Pet Fennec Fox Care Sheet
What is a fennec fox and can you own one?
The allure of owning a fennec fox as a pet is understandable. These Chihuahua-sized canids are distinctive in their appearance as well as being a true fox species that is smaller than the iconic red and grey foxes that are native to North America. Foxes are likely one of the more popular ‘alternative’ pet that people are curious about owning. Most will find that buying and caring for a fennec fox is completely feasible in states where they are legal, but doing so is not without its downsides.
Facts about wild fennec foxes
These small foxes are found throughout the sandy regions of the Sahara deserts of Northern Africa. Being relatively widespread without any major threats to their population, they are listed as least concern on the IUCN Red List, however, as is the case with most wild mammals, increasing human presence and development can result in pressure for the species. Fennec foxes are also sometimes caught and sold into the exotic pet market locally. These sales do not generally, if ever, result in the exportation of illegally captured wild foxes to the North American pet trade as they breed readily in captivity.
- Fennec foxes weigh about 1 kilogram (or 2.2 pounds) and up to 3.3 pounds.
- They reside in arid areas with sand dunes.<'
- Well-adapted to desert life, fennecs drink less water, substituting the consumption of vegetation for hydration.
- Their large ears serve to help locate prey and dissipate heat.
- Fennec foxes sexually mature at around 6-9 months of age and breed once a year.
- Their wild lifespan is about 10 years and they can live longer in captivity.
Fennec foxes as pets: pros and cons
While the idea of owning a small fox can seem exciting, it’s always best to first consider the negative aspects of doing so before the benefits, as this will be the deciding factor on whether or not a fennec fox is for you. The most important part of pet ownership is sufficient space, your ability to meet the animal’s exercise needs, and willingness to put up with potentially destructive behavior. Fennec foxes certainly need less space than larger foxes, but for a pet that will spend a lot of time in a cage, the space should be very large otherwise substantial time out of the cage is mandatory. While it might seem like this isn’t too big of a problem, fennecs are reported by owners to steal and potentially consume small objects. They will also quickly and easily kill any small pets you might have. When fennecs are out of the cage, supervision is required, unless they are confined to a space that has been thoroughly ‘fennec fox-proofed’.
Fennec foxes can be very noisy and screech in excitement when their owners return home. They are also nocturnal and this can be a conflict with owners that want to sleep at night, however most animals tend to adjust to their owner’s schedules to some degree.
- Fennec foxes are not like dogs and most cats in that they can’t simply be picked up and restrained without discomfort. They have a higher level of skittishness.
- Most pet fennec foxes are said to use their litter boxes inconsistently.
- They have an extremely high energy level and an outlet for this is imperative for their mental wellbeing.
- Fennec foxes also like to dig and this can result in them scraping up your carpet fibers.
- Taking a fennec fox outdoors on a leash can spell disaster. Many pet fennecs have been lost this way as if they slip out of their harness, it is nearly impossible to catch them.
- Fennec foxes are not legal in most states.
Of course, there are many positive aspects to owning fennec foxes, beginning with the obvious fact that keeping such an animal is an amazing experience that most people will not get to enjoy. Fennec foxes are unique and very engaging to watch. Having the opportunity to get to know this fascinating exotic pet as a member of your household may be well worth their less than ideal quality as pets.
- Being desert foxes that have evolved to conserve water, they produce less urine and their feces are on the dry side.
- Their small size makes them one of the few foxes that can reside indoors with no need for an outdoor enclosure.
- One of the best benefits of fennecs, at least in comparison to other fox species, is that they lack strong scent glands. Red and grey foxes are said to possess an odor that is similar to and as pungent as skunk spray. For this reason alone, those foxes are mostly housed outdoors.
- Fennecs are playful like puppies or ferrets and have positive relationships with their owners.
Legality for Dennec Fox
Is the fennec fox legal in your state? This question is of extreme importance and you must find the answer before even starting to consider buying an exotic pet. Unfortunately, this means going through the unpleasant task of calling your state’s Department of Fish and Wildlife. One less ideal alternative is asking around in the online exotic pet communities to see if they know your state’s laws. While this is less reliable than getting the information from the authorities, it’s good for finding out if there is more information that might be unknown to the person you speak to on the phone.
For instance, fennec foxes are technically legal in North Carolina and this has been confirmed by the state veterinarian, but the wording of the ordinance that bans native foxes could easily be interpreted to include exotic foxes. Therefore, there are currently efforts to get the language changed so that fennecs can be legal for sure, and it is not currently recommended to buy fennecs there at this time.
Once you confirm that the fennec fox is legal in your state, you must also verify if they are legal in your county, town or city, home owner’s association, or any other entity that could place restrictions of pet species. Do not acquire a fennec fox or any other exotic pet illegally as they can be confiscated and even euthanized. Your fennec fox could also be confiscated and killed to be tested for rabies if it bites or perhaps even scratches a stranger since there is no approved rabies vaccine for foxes. Be incredibly vigilant and limit your pet’s contact with people outside your household.
Fennec foxes will require an experienced or board-certified in zoological medicine veterinarian. Be prepared for the prices these vets charge to be substantially more than what you are used to with a dog and cat. Luckily, exotic pet vets are becoming more common. Be sure to ask if the vet sees foxes even if they call themselves an ‘exotic pet vet’, because sometimes this refers to common exotic pets and even domesticated animals like rabbits and hamsters. An experienced exotic pet vet will only administer a killed virus rabies vaccine to fennec foxes.
The best fennec fox enclosure
Some owners provide an entire room for their pet fennecs. Of course, this room would have to be pet-proofed. Another option is building a large cage. The smallest enclosures used for fennec foxes would be two horizontally-connected ferret nation cages or something equivalent in size. Fennecs can only be housed this way if they are allowed to come out of the cage frequently.
The fennec fox diet
Fennec foxes are known to require more taurine in their diet and these needs can be met with cat food (instead of dog food, which also has lower protein content). A good quality cat food supplemented with fruits, vegetables, and various forms of animal protein such as insects, frozen-thawed rodents and other small animals, eggs, and raw or cooked meats is suitable for fennecs. Be aware of the possibility of food-borne illness when handling raw meat or your fox after it has consumed it.
Fennec Fox Enrichment
Enrichment is the spice of life for a captive animal. Just like in the wild, fennec foxes love to dig. You might want to satisfy this urge by providing the animal a sandbox. Perhaps take this even further by burying capsules containing food so that the fox can forge for it naturalistically. As it is for cats, hiding food around the cage or around the house during its supervised roaming periods can be very beneficial. There are many treat-dispensing toys made for cats and dogs on the market that are perfect for this purpose. It’s always a good idea to avoid constantly feeding your pet in a bowl and provide opportunities for the food to be ‘hunted’. Another less messy and very interactive way of doing this is train your pet to ‘hunt’ a toy and receive a treat as a reward.
Fennec foxes are trainable like nearly all animals, but the task isn’t as easy as it is with most dogs. The best way to train animals like foxes is with operant conditioning methods using positive reinforcement. Clicker training is very popular to use with both traditional pets and zoo animals that are trained to perform in educational shows. This type of training is also great for husbandry purposes and provides essential enrichment.
Animals that are food-motivated are rewarded with a treat when they perform a desired behavior. One useful method is the use of a target stick, and the foundation of success with this apparatus is getting the animal to touch its nose to the end of the stick for a reward. Seek out a book, such as Don’t Shoot The Dog: The New Art of Teaching and Training that can provide more in-depth information for success with these methods.
Litter box training
Fennec foxes are reported by owners to make mostly inconsistent use of their litter box. Like many other exotics, they may tend to go in one or two areas of their cage and you can simply place a litter box there. However, accidents will occur, particularly outside of the enclosure when they are allowed out. Fennecs tend not to have an instinct to seek out a place to potty and will just go where they stand. Fortunately, their droppings are east to clean.
If you want to train your fennec fox to walk on a harness, extensive training should begin early in the animal’s life. Foxes and most other small mammals grow up very fast and their tolerance for restraint dwindles rapidly with age. It generally takes some skill and knowledge of animal behavior to successful train fennec foxes to accept being placed into a harness and then walk around without distress. It is not recommended to take fennec foxes outside in a non-enclosed area even though this would offer excellent enrichment because it is always possible that an animal can slip out of any harness and catching them is nearly impossible.
Buying a fennec fox-price range
Fennec foxes are rising in popularity and right now the demand exceeds the supply, despite the unfortunate increase in irrational prohibitions for them in most states and numerous cities within states where they are legal. As a result, their prices have risen from as low as $800 around ten years ago to $2500+ today for a captive-bred kit. It’s always worth it to spend extra to acquire exotics from a reputable breeder than to take a chance with brokers and other questionable breeders offering animals for lower than expected prices.
Older foxes will cost less but are generally not considered ‘pet quality’ because they are far less tame and are generally used for display or breeding. Of course, the cost of the animal is only a part of the expense of owning one. A large cage, vet care, and the commitment of your time (as well as the difficulty of finding a place for your fox should you need to leave town or go on vacation) are other costly aspects to owning a fennec fox.
Fennec Fox Pet
The Fennec Fox is the smallest of the foxes. This makes them more sought after as a pet. The large ears is a major characteristic that makes them so easily identified from other fox species. The ears are used to radiate body heat and lower their temperature, they have adopted to surviving the Sahara desert. Their coat is very soft and beige in color. The soles of the feet are covered in long fur to allow the fox to travel on the desert sand very easily. The natural habitat that you will find a fennec fox is in the Sahara desert of Africa. They enjoy living in the sandy areas that contain dunes.
Fennec Fox Diet
Their diet includes small rodents, birds, reptiles, eggs, and insects. They will also eat fruits and seeds. They will have a favorite spot to eat at. This may be anywhere, so make sure that there is not any toxics in the cage that could be digested with the food, like litter that you may have in their litter pan. The fox will hunt for its food at night.
Owning a Fennec Fox
The Fennec Fox is a social animal. They will be found in the wild in groups of up to 10-15 individuals. Fennec's being a social animal will make them a good pet because like the domestic dog, they will enjoy your company and want to be with you. But like any social animal, you may come across one that wants to be the dominant one in the group With training, you can keep this in check.
Housing for a Fennec Fox
The fox lives in dens that they will dig themselves. These dens can be several yards deep. Fennec's dig at great speeds which is something to think about when considering one for a pet. They may dig out of the yard quickly if precautions are not taken. They are small enough to fit through a chain linked fence.
It would be best to build an enclosure specifically for the fox that is dig proof. Or for enrichment for the fox, dig the wire fencing down into the ground about 8-10 feet below their enclosure so that they can dig. Digging is a natural behavior that they will do. Also they may show this digging behavior in your home.
Fennec Fox in Captivity
In their natural environment, they breed in mid to late winter and will have 2-5 cubs in March or April. A fennec fox will live 11-14 years in captivity so do educate yourself about this species before buying one. You can train them to walking on a leash. these guys will easily roam and hunt at any chance so it is a good idea to always have them on a secure leash or in an enclosure when outside.
A group of foxes are called a skulk or a leash.
The male fox is called a reynard
The female fox is called a vixen
A baby fox is called a kit.
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