You’ve probably noticed that foxes and dogs share some common physical traits and behaviors.

You may even think that foxes are a type of dog.

Well, foxes are not exactly dogs, but they do have a genetic relationship.

Foxes, dogs, wolves, and coyotes all belong to the Canidae family, and as such, they share some genetic code.

Foxes are generally smaller than wolves and jackals but can be larger than some other members of the Canidae family, like raccoon dogs.

Apart from their genetic link, foxes exhibit certain behaviors and characteristics that resemble both dogs and cats.

This unique combination of traits makes them fascinating creatures.

While foxes are related to dogs in a biological sense, it’s essential to recognize that they are still their own unique species with a diverse range of adaptations and behaviors.

So, although there is a connection, foxes are not simply a type of dog.

Are Foxes and Dogs Related?

As mentioned above, foxes and dogs belong to the Canidae family, which also includes wolves and coyotes.

This means they share some genetic and physical characteristics, making them distant relatives.

While dogs are domesticated members of the genus Canis, foxes are not.

Foxes actually belong to different genera, with the most common “true fox” species belonging to the genus Vulpes.

This distinction in genus means that they have evolved separately and have distinct traits, even though they share some similarities as members of the Canidae family.

It’s essential to understand that foxes, despite being canines, are not dogs or cats – they are their own species within the Canidae family.

Their solitary nature and hunting habits further differentiate them from their domesticated relatives.

Species of Foxes and Dogs

Red Fox

The red fox (Vulpes vulpes) is the largest and most widespread fox species.

Its natural habitat ranges across most of the Northern Hemisphere, including North America, Europe, Asia, and northern Africa.

Its distinctive reddish-brown coat and bushy tail make it easily recognizable.

Although they share similarities in appearance and behavioral traits with domestic dogs, red foxes are still part of the Vulpes genus, not the Canis genus.

Gray Fox

Gray foxes (Urocyon cinereoargenteus) can be found in North and Central America, inhabiting mainly wooded areas.

These foxes are distinguishable by their gray fur mixed with patches of reddish-brown and white.

Unlike the red fox, the gray fox belongs to a separate genus, Urocyon, but they also share similarities with dogs and other foxes.

Arctic Fox

The arctic fox (Vulpes lagopus) is a small fox species adapted to the extreme cold of the Arctic environment.

With thick fur, short legs, and a bushy tail, arctic foxes are specially built to conserve heat.

Their coats change color depending on the season, turning white for camouflage in the snow during winter, and brownish-gray during summer.

Like the red fox, arctic foxes belong to the Vulpes genus.

Vulpes Genus

The Vulpes genus contains various fox species, including the red and arctic foxes.

These true foxes share a common ancestry and have some genetic similarities with domestic dogs.

However, they belong to a different subtribe, Cerdocyonina, which is more distantly related to dogs.

  • Some other foxes in the Vulpes genus include:
    • Fennec fox (Vulpes zerda)
    • Bat-eared fox (Vulpes megalotis)
    • Blanford’s fox (Vulpes cana)

Canis Genus

The Canis genus comprises domestic dogs, wolves, coyotes, and jackals.

Domestic dogs (Canis lupus familiaris) come in various breeds and share a closer genetic relationship with wolves than foxes.

Dogs and wolves diverged from the Canini subtribe, while fox members of the Vulpes genus developed from the Cerdocyonina subtribe.

Comparing Behavior of Foxes and Dogs

fox in forest

Social Behavior

When comparing foxes and dogs, it’s important to note the differences in their social behavior.

Dogs are generally social creatures, forming strong bonds with their human families and often enjoying the company of other dogs.

On the other hand, foxes are mostly solitary animals, preferring to hunt and dwell alone.

They do, however, form monogamous pairs during mating season.

Feeding Habits

Foxes and dogs also have differences in their feeding habits.

While dogs have adapted to human-provided food sources, foxes maintain their predatory instincts.

Foxes primarily feed on small mammals like mice and rabbits, but also consume birds, eggs, and insects.

They are known as opportunistic feeders, meaning they will eat whatever is available to them.

In contrast, domestic dogs often have specialized diets based on their size, breed, and activity level.

Prey Behavior

Another vital distinction lies in the prey drive of foxes and dogs.

Foxes are innate hunters with a high prey drive, frequently stalking and pouncing on their prey in the wild.

They rely on their keen senses of smell, sight, and hearing to locate their meals.

Domestic dogs, while still exhibiting a prey drive, often have it moderated through selective breeding and training.

Some breeds maintain a higher prey drive, like terriers, while others are more docile.

It’s essential to remember that your dog’s prey drive can vary depending on breed, age, and individual personality.

Genetic Similarities and Differences

In terms of genetics, foxes and dogs have some similarities due to their evolutionary proximity.

While scientists estimate that dogs and wolves diverged about 3-4 million years ago, foxes split off from their canine relatives around 7-10 million years ago.

Despite these differences in divergence times, there remains some genetic overlap between foxes and dogs.

When examining their chromosomes, it’s important to note that foxes have 34 chromosomes, while dogs possess 78.

This significant difference in chromosome numbers means that foxes cannot successfully mate with dogs, as their genetic variations are too distinct.

In addition to their different chromosome count, other genetic factors separate foxes and dogs.

Behavior is a key aspect that influences their genetic makeup.

Foxes have evolved to be more solitary and elusive, while dogs have been domesticated over thousands of years to be more social and adaptable to living with humans.

Fox and Dog Domestication

It’s important to grasp the background of domestication when exploring the relationship between foxes and dogs.

Scientists believe that the domestication of dogs took place between 20,000-40,000 years ago from a now-extinct gray wolf, which was the common ancestor of the different lines of dogs that formed by 11,000 years ago.

In comparison, domesticated foxes are a more recent phenomenon. Foxes and dogs are part of the same family, canids, but their domestication processes were different.

A fascinating example of domesticated foxes comes from an experiment in Russia, where captive foxes were selectively bred to develop docile traits.

Through generations of breeding, these foxes became increasingly tame, displaying behaviors more akin to domesticated dogs than their wild counterparts.

Despite sharing a family, foxes are not directly related to domesticated dogs.

Nevertheless, urban foxes, particularly in Britain, are beginning to show signs of self-domestication.

As they adapt to city life, some foxes resemble domesticated dogs due to evolved behaviors and appearances.

Foxes and Dogs as Pets

When considering a pet, you may come across various breeds of dogs and even the idea of having a pet fox.

Pet foxes are not common due to their wild nature and specific legal restrictions in some areas.

They require specialized care and attention, which makes them unsuitable for most people.

On the other hand, dogs have been domesticated for thousands of years, making them more adaptable to living with humans.

One breed to consider is the Shiba Inu. This Japanese dog breed has a fox-like appearance, with small ears and a curled tail.

They are known for their intelligence, independence, and alertness. However, they can also be stubborn, so training and socialization are essential.

Spitz breeds include the Finnish Spitz, American Eskimo, Pomeranian, and Schipperke, among others.

These breeds share similar physical traits such as a pointed muzzle, erect ears, and a tail that curls over their back.

They are generally active, intelligent, and adaptable pets, but their energy levels and grooming requirements may vary.

The Finnish Spitz is a lively and friendly dog with a fox-like look.

They require regular exercise and mental stimulation to keep them happy. Grooming is relatively easy due to their self-cleaning coat, but they still need occasional brushing.

Schipperkes are small, sturdy dogs with a curious and active nature. They are protective of their family and can be territorial.

Early socialization and training are necessary to ensure a well-behaved pet.

The American Eskimo Dog is a playful, intelligent breed that enjoys being part of the family. They require regular interaction and mental stimulation to prevent boredom.

As for grooming, their long double coat needs frequent brushing to avoid tangles and shedding.

Pomeranians are small, foxy-faced dogs with a lively and affectionate personality. They enjoy being with their family, but can be wary of strangers.

Regular grooming is necessary to maintain their fluffy coat.

Can Foxes and Dogs Interbreed?

While it’s true that they share some genetic code, foxes cannot breed with dogs.

The main reason is that they don’t have a compatible number of chromosome pairs or genetic materials needed for interbreeding.

To date, science has not documented a single case of hybridization between foxes and dogs.

Technically, foxes and dogs can attempt to breed, but it’s incredibly unlikely due to their genetic differences.

Even if a fox-dog mating were to occur, the offspring would be considered a hybrid and may face health issues because of genetic incompatibility.

Legal Implications of Owning Foxes

Owning a fox as a pet has certain legal implications that you should be aware of.

In the United States, exotic pet ownership is governed by state laws, which means that it’s legal to own a fox in some states, while it’s illegal in others.

Only 15 states allow private individuals to own foxes as pets, yet even in those states, not all species of fox might be permitted.

It’s crucial to do thorough research about the specific regulations in your area, as there might be restrictions on certain species or requirements for permits to keep a fox as a pet.

Violating these regulations can lead to penalties, fines, or even criminal charges.

Internationally, the legality of owning a pet fox also varies.

In Canada, owning a pet fox is illegal in most provinces.

Other countries might have similar restrictions or bans in specific regions.

It’s essential to be familiar with and adhere to the local laws in order to avoid potential legal issues.

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