Frequently Asked Questions
Was That A Fox?
If you are unsure if you saw a fox or not, please contact us to detail the sighting and we will help you identify the animal in question. If possible, take footage of the animal for a more accurate assessment.
More often than not, people see an unusual fox and need clarification that this is indeed what they saw, such an encounter is often the first time someone has learnt of these animals. Most of the reports made to Black Foxes UK over the years have been confirmed as melanistic or unusually coloured foxes and a correct assessment was made by those who saw the animal, however unusual the occurrence.
On several occasions, those reporting an unusual fox have mentioned they had originally thought they had seen a 'big cat', until they discovered melanistic and silver foxes existed. On two occasions, lost and foxy-looking dogs have been mistaken for melanistic foxes, however this is a relatively small number considering the amount of reports we receive (300-400/year, between 2015-2023).
To send footage or photos for identification, please email email@example.com.
What Is A Silver Fox?
Put simply, the 'silver fox' is the name given to the 'domesticated North American red fox'. In order to avoid confusion between missing pets and wild foxes, we use the term 'black fox' to describe the melanistic red foxes that are wild in the UK and the term 'silver fox' to describe captive-bred foxes.
You could say, "wild boar are to pigs, what the red fox is to the silver fox" and in the same way wild boar and red foxes have a restricted colour range, farmed pigs and silver foxes have a much greater variation of patterns and colours.
The North American red fox is found in Canada and North America and is a species that was once farmed here for its fur and is now kept as an exotic pet or within animal collections. It was originally classified as 'vulpes fulva' which can be divided into 12 subspecies and which occur naturally in 3 statistically predictable colour variations (red, cross and silver).
The North American red fox was the source supply for the development of the 'farmed silver fox', a captive-bred fox that has been selectively bred since the 1800's and was domesticated for its fur traits, existing in over 70 different colour variations today. The development of the fur trade and the 'silver fox' was termed 'the silver rush' and had a significant impact on society around the world.
In 1959, the North American red fox was reclassified as 'vulpes vulpes' and deemed invasive in the US, due to the incorrect assumption that the farmed foxes were imported from Europe by European settlers and that it was their escaped descendants that were spreading across the US. The move allowed for their persecution in the wild and the continued free movement of silver foxes around European fur farms.
Today, silver foxes exist in at least 2 distinct lineages or 'breeds' (with their own governing bodies and associations that regulate breeding), as well as a lineage or 'breed' maintained as exotic pets;
- The Farmed Silver Fox - An intensively farmed 'working line'
- The Captive-Bred Silver Fox - An exotic pet 'companion animal line'
- The Russian Domesticated Red Fox - The scientifically domesticated 'show line'
Their complicated history and mis-classification makes it difficult to manage them correctly under legal frameworks in the UK but it is a complex and unusual situation and not one science and law are going to agree upon any time soon. It doesn't help with the confusion that their names are based on colour!
You can learn more about the history of the silver fox by heading to our information page.
What Do I Do If I Find A Lost Pet Fox?
Do not record any fox known to be an escaped captive-bred silver fox onto the biological records system. Recording missing exotic pets onto such a system may negatively influence results (due to the sheer amount of reports that often occurs with known escapees).
Captive-bred silver foxes can often be identified by their larger size, longer fuller coats, a larger white tail tip, their unusual behaviour and by their unusual colours or patterns (though this is not always the case; red morph silver foxes are also kept and bred in captivity and many melanistic and unusually coloured foxes exist in the wild in the UK today).
If you believe you have seen an escaped pet or are unsure if the fox you saw was wild or captive-bred, make a note of the time and location, take footage if you are able and contact us for identification and further advice. If it is known the fox is an abandoned captive-bred silver fox escapee, you may also be advised to contact the RSPCA.
Please be aware that the RSPCA and other animal or wildlife rescues may not always act to recapture abandoned captive-bred silver foxes unless the animal is injured or causing a nuisance in a public place. This is because the species status of both captive-bred silver foxes and wild native foxes is 'vulpes vulpes' and there is legislation that details how they can be managed, differing if they are wild or captive-bred. If a keeper does not come forward to confirm captive-bred status, because they can be difficult to distinguish from native wild foxes, animal and wildlife rescues may only be able to attend when policy dictates.
The process of accurately identifying captive-bred silver foxes, safely capturing them and providing them with secure housing, is a complex undertaking that demands significant time, planning, collaboration and resources to arrange. While we will always strive to ensure escaped captive-bred silver foxes get the help they need, it is important to note, we are not an animal capture organisation despite our aspirations, assisting escaped silver foxes is an informal response to a need on our part.
What Do I Do If A Wild Fox Is Approaching?
Do not feed approaching foxes, this will only reinforce the behaviour and once habituated, they may visit strangers to test their new skills.
It is common to see foxes out during the day and in urban areas, especially over breeding and cubbing seasons. They may get unusually close at times however, they should run away if you approach them or make a loud noise, due to their natural fear of people.
If the fox does not run away, it is often due to a conditioned association of people with food. Foxes are not dangerous to humans, but small pets like rabbits or chickens may be viewed as prey and an overly habituated fox may nip at clothing in order to elicit a feeding response.
A wild fox in general, should not be approaching people and doing so may be a sign they are sick and in need of veterinary assistance (e.g. toxoplasmosis), it could also mean that they were rehabilitated and released recently or it could mean they are a missing captive-bred fox.
What Do I Do If A Fox Is Sick Or Injured?
If you find an injured fox, do not approach it without the guidance of a wildlife specialist. Make a note of the location and contact a wildlife rescue that can provide advice, signposting or assistance.
Do not approach, handle or distress the fox, which might cause it to run away or injury itself further. While very unlikely, it is also important to note that humans can potentially contract certain illnesses from foxes including mange and bird flu, so it is best to seek advice in advance of assisting the animal. Do not seek veterinary advice off of strangers on social media, ensure you consult a specialist directly.
Sarcoptic and Dermodedic mange or 'mange', are the most common conditions encountered in foxes. Clinical signs of mange are hair loss, thick crusting and intense itchiness. The infection is caused by 2 different varieties of mite, which are not deadly, but foxes suffering from manage are at risk of a number of infections and if left untreated starvation and organ failure may occur.
Mange has a similar in presentation to seasonal moulting in foxes, which for the silver fox especially, can leave them looking rather 'dog-eared' during these times, with people often confusing the presentation for them being malnourished and mange ridden. A fox in moult does not require any treatment or assistance.
The best course of action when you are concerned about a wild fox is to contact a trained wildlife specialist or rescue. Please use our links page, for further support.
What Do I Do If I Find A Fox Cub?
Do not try to feed, move, handle or approach the fox. Make a note of the location and contact a wildlife specialist immediately.
It is not unusual for cubs to be left alone while the parents hunt, but if you have reason to believe that the parents have been killed or the cub is in distress, be sure to let the rescuers know. Do not take on the responsibility of raising a wild fox yourself, unless provided with specialist wildlife support.
Raising a wild fox incorrectly robs them of the possible opportunity to be returned to the wild. Once fox cubs reach maturity, they are very difficult to live with and a lot of resources and specialist equipment is required. It is around this age, those who rescue wild fox cubs seek the correct help but by this time, it is often to late to acclimatise the fox for release.
The best course of action when you are concerned about any wild fox is to contact a trained wildlife specialist or rescue. Please use our links page, for further support.
How Do I Deter Foxes?
During springtime when foxes are preparing to raise its cubs, you may find they make a home of your garden. Consider allowing the family to remain until the cubs are old enough to leave the den with the parents (about 6-8 weeks old). Fox families fully disperse come autumn, ready for mating season over late winter.
Alternatively, you can contact a humane fox control expert, who will be skilled at swiftly protecting homes, work places, schools and other establishments from encroaching foxes, without causing them any harm.