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Fennecs as Pets

Be sure to check out the Fennec Diet and Health page!
Frequently asked questions about fennecs as pets:
Do Fennecs make good pets?

Many fennecs are a wonderful exotic pet. They are very friendly and can be enjoyed by the whole family–especially if you have a lot of energy! Do remember that they are exotic animals and can’t be treated the same as any domestic animal. Please do your research and get to know others who own fennecs before making your decision.

Are they like a dog or cat?

Though fennecs really cannot be compared to domestic animals, they are in some ways like a combination of a cat and a dog. They are about the size of a cat, and sometimes they have the aloofness of a cat, but their energy and playfulness is that of a very active dog, unless they are sleeping. Some say that they are more cat like in personality–independent when they want to be and cuddly when they want to be. Also,their agility and the height they can jump is more akin to a cat.

What kind of personalities and habits do they have?

Fennecs are a ball of energy 15% of the time, snuggly 20% of the time, and sound asleep the rest. They do not calm down with age! They do indulge in mutual grooming, or non-aggressive nibbling. It’s similar to what a dog does,  with the front teeth and not meant to break skin. In fact, this is what they do with each other in the wild. It strengthens social bonds. Horses do this as well. It is sometimes uncomfortable, and they may nibble your knuckles while you scratch them, but it’s actually a good thing. It means you’re accepted.

Is a male or female better? Does it make a difference if they are spayed/neutered?

Some owners say that neutered males are calmer than females and tend to cuddle more. The females seem to be little more skittish and fast, but males tend to be much more docile, less territorial, and more cuddly when neutered. Neutering also helps to diminish the odor of their urine. Spaying the females doesn’t seem to make any difference in their personalities.

Do they smell?

No, fennecs have very little body odor. The only time you notice any odor is if they get really scared. In this case they will let off a sharp, musky odor from the scent gland located on the tip of their tail. This is barely noticable and only lasts for a moment. But just like any other animal, their feces and urine do smell, so keep their litterbox clean!

Are they hard to take care of?

Fennecs are very time-consuming in the form of playtime, feedings, and socialization, but spend a good deal of the time sleeping and resting in general. Clipping nails is easier with two people. They are not hard to take care of, but you must be very careful with them. These are exotic pets, and no matter how tame they may seem, they are still wild animals. Fennecs also love to run between your feet when walking, and most of the time you don’t realize that they are there – either because they are so tiny and quiet, or because they are so fast that one minute you see them across the room and the next, they’re standing in front of you. So be VERY careful with these babies, as they are often underfoot and can suffer severe injury if you step on them!!!

Are they messy? How well do they litterbox train?

Most fennecs do fairly well with a litterbox when confined in their kennel but in general they are never completely litter trained and often have accidents when loose in the house, especially if they are excited. Many people have had great success with puppy pads. Some foxes will use them consistently if left in one place, but will still have occasional accidents.

Are they noisy? Do they bark a lot?

They get noisy at night, so it’s best to have them in a cage that’s not close to your bedroom! Some are very quiet and will only make excited noises when they see you first thing in the morning. Some people let them loose in their house or bedrooms at night to play, though this is not recommended! They could swallow something or choke, as well as run over you in the night, scratching you with their sharp claws. Some will adjust to your schedule if they are played with a lot during the day and evening. When they have been alone for a long period of time, they may bark. Some don’t bark at all. They yip a lot when excited (when they first comes out of the cage, playing with a favorite toy or person) and this sounds a bit like a squeaky toy.

What sounds do they make?

Fennecs have a bark that is kind of like a dog. It is very muffled, and their mouths may not even move. They have a purr/growl sound and they also snarl in “fierce play.” The most wonderful sound is a trill or bird-like sound that some make at night. It sounds like a bird call or an owl. It can sound lonely. Fennecs can wail piteously when left alone or if they miss you and they will squeal with pleasure when you come back and play.

Do they require a lot of time? Can I take good care of one if I am away or traveling a lot? Do they travel well? How are they in a car?

Fennecs require a lot of time – they are wild animals and need more play time than cats or dogs to keep them interested in humans. It is not recommended to take a lot of time away (such as a travelling job), as they need to bond (unless you take them with you). If you do not spend a lot of time with your fennec, it may tend to act more wild, and may even forget you if you are gone for too long. Many fennecs like to travel in the car–most curl up and sleep–but some hate their cat carriers. Others enjoy it, as it means they are going out. It is illegal to carry them onto a plane.

Do they like to be touched, scratched, and held? Are they high energy, or a lap pet?

Most fennecs love to be petted and held–eventually. But they need time to adjust to a new home first. For some it may take only a few days before they start to warm up to you, while others may take more than a year before they will finally beg to be pet. Most of them love to give chase when you try to touch them and pick them up, but will often come to you if you lay on the floor and call them. They know this means cuddle time, but if you are up and walking it is chase time! After all, you may be just be trying to put them back in the cage, and they are much smarter than that! Food is a wonderful enticement.

They are both high energy and lap pets. They have periods of high energy and periods of time just being dead-asleep in your lap! The best thing to remember is that when they first get out of their cage, they need plenty of time to release their energy. When they’ve calmed down, they will come to you and cuddle. They especially like to sleep in your lap while you are on the computer. Some absolutely LOVE to have their bellies scratched, while others prefer a good ear rub.

Are they destructive? Do they chew a lot or rip things up? Is there anything in particular that they are attracted to, chewing-wise?

Most love to dig in the litterbox, and if they take a liking to a certain piece of furniture or the carpet, watch out! They rarely dig anywhere else. The best idea is to give them something that is “theirs” to dig on. Anything lying on the floor is fair game for them to steal, but they aren’t usually destructive except with certain things. They love to chew on metallic things and will snatch them off of you or the floor if you are not careful (foil, buttons, earrings, glasses, necklaces, pennies, electrical plugs). This is very dangerous and wherever they are should be free of things like this. They also like to chew on things made of rubber like elastic, rubber bands, bottle nipples, nose guards on glasses, etc. These they try to eat which could be disastrous! They WILL eat leather, or try to. This is NOT good. You may end up in the emergency room with your fennec if they get access to any of these things!

Do they bond to just one person, or to the whole family? How are they with strangers?

Many fennecs love everyone in the family. Some will take a dislike to certain people without any apparent reason. Some won’t take to strangers at all, while others will fall in love with just about anybody. Most will love anyone who has food at the moment. Never leave small children alone with them. Always be in the same room and watching closely! If a child hurts the fennec, the fennec may bite and injure the child. Many states will treat fennec bites the same as a dog or cat bite and have your fennec put down, so please be careful when letting children or strangers interact with your fennec.

Are they finicky eaters or do they eat whatever you give them? Do they get bored of one food so that you have to switch their foods a lot?

Some love to try any new food. Others are extremely picky, so start them on the diet that you are going to keep, and introduce new food slowly and patiently. As snacks, they love fruit and most any kind of breakfast cereal. They also have quite a sweet tooth and will try to get candy, sodas, iced tea, cookies, kool-aid, etc. These are not very good for them, so they should be avoided. Most will scarf down anything that is put in front of them. They do like some things more than others, and yes, they can get bored of some foods, so it’s advisable to add new things once in a while.

Do I need to get more than one?

This is not necessary, though they are like ferrets in that they have even more fun with a playmate. This also makes them even more fun to watch.

Will they still be a good pet if I breed them?

Yes, but they may be more bonded to their mate than to you. They will also have periods of protectiveness (mostly when breeding or with new babies) when they will bite if you approach the “nest.”

How do I clean them?

Fennecs usually do not need a bath as they self-groom. Occasionally they may get into something extremely messy (like honey or peanut butter), and will need a bath in the sink.  Avoid running water, as it scares them. They can be washed with any dog or cat shampoo. Cat shampoo makes their coat ultra-soft. The milder, the better when choosing a shampoo or cleanser.

Do they shed? If so, how much?

Many fennecs never shed, but some do go through a period of shedding, much like a dog or cat, if they are in a climate that changes a lot. It will only happen once a year, around midsummer. The amount depends on how much of a “winter coat” they have put on. If it is a lot, the shedding will be quite heavy for a while. Brushing definitely helps this along.

Is there anything that I shouldn’t feed them, like bones, onions, or spiced foods? Can they eat the scraps off my plate?

It’s best to avoid bones, especially cooked, as these are not terribly safe even for dogs. If you do choose to give bones, please give them only uncooked ones, as cooked bones are very brittle and can splinter and lacerate your fennec’s throat and intestines. Avoid things like spicy foods, chocolate, onions, peppers, and dairy. Also avoid citrus, because of the acid content. Also, eating scraps off of your plate can create a very bad habit, so it’s best to set limits from the beginning.

How big do they get? Are the more the size of a dog or a cat?

Fennecs get to be about 3-3 1/2 pounds and are roughly the size of a chihuahua. Many people think they are some kind of a furry, bushy-tailed chihuahua.

What size cage do they need?

The larger, the better. Since your Fennec is a nocturnal animal and will be spending the nights in his cage, a cage that they can play, climb and jump around in is best. The three-story ferret cages with ramps are a good size for a small enclosure.

What do I need to do to “Fennec-proof” my house?

Make sure small items that they can swallow are always off of the floor and electrical outlets and plugs are not accessible. Do not put anything breakable on low shelves or tables, as they can and will jump–even onto the countertops. Don’t forget to close the toilet seat! They can get tangled in the handle of a plastic grocery bag. Keep the floors clean and always close doors to other rooms.  Make sure you have no cords or wire laying around and make sure they don’t have easy access to an outside door. If they get out, they are very likely gone forever. Don’t leave harnesses on all night! They can wedge the harness over their neck and get it stuck in their mouth, with another part stuck under their arms, so that it rips their mouth every time they move. They could also break a leg or strangle.

Can they be trained to do tricks or play games?

Fennecs can learn to sit, fetch and chase, and the names of certain toys or people. They can learn their own name. They know which cat will play with them and which one won’t. They know where they are fed and the sound of their treat bag rustling. These things can all be used in training. Some will use a water bottle, others never will Remember to be patient. They like to play with balls. Also, if you have a stuffed toy that has a pull string they will learn to pull the string on their own. Just be careful that they don’t get caught up in the string and injured! They can also be harness trained, but don’t be lulled into a false sense of security! Many can slip the harness and be off in a flash.

I have a dog, a cat, and a variety of birds. How will they get along?

Fennecs get along with almost any animal that won’t fit in their mouth and they will try to play, though sometimes the animal won’t share their excitement. Never leave them alone with other animals though, as there’s no telling what may happen. Do not ever let them have access to your rodents or birds, because they WILL try to eat them. Introduce new animals slowly, but don’t make them forbidden, as this may cause jealousy. Most get along quite well with dogs and cats.

What about shipping?

Finding a local breeder is highly recommended over shipping. If you absolutely have to ship, pay the extra money and get the maximum amount for insurance during flight, and make sure you keep records of everything, as accidents do sometimes occur, and you don’t want to lose all your money in addition to your heartbreak!

Is there anything else I should know about them before buying one?

They are a CITES II animal, so are not endangered. They are illegal in some places, but not in others. Check with state, city and county ordinances first or they will take them away from you and euthanize them if you are caught. California is one state in which they are illegal. Many states consider them non-dangerous exotic animals so they are legal. Ohio, Illinois, Pennsylvania, and Nebraska allow them within the state, although individual city ordinances differ. Some states only allow them with an exhibitor’s license. Make sure you know what your state requires.

Be sure you know which vaccines to give your Fennec and that there is a vet nearby who will treat your Fennec. Again, keep in mind that this is still a wild animal. Their habits and needs are to be respected in a home environment. There is no discipline for their instincts. They are very hyper, they’re diet is a lot more complex than putting dog food into a bowl, and you must be careful with them. Some will occasionally bite without hesitation, regret, or even visible cause. Be ready for anything. They will blow you away with their intelligence, their athletic ability, and also with their unpredictability.

NOTE:

Try clicker training! One fennec owner saw a special on TV about “Clicking theory” — where one tries teaching them a trick while using something to make a clicking sound, and then giving them a treat each time one clicks. He’d only been doing this with his fox a couple of days, and the fox would lay down, roll over, and when he kneels down, he can get his fox to jump on his shoulder and just stand there until he tells him to get off! Definitely worth a try!

Fennec Training

 

Fennec Fox Operant Conditioning

Quick Guide!

You need:

Training clicker (available at larger pet stores)

Stick, such as dowel rod or drumstick, with the tip painted or colored

Small durable plastic box

Treats your fennec fox really loves (crickets work well!)

The first task is to get the fox used to the clicker noise – because at first, she may get startled by it. Click the clicker, and immediately giver her a treat. Do that 4 or 5 times per session, and do several sessions per day. Soon, she’ll get used to the clicker sound as meaning she’s going to get a treat. The clicker is a “bridge” – it links the correct task with the reward. Important: Don’t click the clicker idly and not intend to giver her a treat, and don’t let others click it idly. Fennec foxes have great hearing and if you click it and she comes running and finds no treat, it can be a step backwards!

The second task is introducing the “target.” The target should be a small stick with a colored tip. A drumstick with the little end tip knob painted works well, or a ½ inch dowel rod with the final half inch length and the tip colored in with a permanent marker works fine too. Present the target to the fox – she will naturally sniff it as an investigation. When her nose touches the tip, immediately click and give her a treat. Offer her the target again and as soon as her nose touches the tip, click and give her a treat. Repeat this up to 10 times a session, several sessions per day. The important part here is limiting the volume of treats she’s getting!

Next, introduce the command “target.” When you present the target, say “target” (or, if you have another command you want to use, that’s fine too… like “stick” or “point.”). Continue using the command. Soon, she will learn to “target” on command. Try not to repeat the command – be patient each time and give her ample response time (up to a minute) to complete the task. Very quick correct responses can be rewarded with a “jackpot” reward (more treats than usual).

When she has “target” down as a command, then you begin NOT giving her treats unless you give the command. Only give her treats if you have asked her to target. If she does it on her own, just ignore it. Some animals can get so attached to the target as a means to the end of a reward, they’ll sit next to it and target it all day. Fennec foxes don’t have that much patience, but it still can be a distraction to her if she doesn’t understand she needs the command to get the treat.

Once an animal can “target,” you can also train it to follow the target by introducing the command “follow” in the same way. Using that, you can teach her to walk in a circle, jump up on her back legs, go into a box or through a tunnel, or even jump through a hoop. Not that you’ll want to do these things, but it is possible through patience and a great deal of training. Incidentally, these tactics work on any animal that is food-motivated – dogs, cats, chickens, two-year-olds…

The plastic box is the “station.” “Station” is a command used to get the animal to go to a certain place and stay there. It is extremely useful in zoo-keeping because you can ask an animal to go to a certain place in its exhibit and stay there while a keeper is in the exhibit, to keep the animals out of the keeper’s way so they can work. Introduce the station to the fox and when she touches it with her nose, click the clicker and give a treat. Continue with the same method used in “target” but use the command “station” instead. These words sound very different so they’re easy for most animals to distinguish – so, if you use a different word for target, make sure it doesn’t sound like “station” in any way (like if you said “stick” the “st” sound is also in “station” and might confuse the animal a bit). Shape the behavior by rewarding her only when she STAYS at the station and remains there. Using “station,” you can train her to go into her room, or cage, or bed.

It is important to repeat all exercises regularly. She will forget things that aren’t practiced. Remember to give her ample time to fullfil a command, never repeat commands, and give her a break if she gets overly distracted. Use treats that she likes but are part of her normal diet – we always used live crickets for ours (they’re easiest to handle in a big glass test tube they can’t climb or jump out of).

Have fun, be creative… be patient and understanding… and you can even use some of the commands as a stress relief sometimes during difficult times, like a visit to the vet’s office. You shouldn’t put on a show in public, but rather use the target command (bring the target stick!) as a familiar setting to her. She might not do it, but at least it will be something consistent for her.

You can also “capture” natural behaviors. Barking, digging, stretching, yawning, and shaking are all behaviors that you can click and give treats for when you see them done. They take longer to connect to commands at first, because she’ll only do them when she wants or needs to…but eventually she can learn to do all of those behaviors on command too.

Good luck!