How to Care for Your Fennec Fox — The Smallest Fox in the World

It takes a fully committed and vigilant person to care for these curious animals.

Fennec fox
Fennec foxes can be house-trained, but you may have to work at it for a while. Photo: tambako

So you’ve decided you’d love to add a fennec fox to your family.

First off, congratulations!

Second, there’s a lot to know about these little guys, so before you run out and adopt one, let’s go over some information you’ll need to ensure your fennec’s health and happiness.

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The Fennec Fox

Fennec foxes are the smallest type of fox in the world. According to National Geographic, fennecs usually weigh 2.2–3.3 pounds.

They are cream-colored with black-tipped tails, and they’re nocturnal mammals whose natural habitat are deserts, such as 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 fennec foxes are prolific jumpers.

Habitat

In the previous section, we learned some key factors: Fennecs hail from hot climates, and they are burrowers. These factors are important to remember when building your fennec’s habitat.

Fennec foxes are extremely curious. They are capable of wreaking havoc with your furniture and your possessions if you’re not paying attention.

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Your fennec can be loose in the house with you, but when you are not home, you’ll want to crate them for their own safety.

A large dog crate will work well for your fennecs when you’re not around. You can put blankets, toys, water and any other items your fennecs love in the crate with them when you’re not home or unable to supervise.

Outdoor habitats should be constructed with your fennec’s abilities in mind.

Fennecs are diggers and excellent jumpers — and once they escape they are almost impossible to recapture due to their keen ears and speed. When building an outdoor enclosure, you’ll want to create a space that won’t allow them to either dig under the fencing or jump over it.

This means the enclosure should have a “floor” of some kind, as well as a covering.

baby fennec fox
Fennec foxes love to dig and burrow. Photo: Michele W

What to Feed a Fennec Fox

The fennec fox is an omnivore.

“Fennec foxes have several favorite foods, including insects and small rodents,” writes Kristin Petrie in her book 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 fox may eat constantly if you allow them to graze-feed.

The greater part of the fennec’s diet will be meat. 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 fox will need you to provide water.

Toilet Training Your Fennec Fox

Fennecs can be house-trained, but it takes a great deal of patience. As wild animals, they are not as domesticated as dogs and cats. Toileting habits will need to be continually trained throughout their lives.

The fennec’s training is similar to that of dogs or cats. Be vigilant about their toilet habits. When your fennec fox goes in the litter box or outside, give lots of praise and a treat.

If you happen to catch your fennec fox toileting outside their box or indoors, immediately move them to your desired toileting location. You’ll need to repeat this constantly, but they usually will get the hang of it.

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Never use violence to intimidate your fennec. This often has adverse results, making the fox urinate out of either aggression or fear.

Note that males will use urine to mark territory, particularly during mating season.

Fennec fox
Fennec foxes’ large ears help them hear prey moving below the ground. Photo: tambako

Behavior

As we discussed, 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.

Fennec foxes 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.

Mating

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’s difficult to breed fennecs in captivity.

Medical Care

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. Find a vet with experience and establish a relationship with them.

You will need to have yearly exams as well as heartworm and flea preventive. Because the fennec is so small, this is a conversation you must have with your vet to determine safe dosages.

Laws About Keeping a Fennec Fox as a Pet

As a relatively new type of exotic pet, fennec foxes are a mixed bag when it comes to the laws:

  • Some states allow them without permits.
  • Some states allow them with permits, but the local municipality does not.
  • Some states ban them outright.
  • Some states don’t even list them at all.

Many states ban the ownership of native foxes but may allow fennecs because they are not indigenous to the United States.

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 nonnative species — this includes the fennec.

Before getting a fennec fox, do your homework: Check with state and local wildlife officials to make sure you are within the bounds of the law. A great place to start is your town’s animal control division.

Watch this cutie fennec dart around at home:

A Fennec Fox’s Personality: What to Expect

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, 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 quick, so take extreme care to not let your fennec get loose because it will be almost impossible to recapture them.

Final Thoughts

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.

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