[Excerpt from “Wild Neighbors–The Humane Approach to Living with Wildlife.” Download entire book for free.]
People may be surprised and sometimes frightened to discover that foxes live in their neighborhoods, but these fears are almost completely groundless. Foxes are not dangerous to humans, except when they are rabid (which is very rare) or are captured and handled. Even then, it takes a lot of handling for a fox even to defend himself by biting, and the natural tendency is for the animal to flee rather than fight. Red foxes occasionally prey on small house cats or kittens and certainly will take small animals such as rabbits, guinea pigs, and poultry when they are left outside unprotected. Both red and gray foxes will eat cultivated grapes, raspberries, and other fruit, but they usually do not bother garden vegetables. In all, foxes do such little damage and cause so few conflicts with people that we hesitate to characterize them as a problem at all. Nonetheless, thousands are killed every year because they are perceived as threats.
Sometimes foxes are blamed for damage they did not cause. The trash can that was knocked over by the neighborhood dogs may attract a fox who is observed and then blamed. Foxes may cut through yards when moving from one hunting area to another, and the homeowner becomes unreasonably concerned about their presence. In fact, the fox is not a bother at all. If left alone, he will probably do the homeowner a service by performing a little free rodent control as he passes by.
Poultry should be protected with secure hutches or pens built to withstand any effort by foxes, raccoons, or dogs to break in. Because predators can dig under fences, it is important to make sure that an L-shaped footer is buried around the outer perimeter. Electric fences can also exclude foxes but work best in conjunction with other permanent perimeter fencing, as when a singlestrand electrified fence is placed about four inches off the ground in front of a chain link or other fence. For their health and safety, The HSUS recommends that pets such as rabbits and guinea pigs not be kept outdoors, especially at night. If outside by day, they should be housed in structures that are secure from both bird and mammal predators.
Because foxes are active mostly by night and are very cautious about people when out and about, suburbanites rarely see them. Noise-making devices, ranging from transistor radios to motion-sensitive alarms, can be quite effective in combining repelling and harassing strategies. A motion-activated sprinkler can be an effective deterrent in lawns or gardens. Even using a loud voice or banging on a pot or pan can frighten these very sensitive animals and keep them out of an area where they are not wanted. They retreat at any sound or sight that is the least bit threatening.
Fox dens under porches and decks are one of the most commonly reported issues with these animals. As with all instances of any wild animal denning or nesting in an inconvenient spot, we recommend tolerating the family until the young are old enough to follow the parents on nightly forays and the family moves on. When they are gone, exclude them from reusing the den. Fox kits will spend time playing outside the den just before they are able to go out with their parents, making this one of the most enjoyable wildlife viewing experiences people can have. Still, some people will want the family to move sooner rather than later. In these cases, mild harassment may encourage a move.
Start by placing objects, leaves, soil, or mulch in the den openings to disturb the residents. Used kitty litter or almost anything with a strong human scent will also alarm the foxes. Try a pair of smelly sweat socks or old sneakers placed in or near the den opening. People claim success in getting fox families to move simply by mounting Mylar® balloons two to three feet off the ground, just outside the entrance to the den. In all of these strategies, the idea is to make the parents uncomfortable and get them to move the litter to a more secure location. After that has taken place, make sure all the kits are out of the den before permanently excluding them.
Do Foxes Eat Cats?
People are frequently concerned about their pets being outdoors when foxes are around. The best way to avoid encounters between foxes and cats is to keep the cats indoors. By and large, however, foxes seem to pay little heed to adult cats, recognizing that they are dealing with an animal often almost their same size, with a well-deserved reputation for self-defense. Kittens, however, could be easy prey for a fox, as might small adult cats.