Foxes in the Garden

Foxes are extremely clever and adaptable animals and have taken well to towns. The urban fox has evolved so well he seems really at home in our towns now. As a wildlife rescue, Harper Asprey gets both town and country foxes and they can vary in many aspects.

Foxes adapt to their surroundings and recognise people and noises very quickly. This can make them very cheeky.

Cubs have far less reserve than their parents and will come right up to people or cats and dogs, unaware of the dangers this often causes them. By the time a fox has reached the end of their first year, they have learnt to respect all of them and should keep a safe distance away.

That distance in the countryside is greater as they are just like humans, the need for personal space varies from the countryside to the city. They are creatures of habit and have territories. These territories are secured by the vixen and will be defended. A vixen will ensure she has several safe earth's for the birth of her cubs and if disturbed from one she will move to another. The Vixen will feel safe and welcome under your shed and that is why she uses it as her home.  

Cubs are typically born between January and April. The litter will range from four to five cubs on average. It is unlikely that more than one of these cubs will survive to adulthood. A vixen will protect her cubs and it is this time of the year that we see foxes chase cats away if they get too close. No matter how close you can get to a fox once caught they will bite. They are not normally aggressive unless protecting cubs or trapped.

Foxes have to eat every day and an adult fox will have learnt where and when it can eat. They follow set paths and in urban areas often have several people that feed them. We recently had to catch a fox that had a severe wound on his neck and over the week of trapping we had five calls from neighbours reporting his injury. Each neighbour was unaware the other was feeding and this is one of the main issues with urban foxes...humans feeding them. Often one neighbour will feed the fox and another will dislike it. Their natural drive to survive and need for food sees them form relationships with humans. Unfortunately for the fox, they cannot always tell at first glance who they should trust.  

They are extremely agile and in most ways like a cat. They feel confident on roofs and can easily balance on walls and fences. In cities, they will spend most of their time off the ground. Foxes do eat pigeons but in London this is not their common food. Many pigeons carry a virus that prevents them from flying and so they remain on the ground making them easy prey. Foxes do store food and in the countryside they will always bury it but we have noticed in cities sometimes they leave it on the ground. I don’t know if it's the abundance of food available to them but usually they will return to it.

A simple way to keep them from your garden is to keep the garden tidy and clear. The use of a water sprinkler can also be a deterrent.

Foxes can get through a three-inch gap so they do not need a lot of space. If you have toys in your garden or shoes, they will be attracted to them as they love playing. If you feed a cat, other pets or birds in your garden, the fox may be attracted to that food. They will eat seeds, nuts and most fruits in the countryside. Just like children; if the room is uninteresting they won't want to play in it. If you have guinea pigs or rabbits you must ensure the cage is secure.

Foxes come with paws and teeth, not drills and saws, and it is quite easy to secure a hutch or run much as we secure our homes against burglars - the rabbits, guinea pigs and other pets also need to be protected. It is natural for foxes to eat rodents and small mammals in the wild so these creatures will be of interest to them. I personally had rabbits and guinea pigs for several years in my garden, with frequently visiting foxes and we kept them safe.   

Urban or weaker foxes often pick up Canine Sarcoptic Mange. The mange mite burrows into their skin and lays its eggs, this is very painful for them and their health will deteriorate. We cannot treat foxes for mange through spring as they have cubs and the treatment can affect them. This species of mange cannot reproduce in human skin so you cannot catch the infection.

Foxes can also carry a fungal infection of the skin called ‘ringworm’. This is carried by cats, dogs and - most commonly for us -hedgehogs. Depending on the species it can cause a skin infection in humans, this is easily treated with a cream and is usually only transmitted when handling foxes or other infected mammals. I have personally trapped and handled several hundred foxes and have never contracted either of these. I also have cats and dogs which have never contracted them. By far the highest risk of infection from a fox is from a bite. Like cats, fox bites need to be taken seriously and medical attention sought immediately. A number of bacteria are transmitted in fox bites, in particular, Streptococcus species. As with your pet dogs or cats, hand washing after touching a fox would be enough to guard against diseases such as Salmonella and Campylobacter. Just like cats, foxes carry Toxoplasma.

Cats, dogs and foxes all carry Toxocara. Rabies is not found in this country but as with all mammals, rabies will infect a fox. Fox urine can transmit the disease Leptospirosis which causes liver failure in humans. Never touch fox urine without gloves.      

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