Frequently Asked Questions
Problems with foxes in urban areas:
- Are foxes likely to attack or kill children?
- Will the foxes in my garden attack my dog or cat?
- Can my dog catch mange from foxes?
- What can I do to deter foxes from entering or digging in my garden?
- How do I prevent foxes from chewing toys, shoes, garden hoses and vehicle cables?
- Can I get someone to trap and remove the foxes in my garden?
- How do I stop the foxes digging in my lawn?
- Will the foxes eat my pet rabbit/guinea pig?
- Will the foxes eat my tortoise?
- What is the best way to protect chickens from foxes?
- Why do foxes kill for pleasure?
- I have heard a screaming noise at night and been told that this is cats being attacked by foxes: is this right?
- My neighbours are using broken glass and metal spikes to deter the foxes from entering their garden: is this legal?
- There is an occupied fox earth on a building site near me: what should I do about it?
- Why do foxes provoke such polarized opinions?
TopAre foxes likely to attack or kill children?
In June 1973 The Sunday Times carried an article warning about the threats posed by urban foxes. Ever since, anti-fox propaganda has warned about the threat of a child being killed by a fox, even though no child in Britain has been killed or severely injured in the 80 years since foxes colonised our cities. There are occasional relatively minor incidents involving foxes and children, invariably described in the press as an "attack", although it is very unlikely that a fox deliberately seeks out a child to attack it. In contrast, every year children are severely injured, maimed, and killed by dogs, very often their own pets and not just the larger or more dangerous breeds. The risk posed by dogs vastly outweighs the risk posed by foxes.
TopWill the foxes in my garden attack my dog or cat?
This is extremely unlikely. Foxes avoid dogs, even small dogs, because many foxes are killed by dogs. So it is much more likely that your dog will attack the fox, not the other way round. Attacks on cats are equally rare: cats and foxes are roughly the same size, and cats are very capable of defending themselves against foxes. So it is hardly surprising that foxes generally give cats a wide berth and flee when threatened by a cat. Occasionally small kittens are killed, but this is rare. Keeping your cat indoors at night greatly reduces the chances of an encounter with a fox. There are also a variety of other benefits: cats kept in at night are healthier and live longer, and kill less of the local wildlife.
TopCan my dog catch mange from foxes?
It can, but this is not common. Even where sarcoptic mange is prevalent in the local foxes, there are relatively few cases in dogs. If you suspect that your dog has caught mange, take it to a veterinary surgeon for diagnosis and treatment. It is relatively easy to treat mange in dogs.
TopWhat can I do to deter foxes from entering or digging in my garden?
There are a wide variety of techniques available: for advice contact The Fox Project (tel. 0044 01892 826222), John Bryant, Humane Urban Wildlife Deterrence (tel. 0044 01732 357355, email@example.com) or Anti Fox Security.
TopHow do I prevent foxes from chewing toys, shoes, garden hoses and vehicle cables?
If foxes frequent your garden, the easiest solution is to make sure you do not leave toys, shoes or hoses in the garden overnight. Foxes also occasionally chew vehicle cables, especially brake cables. It is rare, but can be very expensive: this sort of damage is most common from mid- to late summer and appears primarily to be the work of cubs. If you cannot park your vehicle in a garage or other secure location, deterrents can sometimes stop the foxes chewing the cables; these can be obtained from garden centres. These are probably best placed near, but not on, working parts of the car; advice on the use of deterrents can be obtained from John Bryant, Humane Urban Wildlife Deterrence (tel. 0044 01732 357355, firstname.lastname@example.org). If you plan to apply the deterrents to brake or other cables, first seek advice from the car manufacturer to ensure that the deterrent will not impair the function of the brakes.
TopCan I get someone to trap and remove the foxes in my garden?
Yes: there are no legal restrictions on catching foxes in cage traps so long as these are checked at least once every 24 hours, although in the UK it is illegal to catch foxes in leghold (gin) traps. However, it is probably not worth the expense. Vacant territories are generally recolonized within a few days. Whilst most trapped foxes are shot, some operators have admitted to releasing foxes a few miles from where they were trapped. This is a very questionable activity, especially since foxes home over considerable distances. Exceptionally, foxes have been recorded homing up to 100 miles (150 kilometres), and trapped foxes are quite likely to return home if released within 30 miles (50 kilometres) of their point of capture.
TopHow do I stop the foxes digging in my lawn?
Foxes sometimes dig small holes in lawns when hunting earthworms on wet nights. These holes are generally small and a temporary problem - all you need do is firm the divot back into place. More persistent holes can be dug in the spring and summer, often when cubs are playing. Once dug, the foxes tend to reopen the holes every time they are filled in and this becomes a battle of wits with the foxes. To try to stop them reopening the holes, water the area with a commercial animal repellent; for advice on repellents contact John Bryant, Humane Urban Wildlife Deterrence (tel. 0044 01732 357355, email@example.com) or The Fox Project (tel. 0044 01892 826222). If this does not work, fill the hole(s) and use tent or similar strong pegs to fix a metal grill (welded mesh or something similar; chicken wire is not strong enough) over the hole so the grass can recover. The foxes will then lose interest in the hole.
TopWill the foxes eat my pet rabbit/guinea pig?
This may happen if you do not house your pets securely, although the risk is surprisingly low. On average, each urban fox eats someone's pet once every six years! However, even though the risk is low, it is only fair to your pet to keep it in a hutch with a secure lock (not a catch that might be knocked open), with welded mesh rather than chicken wire, and no rotten wood. If you house your pet securely, foxes pose no risk. At night, do not leave your rabbit or guinea running free in the garden or in a hutch on the lawn that has a chicken wire floor or no floor so that they can graze. It is extremely easy for a fox to dig into such hutches. If you look after your pets properly, you will not loose them to foxes.
TopWill the foxes eat my tortoise?
This may happen if you leave the tortoise out at night. Very occasionally, foxes will use their incisors to prise the tortoise's legs and head out of the shell and then eat them or, more often, will carry the tortoise off (particularly smaller tortoises), play with it, and then lose interest in it. Sadly, even if the tortoise is unharmed, you are unlikely to see it again, although it is worth checking with the local RSPCA, PDSA and Police to see if it has been found.
TopWhat is the best way to protect chickens from foxes?
The vast majority of chickens in Britain are raised in battery conditions and foxes are the least of their problems. Losses of free-range hens are generally low, and protective measures such as electric fencing further reduce these losses. People who keep a few chickens for their personal use suffer no losses from foxes if they are securely housed and not left out at night.
TopWhy do foxes kill for pleasure?
? They don't. However, when the opportunity arises, foxes kill surplus prey even if they are not hungry and cache (bury) it for later use. This is a very sensible strategy in the wild, since there are likely to be some days when hunting is a lot less successful, and so the fox can eat the prey killed earlier. However, in an unnatural situation such as in a hen house, where the prey cannot escape, this behaviour, called "surplus killing", leads to the fox killing far more prey than it could ever consume.
TopI have heard a screaming noise at night and been told that this is cats being attacked by foxes: is this right?
No: foxes do not normally attack cats and the sounds you hear are made by foxes, not cats. They use this screaming noise to communicate with each other, particularly during the winter, and are a normal part of fox social behaviour.
TopMy neighbours are using broken glass and metal spikes to deter the foxes from entering their garden: is this legal?
No animal welfare laws are being broken if a fox or other animal are injured. However, pet animals such as cats are property under the Criminal Damage Act 1971, and so anyone doing this may well be liable for any injuries caused to a neighbour's cat. Furthermore, you owe a duty of care to ensure that visitors to your property are reasonably safe. Bizarrely, this includes trespassers, although the duty of care is lower. So you are rendering yourself liable to civil action if you injure anyone; for more information consult the Police National Legal Database. Similar laws apply in many other countries.
TopThere is an occupied fox earth on a building site near me: what should I do about it?
The dens occupied by species such as otters and badgers are protected, but fox earths are not. So there is no legal obligation to protect the inhabitants, although there is clearly a moral obligation. Fortunately, foxes have several potential earths on their territories, and tend to move their cubs if disturbed. So the easiest solution is to disturb the site, such as by using animal deterrents (for advice, contact John Bryant, Humane Urban Wildlife Deterrence (tel. 0044 01732 357355, firstname.lastname@example.org) or by clearing the area around the earth. The foxes will then normally move to an alternative den. There is no need to catch the foxes and take them to an animal sanctuary; this should only be a last resort if all other options have been tried.
TopWhy do foxes provoke such polarized opinions?
This is not an easy question to answer. Most people like foxes, and see them as an important component of our wildlife. However, a lot of myths have been generated about foxes to justify killing them, and these persist despite evidence to the contrary. As long as myths and misinformation are perpetuated, views about foxes are likely to remain polarized.