Foxes are omnivores, hunting very small animals and scavenging in cities and towns where freely available pet food and garbage can make life easier. It’s not unusual for a fox to be seen out and about during the day.
Foxes are afraid of people and will usually run away when they detect your presence, but they may visit your backyard or neighborhood. A fox cutting through your yard is probably just passing through on their way between hunting areas, and no action is necessary on your part. Usually, the best thing to do is leave foxes alone.
- Should I be worried if I see a fox?
- What should I do if a fox is under my porch, deck or shed?
- How can I get rid of a fox or fox den in my yard?
- Are foxes dangerous? Do foxes attack humans?
- Do foxes eat or attack cats, dogs or other pets?
- How can I tell if a fox has rabies? Can I get rabies from a fox?
- How can I tell if a fox has mange?
- What should I do if my pet is bitten by a fox?
- What should I do if I’m bitten by a fox?
No matter how big or small your outdoor space, you can create a haven for local wildlife. By providing basic needs like water, food and shelter, you can make a difference in your own backyard.
If a fox doesn’t appear scared of you, they probably learned to associate people with food (likely because someone has been feeding them) and may exhibit boldness or even approach you. These foxes can easily be scared away by making loud noises such as yelling or blowing whistles, dousing them with water houses or squirt guns or throwing objects such as tennis balls toward them.
Both red and gray foxes dig dens mostly for raising kits, but also to use as shelter from severe winter weather. Dens under porches, decks or sheds are not uncommon in urban areas. If you find a fox family in an inconvenient spot, consider allowing them to stay until the young are old enough to begin accompanying their parents on foraging outings. At this point they are nearly ready to say goodbye to the den site and move on for good.
Fox kits are born in the spring, usually in March or April, and you’ll see them emerge from the den four or five weeks after birth. At nine weeks, they will begin to hunt with their parent; at this time, it’s safe to encourage them to leave.
If you need a fox family to move on sooner rather than later, mild harassment (scaring them away) may encourage an earlier move. You can try a few humane harassment options once the kits have emerged.
- Loosely pack leaves, soil or mulch in the den openings to disturb the residents.
- Place urine-soaked kitty litter, a sweat-soaked T-shirt, a pair of smelly sweat socks or old sneakers in or near the den opening.
- Mount shiny party balloons or 12-18 inch lengths of Irri-tape on sticks or poles a few feet off the ground just outside the den entrance.
- Spread capsicum-based granular repellent around the den entry.
The purpose of these techniques is to make the parents uncomfortable enough to move the litter to a more secure location. Once the den has been abandoned, make sure all the kits are out of the den before any permanent exclusion is put in place.
If the den site is under a porch, deck or shed, then it will remain an attractive denning area and not just to foxes. Foxes are excellent diggers, so the best defense is to bury an L-shaped footer of hardware cloth around the perimeter of the area you are trying to exclude.
Scare devices and repellents
If you want to prevent future denning activity in certain areas where foxes are not welcome, try one or more of these humane, yet effective, approaches:
- Use noise-making devices, such as transistor radios or motion-sensitive alarms.
- Install a motion-activated sprinkler.
- Apply products sold in garden and hardware stores to repel domestic dogs from gardens and yards, as they will have a similar effect on a passing fox.
As foxes and other predators can dig under fences, you should bury an L-shaped footer around the outer perimeter of an enclosure for animals who will be left unattended. Electric fences may be useful when combined with other permanent perimeter fencing. Place a single-strand of electrified fence about four inches off the ground a foot or so in front of a chain link or similar fence. Always check local ordinances when considering electric fences.
Foxes are not dangerous and do not attack humans, except when they are rabid, which is very rare, or when they are captured and handled. Even then, a fox’s natural tendency is to flee rather than fight.
A typical adult cat is almost the same size as a fox and has a well-deserved reputation for self-defense, so foxes are generally uninterested in taking on cats. Kittens and very small (less than five pounds) adult cats, however, could be prey for a fox. The best way to avoid encounters between foxes and cats is to keep your cats indoors—a practice that will keep your cats safe from other hazards like disease and fights, to mention only a few.
Most dogs are not at risk from an attack by a fox unless they have threatened their young, but they still should not be left outside unattended for a host of safety reasons, including harsh weather, harassment and dog-napping. Depending on where you live, very small dogs are vulnerable to harm from a plethora of predators, including foxes, so they should be monitored when outside.
Foxes may prey on small pets like rabbits, guinea pigs or chickens, so such pets should be kept indoors or housed in sturdy structures. (Pets such as rabbits and guinea pigs should also be kept indoors for their health and safety, especially at night.) Poultry should be protected by a sturdy coop and run built to withstand any break-in efforts by foxes, raccoons or dogs.
It’s normal for foxes to be out and about during the day, so that alone isn’t cause for concern. Foxes prey on squirrels, birds, chipmunks and other animals that are only active by day, so they may simply be looking for a meal. Before calling to report a fox or to ask for assistance, take time to observe the fox's behavior and look for these signs:
- Partial paralysis or the inability to use their limbs well.
- Circling or staggering as if drunk.
- Acting aggressively for no reason.
- Acting unnaturally tame.
If you observe these signs, do not approach the fox—remember exposure to rabies is primarily through bites or saliva. Contact your local animal control agency, police department or health department if you see a fox showing the signs of rabies.
Foxes do sometimes succumb to rabies, but the good news is that the fox strain of the disease has rarely, if ever, been transmitted to a human in the U.S. and post-exposure treatment is 100% effective if promptly administered. Rabies is transmitted through direct contact with an infected animal, such as a bite or scratch. Having your pets vaccinated against rabies is the most important thing you can do to protect them, yourself and others against rabies. Of 23 rabies-related deaths reported to the CDC between 2009 and 2018, none of the rabies exposures were attributed to foxes and eight were attributed to dogs.
Mange is an extremely debilitating affliction caused by microscopic parasites called Sarcoptes scabiei mites that result in either patchy or entire hair loss. The disease causes intense irritation of the skin to the point where foxes have been known to chew their own tails off trying to relieve the itching. At advanced stages, infected foxes are often seen wandering around during the daytime, seemingly unafraid.
A mange-stricken fox may be mistaken for a rabid one because of their sickly appearance and seeming lack of fear. Mange-afflicted animals try to maintain their body temperature seeking any warm places they can find. Death may arise from a wide variety of causes, including starvation and hypothermia.
Foxes need an intact winter coat to survive winter's weather extremes, yet the mites prefer skin with little hair. So as the condition worsens and more hair is lost, the mites will eventually take over the animal's whole body.
Mange is a treatable condition. If you see a fox that you suspect is infected, contact a local wildlife rehabilitator.
Immediately take any pet who is bitten by any wild animal to your veterinarian for an examination and an assessment of any need for vaccination. Contact your local animal control agency or public health department and follow applicable state laws or local ordinances for monitoring your pet at home or in a veterinary clinic.
Thoroughly wash the wound with soap and water and seek immediate medical attention. Prompt medical care will prevent a rabies infection. Be sure to report the bite to your local animal control agency, police department or health department.