The fennec fox, also known as the desert fox, is a beautiful, small member of the vulpine family. Fennec foxes can be kept as pets, although they are not very common. They are petite, save for their enormous ears.
Fennec foxes behave much like dogs, but since they are not domesticated, they do require careful socialization. You'll need to take precautions against them escaping when kept as pets.
Before deciding on adopting one of these beautiful little animals, be sure you are legally allowed to keep them where you live.
Common Name: Fennec Fox
Scientific Name: Vulpes zerda
Adult Size: Mature weight of 2 to 3 1/2 pounds
Life Expectancy: Up to 14 years in captivity
Difficulty of Care: Intermediate; These are smart, social creatures who need a lot of interaction
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Fennec Fox Behavior and Temperament
Fennecs are very social animals, who live in colonies of up to 10 in the wild. This smallest of the wild canids often purrs like a cat when it's content.
Like other small animals, fennec foxes use scent as a defensive mechanism. Although they're not on the level of a skunk or a ferret, fennec foxes do have scent glands on the tips of their tails. This gives off a musky odor when the animal is startled or stressed.
Fennec foxes have a soft, thick, short coat that is off-white on the underside and reddish or tawny on the back, with some black markings on the back and tail.
They are very active, quick and agile, and have a high pitched yelp. These foxes are nocturnal in the wild although a pet fennec usually adapts somewhat to its owner's schedule. They are clean animals and can be litter trained, although owners have varied opinions on how easily.
Some may take quite well to using a litter box, although a covered box works best due to their tendency to dig. The process for house training involves taking the fox frequently to the litter box or secure outdoor pen and giving lots of treats when they succeed in going in a litter box or outside. Never punish for accidents in the house.
Fennec foxes are quite similar to dogs, and hand-raised pups are usually docile, only biting if feeling cornered or threatened. They can be trained on a leash and to come when called (still, they should always be leashed when out of the house or yard).
These animals are also generally not afraid of strangers and are friendly to everyone. They may bother other pets in the household, if only because fennec foxes will want to play with them all the time.
Housing the Fennec Fox
Fennecs are very active and need an outlet for their energy. They are curious and will get into anything and everything. They are also known for their digging. Outdoor enclosures must be designed to prevent them from digging under or climbing over the fence, both of which they will do quite readily.
Burying a significant portion of the fence and turning the fence in at the top (or completely covering the enclosure) should prevent escape. Don't skimp on materials, though, because these foxes can dig holes up to (or down to) 20 feet deep if they're feeling motivated.
In addition to a secure enclosure, they need relatively high temperatures; anything below 68 degrees Fahrenheit and you're likely to see your fennec fox shivering.
Some owners have taught them to fetch like dogs, and this makes a good outlet for their energy. If kept in a yard that is not secured, however, they must be leashed. They are extremely quick and if they run after something as they would in the wild, they can be very difficult to recapture.
And even though fennec foxes are nocturnal in the wild, one of their favorite activities is basking in the sun.
Fennec foxes generally should be kenneled when not supervised simply because they will get into everything; when supervised, they can be out in the home with their owners. Use a dog crate indoors; outdoor pens are fine as long as they are escape-proofed (ideally a pen with fence continued underground several feet and completely covered).
Food and Water
In the wild, fennec foxes are omnivores, eating a diet of insects, rodents, plants, fruit, and reptiles. The ideal diet for pet fennec foxes would probably be a commercial wild canid diet (such as zoos would feed), but most owners will feed a mix of dog food, cat food, vegetables, and fruit with good success.
Some breeders will alternatively recommend a diet of raw meat, vegetables, and a vitamin mix.
Common Health Problems
You will need to find a veterinarian willing to treat your fennec foxes and they need preventative care similar to dogs. They should be routinely vaccinated for rabies (using only a killed vaccine such as Imrab), canine distemper virus, parvovirus, and adenovirus. Your vet should be able to recommend a safe combination vaccine for the standard canine diseases.
There is some concern over using the "typical" MLV vaccine for distemper in fennec foxes, but there are vaccine lines available that are safe. A yearly exam is recommended, and your vet will advise you on deworming, heartworm preventative, and flea control, if necessary.
Purchasing Your Fennec Fox
Before you get a fennec fox, be sure they're allowed to be kept as pets in your area. Some places restrict the ownership of exotic pets.
Buying a fennec fox can be problematic, and usually expensive. Some breeders will prematurely separate kits (baby foxes) from their mothers to sell them for top dollar. Try to verify that a breeder is reputable and has health records for their animals before buying a fennec fox from them.
Prepare to spend several thousand dollars for this animal. It's only gained popularity in recent years after being featured in several movies.
Similar Pets to the Fennec Fox
If you like the idea of an exotic pet, but aren't quite ready for the cost and responsibility of a fennec fox, here are some other animals you may want to consider:
Otherwise, check out other exotic animals that can be your new pet.