If you like to keep up to date with the national news, you will probably have become aware of recent reports that a four-week-old baby from South London was attacked in his own home by a fox earlier this month. While attacks of this type are considered extremely unusual and unlikely to recur under most circumstances, nevertheless, the issue of foxes and their potential propensity to attack other wildlife and even domestic pets is something that comes up time and time again.
If you keep small mammals such as rabbits and guinea pigs outside, or own chickens or other birds, you are probably already aware of the potential risks, and may be wondering what you can do to keep your animals safe from wild fox attacks. However, what about other pets? If you own a cat or a dog, are they also potentially at risk from attack by foxes? Read on to find out more.
Contrary to most people’s perceptions, the areas of the country most likely to provide a suitable habitat for a large population of foxes are not rural, sparsely populated areas, but inner cities and urban regions. While foxes can of course be found living in the wild across most areas of the UK and in the countryside, built up inner-city environments are in fact the areas within which you are most likely to see a significant amount of foxes. Foxes are hunter-scavengers, meaning that they are equally happy eating prey that they catch for themselves, and abandoned and scavenged food. The discarded human food, unguarded bins and people deliberately providing food for other wildlife in urban areas can all lead to a significant fox population making their home among the urban sprawl of the inner city and the suburbs.
- Foxes are nocturnal mammals that are most likely to be active at night, meaning that guarding your animals from fox attacks during the dark hours is a large part of the challenge.
- Foxes can live for up to fifteen years in the wild, although most foxes living in urban areas tend to live for just five years or less.
- Foxes eat a wide variety of foods, including rubbish, small animals, plants, berries, worms, insects, and more or less anything else they can get their paws on!
- While foxes indisputably cause a variety of problems within the urban environment, they are nevertheless classed as a wild animal rather than a ‘pest’ and so there is no legal responsibility for local councils to cull or eradicate the fox population in any area.
- Foxes have a distinctive smell, both on their bodies and in the areas in which they inhabit. It can best be described as pungent and musky, and is unmistakable once you have scented it once!
What domestic pets are at risk from fox attacks?
There is a great deal of debate as to whether foxes pose a risk to domestic animals such as cats and dogs, which will generally defend themselves fiercely and fight back if attacked, while small caged animals and birds living outdoors are universally considered to be at potential risk.
- Dogs are generally not in any danger from foxes at all, although very small dogs or young puppies may be slightly more at risk.
- Cats will generally behave defensively in the face of a threat, hissing, spitting, bushing up their fur and clawing and biting if threatened. For this reason, foxes tend to leave cats alone, and cats are generally considered to be safe to roam in the presence of foxes. If a cat were to get too close to a fox’s burrow or otherwise threaten fox cubs, it is to be expected that the parent foxes would defend their territory and chase them off, however.
- Rabbits, guinea pigs and other small mammals that live outside in hutches can make easy prey for foxes if they are not sufficiently secured against attack. This means that the hutches, runs and other housing that your pets live in must be raised above ground level and built and maintained with fox-proofing in mind. Foxes are determined and persistent predators when they spot an easy target, and will often spend a significant amount of time attempting to gain access to a hutch or run by burrowing, biting, clawing and using any other means of access at their disposal. Check your pet’s hutches and enclosures regularly for signs of a fox attempting to gain access, and ensure that if your pets roam in the garden during the daytime that they are safely enclosed within a sturdy run and well supervised.
- Ducks, chickens and other poultry birds kept in cages in the garden or roaming free range are at significant risk of potential attack from foxes if inadequately secured. Once a fox has come to realise that there are ducks or chickens living in an area, they will often return repeatedly and pick off individual birds, sometimes killing several at a time. Make sure that any free-range birds are supervised when roaming, and that your birds have a safe place that they can retreat to, to get away from any prowling foxes. Securing their pens and enclosures and fox-proofing them is vital, as is checking the structures, fencing and security of the pens on a regular basis in case of attack.
Foxes and animal health
As well as being potential predators of prey animals, foxes can sometimes spread parasites and diseases. Foxes are usually rife with fleas, and can also carry worms and a range of diseases and conditions that may be passed on to pets such as cats and dogs. If you suspect that one of your pets has come into close contact with a fox, ensure that they are up to date with their worming, vaccinations and flea treatment protocols. If any of your animals gets into a scrape with a fox, even if they appear unharmed, it is always worth taking your pet along to the vet for a check-up, and to ensure that no fox-related nasties have jumped ship to reside on your own pet.
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