There’s no denying the incredible cuteness of a baby fox. Just ask the Shopland family of Whitehorse, Canada, who discovered an adorable “abandoned puppy” in the woods. As the CBC reports, after bringing the animal home and nursing it back to health, the family was surprised to learn that their little foundling was, in fact, a fox. The “tip-off” was the pup’s white-tipped tail. Too imprinted to return to the wild, the fox is now a permanent residence at the Yukon Wildlife Preserve.
While foxes are beautiful, elegant animals that look a lot like dogs, they’re actually quite different than your domesticated furry friend. Read on to learn about the difference between foxes and dogs, and how you can get a “fox fix” without bringing a wild animal into your home!
How foxes and dogs are different
Foxes and dogs are members of the same animal family, canidae, but their lineage splits off from there. While dogs are domesticated members of the canis genus, foxes belong to several different, non-canis genera (that’s the plural form of genus). The twelve most common, “true fox” species belong to the genus vulpes.
So what does all that Latin mean? Well, foxes (vulpes) and dogs (canis) are very different creatures. For starters, vulpes are smaller in size, and have flatter skulls, than the majority of their canine cousins. There are several other key differences between foxes and dogs:
- Foxes have a lifespan of just 2-4 years (though they can live up to 14 years in captivity), while domestic dogs average much longer, 10-13 years.
- Foxes are very difficult to train. While the average pet dog can learn a wide range of commands, foxes have a limited capacity (in part because they’re intelligent, wild animals with shorter attention spans than domesticated dogs).
- Unlike dogs, foxes cannot be reliably house-trained; marking (i.e. peeing on stuff) is a normal, regular behavior for foxes, and one fox owner describes the smell of fox urine as “cat pee, but a million times worse. It smells like skunk, it’s the most pungent thing in the universe.”
- While pet dogs are typically social, foxes are incredibly shy. According to fox expert Sarah Roche, “While foxes often become very attached and affectionate with their families, they remain impossibly shy around visitors and strangers,” and that shyness can sometimes result in biting.
Can you keep a fox as a pet?
It’s only natural to want to befriend a fox; after all, they’re sooo cute! Depending on what country, state, or town you live in, it may technically be legal to have a pet fox at home. But that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. Though there have been successful domestication efforts, true foxes remain wild animals, and should not be kept in the home.
True foxes are wild animals, and should not be kept in the home.
Even people who successfully, legally keep foxes as pets warn against doing so. According to the mom of Instagram celeb Juniper the Fox, “Raising a fox is extremely difficult, they’re nippy and noisy and smelly.” They’re easily stressed out; typically don’t get along with other resident pets; require large, secure enclosures; are destructive; and most of all, they stink! Foxes have a distinct, musky odor (in addition to their pungent pee) and there’s no way to de-scent them.
In short, foxes are cute to look at, but difficult to care for. For the vast majority of pet people, a domestic dog is a much better choice.
Can foxes and dogs make babies?
Short answer: no, they can’t. They simply don’t have compatible parts. (Of course, that doesn’t mean they can’t be friends: witness Juniper the Fox and Moose the Dog, above).
The longer answer to why dog-fox hybrids can’t exist has to do with the two species having vastly different numbers of chromosomes. Foxes and dogs diverged (that is, veered off from their common ancestor and became separate species) over 7 million years ago, and have evolved into very different creatures that cannot cross-breed.
There have been unsubstantiated reports of successful fox-dog hybrids, aka “doxes,” but such claims are unproven and extremely unlikely. It’s fun to think about, though; the result would be awfully cute!
Dogs that look like foxes
Still find the appearance of foxes simply irresistible? There’s a dog for that. As foxes rise in popularity, so do domestic dogs with fox-like features. Spitz-type dogs are the most foxy, though there are a lot of breeds (not to mention shelter mutts!) with pointed ears, curly tails, and bushy coats.
Some of the most fox-like dog breeds include:
- Shiba Inu, the oldest and smallest Japanese breed renowned for its foxy appearance.
- Finnish Spitz, a lively, alert family dog.
- Jindo, a loyal, independent dog from Korea.
- American Eskimo, an agile companion dog with fox-like pointed ears.
- Long-haired Chihuahua. Okay, Chihuahuas aren’t as smart as foxes, but some of them have distinctly fox-like snouts and ears.
Foxes are among the cutest wild animals in the world, but it’s important to remember the “wild” part. The best way to get a real-life fox fix is to look at pictures and videos online (and support your closest wildlife sanctuary or refuge, where there may be a fox or two in residence). If you’re looking for a small, curly-tailed, pointy-eared creature to love, consider adopting a fox-like dog.. They’re just as cute, and they come without the stink!