Hand-rearing Vulpes vulpes - Red fox (Wildlife Casualty Management)
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Summary Information
Type of technique Health & Management / UK Wildlife Casualty Management / Techniques:
Synonyms and Keywords N.B. This information should be read in association with Hand-rearing of Orphaned Wildlife which contains background information together with links to the Electronic Library and Organisations (UK Contacts). The related Species pages contain similar linkages.
Description This page has been prepared for the "UK Wildlife: First Aid and Care" Wildpro module, and is designed for the needs of the following species: Vulpes vulpes - Red fox

1) Rearing in the original earth

  • Particularly suitable for cubs of six weeks old or more, in a safe place.
  • Provide food, e.g. household scraps, meat bones, bread soaked in fat, carcasses of road-killed animals.
  • Judge the amount of food provided on the basis of the amount eaten by the cubs (Choose amounts depending on amount eaten by cubs) - if some left, decrease, if all eaten, give more.
  • From about July, feed less regularly, but continue occasional supplementation to assist cubs whilst they are learning to find food.
  • N.B. Feeding cubs at the earth is much less work than hand-rearing.
  • (D22, D24, D25)

2) Hand-rearing

Initial Care: 

General mammal information: 

  • On arrival any young mammal should be weighed, warmed, stimulated to urinate/defecate and given supplementary fluids by an appropriate route to counteract dehydration. 
  • The age should be determined if possible.  (See individual species information page, sections "Appearance - Neonate" and "Life Stages - Reproductive stages").
  • The first feed given should be an oral rehydration (electrolyte) solution (e.g. Lectade, Pfizer Limited), with a gradual changeover to a milk substitute over several feeds.
  • See: Hand Rearing of Orphaned Wildlife for further general information. for further general information. for further general information.

General Care (including warmth and hygiene):

General mammal information

  • Young mammals have poor ability to maintain body temperature and are prone to hypothermia, hyperthermia and burns, particularly when unfurred.
  • Keep out of draughts but ensure ventilation is adequate.
  • Provide a temperature range, e.g. by heating one end of the container more than the other, which, while not allowing either overheating or chilling, permits the animal to chose the position at which it feels most comfortable.
  • The container used should be sufficiently large to allow the occupant to move into a comfortable position.
  • The sides of the container should be sufficiently high to prevent the occupant falling out.
  • Bedding materials should be soft, comfortable and either disposable or easily washed. They should keep the animal dry and be changed as frequently as necessary to prevent soiling.
  • (B194, P3.1987.w5, V.w5)
  • Maintain small mammals initially at 32C, then 28C, later 23C.(P3.1987.w5) Initially at 95F for a hairless baby, 90F for a haired infant with the eyes still closed, and reduce by 5F per week once the eyes are open.(B194)

Fox specific information:

  • Heat is required for young cubs, particularly under two weeks old.
  • A hot water bottle well wrapped in a blanket is appropriate as a heat source.
  • Supplementary heat is not usually needed by three to four weeks of age.
  • May be kept in box or small cage initially.
  • From three to four weeks of age a kennel, cage or large hutch (rabbit-type) may be used, with plenty of fresh bedding.
  • From six weeks old cubs should be kept outside in e.g. an old outbuilding, garden shed, outside run.
  • An outside run must be secure, with good walls and a wire roof.
  • (D22)

Milk replacer:

  • Natural fox milk contains 1.01 Kcal/ml, solids 18.1%, of which fat 32%, protein 35%, carbohydrate 25%, ash 5%. (P19.1.w5)
  • Suggested milk replacers include:
    • Esbilac (PetAg).(J34.9.w1, D24)
    • Lactol (Sherley's) puppy milk.(D22)
    • Lactol (Sherley's) or Welpi (Hoechst UK Ltd) (proprietary puppy milks) may require dilution to reduce carbohydrate and addition of egg yolk to increase the fat and protein content. (P3.1987.w3)
    • Goat's milk. (B151)
  • Suggested supplementation includes:
    • Abidec multi-vitamin drops (Parke-Davis).(D24)


  • Small syringe up to about 2-3 weeks old, after which a small pet bottle and teat may be used.(D22)
  • Esbilac (Pet Ag) puppy bottle, Belcroy premature baby feeder.(B151)
  • Pet feeding bottle or an even-flow human feeding bottle.(J34.9.w1)

Feeding Frequency:

Fox specific information:

  • From birth to about three weeks old, feed every three to four hours.(D22)
  • From three to four weeks old, feed three to four times daily.(D22)
  • About every four hours.(J34.9.w1, D24)
  • Four to five feeds daily.(B151)

Feeding Technique: 

General mammal information:

  • Very small animals - feeding may be encouraged by placing a drop of milk on the infant's lips, preferably with animal held upright.(P3.1987.w5)
  • To feed using a medicine dropper:
    • Hold the infant in one hand with its head slightly higher than its body, place the dropper just inside the animal's lips and press the bulb extremely gently to place a tiny drop of formula in the infant's mouth to encourage feeding to start. As it begins to suck or lick the dropper may be pressed very gently to assist the infant to take the formula.(B194)
    • If a bubble of liquid appears at the nose or the infant opens its mouth wide, immediately stop feeding and tilt the infant head down to allow the excess formula to drain from its mouth. Give the infant a chance to recover then start again more slowly.(B194)
    • Refill the dropper as required.(B194)
    • Some infants may feed by licking individual hanging drops of the end of the dropper.(B194)
    • Clean any excess from the infant's nose/chin after each feed.(B194)
  • A similar technique can be used with a small syringe, pressing very slowly on the plunger as the infant sucks or licks.(V.w5)
  • When feeding very small neonates it is vital that the feeding technique used provides milk at a sufficiently slow rate to minimise the risk of milk being inhaled with resultant aspiration pneumonia.(V.w26)
  • Larger animals - to encourage feeding insert teat in mouth, directed towards roof of mouth, and massage the animal's throat to encourage swallowing.(P3.1987.w5)

Fox specific information:

  • Feed from a syringe to about two or three weeks old then a pet bottle and nipple. (D22)
  • Encourage lapping from four weeks of age.(D22)
  • Encourage lapping (provide a bowl of milk replacer) once the cub's eyes are open. (D24)


General mammal information:

  • Energy intake (kilocalories per day) = 200-250 x bodyweight (kg) 0.83.(P19.1.w5, P3.1987.w3)

General carnivore information:

  • May be fed up to 35-40% of body weight per day, and about 25-50ml/kg per feed. (J34.9.w1)


General mammal information:

  • Most infant mammals require gentle stimulation of the ano-genital area (using e.g. a damp cotton bud, damp cotton wool or damp soft paper towel) in order to urinate and defecate. 
  • This should be done when the animal is first presented and at every feed until voluntary elimination is observed.

Fox specific information:

  • Toileting is required.
  • May need winding (burping).(B151)


  • General mammal information: weigh daily. 
  • Fox specific information:
    • Birth weight approx. 120gm/4 oz.
    • Four weeks: should be about 600gm / 1.25 lbs.
    • Six weeks: should be about 1kg (2.25 lbs.) (D22)


  • Mixture of Esbilac (PetAg) and Hills A/D (Hills Pet Nutrition Ltd.) may be offered for lapping once eyes open.(D24)
  • Initially (from four weeks old) onto e.g. dog food, mice, day-old chicks (B151); break open or chop up chicks/mice initially.(D22, D24)
  • From six weeks, minimise use of dog food. Use cat killed or road-killed mammals/birds, also e.g. bacon rind, meat bones, cheese, other household scraps, offal from game dealers/Poultry suppliers.(D22)
  • Fur and bone in diet are important for correct digestion.(D22)
  • 'Natural' foods such as road-killed mammals and birds are important to train ready for finding own food after release.(B151)


Appropriate Use (?)
  • Wild animals should not be taken for hand-rearing unless they are definitely orphaned, abandoned or injured, or in immediate danger.
  • Only hand-rear if absolutely necessary, i.e. injured/diseased or truly orphaned and less than six weeks old. (D24)
  • For older cubs (6 weeks), leave in original earth and provide food in situ.
  • N.B. Fox cubs are rarely abandoned. Possible scenarios include:-
  • One cub may be left behind for a day when a litter is moved to a different earth. Such a cub should be moved ONLY if it requires protection from people or dogs, minimise handling, keep in box with e.g. straw or wood shavings, offer small amount water/puppy milk, return to earth about dusk. Consider hand-rearing only if the cub is still present the following morning.
  • Cub which has become trapped and/or requires cleaning (e.g. from oil in car inspection pit) should be assisted as required and returned to its earth (if known) as soon as possible or to the site where it was found (release about midnight because fewer people, dogs and traffic will be present.
  • Cubs may be seen outside the earth during the day. If playing, sunning, and with food scraps about, leave alone.
  • If lethargic, no food remains, little playing, much calling, may be genuinely orphaned.

(D22, D24)

  • An ordinary outdoor thermometer may be used to indicate the temperature in the container used to house the orphan.(B194)
  • Age determination is required for choice of suitable feeding regime.
  • Minimise handling, sight of humans and sound of human voices to minimise the risk of imprinting. (B151)
  • Handle only when necessary to feed very young cubs.(D22)
  • Minimise sight, sound and contact with animals of other species, particularly dogs. (D22)
  • Avoid all handling once no longer being bottle fed: do not play with the cub, do not bring visitors, and ensure that the cub is kept in isolated area.(D22, D24)
  • Provide "toys" for enrichment and stimulation e.g. balls, old stuffed toys, dog chews, rags for playing and play-hunting; these are particularly important if rearing a single cub in isolation.( if single cub).(D22)
  • Rear in groups to provide social interaction. (D24)
  • N.B. Foxes climb well.
  • Can escape through very small holes (adult may get through 10cm square (4 inches square) hole.(D22, D25)
  • Regularly check accommodation is secure.
  • Hand-reared foxes may become too willing to show themselves in daylight. It may be of long term benefit for the well-being of the fox cub to discourage these behaviours, using safe techniques which are associated with no ill effects e.g. by throwing an empty soft drinks can at the cub if it comes out of its shed during the day. (V.w18)
  • Routine records should be maintained of daily weight, times of each feed, quantities of milk consumed, urine/faeces production and general condition/demeanour. Such records provide an objective means of assessing progress and provide useful data for improving rearing methods.(V.w5)
Complications/ Limitations / Risk
  • Considerable risk of becoming tame.(P19.1.w4)
  • Increasingly destructive with increasing age.
  • Require suitable accommodation outside human housing from six weeks old.
  • Risk of early escape if accommodation is not roofed/wire covered and secure.
  • Require care/feeding to about six months old (late summer).
  • Require suitable release site, which must be selected carefully (D24).See: Release of Casualty Vulpes vulpes - Red fox. 
  • Susceptible to: rickets, scouring (diarrhoea), canine distemper, parvovirus infection. (D22)
  • Excess dog food and/or meat in the diet may result in diarrhoea (scouring). (D22)
  • Raw meat bones may be preferable to cooked bones as they are less brittle and less likely to produce bone slivers which may injure the pup.(V.w27)
  • DO NOT put a collar on the cub, as this may become trapped, or strangle/cut into the cub as it grows.
  • N.B. Fox survival rate in the wild is naturally low - hand-reared cubs will sometimes naturally not live long after release, as with naturally dispersing wild-reared cubs.
  • Faecal parasitology screening should be performed and anthelmintic treatment given as necessary.(V.w26)
Equipment / Chemicals required and Suppliers Milk:
  • Goat's milk. Many health food stores and supermarkets.
  • Esbilac canine milk replacer (Pet Ag, Kruus UK Ltd., Unit 17, Moor Lane Industrial Estate, Sherburn in Elmet, North Yorkshire, LS25 6ES; Pet-AG Inc., Elgin, Illinois, USA).
  • Lactol milk replacer for small mammals (Sherley's Division, Ashe Consumer Products Ltd., Leatherhead, Surrey, UK.)
  • Welpi puppy milk (Hoechst UK Ltd, PO Box 18, Hounslow, Middlesex TW4 6JH) may be found in pet stores.

Bottles: pet stores, chemists or supermarkets, depending on type of bottle.

Expertise level / Ease of Use
  • Rearing of foxes to produce a physically healthy cub is not difficult.
  • Rearing without habituation to humans requires much more care.
  • It is strongly recommended that juvenile foxes are transferred to expert individuals or organisations as rearing and successful release requires considerable expertise and specialised pre-release accommodation. While rearing by inexperienced persons may result in a physically healthy juvenile, the chance of survival after release may be seriously reduced if expert techniques have not been correctly applied.
  • Organisations with experience in rearing and releasing fox cubs should be consulted: RSPCA, The Fox Project, National Fox Welfare Society.
Cost/ Availability
  • Products and equipment all widely available, not particularly expensive.
Legal and Ethical Considerations
  • It is very important to consider the potential problems of imprinting/taming before taking cubs from the wild or starting to rear a cub.
  • Hand-rearing should not be started without:
  • a commitment to keeping the cub(s) as wild as possible;
  • suitable facilities, e.g. a suitable outbuilding or specially built pen within which the cub can be maintained from about six weeks old;
  • the commitment to rear the cub(s) to independence at about six months old.
  • Consider whether hand-rearing is the best option for the individual compared with leaving it in the wild.
  • Consider whether euthanasia is a more humane/kinder option for the individual than attempting hand-rearing.
  • Euthanasia may be more humane than incorrect rearing/release.
  • A fox which is improperly prepared prior to release and is simply 'dumped' is unlikely to survive.
  • Foxes are not suitable as pets, even in rural surroundings.
  • Foxes should not be released at a site where the landowner/manager is unsympathetic to foxes.
  • Once in captivity a fox is legally protected against actions causing stress or suffering.
  • An offence may be committed under the Abandonment of Animals Act 1960 Section 1 if a released animal does not have a reasonable chance of survival (i.e. a chance similar to its non-rehabilitated peers). It is an offence under this Act for a person having control or charge of an animal to abandon it permanently or otherwise in circumstances likely to cause unnecessary suffering. This may include release at an unsuitable site, in the wrong territory, unfit, not having learned to hunt, at the wrong time of year etc.(J35.147.w1, B156.21.w21, B223, W5.Jan01)
  • See: Legislation relating to Wildlife Casualties for further information on legislation.
Author Debra Bourne
Referee Becki Lawson and Suzanne Boardman

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