F o x e s   &   F r i e n d s

Educational Site & Fox Rescue

Fennec Fox

Kingdom:Animalia
Phylum:Chordata
Class:Mammalia
Order:Carnivora
Family:Canidae
Genus:Vulpes
Species:V. zerda
 

The smallest foxes of all species, they are also the craziest. At 2 to 4 pounds, these foxes are definitely not lacking in energy! Fennecs are relatively new to the pet trade, being brought into the country by a man named Henry "Lynn" Hall. His original stock was brought in by an oil worker from Libya in 1978. Before Lynn began to breed them the world thought Fennecs to be too fragile for breeding, and often had short life spans in captivity. He proved them wrong by finding a successful diet and breeding over 400 kits at his facility over the years. I myself had the opportunity to speak with this man on the phone before he passed away, and he was an extraordinary man. 

Rest in Peace Henry "Lynn" Hall. June 1, 1924 - October 9, 2012. 

 

Fennec Foxes In The Wild:

Classification: These soft little foxes are the smallest of all canines and get their name from Fanak, the Arabic word for 'fox.' Zerda, their species name, originates from zerdaw, an Arabic word of Persian origin meaning 'Fennec.'

The Fennec or nickname 'desert fox' is a fitting name for this little one. Vulpes is the Latin name for 'fox' and is the genus name for 'true foxes.' Some believe Fennecs are related to the Chihuahua, but this is completely untrue. Dogs contain more chromosomes than foxes, which makes it impossible for them to breed. Others consider the Fennec a relative to the American Kit Fox or the African Pale Fox, which it is. That would indeed put it in the genus Vulpes, however in the past, scientists aregued whether they were classified in their own genus, Fennecus.

Physical Description: Weight: 2 - 4 pounds maximum. Height: 8 inches. 
Length: 9.4 inches, 23.6 including their tail, and their ears about 6 inches long.
Very large ears on a their very tiny head and a sharp, pointed muzzle give this small fox a very distinctive look, almost that of a Pokemon. Typical of any type of fox, the Fennec has a very bushy tail and thick, soft fur. It's teeth are small but needle sharp.
                  
Their coloration contains cream to sandy yellow with white "edges" and some black ticking, which helps this fox blend with the desert sand. Their top torso is the reddish cream color while their underbellies are pure white. The tail is lightly black tipped and the whiskers are long and black. The eyes are a dark beetle-black. 

Diet: Wild:  Large insects like beetles and locusts, small rodents, lizards and occasionally birds; some plant material, when available, like berries and succulent leaves. Fennecs almost never drink still water, as they get most moisture from their prey, but will drink readily if a water source is nearby and water should be down for them at all times.
Domestic: Prepared canine diet, high quality kibble, plus occasional freshly killed rodents or chicks and some fruit and vegetation. It should be noted, however, that their diet should consist mainly of a meat. More details below.

Adaptation: Fennec vision, typical of predators is binocular and, typical of nocturnal animals, is enhanced by a reflective retina called a tapetum, which cats have. The tapetum creates the illusion of glowing eyes, much like in domestic cats or wild alligators.

The six-inch-long ears are mostly for dissipating heat rather than hearing prey under the ground; an Arctic fox hears as well as the Fennec but the larger ears serve as radiators for animals that live in hot climates, much like an elephant.

Fennec feet are thickly furred between the pads, ensuring the Fennec will not burn its feet running across the scalding desert sand. The fur also muffles the fox's footfall, allowing a stealthy hunt.

Thick fur in a desert animal is not what is usually expected. Because the Fennec is nocturnal, it needs insulation against the cold common in desert climates at night. Fennecs prefer to come out of the den around twilight, right before the harsh cold and after the intense desert heat. The pale color of the Fennec's coat has reflective guard hairs and helps keep the animal cool when occasionally about during the day. The light coat color also provides camouflage against the desert sands.

The Fennec will drink water when it is available but can survive long periods without drinking, getting the needed moisture from the food it eats including cacti and plants.

Behavior: Fennecs den, burrowing under rock piles and the roots of brush. The burrow usually has several entrances. The burrow serves as shelter from weather and enemies. A number of foxes may live together in what becomes an extensive tunnel system. Males have a small harem of several related females and their juvenile pups. Even though Fennecs are known to live in groups, their social system and specific daily habits are still unknown in the wild. Fennec Foxes do mate for life, unless a mate passes away.

These desert foxes spend the heat of the day in the cool recesses of the burrow and exit after nightfall to hunt. Fennecs sometimes use the stalk-spring-pounce method of prey capture so often used by red foxes. They also cache food for future use and seem to remember every cache site (as they do in your house).

Typical of all foxes, Fennecs are very agile, similar to cats. They can jump straight up as much as 3 feet and can make a horizontal leap of 4 feet from a standing position, remarkable for its small size. Such feats are useful in both escape and prey capture. Pups have been observed bouncing, in play, like little balls. 

Fennecs, like all foxes, mark territory with dropping feces piles and urine, dominant foxes urinating more. There is a gland on the dorsal tail that is surrounded with black bristles that releases scent much like a skunk when in a life threatening situation. It doesn't stain like a skunk, but releases an odorous smell from the anal cavities, which helps to almost stun their predators. Vocalizations are many and varied, such as a purr of affection, a bark like a common dog, a happy scream, and an extremely loud angry shriek.
 
Range: Northern Africa, across the Sahara, the Sinai Peninsula and Arabia.

Breeding and Growth: A pair of Fennecs Foxes stay together for many years, most of the time for life. Usually one litter is born a year, after a gestation period of about 50-53 days. Usually 2 to 5 pups are born and the mother tends the helpless pups in the den for about two weeks. Both parents share duties in raising the young. Newborns have a short, downy fur that grows fluffier and more dense as the adult hairs come in and need to learn all the characteristics of their kind from the parents. The eyes open at about 15 days and nurse for nearly a month before they begin eating prey the parents bring in. Kits can get quite pushy when begging for food and it is not unusual for the parent to get very pushy right back, even biting.

Adult size is reached in approximately nine months and sexual maturity shortly after. The whole clan disperses from the den site when the pups are old enough; the food base is usually fairly depleted by that time. The group will move through its territory, taking advantage of favorite den sites in each area. A successful birthing den will be used over again. The captive life span is 12 - 16 years, how long they live in the wild is not known, presumably about 4 years, due to predators, their small size, and inquisitiveness.

Conservation Status: Fennecs are rare to begin with, but they are hunted by native desert peoples for rodent extermination and fur. They are also a CITES Threatened Species. A Fennec may NOT be brought in or out of the continental United States without thorough investigation. 

 

Fennec Foxes In Captivity:

Domestication: The Fennec Fox is classified under CITES as an Appendix II species: "species not necessarily threatened with extinction, but in which trade must be controlled in order to avoid utilization incompatible with their survival (CITES website)." In the United States however there is a small community of Fennec Fox owners and breeders, and you can view the list under the BREEDERS + EXOTIC VETS tab. Fennecs are becoming more and more common, and the demand is too low with not too many new breeders. Due to more breeders retiring than new breeders beginning, the supply is much lower than the demand. Very few Fennecs having been imported with a new gene pool outside the United States in the last decade. Some people believe the Chihuahua was a relative of the Fennec, but they are more closely related to the modern day dog than a fox. The lower number of chromosomes in foxes - 39 in dogs vs. 32 in the Fennec - makes it impossible for the two species to breed and produce hybrids.


The Fennec Fox is classified under CITES as an Appendix II species: "species not necessarily threatened with extinction, but in which trade must becontrolled in order to avoid utilization incompatible with their survival (CITES website)." In the United States there is a small community of Fennec Fox owners and breeders, and you can view the list under the BREEDER LIST tab.

Some people believe the Chihuahua was a relative of the Fennec, but they are more closely related to the modern day dog than a fox. The lower number of chromosomes in foxes - 39 in dogs vs. 32 in the Fennec - makes it impossible for the two species to breed and produce hybrids.

 

As A Pet In Captivity: Although Fennecs cannot be considered completely domesticated, they can be kept in a domestic setting similar to dogs or cats, though several things make it important to ensure that they do not escape. Their speed and agility (they can jump four times their own body length) combined with their natural fleeing/chase instinct creates the risk of a Fennec slipping its harness or collar. They should ALWAYS be in a harness rather than attaching the collars to their neck, because if they pull, they could snap their fragile necks. Further, since they are adept diggers (they can dig up to twenty feet a night in their natural environment), outdoor pens and fences must be extended many feet below ground. It is said that Fennecs appear to disappear into the sand since they dig so fast. Wild instincts make Fennecs more of a handful and more enjoyable than a domestic cat or dog. As with all exotic pets, Fennecs have more personality, and are substantially smarter than domestic dogs or cats. This also makes them ten times as stubborn and harder to train. However some wild instinct will influence their actions, such as hiding caches of food in case of famine, as well as attempting to burrow into furniture to build a nest, hiding food in the cushions, and other instinctual behaviors.

Even if raised with a cat or dog it's entire life, caution should be exercised. A Fennec can snap at the slightest thing and could turn on you, your cat, your dog, or your toddler. They want what they want, and have no problem using their teeth to get it. Most states will seize and euthanize an exotic animal only after one incident. In most cases, domestic animals have up to three chances.

As a kit, they should be exposed to everything they will encounter their entire life. The socialization period for canines before they start to experience fear is birth - 3 months. If you are looking for a pet, they should be exposed to a lot of people, given baths, nail trimmings, other animals, being held and properly socialized. 

Socially in Captivity and Maturation:

Fennecs are the most social of all foxes; hence they need outlets for their energy. They will grow tired of a household pet long after the cat or dog is sick of them. They will most likely tire other household pets with their playfulness and high-strung personalities. They will often play tag with the household pet such as a cat or dog and wear the other animal out way before it has lost energy. If a Fennec is the only animal in the house, it should be given plenty of attention; otherwise it will become lonely and not eat. Before adopting one of these amazing little critters, make sure you have enough time to devote to these little guys. A Fennec fox is not for someone in college, or someone who is in a relationship with their job, or anyone under the age of 18.

Another note worth mentioning is when they hit the 'teenager' stage. Most foxes you see for sale are surrendered 
around 6-9 months, when they start testing the boundaries and finding their place in the world. They will pretend they have never heard a command from you in their life, and will give you a run for your money so to speak. If you wait it out, and teach them with positive reinforcement, it will be rewarding. You should NEVER strike your Fennec. It will only increase their instinctual fear of humans.

Diet In Captivity: Any diet in a domestic setting should reflect their natural wild diet. Food sources used should include high quality meat-rich dog food, wild canine food brands, cat food,  meats, insects, mealworms, custom dietary mixtures, or any combination. However it is suggested NOT to feed them raw meats, as this will make their stools smell unbearable.

 Blue Buffalo Wilderness and Taste of the Wild are amazing stable kibble diets with fruits and vegetables mixed in about every other day sparingly. A cat kibble would also be fine as a stable kibble, since these foxes need more of the vitamin Taurine than canines do. And remember, if the ingredients don't have an actual meat (such as 'deboned chicken' like in the Blue Buffalo) listed as the first ingredient, don't buy it. All these commercial dog or cat foods that have corn in them are not good. Cats, dogs, and foxes would not be eating corn in the wild. Blue Buffalo Wilderness and Simply Nourish Source are 100% grain free. I would feed my Fennec Blue Buffalo, monkey biscuit treats, cereal, meal worms, and vegetables, fruits and lettuce. Never feed them too many fiber-rich foods, otherwise this will harm their digestive system. They get EXTREMELY excited sometimes when fed certain foods, so make sure you stamp out food aggression from a young age. It has been said Mazuri Wild Canid diet foods have high amounts of preservatives - more than your commercial kitten or puppy foods.

Litter Training: Fennecs either take very well to a litter box or do not like it at all. The best way to litter train them is to buy a potty training aid spray. I used the Petsmart Simple Solution Potty Training Aid Spray. Spray this on the litter, or puppy pad. Some Fennecs like puppy pads and some like litter boxes, it really depends on the personality of your fox. If you do use a litter box, make sure you DO NOT buy clumping litter. 

Since Fennecs have fur on their feet, this will form hard pieces that will be difficult to remove. I would suggest either paper pellets, like Yesterdays News, Corn or Pine (which is also flushable), or Blue Buffalo's cat litter, which I have heard is amazing. Otherwise the clay litter clumps and forms hard rocks on your baby's pads, which will hurt to be removed. Always bring the Fox to the litter box/puppy pad frequently and whenever there is an accident in the house, take them immediately to the litter box. Always give treats and praise for using the litter box or puppy pad. My Fennec loved monkey biscuits as treats especially for going potty.

Make sure you take frequent potty trips to the pad or litter box after they eat/drink, much like you would take a puppy outside to their toilet area. 

Caging Recommendations and Walks: What I used for my fox was a Ferret Nation Midwest model 142 or 182. Out of all the cages I had this was the best. If you add on another level, this 3 level cage would be ideal. Other recommended cages are Proselect Standard Foldable Cat Cages, Prevue Ferret Cages. If you have an outdoor enclosure, it must have a covered top and bottom, as Fennecs can dig and climb, being as agile as cats. And Fennecs always need toys and outlets for their energy in their cages/pens. 

Fennecs should be in the cage when you aren't home, mostly because they can get into trouble if left loose and could hurt themselves. And if they escape outside, you will probably not recover them. That is why they NEED a harness if taken for a walk outside. If they just have a collar, it is easy for them to slip out if frightened.

That being said, like a dog, they should only be caged when you aren't home and supervised when you are. Getting a fox and keeping it caged all the time will affect it's personality - negatively. I personally know someone whose fox was kept isolated from other animals and people in a cage in it's own room. It was not a very happy fox and chewed all of the fur out of it's tail.

If you want a fox just to show off to people, then get a dog. There are plenty of them in shelters.

Legal Issues and Shots: The legality of owning a Fennec, as with many exotic pets, varies by state, so check the FOX LEGALITY & RIGHTS link. Unfortunately, because it is an exotic, not all veterinarians will treat Fennecs, so make sure to find a Vet who will provide vaccinations and any necessary medical care. They need similar shots as dogs do, such as Parvocine, Distemper, and Rabies. They MUST be killed vaccines or modified live, because if they are live the fox is too small to fight it off. An experienced breeder will already have shots administered before releasing the kit to you. More detailed information will be below.

Vaccine Info: At this time there is no approved vaccines for foxes. That being said, you should always use a killed or modified live virus vaccine.

Distemper. Do not give live virus vaccines. Foxes and even dogs have been known to obtained the virus from even modified live vaccines. PureVax Ferret,  is one for ferrets but is chick cell (canary pox) oriented and is Not a modified live. It is manufactured by Merial. 

Parvo. Galaxy Pv,  (modified live virus), or use a killed vaccine if available. 

Rabies. Imrab 3, killed virus.

Heartworm.  Heartguard or liquid ivomec is suitable for the Fennec. (Be sure it is not the kind for cattle with the extra medication for liver flukes) Tape worms. Panacure and Droncit are approved for the Fennec. Remember, these are just guidelines, and your Vet can give you a better idea of what is best for your situation.

Shampoo and flea products. Be sure it is safe for a cat or kitten. Check the age and weight on the product as compared to your animal. Their systems are more delicate like a cat because of their size even though they are in the canine family. The fennec fox is in the 'dog' family and therefore are susceptible to all dog diseases. They can also harbor the same internal and external parasites as domestic dogs including worms and fleas. You should regularly check fecal samples for worm eggs and keep their area flea free. 

Culture: Though the Fennec Fox in the United States might be a rare pet, and not heard of very often being considered 'exotic', some cultures find them to be an everyday pet you would see in the pet stores, such as Japan. In Thailand, they even have a pet cafe in which Red Foxes, Meerkats, and Fennec Foxes live where customers can interact with them. 

Japan adopts out these little ones in pet stores with extensive manuals on how to take care of them. And while I do not agree with this money-making method, I believe foxes should be thoroughly  researched before adopting one, so at least these pet stores give out information.

I know some breeders in the U.S. that do not give out info with their kits. However, I stumbled upon these photos while reading a delightful blog about someone who gives their foxes a great home. Unfortunately, Fennec breeders are becoming more and more rare. The amount of breeders retiring aren't matching the new breeders starting, and due to the low success rate of breeding (it is not uncommon for Fennecs to destroy their kits if not reared in complete silence) and the high demand, prices are going up. 

Anatomy: While not too much information is out there on Fennec's anatomy, I was able to come across a few X-rays where you can clearly see their little hearts, ribs, etc. and felt they would be great to share.  These X-rays really demonstrate the fact that any Fennec owner will tell you; underneath that fluffy fur is one extremely skinny and tiny fox! When you are giving them a bath you will see just how skinny they are. Their bones are extremely fragile, and extreme precaution should be taken to protect them from sprains, breaks, and other injuries with this world's smallest fox.

See left the picture of their teeth which are remarkably close to a canine, but you can notice the biggest difference between the teeth of a domestic dog and the fox. The fox has extremely larger two incisors on the sides of the mouth while in the front they are almost flat. Most domestic dogs have sharper, larger teeth between the larger side teeth. Fennec fox teeth also stand out completely from feline teeth, which have sharp serrated edges on each tooth. Notice that the four long teeth are utilized for grabbing hold of the pray and killing it almost instantly, and the smaller teeth in the middle are used for chomping the prey into smaller, bite-sized pieces. 

 
And while I do not claim to know anything about the brain of a Fennec, I can provide you with photos of one. See the picture as a reference. It is interesting to see the folds of the brain. For those of you studying psychology you may notice a human brain has many more folds than that of a Fennec, or any lesser mammals, which shows the intelligence levels, as information is stored in the folds of the brain. Photo courtesy of the University of Wisconsin. 

The chart below is a great reference chart for Fennec blood counts.

Fennec Fox Blood Values from the 2002 ISIS Chart for Fennecs:

Sources Accessed and Modified 12/20/08; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fennec

Sources Accessed and Modified 12/25/08; http://www.critterhouse.com/vaccinations.htm

Sources Accessed and Modified 4/2/10; http://tetoism.exblog.jp/

Source Accessed  and Modified 4/4/10;  http://www.critterhouse.com/vaccinations.htm