Do Vixens Abandon Their Cubs

Elaine Sutton
• Saturday, 14 November, 2020
• 7 min read

But when their cubs are born between May and July, they are vocal and more active during the day, hunting, playing or just relaxing in the sun. During winter (when mating), the male’s testes visibly protrude between his hind legs, but these regress and are hard to see in summer.

vixen reindeer monologues eight
(Source: jeffgoode.com)


When lactating, the vixen’s eight teats are obvious, and her belly fur is brick red (it’s normally white or gray). In late winter, the vixen digs out several potential breeding earths.

In rural areas, these will be in banks, at woodland edges or under piles of sticks or dry stone walls. Newborn fox cubs are blind, deaf, Earl Grey in color and weigh about 120g.

White fur appears around the mouth and patches of red on the face. They become indistinguishable from the adults by late September or early October, once their winter coats are fully grown.

From late September, the family group breaks up and some or all of the cubs disperse. They hunt earthworms and insects as soon as they emerge from their earth (at four weeks), but these form only a very small proportion of their diet.

Adults bring back larger mammals and birds for the cubs, but they themselves feed more on small prey such as mice and voles. Both dogs and vixens provision their cubs, who beg for food by rushing over excitedly.

vixen dog voodoo
(Source: www.afashionnerd.com)

They hold their bodies low to the ground, wag their tails rapidly, nuzzle the adult’s mouth and whine. They arch their backs, raise their hackles and hold their heads low while making high-pitched ‘kek-kek-kekking’ noises.

It often crouches or even wriggles on its back at the feet of the dominant animal in a puppy-like appeasement gesture. Cubs start to establish a dominance hierarchy even before they emerge from their earth, when fights are particularly vicious.

As cubs get older, they fight by standing on their hind legs and placing their forelegs on their opponent’s chest. The loser is often chased and may be badly bitten on the rump or base of the tail.

Unless disturbed, cubs stay in their natal earth until early June, though they may abandon it earlier in hot weather. From early June, they lie up above ground at rendezvous sites in dense cover such as a bramble or thorn patch or in piles of rubbish.

A month ago, Craig Mcgettrick and his coworker were clearing waste out of a garden in England when they came across an old mattress. Wanting to do the right thing, Mcgettrick placed the puppies into a cardboard box and took them to an animal rescue center.

But before he dropped the animals off, Mcgettrick posted photos on Facebook. “We were contacted by a lovely lady called Boccie through our Facebook Page ; Boccie had sent a few photos asking if the babies in the photos were indeed fox cubs, ” Hemming ton wrote in a Facebook post.

Boccie advised us that they had been taken to a rescue center in Liverpool mistakenly as puppies, not fox cubs.” Hemming ton got in touch with McDonald, and asked if he could pick the cubs up from the animal rescue center.

Around 4 o'clock the same day, McDonald placed the cardboard box with the fox cubs back in the garden. He also put a hot water bottle into box to keep the babies warm.

From April to May it's common to see month-old cubs developing survival skills above ground during the day. Or you may come across cubs waiting for their mother, as vixens move their litter one by one if they feel the den has been disturbed.

If the cub is in immediate danger or the eyes are closed, move it to a sheltered spot nearby and, if you like, provide some dog food and water. If you find a fox cub on its own with its eyes open, and it looks healthy, monitor from a distance for 24 hours (at least overnight).

If the cub is still there after 24 hours, leave food and water nearby and monitor to see if it's eating and drinking normally. Average stay in a wildlife center is two to three months, which is a long time in a young fox's life.

Cubs taken into captivity must be handled as little as possible, and it's important to note the exact location where they were found in case they can be returned. Foxes mate from December to February and announce the process with loud, far-carrying vocalizations typified by a barking ‘wow-wow-wow’ and an eerie, high-pitched ‘waaaaaaaa’.

Adult coat color is also fully assumed over this period, starting, at least in some animals, at the front and working backwards. Following first emergence, hunting and foraging instincts quickly kick in as the cubs seek out earthworms and insects to supplement a mixture of 'mother's milk' and solid food brought back for them by both the dog fox and vixen.

Relatively large mammals, such as rabbits, and birds are often provided for the cubs, whilst for themselves, the adults apparently favor smaller prey items, such as mice and voles. When not fully weaned, some fox cubs may immediately suckle the returning vixen, whilst whatever prey item has been brought back will be quickly taken and carried away by other, maybe more developed, youngsters, often after a spirited tug-of-war between competing siblings.

If subject to unacceptable levels of disturbance, including by badgers, foxes will move their cubs, particularly very young ones, to another nearby den. Maybe for whatever reason it had been ostracized by the group, or had simply tired of being persecuted by more dominant cubs, or ignored by adults that favored the stronger animals.

Fox cubs are typically fed on relatively large prey items, such as rabbits, birds and, in the New Forest, probably squirrels. Rabbits certainly provide a good feed for multiple hungry youngsters, but whilst the cubs milk teeth remain, cannot easily be consumed without first being pulled apart.

They are now being cared for at the Scottish SPCA's Wildlife Rescue Center where staff have named them Ethan, Frank and Bourne. The rescue comes as the Scottish SPCA launches its #Foxholes campaign, urging people to contact them if they see an injured or orphaned fox cub before approaching or moving it themselves.

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