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What is the smallest fox?

Fennec Fox

A fennec fox's large ears not only help it listen for prey underground, but also dissipate excess heat.

Meet the fennec fox: While it is the smallest fox in the world, the fennec fox possesses tons of cuteness and charm. With their most notable characteristic being their large ears, they are always a favorite. These pint-sized canids are extremely adaptable in their native desert environment.

The fennecs are most recognizable by their large ears, reaching 4 to 6 inches in length. Those ears not only help them listen for prey underground, but also serve to dissipate excess heat of the desert. They have a thick, sandy-colored coat that keeps them warm at night and reflects the sunlight during the day. They even have fur on their feet that protects their footpads from the scorching ground.

Safety in burrows: Humans are an ominous predator of the fennec fox, as the animals are trapped in some areas and sold into the pet trade or even hunted for their lush fur. Large diurnal predators such as birds of prey or hyenas could catch them if the foxes journey outside the burrow, so staying inside during the day is sensible for this little creature. Their nocturnal nature keeps them safe from animal predators. Their heat-reflecting coat also provides excellent camouflage in their surroundings.


Fennec foxes live in deserts and semi-desert habitats. The home range of these foxes is widespread throughout the deserts of the Sahara and throughout North Africa. They burrow into sand dunes during the day, to avoid the extreme heat. These cool dens can be up to 3 feet deep. Although considered to be solitary, Fennec foxes live in small communities of around 10 individuals, with dens being close in proximity or in some cases connected to one another.

Fennec foxes are mostly nocturnal animals. They spend most of the day in an underground burrow avoiding the desert heat. They emerge from their dens at dusk to begin the search for food.

These foxes are omnivores, feasting on a variety of prey as nighttime hunters. They enjoy insects, rodents, snails, lizards, plants, fruits, roots, and eggs. Their large ears provide impeccable hearing to locate prey. Being desert dwellers, they have adapted to living with very little water; most of the water they need comes from the plants they consume.

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At the San Diego Zoo the fennec fox receives canine kibble, carnivore meat diet, and mixed vegetables. Insects are tasty enrichment items.


Family starter «kit»: Breeding season occurs annually in January and February, with females giving birth in March or April. Fennec foxes are monogamous and mate for life.

Litters consist of 2-5 kits, after a gestation period of about 50 days. Females stay with the kits until they are weaned, after 60 to 70 days; and males venture to hunt for food for the family. Kits reach sexual maturity at 10 months old.

Like other canids, fennec foxes bark, as well as whimper and whine to communicate. Like other canids, fennec foxes mark their territory by urinating around the perimeter.


The fennec fox is currently listed as a species of least concern , according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species. While there are no major threats to the desert-dwelling wild populations, habitat loss still occurs in their native range. They are also at risk from the illegal pet trade. In Northern Africa, they are in danger of being trapped or hunted and sold commercially.

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Fennec Fox Fact Sheet

Fennec fox (Vulpes zerda): a small fox native to the deserts of North Africa.

Kingdom: | Animalia
Phylum: | Chordata
Class: | Mammalia
Order: | Carnivora
Family: | Canidae
Genus: | Vulpes
Species: | zerda

Size and Weight:

The fennec fox is the smallest of the foxes. Their head and body are 9.5 to 16 inches long and their tail is 7 to 12 inches long. They stand at 8 inches in height at the shoulders. Their weight ranges from 2 to 3.5 pounds.


Fennec foxes are perhaps best known for their enormous ears. Relative to body size, the fennec fox has the largest ears of any member of the canid family. Their ears are typically 4 to 6 inches long and serve multiple purposes. Their ears help to dissipate excess body heat on hot days. They also help the fox to hear prey in the sand.

A fennec fox has a tiny face with a pointed snout. Their fur is cream in color with a long black-tipped tail. Their fur coats are long, thick and soft with a wooly undercoat, insulating them during cold nights and protecting them from the hot sun during the day.

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Fennec fox are omnivores. They are nocturnal to avoid the desert heat. Typically at night, they forage for plants as well as lizards, rodents, insects and eggs. They are able to go for long periods without water because their kidneys are specifically adapted to conserve water. They can obtain moisture from the food they eat and by licking the dew that forms in their dens.


Fennec foxes live in arid desert habitats.


They are found in the desert zones of North Africa and the Sinai and Arabian peninsulas.


The rutting season, or mating season, typically lasts for four to six weeks. During this period, males are extremely aggressive and mark their territory with urine. Females are in estrus for one to two days, and following mating, the gestation period lasts about 50 days. Prior to and during birth, males defend the females. The male provides food to the female until the pups are about 4 weeks old.

A female typically gives birth to one litter of two to five pups per year. The young are born fully furred but blind. Within their second week, they open their eyes, and at about 2 weeks, they are able to walk. Pups usually nurse for their first 10 weeks and become mature at 9 to 11 months.

Social Structure:

Fennec foxes are monogamous, meaning they mate for life. They dwell in family groups of up to ten individuals. Multiple family groups may share a complex den. These foxes are territorial and mark their territory with urine and feces. They communicate with each other through several noises, including whimpers, barks, shrieks, squeaks, growls, howls or chatters.


Their lifespan ranges from 10 to 12 years on average.


The greatest threats to fennec fox populations are habitat loss and hunting. In North Africa, fennec foxes are trapped for exhibition or sale to tourists. As human populations expand, they are at higher risk of being hit by cars.

Conservation Status:

As of 2015, the IUCN has classified the fennec fox as of Least Concern on its Red List of Threatened Species.

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Conservation Efforts:

Fennec foxes are legally protected in Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Egypt.

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8 Facts About Fennec Foxes and Their Care

8 Facts About Fennec Foxes and Their Care

Fennec foxes are undoubtedly cute, but they are also very interesting creatures. Today our Sonora vets discuss some facts about this adorable species and outline some tips about caring for one.

5 Facts About Fennec Foxes

1. They are the worlds smallest fox

The average fennec fox is only about 8 inches tall and weighs merely 2 to 3 pounds. That is shorter than the average house cat and a fraction of the weight.

2. They have diverse social lives

They tend to live in tight-knit families of up to 10 foxes, but the size varies depending on the availability of food in the area.

3. Fennec foxes have adapted to limited water

These furry creatures live in the desert, meaning they have adapted over time to accommodate for the scarcity of water. They stay hydrated in the heat just by eating leaves, roots, and fruits.

4. It has multipurpose ears

Not only do they have the largest ears relative to body size of any canid, but their ears also help listen to prey underground as well as keep them cool as they lose a lot of heat through their ears.

5. They have extra fur on their feet

The hot sand of the desert could prove to be a challenge for mammals, but not the fennec fox. The fur on their feet helps keep their feet cool during the day, and conversely, helps insulate and keep their feet warm when the temperature plummets at night.

Do Fennec foxes make good pets?

The fennec fox, also known as the desert fox, is accustomed to barren desert regions and native to the Sahara desert and other parts of North Africa. In the wild, fennec foxes are nocturnal hunters that dig burrows as shelter and live in close family groups.

Fennec foxes are occasionally kept as pets and behave a bit like active, playful small dogs. While they look like cute cuddly dogs, fennecs typically do not enjoy being handled let alone cuddled, and may bite if scared or nervous.

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Characteristics of a Fennec Fox

Due to their nocturnal nature, it can be difficult to manage their high energy level during the hours when most people are sleeping.

Fennecs can be skittish and easily startled. Loud sudden noises can put them on high alert, and they are quick to flee when frightened.

They are territorial animals and in the wild they mark their territory with urine and fecal mounds. Unneutered males will likely mark their territory with urine inside your home.

Sounds of the Fennec Fox

Fennec foxes are very vocal animals, even when they are content. When frightened or upset fennecs can become very loud, letting out high-pitched vocalizations.

From screaming and screeching to cooing and more, these pets can be difficult to cope with for owners and their neighbors.

How to care for a Fennec Fox?

Exercise and Activity

Fennecs are quick, agile and active animals that require a lot of exercise. Given time and patience, fennecs can be trained to walk outdoors on leash.

Due to their energetic nature, allowing your fennec space to play inside your home will be key to keeping a fennec as an indoor pet. The carefree and playful nature of a fennex can result in broken items in your home. Be sure to clear the area and put away breakable items that your fennec can reach.

Vigilant supervision is required when allowing your fennec to run freely.

Outdoor Enclosure

If you live in a warmer climate, a large outdoor enclosure could be an ideal way to shelter your fennec and provide ample room for exercise. An outdoor enclosure should include logs to climb and places to hide and provide plenty of room for your fennec to run and play.

Keep in mind that fennecs are capable of digging deep holes and can easily tunnel out of your yard within a very brief period of time. They are also agile climbers and capable of a quick escape over the top of most fences. To prevent escape you may want to keep your fennec on a harness and leash while unsupervised.

Fennecs are a desert animal and as such need to be kept warm. They should only be kept outdoors in areas that do not go below 68 degrees Fahrenheit.

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Indoor Enclosure

Fennecs require large amounts of exercise and should not be caged indoors all day. To keep your fennec housed indoors you will need a large enclosure for times when your pet cannot be supervised. You can create a larger sized cage for your fennec by joining multiple cages together to create multi-layers or a long play area.

When your fennec is released from the cage, you will need to tolerate quick bursts of energy and allow your pet to run and jump around your house to expend their pent-up energy.

In some cases, with a lot of positive reinforcement training and encouragement fennecs can be taught to use a litter box. Because they have a tendency to dig you may want to use a covered box.

Food & Water

In the wild, fennecs eat a varied diet of meat and plants, including fruit, insects, rodents, and birds. Most pet owners feed their fennecs a mix of cat food, dog food, vegetables, and fruit.

Fennec foxes require an adequate amount of taurine, an amino acid that’s essential for many metabolic processes in the body. Consult your veterinarian on the right quantity and variety of food for your fennec pet.

Do vets provide care for fennecs?

Not all vets can offer veterinary care for fennec foxes or other exotic companion animals. If you are considering getting any exotic animal as a pet be sure to check that your local vet provides exotic pet services. It is important to know where to go for help when your fennec needs veterinary care.

Do you have a fennec fox in need of veterinary care? Contact our Sonora vets to book an examination today. Our exotic companion animal vet can help you to provide the best care possible to your fennec.

Happy Tails from Clients

The front staff was kind and helpful, the technicians were patient and understanding with my frightened pup. The Doctor was informative and easy to talk to.

Now Welcoming New Patients

Mono Way Veterinary Hospital is accepting new patients! All of our knowledgeable vets are passionate about helping companion animals in Sonora feel happy and healthy. Contact us to schedule your pet’s appointment.

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