Frequently Asked Questions Disease and health risks posed by British foxes

Last Updated: January 18, 2021

Are foxes likely to attack or kill children

The risk of attack to children posed by dogs vastly outweighs the risks posed by foxes

In June 1973 The Sunday Times carried an article warning about the threats posed by urban foxes. However the evidence is that no child in Britain has been killed or severely injured in the 80 years since foxes colonised our cities. There are occasional relatively minor incidents involving foxes and children, invariably described in the press as an “attack”, although it is very unlikely that a fox deliberately seeks out a child to attack it. In contrast, every year children are severely injured, maimed, and killed by dogs, very often their own pets and not just the larger or more dangerous breeds. The risk posed by dogs vastly outweighs the risk posed by foxes.

Can my dog catch mange from foxes?

It can, but this is not common. Even where sarcoptic mange is prevalent in the local foxes, there are relatively few cases in dogs. If you suspect that your dog has caught mange, take it to a veterinary surgeon for diagnosis and treatment. It is relatively easy to treat mange in dogs.

Do the foxes in my garden or their droppings pose a health risk?

There is no known case of people catching diseases from foxes or their droppings in Britain: you are vastly more likely to catch an infection from your pet cat or dog.

Will the foxes in my garden attack my dog or cat?

Foxes avoid dogs and very rarely are in conflict with cats

This is extremely unlikely. Foxes avoid dogs, even small dogs, because many foxes are killed by dogs. So it is much more likely that your dog will attack the fox, not the other way round. Attacks on cats are equally rare: cats and foxes are roughly the same size, and cats are very capable of defending themselves against foxes. So it is hardly surprising that foxes generally give cats a wide berth and flee when threatened by a cat. Occasionally small kittens are killed, but this is rare. Keeping your cat indoors at night greatly reduces the chances of an encounter with a fox. There are also a variety of other benefits: cats kept in at night are healthier and live longer, and kill less of the local wildlife.

Do British foxes have rabies?

No: nor has rabies ever been recorded in British foxes (there are a couple of anecdotal reports but the absence of any confirmed records makes it clear that the disease was never established in the fox population). However, rabies used to be widespread in Britain, and there are even historical records of rabid wolves, such as the one that entered the town of Carmarthen in 1166 and bit twenty-two people, most of whom died of rabies. There are also records of rabies in deer, including in the Richmond Park herd. However, the disease was largely confined to domestic animals, mainly dogs, and was eradicated in 1903, largely by the control of stray dogs and by leashing and muzzling pet dogs. Rabies was briefly reintroduced to Britain in 1918 by servicemen returning from the war and bringing infected dogs with them, but was eradicated again four years later.

Is there a risk of rabies getting into the British fox population?

Since we have had a long history of rabies in British dogs, farm animals and some wildlife without it ever becoming established in the fox population, it seems unlikely that, should a rabid dog enter Britain, it would pose a significant risk to the fox population. Recently rabies has been found in some species of British bats, but this virus is slightly different to the rabies virus found in foxes and it is highly improbable that rabies could transfer from bats to foxes. The most likely way that rabies could enter the British fox population is if someone deliberately released an infected fox they had imported from the continent. This may sound implausible, but there has been at least one blackmail attempt when the threat was to do just this unless the government paid over a large sum of money.