Should we really be keeping foxes as pets?
Pet foxes are all the rage on Instagram – but that doesn’t mean you should get one.
Oh, how we love Instagram. Home to the most mouth-wateringly delicious food photos, sneak peeks into all our favourite celebs’ lives, and of course, the internet’s cutest animals. Instagram has popularised the concept of celebrity pets, as users are able to post photos and videos of their furry friends for us to discover and freak out over.
The most typical of these accounts show us the adorable lives of cats and dogs and seem to be loved by just about everyone. But one of the more unconventional, yet increasingly popular species of Instagram celebrity has caused some debate across the internet. They’re foxes.
Instagram’s most famous fox is Juniper Fox, who has amassed over two million followers.
While it may sound strange at first, there’s no denying that these mischievous creatures are unbearably cute. Juniper and other pet foxes are quite unlike their wild counterparts – they are extremely playful and friendly. Juniper’s social media follows her life as she and her fox “mom” Jessika Coker, another fox called Fig, and other pets get along like a big happy family. She even had a book released about her earlier this year.
In line with the growing popularity of celebrity foxes in recent years, Google searches for how to get a pet fox have risen drastically. And owning a fox is actually perfectly legal in the UK. So why don’t we all get one? After all, they’re just so adorable.
But is owning a fox really all that cute?
As it turns out, no.
There’s actually a darker side to this internet craze. And while Jessika receives endless comments from people wanting to get foxes just like Juniper, she’s the first to tell people that it’s generally not a good idea. After all, foxes take a LOT of work to look after. And many people don’t understand that most foxes can never be docile pets like Juniper. Here are a few reasons why you really shouldn’t be making a beeline for that Google search bar to find the nearest fox to bring home.
They’re wild at heart.
Foxes aren’t naturally sweet and friendly like Juniper and co. The pet foxes that you’ll find on Instagram are unlikely to be “tame” foxes, as many assume. “Tame” is just used to describe a wild animal that’s used to people – they’re never fit to be our pets. The foxes of Instagram are domesticated, meaning they’ve been systematically bred to change their behaviour at a genetic level. According to Jessika, Juniper comes from a line of foxes that were bred for over 150 years for their fur. Juniper was domesticated and, as a result, is “not fit to live in the wild” due to her genetic differences and affectionate behaviour.
Most of the foxes available to buy online are tame, not domesticated, and are being illegally sold. As well as misinformed people buying foxes online that can never belong in a household, there are also those who have attempted to claim foxes in the wild as their pets. You can’t just go to a forest and catch the star of your next Instagram page – it’s cruel, and will cause endless problems when you realise how challenging they really are to care for. When you start to look into it, there are certain aspects of these pets that will likely be deal breakers for you. For example…
A wild Juniper has been spotted! • I never want her to forget her “wild”. These walks through the woods are so important, not only for her but also for myself. We both soak in the smell of the leaf litter, feel the moss on our bare feet, and listen to the crickets and birds singing in the trees. I think we could stay here forever, if society would let us. #groundyourself
They smell. Bad.
A fox, and and especially its urine, has a distinct odour that Jessika describes as smelling like a skunk. While they can be litter trained they will still urinate habitually to mark territory, much like cats. This can’t be stopped, even in a domesticated fox – so if you really want one, you’d better get ready to spend your life cleaning up after them. And don’t think that’s where your cleaning duty stops.
Think puppies in the teething stage – but for life. Your fox will love to rip and shred your furniture, which Inge Herzog, owner of Instagram’s beach fox Winchester, knows all too well. She has described how her pet went through three sofas by tearing them up and burying her toys inside.
Responsible fox owners minimise this behaviour by providing their pets with intellectual stimulation, as well as a large outdoor space that they can dig up as they please. But Jessika worries that many potential fox owners aren’t ready for the commitment, unaware of what they’re getting into having only seen the positives online. And because of this, most of the foxes that people who have jumped on this fad get end up in rescues – or worse.
Despite there being no legal restrictions on keeping foxes as pets here in the UK, the RSPCA has strongly urged against it. Due to their specific needs and wild behaviour, a spokesperson said that “the RSPCA would not advise or condone keeping them as pets.” Inge believes that there can be some exceptions, however. “If someone is as passionate about foxes and willing to stick it out through the inevitable hard times as I am, then I would encourage them to get a fox. Winchester brings me more joy, wonder, and amazement than anything I’ve ever encountered, and continues to inspire me even after 6 years.”