A fox as a pet, while still somewhat unusual, is an idea that is gaining popularity. Breeders have succeeded in domesticating these beautiful animals, resulting in a pet comparable to a dog or cat. Of the fox species that have been domesticated, one of the most overlooked is the gray fox. These high-energy pets are curious, a bit skittish, and generally friendly animals. However, it is very hard to find information pertinent to the care and keeping of foxes. I have found during my own research that what scant knowledge is available generally refers to red or silver foxes. Therefore, I will try here to cover all the basics of gray fox ownership.
While they may have many similarities to other pets, gray foxes have their own unique behavioral traits and should not be judged by what is normal for other types of animals. They are related to canines, however, and it is generally safe to assume that their signals probably mean the same thing that a dog’s might.1 If your fox is growling, it probably means it’s angry. Not all behaviors are the same, though. Foxes seldom bark, for example, and instead indicate interest by an alert “listening” posture. The best course of action when dealing with fox behavior is to try and guess by the context what it means, rather than make assumptions based on typical canine behavior. Gray foxes as a species have their likes and dislikes. They enjoy digging, and are prone to make a mess of any potted plants left within their reach. They will chew on practically anything, a habit which unfortunately they cannot be trained out of. They must also be watched to ensure that they don’t eat something they shouldn’t. Gray foxes quite enjoy people food, especially fruits and meat, though they will also eat grains. They should not be allowed out while people are eating, as they are likely to steal food and generally make a nuisance of themselves. In fact, they should not be allowed out unsupervised at any time, unless your house has nothing chewable, breakable, or edible inside it. Counters and shelves will not hinder a determined fox’s explorations – gray foxes are known for their climbing skills.2 On a more positive note, if introduced while young, gray foxes can be taught to get along with both cats and dogs. Supervision is still recommended, as they love to play fight and might take things too far. To cut down on aggressive behavior, it is recommended to get fox kits ‘fixed’ before they reach six months of age. Foxes are more prone to biting than clawing, and normally don’t use their claws as weapons. The gray fox is generally a friendly animal and will take to large groups rather than bonding with just one or two people. They will happily play with children, though, again, supervision is essential. If a child begins to play rough, a fox will resort to biting to defend itself.
Caring for a gray fox may be somewhat more complicated than caring for the average pet. The most important consideration is nutrition. Most dog or cat food brands will not provide all the requirements for a fox’s diet. Some breeders will have food designed especially for foxes available. If they don’t, they should be able to tell you how to supplement commercially available pet foods. It is also essential to find a good vet who is licensed to treat wild animals. This is required by law in most states to ensure the health of exotic pets. In all other regards, a fox is much like an extremely curious cat with a talent for escapes. They can be litter box trained and taken for walks with a harness and leash. Caution is recommended, as they may be skittish around moving vehicles and unfamiliar, loud, or sudden sounds. Gray foxes have relatively little smell and groom themselves, though you can still brush them if you wish. The occasional bath will help keep the smell to a minimum. Bathing a fox is like bathing a cat – they will bolt. When wet, their instinct is to shake and rub themselves on soft surfaces such as carpets to dry off. Even if you dry one with a towel, it will still try to dry itself. Their nails will also need to be trimmed regularly. Gray foxes are extremely curious animals who investigate everything. Most dog toys are acceptable for fox use, though rawhide is not. Sock toys are also a bad idea, as asphyxiation is a possibility. Other than that, practically anything can be made into a fox toy. Cardboard boxes, balls (especially the kind with bells in them), and squeaky toys are some inexpensive favorites. Foxes are more impressed with novelty than quality, and will happily play with a bit of fabric or a cardboard tube. Playtime is very important. If a fox gets bored, it will likely resort to eating your shoes.
Most states require a permit for the possession of exotic animals such as gray foxes. In Indiana they are considered a Class II wild animal, which basically means that the animal must have an enclosure approved by a Department of Natural Resources inspector, that a certified vet must verify their health, and that a recapture plan must be filed. Such permits generally have a fee of around $10 and must be renewed annually. (The fee, however, is only paid once as long as the permit is renewed on time.) The regulations pertaining to gray fox possession may vary between states, and may be found on the DNR website under Fish and Wildlife, licenses and permits section. 3
In conclusion, gray foxes are rewarding if high maintenance pets. They can be expensive, being in a price range of somewhere around $600. 4 Still, they provide hours of amusing behavior. If you have the patience to deal with their antics, a gray fox can be a highly engaging companion. Just make sure the windows are always closed.
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