servals and bobcats), gray/ red wolves, all primates, hyenas, and bears. There is a grandfather clause for existing owners, but NO USDA exemptions: to own one of the listed animals, you must be specifically AZA certified, not even ZAA works.
This could potentially ruin all of my future plans as a future North Carolinian. Please help us fight it. :(
Albert Kim from Nairobi Kenya on April 06, 2015:
Its surprisingly odd but I have individuals who keep lions, leopards and the cheetah but these caged if domesticated when mature. Once domesticated when they are young and not exposed to the adults and the wild, they make good pets. Thanks for sharing.
Melissa A Smith (author) from New York on April 06, 2015:
Thanks Peggy, that is the right attitude to have.
Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on April 06, 2015:
It is interesting learning about all of these exotic animals but we will just stick with our cats and dog as far as household pets. We do know a lady that owns a couple of tortoises and apparently her backyard will never be on a home tour for its beauty. To each his or her own! Hopefully people who wish to own exotic pets do it legally and responsibly. Pinning this to my animals board.