Monday, July 19, 2010

Wild-born versus Captive Bred?

I've been asked several times about what the main differences are between keeping a fox that was born in the wild versus keeping one that's captive bred like Gizmo.

It comes down to nurture-verses-nature. If you get a wild rescue very young and take good care of him and socialize him well, he can learn to love people and be very affectionate with you. Although he doesn't have any "natural" inclination to be a good pet, he's been nurtured to be one, and that can make all the difference.

With a many-generations-tame fox like Gizmo, though, things are a little different. As a general rule of thumb, animals that are easier to handle tend to get better care than those that are difficult. A fox that is calm and mellow when taken to the vet will generally be taken to the vet more often than one that has a full-scale panic attack every time he sees the car.

An easy-to-handle fox will be much easier to treat if it does get ill, and will probably get more regular maintenance of it's nails, coat, and teeth. Plus, a breeder is more likely to spend time with a friendly, gregarious fox, which means that they are more likely to notice if something is off about it's behavior, or if it's hurting in some way. This means that a friendly fox will usually have the problem noticed much faster if it gets sick or injured, and will get the necessary medical care sooner.

In short, an easy-to-handle, friendly fox will get better care as a direct result of it being friendly and easy-to-handle, meaning it will live longer. (I'm not saying that any breeder intentionally neglects a shy or antisocial fox, just that problems are noticed sooner and can be treated much more easily in a friendly animal).

And if a fox lives longer, if it's a breeding animal, it will produce more kits. So, over time, more and more of the foxes in the pet trade are the direct descendants of friendly, easy-to-handle foxes. And personality has a very strong genetic component to it, so the genes that are associated with an animal being friendly and easy-to-handle become more prevalent with each generation.

In a nutshell, a domestic-bred fox is more likely to have a natural tendency to be friendly and make a good pet (and that the more generations it's ancestors have been tame, the more likely it is to be naturally friendly).


  1. I think it's cruel to keep any wild-caught fox as a pet. I mean, it's ok if it's like a rehab animal or something and it can't be released, but nobody should ever just catch one for a pet.

  2. I completely agree with you. Actually, in the majority of places, it is illegal to keep a wild-caught animal as a pet.

    When I was registering for my Division of Wildlife license to keep Gizmo, I had to provide documentation that proved he was captive bred.

  3. I feel that the only way to do this is to breed education animals that cannot be returned to the wild. Then the young can be bottle raised, and then it is easier to pick the F2 and F3 generations trying to get rid of the warynes and agressiveness.

  4. Actually, it's much better to get animals from a fur-farm than the F2 of unreleasable animals. Then you get animals who have been out of the wild for many, many generations instead of just one or two.

  5. Naturally fox are not meant to be a house pet but for some pet owners they love to have an unusual pet like fox but the most important thing to remember is to make sure to tame them completely because as I said they are not a usual house pet but they can be tamed.

    Vets Sheppey

  6. I live in the Northern part of North-East Thailand I have a wild grey fox we saved from the local villager's cooking pot. I have to admit to neglecting to tame and train him, though, he is used to me and lets me pet and stroke him. He's about one year old. Thanks to the really useful information in your blog and the comments herein, I will now go about trying to teach him a few things, add some home comforts to his enclosure and hopefully get him used to a harness and a leash. I wonder ... do you think he may every get friendly enough with my dog, George, who is a Thai Ridgeback, to go for runs with him and vice versa? Neither are neutered.


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