Exotic pets are an emerging trend; people who don’t care for the traditional dog, cat or goldfish are adopting pets like fennec foxes.
Fennecs make for nontraditional, intelligent pets, but they have special requirements in order for them to be well cared for and happy.
The Fennec Fox
Fennec foxes are the smallest type of fox in the world. According to National Geographic, fennecs usually weigh between 2.2 and 3.3 pounds. They are cream-colored with black-tipped tails, and they’re nocturnal mammals whose natural habitat are deserts, like the Sahara. Fennecs have large ears that not only help them hear phenomenally well but also work as a cooling system for their body.
These foxes have thick fur and a lot of it — they even have fur on their feet. Fennecs’ fur is designed to help keep them warm on cool desert nights and protected from the fierce daytime sun. Their foot fur protects them from the hot sands. Fennecs even have some fur inside their ears — this is to prevent sand and insects from entering.
If you are thinking of getting a fennec fox, habitat is your first consideration. These are animals built to thrive in the desert, so they may not do well in colder climes. Also, keep in mind that these foxes are prolific jumpers.
The fennec fox is an omnivore. “Fennec foxes have several favorite foods, including insects and small rodents,” says Kristin Petrie in Fennec Foxes. “Lizards, geckos, eggs and small birds also make a tasty meal. Fennec foxes eat fruit and tubers as well.”
In the desert, the fennec is an opportunistic eater, meaning they will eat when they come across food even if they’re not necessarily starving. This means your fennec may eat constantly if you allow them to graze-feed.
The greater part of the fennec’s diet will be meat. Please do not force your fennec to go vegan, as this woman did. You can see from the photos in the story how sick the fennec looks.
Fennecs have adapted to a desert environment by becoming incredibly efficient with their water requirements. They get much of what they need from their food and from drinking water when they happen across it. As a pet, the fennec will need you to provide water.
These foxes are nocturnal, meaning they are most active at night. In the desert, this makes sense because this is when it’s much cooler outside. In their native habitat, these foxes live in long burrows under the ground, often with a group of fennecs. Many groups can contain up to 10 foxes, both males and females.
Fennecs can be aggressive when necessary. Males get aggressive with territory and will mark with urine; they also become aggressive during mating season. Females will be aggressive when it comes to defending their young. Males will stay close by and help protect their family, but they typically don’t enter the nest or den, where the young are.
Although fennecs live in groups, they typically hunt alone. Their ears are their best asset — they can hear prey moving under the sand. These foxes are also difficult to catch because they can hear someone coming from quite far off.
Fennec foxes mate for life. Mating season usually occurs in January and February, and gestation lasts for roughly 2 months. There are 2–5 cubs in a litter, and they stay fully dependent on their mother until they’re about 60–70 days old and reach maturity at 6–9 months.
The fennec father will hunt and bring food to his family as well as watch for any danger to the cubs. The mother will mostly stay with the cubs, especially in the first 2 weeks. It is very difficult to breed fennecs in captivity.
Finding a veterinarian who can treat your fennec is critical. Like dogs, fennecs will need routine examinations and vaccinations to stay healthy. Fennecs can carry rabies, so the rabies vaccine is of the utmost importance.
Some veterinarians aren’t comfortable with treating fennecs due to lack of experience. Before bringing a fennec home, you should find a veterinarian with experience and establish a relationship with them.
Laws vary widely from state to state, and even in different municipalities in the same state. Many states ban the ownership of native foxes but may allow fennecs because they are not indigenous to the U.S. For example, California considers fennecs to be a restricted animal, and thus you need a permit and must follow habitat specifications to keep one. Hawaii forbids that people keep any non-native species — this includes the fennec.
Keeping fennec foxes is a relatively new trend, so some states don’t even have laws specifically regarding the fennec posted. Your best move is to call your state’s fish and wildlife division and ask. Once you have the green light from the state level, contact your local animal control officer and make sure there are no town bylaws that forbid you to keep a fennec.
Watch this cutie fennec dart around at home:
Fennecs are lovers, not fighters. When confronted with an unfamiliar situation, animal or person, a fennec is much more likely to flee than fight. The only reasons a fennec may become aggressive are illnesses such as rabies, they are cornered and must fight, and/or there is a den nearby that they is protecting.
These foxes are intelligent, active and vocal. When they bond with you and are excited to see you, you’ll know it (and so will the neighbors). They love to dig and can easily burrow under fences. If the fence is not tall enough, a fennec fox can jump or climb over it as well.
Fennec foxes are inquisitive and they will happily rip apart a room in an investigative frenzy. Their behavior is almost never malicious; they are simply curious about everything, including you, your possessions, your other pets and your family. They are also very quick — take extreme care to not let your fennec get loose because it will be almost impossible to recapture them.
Fennec foxes are cute, fun and funny animals that make for great pets for the right person who is willing to take steps to ensure their safety, health and happiness. It takes dedication and patience to keep fennecs, so be prepared to spend a great deal of time with yours.