Health & Safety Assessment
Health and safety regulations are only applicable to businesses, no matter how small they are. However as an owner, under the Protection of Animals Act 1911 (which has been largely repealed and replaced), the Pet Animals Act 1951 (Amended 1983) and the Animal Welfare Act 2006, owners have a "Duty of Care" towards the health and safety of the animals within their care, as well as for those who come into contact with them.
Adopting the use of Health & Safety procedures is not without benefit for private keepers, as ensuring a safe living environment is provided and ensuring adequate precautions are taken to reduce risks, are part and parcel of responsible animal keeping.
Good practice in health and safety makes sound sense and promotes responsible exotic pet ownership.
The Five Steps of Risk Assessment;
Risk assessments are an important tool used by animals keepers to ensure they provide the highest health and safety standards, aiding to ensure no reasonably avoidable harm comes to the animals within their care, or to those who have contact with them.
It is considered good practice to ensure the risks involved with keeping a pet fox are considered, assessed and that action is taken to minimise any potential risks. To conduct a risk assessment you will need to;
- Identify potential hazards within the environment or during activities - including physical, mental, chemical and biological hazards.
- Identify who could potentially be harmed, and how.
- Assess the likelihood and severity of risks, and take action to reduce or remove those risks.
- Keep a record of any findings.
- Monitor and review your risk assessment periodically, or in the event of an accident.
Types of hazard, as defined by the RSPCA, include;
- Chemical Hazards - Hazards as a result of substances deemed hazardous to health that keepers or animals may be exposed to, including (but not limited to) substances that are toxic, corrosive, flammable, harmful or irritant.
- Biological Hazards - Hazards as a result of contact or exposure to biological material within the environment, (such as allergies as a result of exposure to dander, urine and/or faeces or disease as a result of contact with the environment).
- Physical Hazards - Hazards as a result of activities keepers or animals may undertake (such as injury as a result of faulty enrichment, trips or falls from unsafe surfaces, or cuts and grazes as a result of undertaking activities).
- Environmental Hazards - Hazards resulting from environmental sources such as; dust, noise, extreme temperature, fire and extreme weather (don't forget to consider national and local government contingency plans for emergency events), including hazards to animal welfare as a result of a unsafe enrichment devices. Also consider any lack of enrichment, which can also present a risk to welfare.
- Equipment and Electrical Hazards - Hazards to keepers and animals as a result of unsafe or inadequate equipment, or as a result of exposed electricity cables. Make sure you take steps to prevent electrical hazards around your household.
- Animal Hazards - Hazards as result of direct or indirect contact with live or dead animals, such as; bites, scratches and zoonotic diseases, specifically during pregnancy. Seek medical/veterinary advice and attention if serious bites and scratches occur, or if there is a risk of zoonotic infection.
- Competency - Hazards as a result of a lack of knowledge and experience. A certain level of knowledge and experience is required to keep exotic animals safely, as well as to carry out the tasks involved in keeping them. Exotic pet keeping is a specialist hobby, much more is involved and needed than what you would expect for dogs and cats.
- Human Error - Most accidents occur because of human error, such as; not following basic rules and training principles, not using adequate protective equipment, inappropriate dress and/or equipment, not maintaining equipment and not fully understanding the needs or behaviour of the animal.
- Organisational Hazards - Hazards as a result of personal issues influencing management ability, such as; stress, poor time management, poor communication, reduction of income, relocation, relationship problems, disagreements with neighbours/landlords (such as noise or hygiene complaints).
Image below shows a pet fox that was sadly hit by car not long after it escaped;
Image below shows a bite from an overly curious wild fox;
Example of a Risk Assessment for Pet Foxes;
Note: It is important you locate a vet willing to treat your fox prior to bringing them home. An accident or emergency can occur at any time and you do not want to be left searching for a vet during an emergency situation. It is also important to ensure your GP is aware you keep exotic pets.
Specalist Equipment & PPE
When bringing home a pet fox for the first time you will need all the same things you would need when bringing home a new cat or dog (bed, collar and I.D tag, securely fitting harness, chew-proof lead, toys, treats and bowls) but don't forget, the need for specialist equipment and PPE comes part and parcel of responsible exotic pet keeping. Keeping foxes is not like keeping cats or dogs, no matter how much their behaviour can be compared.
When choosing suitable equipment and PPE, remember to give consideration to the size requirements of any animal or operator it may be intended for or used by. Ensure equipment or PPE is fit for purpose, appropriate for the situation in which it will be used and in conformity with all required safety standards. Consideration should also be given to the suitable cleaning, maintenance and storage of such equipment.
Note: The fur farm foxes now bred as pets in the UK do not have the same guaranteed behaviour of the Russian domesticated silver foxes, nor the behaviour of the American farm foxes, which have been reared for life as pets much longer than those in the UK. It is also important to note that silver foxes are much bolder with regards to people, than their wild red counterparts.
To keep such exotic pets responsibly and to the highest standards owners MUST consider what extra specialist equipment they may need, especially equipment that may be needed during any potential emergency situation (don't forget to consider fire fighting equipment such as fire blankets and fire extinguishers).
Some such equipment can include;
- A Secure Travel Crate
Bringing your fox home for the first time, transporting your fox in a vehicle and visiting the vet in the event of an emergency, will all require the use of a secure travel crate in order for you to transport your fox safely. When purchasing a travel crate, remember to purchase one that will suit your fox once it is fully grown (unless you plan on purchasing a new one further down the line, before the old one is outgrown). We recommend a medium dog travel crate for fully grown foxes, if you are unsure what size to get, this guide may help. Foxes are great escape artists, they can squeeze through gaps much smaller than would appear (assume anything they can get their head through is big enough for them to get through). They are also very destructive when they want to be, those sharp teeth of their's can quickly and easily chew through most materials, so make sure any product you choose is safe, durable and suitable. As soon as you bring your fox home, make sure you begin crate training (travel crate), in order to ensure you reduce the risks of trigger stacking, should you need to crate your fox in the event of an emergency or vet visit further down the line.
"This airline approved Barkshire Dog Carrier is strong, sturdy and durable to meet your pet’s travelling requirements. Manufactured from heavy duty plastic, it features air vents to promote a healthy air flow and a safety door as well as a water/food bowl. You can rest assured that your pet will feel safe and secure and still have great visibility in this excellent carrier"
- Animal Handling Gloves
While foxes can be trained to tolerate handling, they are much more like cats than dogs and contact is most often on their terms, (with the people they know and have built trust with). Their teeth and nails are sharp and even small cubs can easily puncture and scratch skin. Handling and bite inhibition training must begin when they are very young and owners must remain persistent and consistent with training throughout adolescence, animal handling gloves and protective sleeves are the easiest and safest way to ensure success during the more challenging times. Foxes don't tolerate handling sessions for long, but it is essential for reducing stress responses, that they are taught to. When sick or injured, when in strange new situations or during emergencies, even the tamest of foxes can become unpredictable and much less tolerant, in these circumstances having at least one pair of reliable pair of gloves available can be an invaluable asset, ensuring your safety and the safety of your fox, through swift and safe handling.
"If you work within the zoology or veterinary field let me introduce you to the ultimate animal handling safety gloves on the market. The HexArmor Hercules R8E 3180, also known as the Venom Defender Animal Handling Gloves have been recognised by the BIAZA, the British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums as being ‘best practice’ for animal handling"
- Soft Muzzle
It is important you train your fox to tolerate a muzzle from a young age, just as you would with a puppy. Training your fox to tolerate wearing a muzzle for short periods can be a valuable asset come vet visits or during emergencies (muzzle training helps remove preventable trigger stacking should a muzzle ever need to be used - reducing fear for your fox and reducing stress for you). A small soft muzzle for dogs is recommended for adult foxes. The goal of training your fox to tolerate wearing a muzzle is to teach them that despite the inconvenience, it is a positive and ultimately rewarding experience. Take your time,be patient and persistent. Training a fox to wear a muzzle could take anywhere between several weeks to several months, depending on the fox and the situation.
"Designed for control and safety of thin, long-snouted breeds, such as Shelties, Collies and Greyhounds... The Popular temporary-use Quick Muzzle® reduces the risk of dog bites. Snug secure fit for safe, professional care of hard-to-handle animals. Durable quick-release plastic buckle for fast, efficient muzzle closure"
- Herding Boards
Herding (into a cage or enclosed space), is the best way to capture a fox that will not comply with it's training or with food lures. Herding boards (like those used by pig farmers) are the best product for the job; being lightweight, durable and designed for the purpose of moving animals. If you do decide to make use of herding boards (they come in very handy), then consider purchasing or making at least two. When herding animals, it is helpful to have an understanding of "flight distances" (the distance an animal is comfortable maintaining in your presence - outside the flight zone there is no movement, step into the flight zone and you will get movement away from you as the animal re-establishes it's desired distance), and "balance points" (usually in line with the shoulder area, this is the point that influences where an animal can move according to the "pressure" applied to it - ahead of the balance point an animal will go backwards, apply "pressure" behind it and it will move forwards). There is no average distance for flight zones in animals, each flight zone will depend on how "tame" the animal is and how calm or excited they are.
"Very robust Pig Boards for herding your pigs effectively. Made from lightweight plastic board and available in two sizes available 94cm x 76cm and 126cm x 76cm"
- GPS Tracker
Foxes are great escape artists that can be notoriously hard to capture. For this reason it is wise to take advantage of new technologies and to invest in a GPS tracking collar, meaning you will be alerted immediately to any potential escape or theft and can pinpoint the location of your fox with accuracy at the touch of a button. There are many different options now available on the market, we have tried and tested the Loc8tor for Pets with foxes, and can safely say that while the GPS device was a little bulky, it worked well and was an asset to us but is no longer available. The current POD Tracker has been used by other fox keepers with great success. These devices can be used on a collar of choice with an ID tag added for maximum peace of mind. In order to use such a device for foxes, it is important they are taught to tolerate handling and people touching their collar from a young age. Such training is necessary to ensure you are able to attach and remove the device for charging.
- Safety/Security Light
By the time your fox reaches adolescence (around 10 months of age), it will require a space to call it's own - a secure outside enclosure is the best way to provide this. When designing your enclosure, remember to include sufficient lighting into the design. Outdoor enclosures require enough lighting for you to be able to see the enclosure and your fox clearly, wires need to be protected and kept well away from reach. The lighting you choose needs to be weatherproof and durable, and remember to give consideration to both it's lifespan and it's running costs. Sufficient lighting is essential for safety during winter months, and in the event of an emergency outside of daylight hours. Torches and portable floodlights, for checking small enclosed spaces, those areas away from power sources or for use during power shortages, should also be considered.
"Whether you're safeguarding a home or a business premises, security lighting is one of the more effective measures you'll take against unwanted visitors...As well as good security lighting, consider installing alarms, full security systems, CCTV, perimeter fencing and warning signs. Ensure your locks are sturdy"
- Window Guards
If your fox has access to your home, it is important you consider security and safety around windows and doors. It is also important you can aerate and cool your home without the risk of your fox escaping. There are now several products on the market designed for cats and dogs to prevent them escaping windows, however, these are not durable enough to contain persistent foxes. If you consider an option designed for cats and dogs, make sure the design is suitable (a min. of 16 gauge wire is recommended for containing foxes), alternatively, consider more reliable options such as security shutters, retractable grilles, and window guards like those below (which are the most reliable option). Don't forget to consider the security around car windows, especially if you travel with your fox and don't crate them. With a little ingenuity, you may even wish to create your own window screening or even purchase a window box (as Vraska shows in this link).
"We manufacture wire mesh screens and grilles for doors and windows; preventing unwanted people, debris, birds or small animals accessing your premises. The grilles allow windows and doors to open whilst being easy to remove for cleaning and maintenance"
- Double Security Doors
In a Fox Owner Survey, conducted by Let's Talk Pets in 2015, 90% of owners either had an outdoor enclosure or were planning on providing an outdoor enclosure in future. In a survey conducted by Black Foxes UK in 2016, found similar results with 83% of owners providing (or planning to provide) an outdoor enclosure. An easily over-looked, but important part of enclosure safety is a double door secure entry system, the provision of which greatly reduces the risk of potential escape and also provides a secure, enclosed space you can herd your fox into should you need to restrain them and cannot capture them. Most options in the UK are limited to self made options such as dog run panels or aviary panels, but there are a few companies that have experience with exotic animals that provide D.I.Y options as well as tailoring their designs to your specifications, if needed. If you keep your fox in the home, then you may wish to consider investing in security screen doors, which allow you to open back and front doors (or can provide a safe, durable screening for internal doors), without the risk of your fox escaping, some options also come with the added benefit of fly screening. If your fox has an enclosure as well as access to the home, tunnel systems from the home to the enclosure are a great way to reduce the risk of escape (though we are limited to self made options in the UK at present).
"K9 store double safety door... allows you to walk into your kennel and shut the safety door behind you before opening the main door... if you would like to add one more element of security for you and your pet the... double safety door is the add on for you"
- Security Overhang
Should your fox escape it's enclosure it is essential that the perimeter fencing of your garden has a suitable "overhang". Fencing must be a minimum of 6 feet in height (from ground level), be solid, secure and preferably be sunken a few feet into the ground to prevent your fox digging out. Foxes are well adapted to jumping and climbing, and can quickly and easily clear a 6 foot fence. There are containment products available for cats and dogs, however, the meshing on the cat versions, in most cases, is not strong enough to contain foxes. If you consider this option, discuss your requirements with the suppliers before purchase. The structural components to provide an "overhang" can always be purchased separately, enabling you to make your own version, with a higher grade wire meshing of your choice. You could also make use of the more commercial options in order to provide the highest standards of safety and security.
"Inspired design provides your pet with access to a safe territory. Our patented cat containment systems are the only cat enclosures and cat fencetop barriers which are optimised for the most agile breeds of cats such as bengals and orientals... Our award winning components provide the peace of mind that you have been longing for"
"Overhang" example (to prevent fox entry to livestock) from Wildlife Online;
Emergency Capture & Restraint;
The capture and restraint tools listed below are for use in EMERGENCY SITUATIONS ONLY and can be dangerous to your fox if used incorrectly. On top of this, having to restrain your fox in such a manner will ultimately destroy any trust built between you (and rightly so), but when there is risk of injury or death, a damaged relationship is the least harmful option.
It is also essential that such tools are only used by those with KNOWLEDGE IN THEIR SAFE USE. There are courses and professional hire services now available in the capture & restraint of wildlife, for those wishing to gain such skills. More information and links can be found below, under Capture and Restraint.
- Catch Net
While its possible to teach foxes recall, as well as to crate train them to go into a crate on command, they are very timid creatures and they do not tolerate new situations well. This means they may not always behave in a predictable manner and can be notoriously difficult to catch if they escape. During these times a catch net can be invaluable, allowing you to effectively capture your fox without risk of harming yourself or the animal. As stated above, foxes have a natural "flight distance" (the distance between it and a potential threat that ensures the fox can get away should the threat be realised). While in "flight mode" a fox will take a step back for every step forward you make, ensuring the "flight distance" is maintained. It is for this reason catch nets can be very useful, as they can be used to reduce the flight distance and allow you the opportunity to catch your fox in a controlled manner. Only solid, non-stretch material should be considered for use with foxes, as other types of net can easily entangle a fox.
"Catch Net™ for Small Dogs - A safe way to catch small to medium sized dogs and wildlife, the fabric net is attached to a closure mechanism and fixed pole... Our net is strong, lightweight and easy to manipulate. The fabric does not stretch, animals don't become entangled and it can be replaced quite easily. When not in use the catch net is easily stowed in a vehicle, clinic or ward."
Alternatively, you may wish to consider a cat grabber or catch-pole, providing you with an alternative means to safely capture and restrain an uncooperative fox. When used correctly, such tools can be very effective, especially if the fox is in a location that is difficult to reach (such as under a shed). However, knowledge in their safe use is essential, as inappropriate or unskilled use could potentially result in injury or death to the animal.
- Fox Trap
Foxes are notoriously difficult to catch and if all other methods of capture fail, the use of a humane fox trap may be necessary in order to return it to safety. If you plan on using a fox trap to catch your lost pet seek advice from a professional, some organisations that sell traps will provide email advice if you can quote your invoice number. Ensure you have permission (preferably written), from the landowner to use the trap on their land, and check the trap every 6 hours (at least once under UK law). It is important to note that if the police or a rescue organisation capture your lost fox, it is possible it may not be returned to your care. Under the Animal Welfare Act 2006, it is a criminal offence to release or abandon any domestic or captive animal. Animal escapes come under the heading "failure to provide for their needs" and can result in a fine or even a ban (depending on the circumstances). The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, which is most often referenced with regards to exotic pets, also prohibits the release of non-native species (the North American red fox is a non-native subspecies). Legalities aside, should your fox escape, you have a duty to capture it and return it to safety. Seek professional help where you can.
"One of our range of high quality traps designed in consultation with industry experts for the safe capture and temporary containment of foxes and cubs. Fox tamper proof, Strong and durable, Self-activating trap"
Enclosure, Safety & Maintenance
For the first few months, young foxes will need to be kept in the home for socialisation, counter-conditioning, desensitisation and habituation reasons, (the critical period for socialising foxes is much shorter than it is in dogs - foxes are a lot more like cats with regards to their socialisation needs). Once they reach adolescence, it will become necessary that they have their own space to be a fox. Having an enclosure arranged in advance means you can begin teaching them that the space is a safe, fun area to be in from an early age.
Taking such measures also means your fox will be used to you sharing their space to handle them and play with them, and allows you the opportunity to begin slowly training them to spend longer and longer outside until they are ready to "move out" into their own territory as adults.
Unlike dogs or other pets, silver foxes do not need to be housed with their own kind to ensure their mental well-being. Foxes, like cats, are social but solitary animals. If you do house more than one fox, be aware that there are risks involved with the group housing of silver foxes, especially during the first few weeks after introduction. If you do decide to take on more than one fox, make sure you do not do so until you have completed the first fox's training and that you are not doing so as substitute for supplying an effective training and management plan, or for spending the time with them they need. Separate any animals that display aggression towards cage mates for longer than 2-3 weeks, as well as those that display high instances of agnostic and aggressive behaviours outside of the expected seasonal peaks.
A minimum of 100 square foot per fox is recommended when considering enclosure design for foxes. If you take on another fox, remember they will need their own 100 sq ft of space, with their own nest box, caching spot and toilet area. This ensures the potential for fights, agonistic displays and escape attempts are minimised. You will also need to consider a separate holding area, should the animals ever need to be separated because of fighting or disease.
Enclosures should be a minimum of 6 feet in height and ideally, be made from welded steel mesh panels, with heavy duty stainless steel corner posts and supports, allowing for highest standard of hygiene and security. Alternatively, a minimum of 12 gauge chain-link fencing can be used (along with a solid base and secure roof). Concrete absorbs and retains urine, so if you are using concrete slabs for flooring, remember to apply animal-safe concrete waterproofing and don't forget to provide for adequate drainage.
You must provide shelter from harsh weather conditions and be able to light the enclosure area at night (so you can see your fox in darker months and in the event of an overnight emergency - see "lighting" above), so don't forget this in your design. The enclosure must be free of sharp edges and abrasive surfaces. It must not contain areas in which the animal could become trapped and grates should be placed over any drainage holes to prevent injury to the animal, also make sure that any plants within the enclosure are not toxic to animals.
If small children are present in the home, a barrier fence (such as swimming pool safety fencing), can be placed around the enclosure to prevent them from potential bites, and to prevent them from placing anything through the wire that may be harmful to your fox. This barrier should be at least 3 feet from the enclosure perimeter.
For those wishing to provide the highest standards of safety and security for their foxes accommodation, professional organisations, that have experience providing containment systems for exotic animals, can be utilised.
A basic kennel design by The Family Handyman, adapted to suit a fox (minus enrichment and a double door entry system);
It is vital that daily checks of both the enclosure and perimeter fencing are conducted and that any wear, damage or overgrowth is addressed.
Don''t forget to invest in a good lock that is reliable and frost resistant and to keep it well oiled. Most lubricants have a lower freezing temperature than water and can help keep a lock from freezing in cold weather, as well as helping to keep it operational and rust free.
Also consider using a lock that does not require keys. This means that in the event of an emergency the code can be sent easily to anyone who may need it and removes the risk that comes with the loss or damage of keys (though keep a set of bolt cutters in your kit, just in case).
The places animals are kept (such as enclosures, kennels and crates) and the toys and enrichment devices they use, can become extremely dirty and full of pathogens very quickly, and they are not always easy to clean. Also, unlike other pets, foxes have a very strong, penetrating and greasy scent that can be difficult to remove, and they use both urine and faeces to mark territory.
In order to reduce the risk of disease and zoonoses, once a week, ensure the enclosure is sanitized by giving it a "deep clean", making sure weeds, decaying matter, offensive smells and potential pathogen loads are kept to a minimum. To help reduce the burden disease can bring, along with a good cleaning schedule, ensure your fox is up-to-date with their preventative parasite treatments and vaccinations, that you provide daily health checks and that you practice good hand hygiene.
Hygiene and maintenance equipment needed when keeping foxes can include;
- Power Washer
The use of a power washer (a machine that delivers hot water at high pressure) once a week on enclosure meshing, kennels, walls, concrete flooring and enrichment devices, will help ensure your foxes environment remains sufficiently clean. As with most machinery, there is the option to hire the equipment as needed if you would prefer not to pay the cost of purchase, though remember, the cost of purchasing such a machine is cheaper than any veterinary costs that you could potentially encounter as a result of a nasty bug that is proving difficult to eradicate.
"DIY high-pressure cleaner with superb versatility & top quality performance, reliability and ease of use... Can also be used for degreasing too. If you've never tried hot water pressure cleaning before – there is a massive difference between the performance of hot water cleaning compared to cold. It's like cleaning your hands in hot water compared to cold.. hot cleans so much better!"
Those who have pet foxes that have access to the home, may also wish to consider investing in a steam cleaner. Steam cleaners clean without chemicals and can help remove dirt and allergens from the environment, the most reliable and effective steam cleaners also come with attachment options for sterilisation, can be used in and out of the home, and come certified by the British Allergy Association.
"Steam is a very important resource for deep cleaning every surface. Thanks to the temperature of steam in pressure, Vaporetto neutralises dust mites, germs and bacteria without the use of chemicals, preventing the onset of allergies in a natural way and with no impact on the environment... evidenced by the seal of approval of the British Allergy Foundation"
- Cleaning & Disinfectants
When cleaning your foxes enclosure, enrichment products and floors in your home (if your fox has access), use a suitable broad-spectrum cleaner that is safe for use in such animals. Veterinary grade products are most reliable for such circumstances. Ensure you follow the manufacturers instructions, that animals are removed from the area while cleaning is in progress and that all residue is removed and the area is dry before the animal comes back into contact with it. If you are unsure as to what products are best, or safe for use, consult your veterinarian. When considering hygiene products, include consideration hand hygiene. Veterinary grade hand hygiene products or other products designed for regular use after contact with animals (and animal matter) are best.
"High Level Lavender Scented Disinfectant Cleaner has been expertly formulated... allowing more efficient removal of surface contaminants. It can be used for all reception areas, surfaces and equipment in veterinary surgeries and for all disinfection applications in kennels, catteries and other animal habitats. The unique formula is Bactericidal, Fungicidal, Virucidal and Sporicidal"
- Dog Poo Composter
Disposal of animal waste is a complex and under discussed issue. Under UK law, animal waste is considered an Offensive Waste that must be disposed of separately from household waste, using a registered carrier of controlled waste, holding a current Waste Carrier Licence, in accordance with section 2 of the Control of Pollution (Amendment Act) 1989. This is all well and fine when you have a dog you can walk several times daily, with bins specially provided for your full doggy bags, but with exotic pets, daily walks aren't so straight forward and excrement can mount up quickly; bin men certainly won't appreciate having to empty stinky fox poo bins in the height of summer! So what do keepers do with their poop? Most will, rightly or wrongly, dispose of it in the household waste. In animal establishments, animal waste is disposed of through building "midden's" (large compost heaps made from animal bedding and waste), at home similar can be achieved with the use of a dog poo composter. We have used the Pet and Dog Poo Wormery with great success and highly recommend them!
"Dispose of your dog waste safely and easily! A quick, easy and efficient method for recycling dog waste - Nature's perfect answer! The worms will digest the waste and turn it into worm castings.
The dog poo wormery is a proven way to deal with dog waste, has virtually no smells and will prove invaluable to you. Replaces the poly bag pick-up method which contributes to landfill sites and environmental pollution"
"This pooper scooper is designed so that there is no need to bend down to pick up animal waste. Ideal for use in veterinary practices, kennels, boarding or grooming parlours... The scoop has both rake and flat sides allowing options for use in long grass, kennels, waiting room, sand or patio surfaces... can be safely stored... and steeped in disinfectant or hosed off to clean.
Fox-Proofing Your Home:
Owners that provide their foxes with access to the home will need to make sure that it is adequately "Fox-Proofed". Foxes are great at jumping and climbing, so no surface is safe. If you enjoy living in a minimalist, organised environment that requires lots of cleaning, then you will have a head start!
Some tips for fox-proofing your home include;
- As with an enclosure, check your home daily for damage or wear and tear, and keep an eye out for potential hazards, making sure you deal with any issues promptly.
- Keep all chemicals, medications, valuables and breakables away from your foxes view and reach, (wall organisers work well for everyday items such as keys, phones, mail, purses and wallets. Plastic storage boxes or modular storage can work well for larger items such as books, children's toys and paperwork).
- Place all coats, bags and shoes out of reach on arrival and after removal (preferably out of reach in a hallway or cloak cupboard/shoe cabinet).
- Make sure there are no plants that are toxic to foxes and animals in the home.
- Ensure all electrical cords are covered and out of reach and unplug anything that is not in use (cable management solutions, cable boxes, or Critter Cords are worthy investments).
- Foxes are great escape artists, make sure your windows and doors are screened (as mentioned above), keep them closed and locked if not.
- Use extra tall dogs gates on the internal doors where your fox has access as an added security measure. Young foxes will be able to fit through the bars, so use chicken wire for security until they are fully grown.
- Foxes can learn to open drawers and cupboards, so invest in child safety devices to prevent this.
- Keep all surfaces clear and free from food and clutter that might entice their interest.
- Keep your fox out of the kitchen when cooking (and until hobs have cooled - unless you have a safety cover) and avoid eating or drinking around them.
- Provide an extra large dog create to assist with litter training, to contain your fox in the event of an unexpected visitor or to briefly contain over-excited foxes (until they are calmer), if you plan on keeping your fox in the home then consider something larger, like a small metal aviary with shelving for sleeping platforms.
- Provide a suitable toilet area for your fox (preferably for each room your fox has access), such as large under-bed storage container and cat litter, or place news paper/puppy pads on the base of a large dog crate. There are also more creative (and expensive) options available, such as the "Puppy Apartment", the "Ugo" or the "Porch Potty").
- To prevent food being cached in your furniture, provide your fox with safe caching spots (such as large under-bed storage containers filled with shredded newspaper).
- Keep high value treats in a secure but easy to access location, these come in handy for both distraction and reward purposes - wall mounted food dispensers are perfect for the job.
- Keep your bin out of your foxes reach. If your bins can't be kept securely hidden away then make sure you invest in a pet safe bin.
Safe Lead Walking
Training foxes to tolerate wearing and walking on a harness and lead is no easy task and not all foxes will choose to accept the process (they are very similar to cats in this regard), it will depend on the circumstances. It can take weeks or even several months, to train a fox to walk on a harness and lead and lots of patience is required. If your fox does not wish to wear a harness and lead, despite your best efforts and persistence, then accept that it is their wish not to and instead provide an alternative form of enrichment that stimulates and entertains your fox in a similar way (for more ideas, see our Enrichment Page).
Providing the circumstances are right, with knowledge in fox behaviour and with a positive training programme, it is possible to successfully train a fox to tolerate and even enjoy walking comfortably on a lead. Being able to walk your fox allows you the benefit of being able to move and restrain your fox safely and easily, as well as providing you fox the opportunity to visit places beyond their enclosure. Harness and lead training is worth the effort, but a lot of patience, persistence and understanding is required!
It is important to note that is is not recommended (or considered safe), to walk foxes on a collar, the need for a collar is for ID purposes and to be able to "double lead" for security when out walking. To walk a fox, you must use a suitable, escape-proof, well fitted harness. It is recommended that you begin getting your fox used to wearing a harness from a young age, before the need to use one becomes necessary, just in the same way you would get a kitten or puppy used to wearing it's collar.
Young foxes will often do well on a harness and lead until they reach adolescence, at this point they become much more challenging, (as they no longer need "Mum's reins"). It is important you are patient and persist with positive and brief training sessions throughout this time (even if it means going back to the beginning with training). The ultimate goal of harness and lead training is to get your fox to realise that being restrained by a harness and lead is an inevitable but minor inconvenience, one that earns positive rewards and increases it's freedom to roam.
Foxes are much like cats when it comes to walking on a harness and lead, and do not tolerate busy or noisy areas well, "spooking" easily. On top of this there is the potential while out walking your fox, for it to end up in a confrontation with dog's that are off the lead, so only ever walk your fox in areas that are quiet, safe and away from unfamiliar people. Avoid walking your fox alone, at least two people are recommended to walk a fox safely. This means that while one focuses on the fox, the other is free to keep an eye out for any potential risks, to alert any people ahead of your presence, or to assist in the event of an emergency.
Pet foxes Evie & Vex out walking;
Choosing a Harness:
New owners will need to use lightweight a cat harnesses until their fox is fully grown. The H-Harness type is most commonly recommended, but make sure it also has the safety strap that goes under the chest to reduce strain on the neck. We have found those without this strap are not safe. There is no totally chew-proof harness, so it is important your fox is taught to be comfortable wearing one.
When choosing a harness be sure to follow the manufactures instructions on measuring your pet for an accurate fit. Make sure your fox is not left wearing their harness without supervision; to prevent both chewing on the harness, as well as any potential accidents that may result from getting the harness caught.
Due to their fluffy coats, a foxes slender frame can be deceptively well hidden (think of a Persian cat before and after getting soaking wet), so make sure you measure accurately. A properly fitting harness is essential, but may appear to be too tight (especially during winter months), providing you have followed manufacturers guidelines for correct fitting, the harness doesn't feel too tight against the skin and there are no loose straps, then there is no need for concern, (as with a collar, 2 fingers should just be able to fit under each strap on the harness).
Harnesses recommended for foxes include;
- Puppia RiteFit Harness
The Puppia "RiteFit" harnesses (as worn by Evie & Vex above), comes highly recommended from a few fox keepers. However, supplies are difficult to come by and they can often be out of stock in the UK. There are several other Puppia harness options available, including versions that go over the head, or those that your fox must step into. Those that can be adjusted around both the neck and the chest are best, providing a good fit which helps to prevent escape, other designs may not always fit as securely and it may be easier for your fox to escape from them.
- Mynwood Serval Walking Jacket
Mynwood Serval Walking Jackets are perfect for foxes and are tailor-made to suit your needs. Designed to be extremely durable, they are triple sewn for strength, hard wearing and machine washable. They have 2 super secure welded steel D-ring which follows DWA advice, with extra reinforced stitching where the lead attaches.From personal experience we can say; the jacket worked well and was both escape-proof as well as being relatively chew-proof.
- IDC® Power Harness by Julius K9
The IDC Power Harnesses are used for all sorts of athletic and working canines across Europe, including foxes (as demonstrated by Freya the Fox in the image to the right). Originally developed for the Austrian police and fire services, it has since been used by rescue teams in numerous emergency operations.
The durable design is fully adjustable, is complete with reflective straps and ensures there is no contact or stress on the neck. The front chest strap has been designed to follow the natural curves of the chest, creating an anatomically perfected fit.
- Buddy Belt
The Buddy Belt is a quality, durable leather, "step-in" harness that is designed to remove unnecessary strain on an animals neck. Since it's official launch in 2001, the product has come a long way and has been used with many different species. Only one fox owner we know of uses a Buddy Belt for their fox, but they report that it works well.
"The quality of the product is the result of continued efforts to make it the best. Class Art Productions Inc, makers of Buddy Belt, strives for 100% customer satisfaction"
Getting the Lead Right:
Before you begin training your fox to walk on a lead you must first be sure your fox's harness is safe, that they happily tolerate you putting it on and taking it off, and that they are comfortable wearing it.
Before you begin lead training with a full length lead, first get your fox used to you attaching and unattaching a lead to their harness and collar. It is best to do this with just the clip and a short length of lead, so they cannot get tangled and into accidents (buy a couple of cheap material leads and cut them off a few inches from the clip). When your fox is comfortable with wearing a harness, and with you clipping and unclipping the lead to their harness and collar, you can then being to teach them how to walk on a lead.
Make sure when you first begin training your fox to walk on a lead, that you are in a secure area where your fox cannot escape, that the area is free from people and dogs, and with nowhere that could cause the leads and/or your fox to become entangled. Keep high value treats on you when out walking, in order to be able to reward good behaviour and to use as a distraction if necessary.
Unless you are absolutely certain your fox will not attempt to chew through the lead at any point, only consider wire cord or chain link leads, especially when you first begin training your fox to walk outdoors.
Due to fox's ability to escape their harness when in a panic, it is also advised that owners practice "double leading" for added security. This means should they slip their harness, they are still attached to the lead by their collar.
There are several ways to "double lead" including;
- Using 2 separate leads, one lead for the harness and a longer, slightly looser lead for the collar.
- Using one lead with a double clip attachment for both the collar and the harness (So your fox cant accidentally release the clip, use a locking carabiner or heavy duty cable tie to secure the attachment to the lead. Heavy duty duct tape around the clip, preventing the attachment from being removed, is another solution).
- Using a carabiner to attach the collar to the harness, as in the image to the right.
Recommended leads for walking adult foxes include;
- Vir-Chew-ly Indestructible Leash
The Vir-Chew-ly Indestructible Leash is fantastic option for foxes and a double clip is available to attach the lead to both your foxes collar and harness. While there are no reports from fox owners using such leads, owners of other exotic animals such as cheetah seem to do well with them. If you are considering walking your fox on a double clip and single lead, rather than double lead option, make sure your fox can't chew on the clip and accidentally open it it any way.
"Regardless of what you have at one end, all is lost if at the other your pet is an escape artist that chews their lead. However pop this at the front and the chew-proof wire core of the Vir-Chew-ly Indestructible Lead for Dogs stops all that – one of the best purchases we’ve ever made"
- Chain-Link Leads
Lightweight Ancol chain leads are the cheapest and most reliable option when it comes to suitable lead for foxes. Made from steel, chrome-plated and welded links, these leads provide adequate protection against sharp foxy teeth.
"Made in the UK with top grain leather... A great product if you dog attempts to bite the lead whilst being walked. Available in London Tan, Black and some styles available in Red"
- Non Chew Leads
The TUFF Leash with "chew-proof technologies" or similar such designs are the only non metal leads that should be considered for foxes, as their sharp teeth can quickly and easily chew through most materials when the need takes them. This option is for foxes that are not known to chew their leads. The TUFF Leash is made in the US, but they do ship internationally.
"Our proprietary leash technology allows us to embed stainless steel braided aircraft cables INSIDE the nylon webbing. Not only does this make for an incredibly super strong and durable dog leash; but it gives you (the user) a super-comfortable leash in the palm of your hand.
We pioneered this innovative technology"
Not all will be able to, but if you can GUARANTEE your fox will not chew the harness or lead, then the Harness Lead advertises itself as an escape-proof, one-size fits all option, and it looks like it may be worthy of further investigation. There are no reports from any fox owners using this lead, so if you do decide to trail it, make sure you are in a secure area (please also consider reporting your experience with the lead, with us).
Capture & Restraint
"Puppy" training your fox from a young age (socialisation, habituation, desensitisation, handling, bite inhibition, harness training, crate training, muzzle training and basic commands), will allow you to be able to safely and easily handle and restrain your fox for normal everyday circumstances, however, there are times when capturing a fox might not be so straight forward, especially if they are roaming, sick or injured. It is in these emergency situations that the specialist equipment and PPE mentioned above, may become necessary.
Experience is advantageous for capturing a reluctant fox, as it can be a difficult and hazardous task. If you need to capture a lost pet fox, seek advice from organisations such as Beastwatch UK or Canine/Animal Capture UK, who can provide assistance in locating and retrieving lost exotic pets. Local wildlife experts may also be able to provide you with reliable animal capture advice, and may offer you assistance with the task of recapturing a lost fox for a small fee or donation.
"In some situations, particularly where an animal can be easily targeted, the use of darting techniques may greatly decrease the stress of capture when compared with physical capture combined with hand-injection. In using darting techniques, the following points must be remembered:
The size of needle, volume and viscosity of the fluid and the amount of power used to project the dart should be appropriate to the size of the muscle mass and thickness of the skin. The use of inappropriate equipment and materials can cause serious damage to the animal. Darting should only be undertaken by experienced personnel holding the requisite UK firearms licence"
It is important to remember that a fearful fox may try to resist capture, handling and restraint (even if they usually tolerate such circumstances well), during which time, they are capable of inflicting injury to themselves and the handlers involved, so safety must be the primary consideration.
Animal Welfare Considerations:
Evidence from behavioural and physiological studies indicates that restraint and handling are significant stressors for animals such as foxes, which can present a great risk of injury, especially during emergency situations.
Handling and restraint techniques must therefore aim to minimise stress on the animal and maximise the safety of the handler. Consider the technique to be used and assess it's suitability for the situation. The use of an inappropriate technique increases the risk of injury of both the animal and the handler, and could potentially prove fatal for the fox. NEVER attempt to catch a fox by the tail, doing so can cause serious and permanent damage.
If you find your fox is trapped, has been injured prior to capture, or is injured during any restraint and handling procedures while capturing it, ensure you contact your vet for advice IMMEDIATELY. Being captured can be an extremely stressful process for animals, so also watch out for signs of shock and seek veterinary guidance should your fox show any behaviour or symptoms that concern you.
Before returning an escaped pet home, ensure the enclosure and it's perimeter have been secured. Also make sure they receive veterinary grade preventative parasite treatment and that they are given a thorough general health check. If there are other animals sharing the home/enclosure, it is best practice to quarantine the escaped animal for a few days, just in case they have picked something up on their travels (such as mange, ticks, fleas, ear mites, worms, etc).
Human Safety Considerations:
Cornered foxes are capable of inflicting painful injury through bites and scratches. If you find yourself in the position of having to capture a reluctant fox, ensure you are wearing suitable clothing;
- Thick trousers
- Steel toe capped boots
- A thick long sleeved top
- Wrist guards
- Animal handling gloves
It is also wise to keep a soft broom to hand, which allows you to keep cornered or aggressive animals at arms length. A broom is also a handy tool help you herd and restrain a fox.
When keeping or working with animals, it is important to ensure your vaccinations are up-to-date and that you have a human first aid kit, to ensure you can deal promptly with any potential bites and scratches.
Handling animals comes with the risk of zoonoses (diseases that can be transmitted between humans and animals), be aware of any signs and symptoms for common zoonotic infections and where necessary, make sure you use any appropriate PPE to protect against disease transmission. Before handling sick animals, make sure you familiarise yourself with the basic principles of infection control.
Animal bites are considered "tetanus-prone wounds" and require preventative treatment. If you are badly bitten or scratched during the capture and restraint of a fox call 111 for advice and seek an emergency appointment with your GP (tetanus immunoglobin (TIG) treatment will be given to provide immediate, short-term protection against tetanus. Treatment is recommended for "tetanus-prone wounds" even if your tetanus vaccination is up-to-date). If the injury is severe, call 999 and go to A&E.
Dealing with bites and scratches;
- Let the wound slightly bleed under running water
- Gently scrub the area with antiseptic soap for several minutes
- Wash the wound until all visible dirt and debris are gone
- Apply gauze and firm pressure to control any bleeding
- Apply a plaster or dressing if the wound is superficial and not bleeding
- Notify your GP and book an emergency appointment if necessary
Once you have located and returned your lost pet, don't forget to update all those involved in assisting you by notifying them that your pet is now home and safe.
Locating an animal:
Should your fox ever escape, the safety and security that is provided with a GPS tracking device soon becomes apparent. Such devices notify you once your pet has crossed the designated boundary and at the touch of a button can provide you with their current location, saving a lot of time and worry.
If your fox doesn't wear a GPS tracking device there are several things you can do to locate your pet;
- Co-ordinate searches among family and friends within your local area.
- Keep high value treats and strong smelling foods on you, to encourage your fox towards you when you are able to locate it.
- Go door-to-door altering neighbours and locals, providing them with your contact details and asking them to check under/in sheds etc. and to keep any small pets (such as chickens, rabbits and guinea pigs) secure.
- Alert the local police, animal warden, vets and wildlife centres.
- Contact organisations like Black Foxes UK, Beastwatch UK, the National Pet Register who can alert a wider audience and provide you with information on potential sightings.
- Use familiar calls and sounds (such as a bark of a family dog or a dog whistle) to encourage your fox out of cover.
- Prey or infant calls may encourage a hungry/curious fox to break it's cover.
- Leave familiar scents trails and strong smelling tasty foods (such as cooked chicken) in trials back to the enclosure.
- Look for tracks and signs of a fox being in the area.
- Using torchlight to sweep across darkness can reveal "eye shine" and the location of animals in the area (if you locate your fox at night it is best to leave a trap rather than attempt capture).
- Locating a fox can be more effective at dusk (around 3-4 am), when they are most active and when the light is just breaking.
Approaching an animal:
A fox in a strange and unusual situation is going to be highly stressed and likely to bite. Foxes have sharp teeth that can deliver a painful punch, even through leather gloves. Make sure there are a minimum of two people assisting and that you have a plan of action prepared in advance. The best way to capture of fox is to herd it with boards or brooms (or to lure it with food) into a travel crate placed within an enclosed space (using a broom to close the door behind them). In some circumstances it may be safer and easier to use a net or catch-pole.
Before attempting to approach and capture an animal;
- Make sure there is sufficient lighting to see clearly
- Remember not to approach a fox near busy roads
- Only attempt capture if you have the necessary equipment and container
- Make sure you are wearing the correct clothing and PPE
- Remove any other animals, unwanted people or other hazards from the area
- Ensure the transport crate is suitable, open and ready
- Ensure all escape routes are blocked or covered
- Approach the fox quietly, slowly and deliberately
- Do not make any sudden movements or loud noises
- Avoid direct eye contact but maintain safe visual contact
- Remain quiet, speak in calm, quiet, soft tones if necessary
- Use the least amount of coercion and restraint necessary
- If the animal is trapped, contact a vet for advice prior to attempting capture
There are three different ways you can restrain animals, these include;
1) Verbal restraint
Using verbal commands such as "sit", "stay" "come","crate" or "station" can be an effective way of controlling well trained animals without creating distress. Teaching foxes to tolerate procedures through verbal communication also means that simple tasks, such as siting patiently while being examined, can easily be achieved.
Correct animal training can;
- provide you ability to control an animal effectively without contact and with their co-operation, reducing stress for all involved.
- reduce the potential for "trigger stacking", which greatly reduces stress and the risk of injury to both the handlers and the animal.
First stage of crate training a fox, prior to the verbal cue being added;
2) Physical Restraint
Using physical rather than chemical means to restrict an animals movement. Types of physical restraint include;
- Harness and lead - The most common form of restraint used in animals. Highly effective for animals trained to wear them, and when fitted correctly.
- Your hands - The most effective form of restraint and the most versatile, but comes with a high risk of injury. Use gloves and sleeves where necessary.
- Towels - Can be placed over an animal to reduce arousal and risk of bites/scratches.
- Catch-pole - Used to safely handle aggressive animals. Used correctly it is an effective tool, but inappropriate or unskilled use could lead to injury and distress of the animal.
- Catch Net - The primary tool used with fractious wildlife.
- Muzzle - Small soft muzzle or a temporary bandage muzzle can be used to prevent nervous and aggressive animals from biting during handling procedures.
- Secure Travel Crate - Once you have captured an escaped fox, you do not want it escaping again. A secure travel crate will allow you to safely transport your pet home.
3) Chemical Restraint
Using chemical substances such as anaesthesia or immobilisation agents, to restrict an animals movement. This type of restraint can only be performed by those licensed to use such drugs, such as vets and wildlife capture professionals, (in cases where it may be necessary, vets may prescribe chemical restraints on prescription, such as oral sedatives or tranquillizers that can be put into food, however, this approach is generally not recommended if it can be avoided). Types of chemical restraint include;
- Anaesthesia - A drug induced state of unconsciousness with varying degrees of analgesia (pain relief) that depresses the central nervous system.
- Sedation - The moderate chemical suppression of the central nervous system to induce a sleep-like state from which the animal can be roused.
- Tranquillisation - A chemically induced state of behavioural change that reduces anxiety and suppresses behavioural responses (spinal and other reflexes are not effected). The animal is relaxed but aware of it's surroundings.
Capturing a Fox:
Below you will find a description of four different types of technique used to capture reluctant foxes;
1) Box Capture
- Min. of 3 people required, though 6 is preferable
- Crate is placed into a suitable location behind/near the fox
- Two (or 4) people with herding boards (or a sheet each between two of them) stand either side of the crate creating a funnel with their boards
- The the other person (or other two people) can then herd the fox towards the crate, funnelling them down towards the crate
- Foxes jump, so you may wish to create a "sheet roof" between those holding the boards by the crate
- Once in the crate, quickly block the exit and close the door behind them
- Ensure the door is locked firmly closed
2) Net capture
- Min. of 2 people required
- One person stands with a net near the fox’s anticipated escape route
- The other person herds the fox to the direction of the handler with the net
- As the fox approaches, brings the net down rapidly into the path of the fox and close it to the ground/against a wall or fence
- The other person can then pin the fox’s head to the ground with the use of a gloved hand or soft broom
- The fox can then be scruffed and crated
- Once in the crate, close the door (releasing fox & removing the net at the last moment)
3) Catch-pole capture
- Min. of 1 person required, but 2 people preferred
- One person (trained in catch-pole use) secures the noose around the fox's head.
- The fox can then be safely manoeuvred into a safe rescue position
- Place a towel over the fox's head to reduce arousal and risks of bites/scratches
- The fox can now be safely scuffed at the neck to safely move it
- Support/scruff the fox's rump and place the animal into a secure crate
- Once the crate is closed the catch-pole can be released and removed
- Ensure the door is locked firmly closed
4) Trap capture
- Place the trap in a secluded location with good vantage points
- Choose an area the the fox has been seen
- Leave food out for the fox every day at the same time
- Initially leave food at a distance and gradually move closer until you are placing it inside the trap
- Do not leave too much and remove any uneaten food
- Check the trap at least every 6 hours
Handling a Fractious Fox:
Foxes have an amazing ability to defend themselves against capture and will readily use their sharp teeth and claws in defence. Receiving bites and scratches can often be an inevitable part of the capture, restraint and handling of fractious animals, even for skilled animal handlers, so it is important to be mentally and physically prepared to withstand a certain amount of biting, scratching and struggling.
The use of specialist animal handling gloves (or heavy leather gloves) is recommended for handling fractious foxes. Those gloves available with Kevlar linings and outer shells offer the best protection, often being thinner and allowing for greater dexterity, but at a pinch, heavy leather work gloves will suffice.
Bear in mind that that even specialist animal handling gloves can be pierced. Wearing gloves will also reduce the handler's dexterity and their ability to securely scruff an animal (specialist sleeves can protect arms while allowing the removal of gloves for secure restraint).
Tips for handling foxes;
- Make sure you are wearing suitable clothing and PPE
- Make sure you are confident in your ability to perform the task
- Be calm and quiet, don't make any sudden movements or loud noises
- Always use the least amount of restraint necessary
- "Scruffing" is the best way to restrain an animal for movement or examination
- Never attempt to restrain a fox by it's tail, as doing so can do serious and permanent damage
- Muzzle foxes receiving veterinary treatment in order to prevent bites
- Fractious foxes that require treatment and medication can be transferred to a "crush cage"
Scruffing refers to the process of grasping an animal by the loose skin (and underlying muscle) on it's neck, allowing the handler to manoeuvre and control the animal to a varying degree.
Once the animal is secured in a crate, net or by catch-pole, cover the animal with a towel, and firmly grasp the skin at the back of the neck. When the handler is confident they have a secure grip on the scruff they can support the fox's weight by holding the skin across the rump.
If an animal appears to have head or neck injuries at all do not attempt to scruff them, instead seek immediate veterinary advice on movement and restraint options.
Scruffing animals allows for safe handling and reduces risk of injury to both the animal and the handler.
Muzzling refers to the process of restricting the movement of an animals jaws by using a roll of gauze bandage (temporary/emergency) or nylon dog muzzle which prevents the animal from being able to use it's teeth as a defence.
While one persons scruffs the fox, pinning it to the surface, another person (with gloved hands, if necessary) can then use a bandage to quickly secure a temporary muzzle.
A nylon dog muzzle can now be fitted securely in place. The temporary bandage can be removed for comfort, or left on as an added security measure, where necessary.
Muzzling greatly reduces the risk of painful bites and can help to calm a fox by leaving it no option but to submiss to the handling process.
While the silver fox is technically a domesticated farm animal, they are not domesticated for tameness like dogs or the Russian domesticated foxes. Although socialisation is important and wanting to introduce your new pet to people is only natural, it is important both you and any visitors that come to see your fox, are aware that these pets are just as capable of biting, scratching and causing injury as any wild animal.
To reduce the risks of of accident or injury around visitors a few points must be borne in mind;
- Behaviour - Make sure guests know what to expect before they arrive. Explain a little about their behaviour (vocal communication, body language, scent marking, grooming, chewing, thieving, caching, pouncing, etc). Ensure guests also know about their timid nature and that they do not tolerate sudden movements, loud noises or being handled/petted/picked up.
- Dress -Make sure visitors are dressed suitably, in clothes with will withstand scratching and scent marking. Thick trousers, long sleeves and closed toe shoes are recommended. Advise that leather, jewellery (especially earrings), dangly things and accessories are invitations for chewing or theft.
- Basic Commands - Ensure all visitors are aware of what cues and commands are used with your fox. It is important for consistency for your fox that people communicate with them in the same way, as well as being important for allowing your guests an element of control over the interaction. Remember to reward your fox for following cues and commands around visitors. To avoid snatching and bites, treats can be dropped onto the floor if your fox performs a cue or command correctly, making sure guests do not have more than one treat at a time. If feeding by hand, make sure they use a flat palm.
- Personal Space - Make sure you provide areas for both your fox and your guests to retreat if its all too much for them. Don't force an animal or person to interact. Foxes enjoy climbing, and they can find climbing people just as much fun, so make sure your guests are aware of this (it can be intimidating to suddenly find a fox n your shoulder grooming your hair). If guests do no want your fox climbing all over them, get them to firmly state "no" as they stand up.
- Warning Signs - Keep an eye out for signs your fox is not comfortable with a situation ("Aeroplane ears" - Your foxes ears are flat, your fox freezes or appears tense, your fox is locking it's gaze on a person or animal, your fox suddenly turns to look at a person's hand, your fox raises it's whiskers and opens it's mouth, your fox growls/spits/bares teeth/barks or "gekkers") and intervene where necessary. Do not leave visitors or other animals unsupervised around your fox.
- Disease & Zoonses - If your fox, you or your guests are sick, arrange visits for another day when everyone is in full health. Make sure that people wash their hands after handling animals and animal treats. Be aware of signs & symptoms of common zoonoses and diseases of concern. Make sure your fox is up-to-date with vaccinations and parasite treatments. If anyone receives a bite or scratch from your fox, deal with the wound promptly and appropriately.
Little boy touching the fox in a zoo;
"Foxes rarely exhibit spontaneous direct aggression towards humans, especially if they have been properly socialised.
What most handlers are likely to deal with is defensive aggression (i.e., a frightened fox biting in self-defence) or guarding aggression (i.e., a fox defending food or a mate)"
Preventing fox-human aggression starts with ensuring your guests are well informed. Ensure your fox is never left unsupervised around visitors and watch closely for signs of distress, tension or aggression. If you see any warning signs make sure you intervene appropriately to neutralise the situation. Watching your fox's whiskers can be a good guide on their intent to bite. "Hunting whiskers" (whisker's curled forwards) spell mischief and tension. Never shout at a fox, (an aggressive fox will "shout back"), remain calm and where necessary, exit the area to an area of safety, backing away slowly, facing the fox at all times.
Fear (defensive) aggression;
Fear aggression is a defensive response to stimulus that the animal perceives as threatening. A fox may freeze, growl and/or display teeth in order to make the threat (object, other animal, noise, etc.), go away. There is no instant recipe for solving fear aggression, each animal and situation is unique.
Territorial (guarding) aggression;
Territorial aggression is behaviour directed towards the defence of territory or perceived possession. It is normal behaviour for foxes to be aggressive in guarding everything they consider their possessions, (such as, food, items they steal/find, toys, mates, sleeping areas, caching spots and territorial boundaries). While such behaviour can be easily resolved in dogs, territorial aggression is not so easy to resolved in foxes. In some circumstance such behaviour may require management, rather than expecting complete resolution.
Below are a few things to bear in mind when dealing with both fear aggression and territorial aggression:
- If an animal presents with aggression, give them space, backing away slowly
- Spaying or neutering your fox can help reduce seasonal fluxes in territorial behaviour
- Control the environment and reduce potential triggers that provoke the behaviour
- Remember: repetition leads to habit. The more your fox displays a behaviour the more it becomes established
- Learn to easily recognise the signs of stress and distress in your animal (e.g. growling, frantic increase in caching behaviour, panting, yawning, freezing, etc.)
- Training increases communication and understanding between an animal and it's handler, make good use of classical conditioning, systematic desensitization and counter-conditioning techniques.
- Remember to positively reinforce any desired behaviours (e.g. your fox lets you approach to take a toy without freezing/growing or bearing teeth)
- If the aggression can't be resolved seek advice from a certified exotic pet behaviourist
- Resist the urge to make excuses for not dealing with issues, such as the animal being "wild"
- Take small steps and be patient. It can take time to train animals.
- Never use punishment for issues involving aggression
- If you or a visitor is bitten by your fox, utilise your first aid kit and seek medical advice.
Basic obedience lays the groundwork for resolving problem behaviour. If you find you are experiencing aggression issues with your fox, going "back to basics" and re-training your fox can be very helpful (kinda like hitting "reset").
Cessation Signals and Time Out:
Just as humans have to understand and respect an animal's boundaries, pet foxes need to be taught to understand and respect human boundaries. Teaching your fox the following commands is an invaluable tool for helping you to control your fox and to prevent accidents occurring;
- "Come" - A command for your fox to cease what it is doing and to approach you
- "Enough" - A command for them to cease the behaviour they are performing and to relax
- "No" - A warning. Ignoring the warning will result in punishment (use a single warning only)
- "Off" - A command for the fox to get down from wherever they are and to place all 4 feet on the floor
- "Away" - A command for your fox to put distance between you and them
- "Bed" - Your fox must go to it's "safe place"
- "Stay"- Your fox must remain in position until you provide a release signal ("get comfortable")
- "Wait" - Your fox must remain in position briefly ("but, get ready")
- "Sit" - Your fox must have all 4 feet and its rear end firmly planted on the ground
- "Leave" - Your fox must resist what they are seeking and back away ("do not touch")
- "Release" - Your fox must release it's jaw and let go of whatever is in its mouth
For times when your fox is choosing not to follow commands, placing them on a "time out" may be necessary. This can be done by placing the animal in a crate or by leaving the area yourself for a few minutes (until they are calm and ready to be compliant). You must then provide opportunity for them to learn from the experience and to present the correct behaviour.
In some circumstance, it may be more appropriate to "end the session" and return your fox to it's enclosure, or to leave the enclosure (if you are in it). It is also important to note, that the incorrect use of the time out will confuse a fox and may cause unwanted negative consequences.
Every year, thousands of animals are caught in natural disasters, involved in traffic accidents, ingest harmful substances, suffer serious injury or present with emergency medical conditions. Knowing what to do in such emergency situations can go a great way in helping you save the life of your pet. Both Wildlife First Aid Courses and Pet First Aid Courses are a great way to gain vital skills that can help you in the event of a serious emergency. For immediate advice and assistance restraining a fox, seek professional advice from your exotics vet and assistance from wildlife professionals or wildlife rescue and ambulance providers (where necessary).
What to do in an emergency;
- Remain calm and take a few deep breaths
- Ensure the immediate safety of the animal, yourself and others in the area
- Contact your vet and keep their contact details to hand
- Phone for assistance in capturing and restraining the animal if necessary
- If deemed safe, move the animal into a transport crate and take the animal directly to the vet
- If an emergency occurs out-of-hours, you may be asked to go to a different surgery, be prepared for this and remember to take down their address and contact details
- If it is not deemed safe to move the animal, a vet will need to be called out
- Cover trapped animals with a towel where possible, to reduce stimulation
Building a first aid kit;
- Make a list of the basic items you will need
- Find a suitable, water-proof container that will hold all the items (with the exception of the large items such as herding boards and travel crate)
- Keep your kit well organised and ensure items are all "in date"
- Keep the following information within the kit - Vet's name, practice name, address and telephone number; Number and address for emergency on-call vet in your area; Details of the nearest animal hospital and poison control centre; Details of any medical conditions or prescriptions your pet is on
- Store the container and tools somewhere safe, easily accessible and in a location you will be able to remember
Known Baseline Values for the Red Fox (Management of the Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes) in Captivity);
An animal first aid kit suitable for foxes could include;
- Secure Travel Crate
- Animal Handling Gloves (x2 pairs)
- Latex gloves (x2 pairs)
- Soft Muzzle
- Break Stick
- Tongue Depressor
- Herding Boards/Sheets
- Large Towel (x2)
- Tweezers (Short & Long)
- Tick Removal Tool & Insect Repellent
- Digital Thermometer
- 5 ml Syringe
- Blunt Ended Scissors
- Elizabethan Collar
- Instant Ice Pack
- Hot Water Bottle
- Non-Adhesive Absorbent Dressings (x2)
- Bandages - Self-adhesive, Crepe bandage, Conforming bandage, Padded bandage, Cotton wool bandage (at least 2 of each)
- Sterile Absorbent Gauze
- Surgical Sticky Tape
- Sterile Saline Spray
- Antiseptic Ointment & Wound Powder
- Silver Nitrate Pen
- Alcohol Wipes & Hibiscrub
- Sterile Sample Pots
- Cotton wool
- Cotton Buds/Swabs
- Activated Charcoal
- Parasite Treatments
- High Value Treats (sealed and in date)
- Hand Sanitizer or Antibacterial Wipes
- Pet First Aid Guide
Examples of emergency situations;
- Natural Disasters (Fire, floods & storms) - Natural disasters can occur at any time. It is best to have a contingency plan, (an action, evacuation and recovery plan in the event of fire, flood or storm) in place and available in advance (such as a specific risk assessment for fire, floods and storms). Ensure enclosures are designed to withstand severe weather conditions and take all action to reduce fire risks. Should you and your fox find yourselves involved in a natural disaster, refer to your contingency plan, contact officials and take the necessary steps to ensure your's and your pets safety.
- Traffic Accidents - Prevention is better than cure. A secure garden and secure enclosure should keep a fox safe from traffic. If you walk your fox, good training and a secure harness and lead will help protect your pet from escaping whilst out walking. Never walk a fox near traffic and busy roads, especially at night. Should you find your fox has been involved in a road traffic accident (RTA) make the area safe and phone your vet for advice, approach the animal calmly and quietly, talking in soothing soft tones, be aware the animal may be in pain and may attempt to escape. Contain the animal in a travel crate by the most appropriate method and go directly to the vet, even if the animal appears unharmed.
- Electric Shock - If a high voltage power line is involved, do not approach. Call the police. If in the home, first turn off the power supply at the mains. If this is not possible for any reason, a non-metal item, like a soft broom, can be used to push the animal away from the power source. Once the animal is away from the power source contact your vet. If the animal has stopped breathing, you can provide emergency resuscitation, if you do not know how to do this, ask your vet to talk you through it.
- Ingestion of Toxins and Poisons - Keep all hazardous substances safely stored out of your fox's reach. If your fox does ingest something hazardous, contain them in a safe area and attempt to locate the packaging from which the substance came (or attempt to identity the plant that was consumed). If you cannot identify it, take a sample if you can (wear gloves, use a sterile sample pot and wash your hands). Contact the vet immediately and provide them with the details. Do not make your animal sick unless the vet says to do so. Take them directly to the surgery if deemed necessary.
- Foreign Object in Mouth or Throat - Contain the animal in a safe area and immediately contact your vet, following their instructions. Larger objects can obstruct the airways and can quickly result in asphyxiation. If the animals gums or tongue are turning blue, or the animal has collapsed, get someone to help you restrain the animal and ask your vet to talk you through removing the blockage (be careful, as there is a very high chance of being bitten). Should you get bitten and the fox refuses to release, a break stick can be used to coerce them into releasing.
- Coat Contamination - If a possible toxic substance (such as paint or tar) gets onto your foxes coat or paws, contain them in a safe area, using an Elizabethan collar to prevent them from licking, if possible (training your fox to tolerate wearing such a collar in advance is a greatly advantageous). Locate any product information you have on the substance and immediately contact your vet, providing them with the details. Follow the vets instructions, not forgetting to clean up any spillage. With vets agreement, you can wash your fox with pet shampoo or Fairy washing up liquid, to remove the substance. For serious problems, make sure you take your pet to the vet for a thorough decontamination.
- Serious Injury (Bite wounds, broken bones, bleeding) - Remain calm. Separate and contain the animal in a safe, enclosed area by the most appropriate means necessary, and contact your vet. Serious blood loss may require bandaging before leaving for the vets, (ask them to talk you through this). First muzzle your fox, and while someone restrains the animal, place a non-adhesive dressing over the wound, covering it tightly with bandage (include the foot when bandaging limbs). Follow this with a layer of cotton wool bandage and another layer of regular bandage. If blood seeps through, apply more layers. Secure with self adhesive bandage or surgical tape. Once you have stemmed any blood flow, place the animal into a secure travel crate and go directly to the vets.
- Burns and Scalds - Keep hot drinks out of your fox's reach. Do not smoke or burn candles and incense around your fox. Keep all hot, unused hobs covered and hot pans out of reach. Keep your fox in their enclosure while you are cooking or barbecuing and don't start a bonfire or set fireworks off near your fox's enclosure. Should your fox receive a burn or scald, remain calm and contain them in a safe, enclosed area. Contact your vet immediately and follow their advice. For minor burns (such as sunburn) seek advice from your vet regarding a suitable non-toxic ointment and keep your fox in the shade.
- Entrapment - Foxes can easily become trapped in a variety of materials, which can result in a high risk of serious injury or even death. Fishing and football nets pose the most common risks, but ensure curtain cords, plastic bags, fishing lines, rubbish, etc. are all safely out of your foxes reach. Should a fox become trapped they will often panic to free themselves, which can entangle them further, increasing the risk of strangulation, trapped/broken limbs and even death. If your fox become trapped or entangled somehow, free them, but only if it is clearly safe to do so. Once freed, contain them within a travel crate and seek immediate advice from your vet. If your pet becomes stuck in a more serious situation, approach only to place a towel over the animal (if possible) and immediately contact the vet. Follow your vets instructions.