Let’s face it: Fennec foxes are adorable.
If you’ve never seen a fennec fox, they look like a cross between a fuzzy chihuahua and an Eevee from Pokémon. Wily and energetic as a teenage ferret, fennec foxes come with adorably huge ears, a delicately pointed face, and a sweet fox smile.
They’re so cute that it’s incredibly tempting to want one — but do fennec foxes make good pets?
Can I Own a Fennec Fox?
First, if you’re considering a fennec fox as a pet, check quickly to make sure whether it’s legal to do so in your area. Four states, including Minnesota, Missouri, Nevada, and Washington ban fennec foxes altogether, while Florida, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, and Texas require a health certificate or a permit. Otherwise, if you’re asking, “Can I have a fennec fox as a pet in my home state?” the answer is generally yes.
Why Should You Get a Fennec Fox?
If you love clever pets with high energy and considerable intelligence, the fennec fox is probably on your short list of possible pet candidates already. Weighing in at 1.5 to 3 pounds, the fennec fox is easy to accommodate in the space of a normal house. Its small size also means that it’s relatively easy to find appropriately-sized furniture and accessories such as a kennel or day bed. With an appropriate diet and considerate care, fennec foxes can live from 12-16 years. Also, one definite plus is that it’s hard to resist an animal so exotic and adorable.
Why Shouldn’t You Get a Fennec Fox?
Fennec foxes are not a “get-it-and-forget-it” pet. Active and energetic, fennec foxes need a lot of attention. Essentially, you can describe fennec foxes in two words: high maintenance. For example, learning about your fennec fox’s nutritional needs can be challenging for some pet owners.
Most pet owners are used to going to the store and buying ready-made food in a bag or can, but putting together a balanced diet for your fennec fox needs more work than a quick trip to the pet mart.
Furthermore, to keep your fennec fox safe, you will need to “fox-proof” your house and yard, and your fox may not work well with other animals or babies. Fennec foxes are happiest when they have a full room to run around in, and not every house or apartment has the available space.
Finally, some fennec fox owners report that they are sometimes difficult to house train.
Bottom line, the fennec fox is still a wild animal and needs more specialized care than most dogs or cats. In order to be a happy pet owner of a happy pet, it’s a wise idea to research what you’re getting into. Read on to discover more about fennec foxes before making your decision.
Chapter 1: Understanding Fennec Fox Behavior
To people used to owning cats and dogs, some of the behaviors of a fennec fox can seem perplexing at first. Natural burrowers who love to dig, clever thieves who will chew on pennies and eyeglasses, fennec foxes are extremely energetic and loving when they’re not solidly asleep. When they’re awake, they’re definitely awake.
It’s no understatement to say that fennec foxes are highly reactive to everything going on in their environment. They can spook easily at loud noises or disruptions and may become nervous or anxious. More unfamiliar to most mainstream pet owners is that the fennec fox is most active at night.
Desert Dwellers: Tough Survivors
To understand these behaviors (and others), it’s important to know a little about the background of the fennec fox. Native to Africa and found in places ranging from the Sahara and Arabian desert to the Sinai Peninsula and elsewhere, the fennec fox is not a special hybrid or domesticated cross-breed between a dog and a fox. Instead, the fennec is a special species of fox all by itself.
The fennec fox’s desert origin explains a lot about its behavior and appearance. Many desert or heat-adapted animals including the African elephant, the kangaroo rat, and the jackrabbit of the southwest U.S. have exceptionally large ears for the same reason our fennec friends do: they help keep the animal cool.
Even the fennec’s coat and feet have evolved for life in the hot North African desert. The fennec’s fluffy beige fur enables it to blend effortlessly into Sahara sand while its unusually furry feet keep its delicate pads from burning.
Digging for Dinner: Clever Foragers
Understanding the fennec’s desert-adapted nature helps to understand its behavior. As a desert dweller living in a harsh environment, fennec foxes are survivalists. They’re opportunists who will basically eat almost any protein source they can find in the wild. This includes rodents, insects, rabbits, birds (and their eggs) and anything else they can track down.
That explains why fennecs are sometimes on the jumpy side. To a fennec fox, sudden noise usually means one of two things: they’re about to be a diner, or they’re about to be a dinner. Interestingly, the fennec fox can live without directly consuming water, because it can absorb most of the water it needs from its food. Being from the desert also explains why the fennec fox is definitely a nocturnal animal. It’s the only time that going outside doesn’t feel like walking on the surface of the sun.
As survivalists, fennec foxes know sometimes you have to dig for your dinner. Living in burrows and being fond of insects, rabbits, and rodents as a major protein source mean that your fennec fox loves to dig — a lot. (In the wild, fennec foxes can dig up to twenty feet underground overnight.)
If you have a house with a yard, you’ll need to make sure that your fence goes deeply into the ground all around the perimeter or fennec area. Security is crucial because if your fennec fox gets out of an enclosure and runs away, it’s very unlikely that it will come back on its own and may find survival difficult or impossible in an environment that they’re not adapted for. Inside a house, fennecs may enjoy digging in litter boxes, so having a covered litter box is a pretty good idea.
Finally, the fennec’s background explains a great deal about its tendency toward theft. Like ferrets, fennec foxes view all unsecured items as “theirs,” at least from the fennec’s perspective. If you’re missing your keys or some other item, it’s possible that you have a small furry ripoff artist to blame.
As funny (and sometimes exasperating) as this habit can be, it also means that fennecs need supervision and housing in a fennec-proof area. They will chew on metallic objects, including electric plugs or anything that feels satisfying and chewy to the teeth such as rubber bands, baby bottle nipples or leather. Eating those objects can cause intestinal obstruction or even death.
Temperament and Behavior: How Friendly Is a Fennec Fox?
Fennec foxes, especially if they’ve been raised by hand from birth and socialized extensively, can be loving, snuggly, and sweet. Unlike other members of the fox family, fennecs like to hang out in groups just as wolves and their dog descendants do. This trait makes it easier to adapt to life with humans, who generally like socialization and affection themselves.
Like most dogs and cats, in fact, fennec foxes don’t generally bite except if fearful or cornered. They’ll nibble your knuckles or fingers gently, but this is social nibbling and isn’t intended to show aggression or cause pain. It just means your little fox sees you as a family.
However, it’s important to note that each fennec fox is different. Unlike dogs, cats, or ferrets, the fennec fox hasn’t had thousands of years of domestication and socialization, so a specific fennec might be shy and unwilling to be petted for more than a few seconds. Some may be very friendly and want to be petted (especially on the ears), but other fennec foxes might be less outgoing.
Energy Level and Anxiety
Fennec fox pet care can be tricky, in part because they are, to put it mildly, high-energy critters. With their cleverness and inquisitiveness, they love to explore, run around, and yes, dig into things.
Like many intelligent animals (including humans!), fennec foxes will engage in destructive behaviors if they’re confined for long periods or left to do nothing without an outlet for its energy and curiosity. That’s when you might get a fennec fox engaging in anxious behaviors such as digging into floors, couches, or cushions.
You need to take some special caution before setting up a fennec play area. Indoors is probably the best place for a fennec fox play place because foxes need supervision. An outdoor play area requires fairly serious fox-proofing and depending on the weather, it probably can’t be used throughout the year.
An outside fence needs to go several feet into the ground to prevent the fennec from burrowing under and escaping, and fencing also needs to be bent down so that they can’t jump over it. To deal with this issue, some fox owners have a special location in their apartment or house set aside as “the fox room,” a place you can equip with kitty climbing trees, safe play objects, a sleeping area, food and water, and a litter box.
Chapter 2: Fennec Fox Care
Before getting a fennec fox, it’s important to research the kind of care the fox will need. This includes doing some investigation about the ideal healthy diet for a fennec fox, the amount and frequency of their meals, the danger foods to avoid, and other considerations such as their housing requirements, kennel needs, and litter box training.
What’s For Dinner?
In its North African desert habitat, fennec foxes eat any protein source they can catch, including insects, lizards, birds, eggs, and occasionally plants. Your fennec’s diet at home needs to resemble his diet in the wild in order for your fox to stay healthy and live to its fullest extent.
Why Can’t I Feed My Fennec Fox Dog Food?
Even though foxes and dogs are related, it doesn’t mean your fennec fox can eat a dog’s diet. Although fennec foxes are technically omnivores, they’re far closer to the “mostly carnivore” end of the scale than dogs are. One important difference is that dogs can handle a more varied diet than fennec foxes can, and dog intestines are much better equipped to handle grains and fiber.
By contrast, about 90% of the fennec fox diet in the wild is made up of insects, which are high in protein. A fennec fox that’s fed dog food would ultimately become unhealthy and underfed. In short, you can’t just go to the store and get a bag of canine kibble for your fennec fox.
What’s a Good Diet?
A healthy diet for fennec foxes can consist of about 90% ground rabbit or chicken meat and several dozen insects a day including crickets, mealworms, or any type of bug.
Five percent of a fennec fox’s diet should come from vegetables and berries or cherries, and the final 5% of their diet should be made up of eggs or an occasional fish such as herring.
How Much and How Often Should I Feed a Fennec Fox?
In general, an adult fennec fox will usually need about 520 grams of food (about 18-19 ounces) per day. It’s important to remember that fennecs are only active during the night, so keep their biological clock in mind when you’re structuring a feeding.
One possible average daily diet could include 1.5 ounces of chicken, 2 ounces of ground rabbit, and insects, but if you have questions, it pays to consult with a veterinarian who’s experienced in wild animal care to plan a more specific diet for your fennec fox to make sure you’re meeting all of your fox’s nutritional needs. An ideal weight for most fennec foxes is around 2-3 pounds, so be careful not to overfeed them.
Foods to Avoid
In feeding fennec foxes, try to avoid the same foods you’d keep away from your dog. Some problematic foods to avoid include chocolate, grapes, and raisins. In both dogs and fennec foxes, the kidneys are adversely affected by raisins and grapes.
Additionally, although mice are sometimes suggested as food for fennec foxes, the high retinol content in mouse meat may make them a problematic choice. Fennec foxes are not equipped to handle grains and fiber. So avoid pasta, most fruits, beans, and grains. Additionally, garlic, caffeine, chocolate, and avocado can be toxic to fennec foxes.
Can I Feed My Fennec Fox a Vegan Diet?
Absolutely not. The human choice to follow a vegan diet is a personal and individual decision to make for yourself, but remember that any animal in your care has precisely zero control over what you give them. That’s why responsible owners try to feed their pets the healthiest possible diet to meet their pet’s unique nutritional needs.
As one example of the truly tragic effects an inappropriate diet can have on an animal, vegan blogger Sonia Sae documented the effects of a vegan diet on Jumanji, her fennec fox. Readers of Sae’s blog became increasingly concerned as Jumanji’s health began to visibly deteriorate in the photos Sae posted. Jumanji became partially blind, lost significant portions of his hair, became lethargic, and was startlingly underweight even for a fennec fox.
Fennec Foxes and Sleep: Snoozle Time
Owning a fennec fox means accepting and understanding one important feature of this intelligent and active animal: They’re night owls. As desert dwellers, nighttime is the precious time the sun goes down and the bugs come out, both of which were beneficial to the fennec fox species.
Don’t expect that a pet fennec fox will automatically adjust to a human’s schedule. At night, fennec foxes can get active (and pretty noisy). Being kept in a kennel during the time when they’re feeling most active and energetic isn’t a great idea. Think about the frustration you feel if you’re trapped at work on a perfect spring day when you’d rather be out playing. Your fox feels the same way if they’re put in a cage at night.
One workable solution to fennec fox nocturnal hijinks is to set up a dedicated “fox room” in your house or apartment. The fox room can be filled with safe climbing structures, covered electrical outlets, a litter box, a digging area, and safe toys. Your fox can have fun zipping around and playing without being in danger of hurting himself (or annoying you while you sleep).
Should Fennec Foxes Be Kept in Cages or Kennels?
Intelligent and active animals like fennec foxes really do not thrive if they’re kept in cages or kennels for long periods of the time. From time to time, you might need to put your fennec fox in a kennel temporarily, such as when you’re transporting your fox to the vet.
Having a full room to themselves will be great. However, if you do not have such luxury, using a play pen is a simple way to keep your foxes within certain areas of your room. But take it from me, they are really good jumpers.
In terms of everyday activity, if your house or apartment won’t allow for a dedicated fox room to play in at night, getting a multi-tiered ferret cage with ramps and play areas might be an option. However, there’s no doubt that a full room is better for your fennec fox’s health and happiness.
If you plan to have your foxes outdoors, take note that they are really good at burrowing and jumping. If you have fences build on top of soil and grass, chances are they start digging and may escape.
Here are a few play pen options for dogs that are suitable indoors or outdoors for fennec foxes:
- Yaheetech Heavy Duty Foldable Metal Exercise Fence – this fence are high enough for larger dogs. It can be customised to which ever size you want. Suitable for bigger fennec foxes.
- AmazonBasics Foldable Metal Pet Playpen – This play pen comes in different sizes and can house dogs of up to 26 inches tall. Can be folded, dismantled or connected without any tools. Suitable for small and medium fennec foxes.
- Ruff ‘n Ruffus Portable Foldable Pet Playpen – This playpen has a roof cover and is foldable. Space is quite limited but can be used for smaller baby fennec foxes for quick play time outdoors.
Can Fennec Foxes Be Litter Trained?
An important part of the question, “Can you own a fennec fox?” is the issue of litter training. Clearly, it’s important to know if you can successfully train a fennec fox to use a litter box. The short answer is, “kind of.”
No one should ever forget that fennec foxes are still considered undomesticated. Bottom line, litter box training is hard to predict with individual fennec foxes. Some foxes may adapt easily to using a litter box while others may disregard it entirely.
House training a fennec fox works similarly to training a dog or cat. Take your fennec fox to the litter box frequently during the day and reward them with treats when they successfully use the box.
It’s important to stress that punishing or yelling at a fennec fox for defecating or urinating outside of the litter box is not just unproductive but actually harmful. Not only will your fox have no idea why you’re yelling at them, but their sensitivity to loud noises might also make them permanently scared of you.
Instead, if you see your fennec fox going to the bathroom where it shouldn’t, just move them to the box as soon as possible. Pro tip: Because fennec foxes love to dig in the sand, it’s a great idea to get the kind of litter box that comes with a cover to prevent litter from being gleefully scattered on the floor.
Another solution to the litter box issue is the “fox room.” Having a separate “fox room” allows you to essentially “carpet” the floor of the room with clean construction sand, a surface the Sahara-friendly foxes find familiar and reassuring. That way, if your fennec fox misses the litter box (or totally ignores its existence), you can essentially scoop the poop and save the floors. Bags of clean sand are easily available at a hardware store.
If you are planning to get litter box for your pet fennec fox, here are a few options that are suitable:
- Nature’s Miracle Litter Box – This litter box has high sides to prevent scattering of litter. They also have a non sticky surface for easy cleaning.
- Pet Mate Sifting Litter Pan – This litter box comes with a 2 layers of sifting pan for easy cleaning. no scooping required.
Fennec Foxes Loves Their Toys
Want to have a great play time with fennec foxes? Get them a toy to chew on!
Fennec foxes are under the biological family of Canidae. So to put it in layman terms, they behave a little like dogs and they love of biting down their toys to play fetch.
See how you can play fetch with your fennec foxes:
Some suitable toys to play fetch with your fennec foxes:
- Mini Tennis Balls – These mini tennis balls are pet safe non-toxic tennis balls that comes in different sizes. Comes in striking orange colors too.
- Cute & colorful squeaky soft toys – These soft toys comes in a pack of 14 which is value for money. They are non-toxic and pet safe plush toys that are cute and colorful.
- Pet Push Toy – This plush toy is soft and lightweight and is defintely a great toy to play fetch with your fennec fox.
Are Fennec Foxes Noisy?
Bird trills, parrot noises, squawks, barks — you’ll be amazed at the variety of expressive sounds fennec foxes are capable of making. Sometimes, fennec foxes can sound like cooing pigeons or chattering chimpanzees. They can growl (although it sounds like a low trill), or make high-pitched squealing noises that sound like you just squeezed a dog’s rubber toy.
Fennec foxes are very expressively vocal, so in an apartment or a house you share with roommates, the noise may be an important consideration to keep in mind. However, if you love it when your fox “talks back” to you, you’ll have fun watching this video.
Do Fennec Foxes Need to Be Vaccinated?
The same diseases that affect dogs and cats and other domestic animals can affect fennec foxes too. Even though research on vaccinations of exotic pets like fennec foxes is somewhat limited, vaccination is still a good idea.
Vaccination is especially important to prevent the spread of common diseases among mammals, such as rabies, distemper, parvovirus, canine adenovirus, and others. Naturally, it’s crucial to consult with a veterinarian who has experience in dealing with exotic mammals, specifically fennec foxes, in order to get a sense of what vaccines are most crucial for your pet’s continued safety and health. Some states may have different vaccination requirements than others.
What Other Medical Needs Do Fennec Foxes Have?
Dietary deficiencies are one important area to keep an eye on. Lack of taurine, an amino sulfonic acid, is sometimes a culprit in an unbalanced or inappropriate diet for your fennec fox, who is mostly a carnivore and needs a diet of 90% protein.
Being members of the canid family, fennec foxes are susceptible to many of the same conditions that affect dogs. Some of the most common are kidney, liver, and heart diseases, pneumonia, intestinal parasites, skin infections or mites, eye infections, histoplasmosis, tooth decay or dental disease, and others. As always, it is important to check with a veterinarian with exotic animal experience to keep your fennec fox literally bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.
Chapter 3: Fennec Fox Adoption
How Much Does a Fennec Fox Cost?
The costs of adopting a fennec fox vary from place to place, but an average price is around $1500 for a healthy adult fox. Breeders for fennec foxes are not widely distributed, so it will probably be necessary to look into breeders nearest your area and research their reliability and reputation.
Process of Adoption
First, find out whether it is legal in your state to own a fennec fox. Fennec foxes bond with their owners and are not at all easy to re-home if your state animal authorities remove them from your home, so please do research carefully.
Secondly, if adoption is legal in your area and you know if you need a permit or other paperwork, find a veterinarian in your area who knows about exotic animals and is willing to treat your prospective new family member. It’s important to line up a veterinarian even before you adopt. Exotic animal vets are much harder to find than vets for dogs and cats, and finding a vet is not something you want to do at the last minute.
Next, check with your landlord, homeowner’s association or roommates to find out, “Can you have a fennec fox as a pet?” Many apartments have restrictions on exotic animals. If everything looks solid on that front, make sure you have enough space in your house or apartment for your fox. A dedicated room is best because you can make sure everything in there is safe for fox play. A secondary option is a multi-tiered ferret cage with plenty of space, but bear in mind that you should not keep fennec foxes caged up all day.
Since feeding your new family member is crucially important, make sure you have at least a week’s worth of food ready to go, along with water dispensers and food bowls. Litter and a covered litter box should be placed in an easy-to-find location ahead of time.
Finally, if you have already looked into legality and permissibility for your fennec fox and have set up your house or apartment with food, water, feeding area, litter area, and sleeping area, do a sweep of your house to make sure that it’s fennec-friendly. Fennec foxes are curious, clever, and small, so make sure it can’t easily get outside. Unless they’re in a fox-safe room, fennec foxes need supervision.
Fennec Foxes and Other Family Members
Unlike other kinds of fox, fennec foxes tend to like being in family groups. Fennecs tend to be curious and social, so they’re fairly likely to be friendly to other family members, including dogs. The problem in mixing fennec foxes and dogs might actually come from the dog and not the fox: particularly if your dog is a hunting breed or has an easily-triggered prey impulse, the three-pound fennec might be at risk. Dogs bred for companionship, including lap dogs, might be less liable to treat your fennec as prey.
Fennec foxes and cats tend to get along reasonably well. Cats, being cats, might treat the fennec fox with haughty disdain or possibly even play with it, but cats will probably not treat fennecs as if they were either potential threats or potential meals. Interactions between fennec foxes and cats can actually be fairly funny, as in this video in which a fennec fox tries to claim the cat’s bed and claw-sharpening toy area.
If you have babies and small children, it’s probably best to keep them separated until the child is a little older. Fennec foxes are small, about 2-3 pounds, and are fairly delicate. Little kids, no matter how well-meaning they are, can sometimes present a danger by handling fennec foxes too roughly.
Ultimately, fennec foxes are precocious, adorable, energetic, and unique. With their high energy levels and a specialized diet, fennec foxes need more work than cats or dogs. However, for someone with home space, knowledge, and patience, fennec foxes can turn out to be rewarding family members. In the end, it’s crucial to do your homework, because only you can answer, “Do you still think fennec foxes are great pets?” Fennec foxes can definitely be great pets, but they’re not an ideal pet for everyone.
If you have some insights, questions, or observations about fennec fox ownership, be sure to leave your comments below. We’d love to hear from you.