Of all the critters out there, the fox is among the most misunderstood. These lovable canines are both revered and reviled, depending on the person you ask.
But how do you get rid of foxes that have started causing mischief, and are they really all that bad?
Getting to Know Foxes
Foxes have baffled the average human for centuries, despite being a type of dog. In total, there are 12 true fox species and numerous others which are referred to as foxes. They’re found on every continent except for Antarctica, although they were imported to Australia along with other doge (dog) species in the 1800s.
Identifying Your Fox
There are three species native to the US, each having its own distinguishing characteristics.
Located everywhere in the US and Canada except for Florida, the red fox is the most famous species. It has a red body with white underbelly and black on its extremities.
Red foxes prefer to build their dens in soil that’s easy to dig through and was considered an incarnation of evil by many Native American cultures due to its craftiness. If chased, a red fox will leap up to 15 feet or swim downstream to disrupt their tracks.
Their mixed reputation has earned them more roles in pop culture than any other fox species, including Robin Hood (Disney’s animated version), Nick Wilde (Zootopia), and Dr. Fox (Unikitty).
While extremely rare, it may be possible to find an arctic or fennec fox in states where it’s legal to own foxes, as these are both popular pets. In the event you discover one of these species on your property, put up an ad rather than chase it off, so their human family can come pick it up.
Gaining their name from the typically silver-grey coat and light underbelly, grey foxes may have black, orange, or white markings and typically have black at the tips of their tails. They can be found in warmer regions of the US and Canada, with the exception of Florida, the Rocky Mountains, and Great Plains areas.
These critters prefer woodland and will usually build dens in fallen trees. You’ll often find bones littering the ground near the entrance. Their love of climbing trees has earned them the nickname “tree fox”.
Grey foxes are the toughest fox species and can hold their own in a fight with a dog to protect their territory, so use extra caution if one has taken up residence on your property.
Generally found in the desert or drier brush areas of the Great Plains, the kit fox is smaller than other US foxes and has yellowish grey fur with a light underbelly and black tail tip.
They den underground and kits remain with their parents an entire year. They’ve earned the nickname “swift fox” due to their darting speeds, but will freeze and lay low if threatened instead of running.
Foxes are very social animals, despite how popular media represents them. They prefer forests, but can be found in most habitats. They build their dens underground and include multiple exits to aid in escape.
Due to humans taking over most of their range, foxes have learned to adapt and now often invade human settlements in search of food or shelter.
Foxes are omnivores that will eat everything from berries to carrion and bugs, but their preferred foods are birds (including chickens) and rodents. A large portion of their diet is made up of rabbits, squirrels, chipmunks, and other rodentia, which is vital to preventing overpopulation. Unfortunately, this diet is also the biggest problem when it comes to humans.
When do Foxes Come Out?
You’ll most likely spot a fox around dusk and dawn, which are prime low-light hunting times. This can change, depending on available food sources and human disturbance.
For example, a fox may wait until night to go after plants or livestock if there is no other food available and a lot of human activity during normal hunting hours.
Foxes and Humans
In Japan, foxes are revered as trickster spirits, a trait which has had the opposite impact on Western cultures. These small canines can be very sneaky and are notoriously skilled at getting into places they shouldn’t, as well as stealing food. This last ability inspired the fox thief Swiper in Dora the Explorer.
In England, the wealthy often hunted foxes for sport, a brutal practice which is now illegal due to the torment the fox experiences when the hunting dogs catch it.
In the US, foxes generally face one of three fates when encountering humans. Many foxes invade farms or scavenge on properties, making them an economic hazard. These foxes raid chicken coops, destroy crops, and cause other problems. It’s not a malicious act, but rather the result of shrinking habitat and dwindling food supplies.
The second fate is far worse than being mauled by a farm dog or caught in a trap. These poor critters are often the victims of fur farms, bred in tiny enclosures purely for their pelts.
A lucky few are rescued from the fur farms through the efforts of dedicated groups such as Save-A-Fox and get to enjoy the third fate of a US fox.
This last fate is that of a pet. Foxes make wonderful companions, but need a lot of space. All species native to the US are available as pets, and fennec foxes are currently one of the most popular exotic animals, although they require a lot of care.
Getting Rid of Foxes
The methods you use to get rid of foxes may vary slightly based on the species. It can also be difficult because foxes are highly intelligent and tend to spot the usual tricks.
However, a combination of exclusion, deterrent, and capture/release tends to be the best and safest method. These three methods tend to overlap at times, making it easy to do all three almost simultaneously.
What to do if You See a Fox
Before getting into removal, it’s important to follow a few safety measures. Foxes aren’t normally aggressive, but can (like many species) are susceptible to rabies and can be dangerous when cornered.
Here are a few things you should do the moment you know you have foxes on your property:
- Get any small pets indoors. Foxes have been known to hunt cats and even small dogs if hungry enough, and a grey fox doesn’t fear large dogs.
- Try to identify the species. Knowing whether you have a red, swift, or grey fox can be very important, especially since grey foxes are less easily deterred and red foxes are great at finding ways around a problem.
- Avoid getting too close. Again, this is due more to the risk of disease than aggression, although any fox will attack if it feels cornered.
- Try to identify its reason for visiting. Check for signs of damage to the garden or if there are rodent problems you may have missed. Once you spot where the fox is hanging out, consider where you saw them, and look for a den or place they’re entering the property.
- Check local regulations before attempting to trap a fox by yourself, as this is illegal in many areas.
There’s a lot of strategy involved in planning just how to keep foxes away from your property, but exclusion is the most important part.
A fox can find its way back from up to ten miles away. Thus, simply booting it from your borders won’t have much effect if you can’t keep them out afterwards. This means checking for dens and building barriers.
Close the Hotel (The Basics)
As with most critters, foxes tend to hang out on your property when the three key requirements are present: food, water, and shelter. Do your best to get rid of these amenities, blocking off the ones you can’t simply remove.
Foxes are excellent scavengers, as well as skilled hunters. Check for signs of rodents or other pests. If there are no mice to hunt, it can greatly reduce the food supply for these omnivores.
You’ll also want to occasionally wash out your garbage cans (if you don’t already) and keep them closed tightly because foxes will smell a potential food source otherwise. And don’t forget to clean up any food or drink you left outside.
Water attracts all sorts of critters, including foxes. Drain your pool when it’s not in use or use a pool cover, clear out any standing water, and use deterrents around water features.
This one’s a little more complicated, because the backyard can be full of potential hiding spots. Overgrown shrubs or excess leaf or brush debris are prime shelter for a great many species.
They will also squeeze under a shed or porch when gaps are present, so be sure any damaged doors, windows, or sheeting around a structure are in good shape. You will also want to make sure you don’t have a fox den.
When done right (which often isn’t the case), fencing is one of the most effective exclusionary devices out there. Fences cannot have any openings larger than 3” or a fox can squeeze through.
Additionally, any fencing will have to be six feet high and at least another foot below ground to prevent the fox from jumping over or burrowing under.
Non-lethal electric fences have proven quite effective in keeping foxes from simply climbing over the fence. Alternatively, you can add a mesh ceiling to places like gardens, keeping not only foxes out, but also a host of other hungry creatures.
But can foxes climb fences, or does any type of fencing work? In reality, a mesh fence is climbable, and a determined red fox could jump over any fence within local height ordinances.
But the true climbers are grey wolves, and other species will be discouraged if they have to climb. Wooden privacy fences with a cement or wire underground extension are especially useful at keeping all but grey foxes out.
Dealing with Fox Dens
One of the key methods of getting foxes off of your property is to locate the den and block the main entranced off. But there’s a bit of a problem, because the whole “what does a fox hole look like” thing is about as complicated as “what does the fox say”.
In its simplest terms, a fox hole can be indistinguishable from that of other burrowing critters because foxes often claim existing burrows and adapt them to their needs. So the fox hole could be an expanded rabbit warren, an abandoned groundhog or badger hole, or made by the fox itself. Both red and swift foxes are reluctant to let a good den go to waste.
Grey foxes prefer to set up shop in hollows and fallen logs and will leave the bones of their meals strewn about outside, making their dens much easier to find, but for the other two common species, you’ll have to get a bit creative.
Look for places where water tends to congregate after rain or spots near water features. A fox will usually make her den close to a water supply, but somewhat elevated above any potential flooding spots, so small mounds or hilly areas are a good bet.
You or a pet may also be able to pick up scent markings, which can tell you you’re close. If you’re lucky, you might even be able to spot tracks or shallow lavatory holes and locate the den that way.
Once you manage to locate the fox den, try to spot any other entry points, as a fox digging out or modifying a den will always have more than one entrance. This can be important not only for exclusion but also because females give birth around mid-March and the young are completely helpless until around late April. The last thing you want to do is bury the kits alive.
To Evict or Not to Evict
Something to think about when you find a fox den, especially if they’ve taken up residence under your porch or shed, is that both gray and red foxes tend to stick around dens mainly during breeding season or to take shelter in winter, and they’ll be leaving and taking the kits (kids?) with them once the young are old enough to explore.
This means you may find it easier to just let them stay until they’re ready to go, then seal up the den or entry point behind them. This isn’t the easiest decision for a lot of folk, but your garden likely hasn’t even been planted by that point or has barely germinated.
It can be a different matter when the foxes start getting into things or attack livestock, so in those cases, it may be necessary to scare them off a little early.
Both deterrents and repellents can be used against foxes, but the former tends to work better than the latter. The following are some of the best methods for each.
The Trick to Capture/Release
Foxes are incredibly intelligent, especially red foxes. They can spot a trap faster than Clint Eastwood can draw, so capture is a major challenge. Go with a large trap, preferably rated for raccoons or larger, and wipe it down to remove any human scents. Put some canned dog food or a bit of raw meat inside for the bait.
You’ll need to completely camouflage the trap or the fox won’t take the bait (literally and figuratively). Keep it flush with the ground and in the shade near a spot the fox is known to frequent.
Branches, leaves, grass, and other local debris makes for a good covering. This will hopefully make the trap look more like an abandoned den, prompting the fox to investigate.
Check the trap frequently from a safe distance so you won’t give yourself away. Once trapped, you can retrieve the cage wearing thick clothes and leather gloves to protect from bites and scratches. Remember to be mindful when capturing a female in early spring because she may have helpless young.
Transport the fox at least 10 miles away. Be careful when releasing the fox, as she may attack you if you’re easily accessible when the trap is opened. In the event you don’t have a cage that can be opened from a distance, you may want to call the SPCA or Humane Society to handle the relocation.
Deterrents can be a fast and easy choice when scaring a fox away. A motion-activated sprinkler such as the Orbit Yard Enforcer can work wonders, and will even help water your plants. Another great option is an electronic deterrent that uses lights and sounds, but be warned, ultrasonic frequencies can also irritate your pets.
One good form of fox repellent for chickens is the use of recordings. Many ranches around the world now broadcast the territorial howls of wolves to deter wolf attacks, and a similar method can be used for foxes. You can often get away with simply playing an AM talk radio station, as foxes prefer avoiding humans.
Just be careful not to also deter neighbors by having them wake up in the middle of the night thinking they’ve been kidnapped and taken to a ballpark.
Fox Repellent Options
Fox repellents can be really hit-or-miss. Predator urine is a popular option, but they often dissolve easily and provide mixed results. Used kitty litter can prove more effective, but can be bad for your lawn or garden. Chemical alternative can also be unreliable but have worked well for some.
Foxes and Disease
There are several major diseases foxes are known to carry, which makes it important not to come in close contact with a wild fox. While the cases can be rare, Murphy has a way of making things happen when you least expect it.
While humans aren’t likely to catch this unless they happen to be a teenaged member of the Howard family, distemper can be deadly to dogs and especially pups. Be sure to have your canine companion tested immediately if you believe they might have come into contact with a wild fox.
This is a particularly nasty disease that is transmitted through infected urine and can contaminate the ground or nearby water. Symptoms of its first phase tend to appear within a month of exposure and only last a few weeks. However, the second phase can cause serious health issues such as meningitis and kidney failure.
Just like in Diff’rent Strokes, you can’t always tell if something has rabies by a foaming mouth – it could just be toothpaste. And that’s what makes rabies so dangerous. A rabid fox may be aggressive, have balance issues, foam at the mouth, or not show a single symptom.
A rare but dangerous disease, tularemia has a wide range of symptoms from mild to life-threatening. For a list of symptoms, please check the Mayo Clinic’s guide.