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Arctic Fox
(Alopex lagopus)

Interview with Layla Reid

Positive attributes of the species?
Arctic foxes are one of the most mellow species of fox and are less likely than some other species to hunt smaller pets. They are very fascinating animals. They do not get cold until -90F! When the seasons change, their fur color changes. They shed their thick white coat in late spring for a short brown or gray coat and then shed that in winter and go back to being white. The fur sheds in clumps and easily brushes out before ending up in your house.

Negative attributes of the species?
Arctic foxes are one of the two foxes common in the pet trade (other is the red fox) that have the strongest smell. They are hunters and though they've been bred in captivity for many generations, they still retain much of their wild cousins' tendencies such as marking, being ocassionally aloof, and chasing smaller animals.

Anecdotes/stories regarding your experience with the species?
Our female arctic fox, Inari sometimes carries around her plush polar bear toy like a baby. She will curl up in her den box with it, carry it out with her to lay in the sun, and then take it back to the den at bedtime. :)

What is their average life span?
10-15 years in captivity

How well do they interact with people?
If well-socialized as a baby, foxes make wonderful pets. Lots of handling and having your fox experience everything it can the first few months of its life is crucial. Some foxes love to be petted while others will come to you when they want to be petted but otherwise would rather run around and play. It depends on the personality of the individual fox. Never allow your fox to wander outside off a leash or it might see something interesting and run off after it.

How easily do they train?
Foxes can learn to use a litter box, walk on a leash and harness, and some words and basic tricks very similar to a dog as long as it is taught as a baby. Always use positive reinforcement such as treats and praise and never spank your fox.

What type of housing do they need?
Arctic foxes can be kept indoors or outdoors, but a combination of the two is ideal. They are made for the extreme cold and can overheat easily. The ideal environment would be in a cooler climate, but if kept in hotter temperatures, they should have access to cooler areas including air conditioning or an ice bath. An outdoor pen should be no smaller than 10'x10' with a secure top and bottom to prevent digging or climbing out. A doggy door capable of being locked can also be provided from the house to the pen to allow your fox to go in and out as he wants. It's a good idea to keep an indoor fox confined at night in an outside pen or large cage in the house with a litter box.

What do you feed them?
Foxes do well on a diet of quality dog or puppy food. It is also healthy to supplement their diet with veggies and raw or cooked meat. All foxes love eggs! You should avoid pork products as well as things that are unhealthy for dogs such as raisins, grapes, and chocolate.

How do they interact with other household animals?
As a large fox species, arctics get along best with other foxes or medium to large breed dogs. The best way to ensure your fox gets used to your other pets is to introduce them as early as possible. Be aware that some dogs have such a strong hunting instinct that they might actually try to kill your fox. When introducing a fox to any adult dog, use caution. Foxes are hunters and might eat smaller pets such as hamsters, birds, and even tiny kittens or small-breed puppies. If you have these pets in your home, it is best to not leave your fox with them unsupervised even if the smaller pets are in cages. Foxes are extremely intelligent and might find a way to get to them.

How destructive are they for an average household (gnawing, climbing, etc.)?
Arctic foxes will sometimes mark their territory with urine or feces which is a trait greatly reduced by spaying or neutering. They love to dig and bury their toys and treats. Providing your fox with a container filled with sand, clean dirt, or small animal bedding will give them a place to dig without being destructive. If you catch your fox doing something wrong, like digging, a squirt gun is a very good deterrent, but you should never hit your fox.

Are there any problems associated with their nails?
Fox and dog nails are very similar. Just keep them trimmed with dog nail trimmers if they become too long.

Do they have any potentially offensive odours?
If not cleaned up immediately, arctic foxes' urine can stink. They also have a gland that emits an odor whenever frightened. It is strongly advised that this gland is not removed due to the potential health risks. Spaying or neutering reduces these odors.

How messy are their dropping and can they be litter trained?
Arctic fox feces is similar to dog's and is one of the smallest and most compact of all large fox species which makes for easier cleanup of accidents. Most can be litter trained but some may not housebreak completely. Arctic foxes are slightly larger than a house cat and will need a dog litter box (or a plastic tote or cement pan for a cheaper alternative). Foxes don't bury their waste so just a small amount of non-clumping cat litter, small animal bedding (no cedar or pine), or newspaper can be used in the box.

What vet care should be expected?
Not all vets will treat exotic pets such as a fox. It's important to find one that will before you get your fox. Vet costs are about the same for an arctic fox as it is for a dog with most vets, though some do charge more. You should get rabies shots yearly and any puppy shots that are available with a dead or modified live virus in the vaccine. Vaccines with straight live viruses could actually cause that illness in a fox. You should have your fox spayed or neutered by 6 months of age to help cut back on some negative traits such as calling, odor, and marking.

At what age would it be best to get one?
4-6 weeks is the best age to get a fox to allow plenty of time to bond with you.

What personal traits should someone keeping them have?
Patience is the most important personal trait you need when sharing your life with a fox. A sense of humor would be helpful, too. :)

Other consideration for owners of them?
Make sure it is legal to keep a pet arctic fox where you live by contacting state wildlife officials and county authorities. When choosing a breeder, make sure the foxes are being raised for pets and are bottle-fed to ensure the best start for your new family member!

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