Are Foxes Dangerous?
Our intelligence can often be measured by our reactions. Knee-jerk reactions are not good reactions.
It is extremely rare for a wild animal to bite, and this is usually only when cornered or trapped. Most wildlife has learnt to keep hidden. Humans are the biggest threat to wildlife and not the other way round. Foxes are rarely aggressive and would always choose to flee from human contact.
Our complex relationship with foxes over the last 30 years has seen people encourage these endearing animals not only into their garden but, in extreme cases, into their homes.
Foxes are wild animals and, as such, react on instinct. They have a highly developed and sophisticated communication system of sounds and gestures but their reactions are fast, and fear is an instinct. A trapped or cornered fox will always cower and hide first.
We have trapped and rescued many foxes and I have only seen aggression at very close proximity to the fox, and in most cases only when I actually try and touch it.
If you have foxes trapped in a garage or confined space open the door and it will vacate once all the humans have gone. They can outrun and outclimb us and if they see a way out they will take it.
Foxes Live - Channel Four
Parts 1 & 2
Foxes and Children
In June 1973 The Sunday Times carried an article warning about the threats posed by urban foxes. However, the evidence is that no child in Britain has been killed or severely injured in the 80 years since foxes colonised our cities. There are occasional, relatively minor incidents involving foxes and children, invariably described in the press as an "attack", although it is very unlikely that a fox deliberately seeks out a child to attack it. In contrast, every year children are severely injured, maimed, and killed by dogs, very often their own pets, and not just the larger or more dangerous breeds. The risk posed by dogs vastly outweighs the risk posed by foxes.
256,000 people were bitten by dogs last year and over 6,000 people were actually hospitalised by dog bites. We don't call for a cull every time a dog bites so why kill wildlife. It's sad that some media feel a need to vilify the fox. They are not a threat to humans.
NHS and Dog attacks
Animal bites (such as dog bites) and human bites are a relatively common type of injury.
In most cases, the wound that results from an animal bite is minor and can be treated with simple first aid.
Daily Mail article on Dog attacks
Dog bite cases in casualty departments topped 6,000 for the first time this year.
The fast-growing medical caseload caused largely by out-of-control dogs was disclosed in NHS data at a time of deepening concern over the injuries caused by dangerous dogs.
Will foxes attack my dog or cat?
This is extremely unlikely. Foxes avoid dogs, even small dogs, because many foxes are killed by dogs. It is much more likely that your dog will attack the fox, not the other way round. Attacks on cats are equally rare: cats and foxes are roughly the same size, and cats are very capable of defending themselves against foxes, so it is hardly surprising that foxes generally give cats a wide berth and flee when threatened by a cat. Occasionally small kittens are killed, but this is extremely rare. Keeping your cat indoors at night greatly reduces the chance of an encounter with a fox. There are also a variety of other benefits: cats kept in at night are healthier, live longer, and kill less of the local wildlife.
Do the foxes in my garden or their droppings pose a health risk?
There is no known case of people catching diseases from foxes or their droppings in Britain: you are vastly more likely to catch an infection from your pet cat or dog.
Do foxes hunt in packs?
No, they don't.
Unlike wolves, foxes are solitary hunters which means that, even if in some areas they may form groups, they hunt for food on their own. Fox cubs may sometimes be seen playing together with bits of food but this is simply a 'game' and adult foxes have never been reported hunting together. Very occasionally, cubs can be seen hunting with the vixen.
What is a breeding pair?
A male and a female paired to produce offspring. In animals that live in groups, there are usually several males and females in each group. However, in some circumstances, only one male and female in a group reproduces and they are the breeding pair.
Most people that have seen a fox have probably met just one animal on its own. Indeed since foxes travel and hunt on their own, they are said to be solitary animals. This is not to say that they avoid other foxes, but to exemplify the fact that they do not hunt in packs like some other canids, such as wolves.
For a long time it was believed that foxes lived a solitary life, meeting only during the mating season, but now we know that this is untrue. The dominant male and female fox form a pair that may last for life, i.e. foxes are generally monogamous. The pair travel, hunt and feed independently but occasionally meet, either briefly or for longer periods during which they play or groom each other.
In some areas, such as in urban areas, it is common for some other adult foxes to be present in addition to the breeding pair. These additional animals (sometimes called helpers) are subordinate to the dominant pair and are generally offspring of the pair, who remained with their parents past the normal age of dispersal when the family should break up. So, in certain conditions, foxes live in social groups rather than solitarily.
Foxes are territorial animals, i.e. they defend the area where they live against other foxes. That said, the use of scent-marking to delimit their own space is a very effective form of communication and neighbours normally avoid meeting each other. If neighbours do meet, these encounters are generally benign, avoiding direct fights. Foxes are more aggressive towards strangers rather than other neighbouring foxes.
Because of this territorial behaviour, if a fox is removed for a length of time from its territory, another fox will move in. This means that eliminating one animal from an area does not eliminate the presence of foxes altogether. On the other hand, foxes can easily be excluded from certain areas using non-lethal control methods .
Harris, S. & Baker, P. (2001) Urban foxes. Whittet Books, Suffolk.
Larivière, S. & Pasitschniak-Arts, M. (1996) Vulpes vulpes. Mammalian Species 537, 1-11.
Lloyd, H.G. (1980) The red fox. Batsford, London.
Nowak, R. M. (2005) Walker's carnivores of the world. John Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, Maryland, USA.