Thursday, September 9, 2010

Fox Body Language: Watch The Whiskers

Whiskers bristled forward can be a sign of interest.
A huge part of keeping foxes as pets, is being able to read and understand their vocalizations and body language. It's important not only that you be able to communicate with your pet, but that you are able to read the signals it's sending you about it's health and mental state.

Having a good knowledge of canine body language is generally a great help in understanding foxes. While not all fox signals are the same as dog signals, there is enough of a similarity to allow you to learn quickly if you're used to dogs.

One very important signal, however, that I have not seen discussed much in regards to foxes is the position of the whiskers.

By watching what your pet fox does with his whiskers in different contexts, you can use them (along with the rest of his body language) to very accurately read his mood and intentions. For example, Gizmo often bristles his whiskers forward when he is very interested in an object, or ready to pounce. If I'm drumming my fingers on the table, and Gizmo freezes, stares at my hand, and raises his whiskers, I know I have about two seconds to stop that or he's going to pounce my hand.

On the other hand, if Gizmo is defending a new toy, he will also raise his whiskers along with other defensive signals (gekkering, pinning it beneath his forepaws, hip-slams, etc.) The important thing isn't just the way the whiskers are being held, but the context.

As a very rough, general rule, raised or bristling whiskers are a sign of a more excited or agitated mental state, while whiskers laid smooth against the muzzle indicate a calmer more relaxed fox. Watch your pet fox's whiskers, and learn to read them like you read the ears and tail! Every little body language cue you pay attention to and master will help you in understanding your fox.

I've had a bit of a schedule change, so The Pet Fox will be updated on Tuesday and Thursday for now (and, of course, Photo Of The Week each Saturday). Come back next Tuesday, when I'll be discussing the difference between playing and teasing.


  1. That's very interesting! That whikers body language is very similar to cats... =)

  2. I was also thinking of my cats as I read this, but in terms of their tails rather than their whiskers. One of them jitters his tail like a rattle snake when he's really excited about something. A relative of mine freaked out when he saw this because he insisted that the cat was about to spray.

    I very patiently explained that spraying has never been associated with this behavior, especially not with my cats, and I don't know any cats that give much warning if they are about to mark their territory. He didn't believe me, but neither of his cats display this sort of behavior when they're happy.

  3. This is fascinating. Dogs also 'bristle' their whiskers when they're in an excited state of mind. It's really interesting to see how fox and dog behavior is similar.


Please keep comments civil. You can disagree and still be polite. Due to spam issues, this comment section is now moderated. I will have to approve posts before they appear, so it might take a few days to see your post show up. I apologize for the inconvenience.