Foxes are common in towns. They pose no direct threat to people but can take domestic pets such as rabbits, guinea pigs and poultry for food. Cat owners may be concerned for the safety of their pets but there is little evidence that cats may be attacked by foxes, usually the two species ignore each other. One area of potential concern is that should rabies ever enter this country, it is probable that foxes would become the main carriers of the disease, as they are in Eastern and Central Europe. If that were to happen, extensive fox control measures would be needed.
Foxes in towns
In towns, foxes are active at night. During day they lie up in the kind of cover provided by railway embankments, parks, etc. They live in earths which they dig themselves or can take over and enlarge rabbit holes or badger sets. They can also use dens under sheds and outbuildings. Life Cycle Foxes (Vulpes vulpes) are members of the dog family (Canidae) and resemble a small dog in appearance with reddish fur and a bushy tail (or brush) which has a white tip. They are lighter footed than a dog of the same size and their gait resembles that of a cat.
Foxes mate during January and February. Complaints often occur at this time because of the screaming and barking. Four or five cubs are born to the vixen (female fox) in March or April. The cubs normally stay with the vixen for 3 or 4 months.
Urban foxes eat a variety of food including wild birds, rabbits, mice, voles, insects and earthworms as well as fruit from wild and garden plants. They are also scavengers, taking food from bird tables and the carcasses of animals killed by cars. They also take food from rubbish sacks and dustbins as do dogs, cats and squirrels.
Signs of foxes
Apart from sightings of the animals, signs of foxes include the typical musty smell, food scraps, damage to rubbish bags, the taking of pet rabbits, guinea pigs etc. and traces of hair on thorns and barbed wire.
When urban fox populations are high they can suffer from mange, which is a skin disease caused by mites.
If people are concerned for the safety of pets and poultry the most effective measure is the provision of fox-proof accommodation for such livestock. In addition, householders and businesses are recommended:
High fences (above 2m) may be of some use in keeping foxes out of gardens but they could easily climb over gates, etc. Such high fences are expensive and may require planning permission. There are also products available in garden centres which claim to deter foxes using an odour which is unpleasant to the fox.
The only occasion in which extensive fox control would become necessary is if there was an outbreak of rabies. Rabies is a particularly unpleasant and potentially fatal viral disease of mammals (including humans) which is transmitted in the saliva of the affected animal. Transmission occurs when an infected animal bites another animal or human being. The UK is currently free from rabies.
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