David Anderson
San Francisco Zoological Gardens
1 Zoo Road
San Francisco, CA 94132

Melissa Rodden
National Zoological Park
Conservation and Research Center
1500 Remount Road
Front Royal, VA 22630


The family Canidae consists of approximately 13 genera and 35 species. Being broadly adapted carnivores, canids are found in a wide array of environments that range from arctic to tropical, and in social groups that range from solitary to gregarious.

   For purposes of this document, small canids are defined as those species belonging to the following genera:

Arctic fox, Alopex lagopus

Raccoon dog, Nyctereutes procyonoides

Bat-eared fox, Otocyon megalotis

Bush dog, Spethos venaticus

Gray foxes, Urocyon sp.

True foxes, Vulpes sp. (including Fennecus)

Neotropical and crab-eating foxes, Duiscyon sp.(including Atelocynus and Cerdocyon)

   Although the genera listed above have many characteristics in common, it is difficult to develop husbandry standards that meet all their needs. The authors have made every attempt to include exceptions to these standards but it is suggested that their needs be addressed on a species-by-species basis.


   The environmental requirements listed in this section reflect minimum standards for
   husbandry of small canids. Requirements unique to certain groups are listed separately.

     1.Temperature - Small canids are widely distributed and while environmental
        temperatures for a few species range from extremes of desert heat (fennec) to arctic
        winters (arctic fox), most species are found in temperate climates. Overall canids can
        withstand a good deal of climatic fluctuation although temperature extremes should be
        avoided. Enclosures should provide shelter from heat, cold and precipitation. Where
        necessary, heated concrete pads may be used to provide supplemental heat to outside

     2.Lighting - If unmolested by humans, canids may be active both day and night but most
        species are primarily nocturnal or crepuscular in their habits. When housed indoors, a
        day:night cycle of 12 hours of light and 12 hours of darkness, or one that matches
        natural environmental conditions, is advised. Canids with no access to natural sunlight
        should receive daily supplements of vitamins A and D. Fluorescent lighting fixtures
        using full spectrum light bulbs are also recommended for indoor enclosures.

     3.Ventilation - For indoor enclosures, an air exchange of 5 - 8 per hour is
        recommended. Rela-tive humidity requirements are variable but a range of 30 - 70 %
        is usually acceptable.

     4.Water - Fresh water should be available at all times, and containers should be cleaned
        and disinfected daily. Containers should be located to prevent rapid freezing or

     5.Sanitation. - Hard-surface flooring and shelves should be cleaned and disinfected
        daily, and "furniture" should be cleaned daily, as needed or on a regular basis. Food
        containers, if used, should be cleaned and disinfected daily. Dirt flooring and outdoor
        enclosures should be raked and spot-cleaned daily.

     6.Exhibit size - The following exhibit dimensions are minimum and every effort should be
        made to allow for larger enclosures.

        One or two animals..........................................6.5 ft. x 6.5 ft. x 5 ft. tall (2 m. x 2 m.
        x 1.5 m.)
        Three animals .................................................10 ft x 10 ft. x 5 ft tall (3 m. x 3 m. x
        1.5 m.)
        Family group (pair + up to 5 offspring).............13 ft. x 13 ft. x 5 ft. tall (4 m. x 4 m. x
        2 m.)

        Small canids are inquisitive and constantly explore their environment. An enclosure
        that provides a variety of natural or man made objects (logs, tree limbs, stumps or
        vertical structures for climbing and scent marking) will improve their quality of life.
        Grass, packed earth or similar substrate is preferred, especially for those species that
        like to dig. Physical and visual barriers allowing temporary escape from conspecifics
        and humans are highly desirable.

     7.Diet - The majority of small canids are omnivorous and feed on small mammals, birds
        and their eggs, insects, fruits and grains, frogs, lizards, and carrion. Small canids adapt
        readily to commer-cially prepared carnivore diets, particularly those made for canids.
        Medium-sized bones or rawhide "bones" should be offered periodically to prevent
        tooth decay and gingivitis. Small canids should be fed once or twice daily; fast days
        are not recommended.

     8.Social - Most adults may be kept by themselves, in pairs or occasionally in trios (one
        male and two females). If young are present, it is generally recommended that
        juveniles be removed prior to the birth of subsequent offspring.

     9.Veterinary care - Services of a veterinarian experienced with canids should be
        available for routine care and emergencies. Fecal exams should be performed at least
        semi-annually. Heartworm preventative should be given in all heartworm endemic
        areas. Annual vaccinations against rabies, parvovirus and canine distemper should be
        given but may be dangerous in non- domestic species. Brands that have proven safe
        and effective include Fromm-D (Solvay Animal Health) for canine distemper, Imrab
        (Pittman-Moore) for rabies and KF-11 (Fort Dodge) for parvovirus.

                       SPECIAL REQUIREMENTS

   Small canids are very diverse and some species require variation in their diet, housing and/or
   social grouping. The following specializations should be taken into account when developing
   proper husbandry.

     1.Diet variations.

          A.Gray and crab-eating foxes - Gray and crab-eating foxes are reported to be
             more omnivorous than most other species. In captivity, they fare better when
             fed diets that contain a high proportion of cereals and fruits (Ewer, 1973).

          B.Raccoon dog - In the wild, this species' diet is centered around aquatic
             species, e.g. fish, frogs, water beetles and mollusks in addition to rabbits and
             rodents (Ewer, 1973).

          C.Arctic and Colpeo fox, Dusicyon culpaeus, and bush dog - These three species
             are reportedly more carnivorous than most small canids (Nowak and Paradiso,
             1983; Langguth, 1975.

     2.Housing variations - The habits of the following species differ somewhat from the
        norm. While the furnishings listed below are not absolutely required for survival, they
        are recommended for improving the quality of life.

          A.Gray fox - Gray foxes are the most arboreal canid and thrive when provided
             with vertical climbing structures. There is also evidence that Corsac foxes,
             Vupes corsac, and Bengal foxes, V. bengalensis, enjoy climbing (Nowak and
             Paradiso, 1983).

          B.Fennec and bat-eared foxes - Fennec and bat-eared foxes are excellent
             diggers; care must be taken to ensure that enclosures are escape-proof.

          C.Bush dog and raccoon dog - Bush dogs enjoy swimming, as evidenced by their
             partially webbed toes. An enclosure containing a pool or stream is desirable.
             The aquatic-based diet of raccoon dogs indicates that this species may also
             enjoy water.

     3.Social considerations - Bush dogs, fennec, and pallid, corsac and sand foxes are
        reported to be more gregarious than most other small canids (Nowak and Paradiso,
        1983; Porton et al, 1987). Fennecs can be housed in family groups. In addition,
        fennecs may produce a second litter in 2 or 3 months if the first is lost. Bush dogs may
        also be housed in family groups; in the wild , they are thought to live in groups in the
        wild. Although in the wild juveniles may remain with the family and perhaps assist in
        care of subsequent litters, caution should be exercised in captive situations when
        space is limited.

                       ADDITIONAL REFERENCES

   Brady, C.A. 1978. Reproduction, growth and parental care in crab-eating foxes,
   Cerdocyon thous, at the National Zoological Park, Washington. INT. ZOO YEAR.

   Ewer, R.F. 1973. THE CARNIVORES. Cornell University Press, NY 494 pp.

   Fowler, M. 1986. ZOO AND WILD ANIMAL MEDICINE, 2nd edition. W.B. Saunders
   Co., Philadelphia.

   Langguth, A. 1975. Ecology and evolution in South American canids. In: THE WILD
   CANIDS, M. Fox, ed. P.p. 192-206., Van Nostrand Reinhold, NY. 508 pp.

   Mann, P.C.; Bush, M. Appel; M, Beehler, B.A. and R.J.K. Montali 1980. Canine
   parvovirus infection in South American canids. J. AMER. VET. MED. ASSOC. 177:

   Montali, R.H.; Bartz, C.R.; Teare, A.J.; Allen, J.T.; Appel, M.J.G. and M. Bush 1983.
   Clinical trials with canine distemper vaccines in exotic carnivores. J. AMER. VET. MED.
   ASSOC. 183:1163-1167.

   _____________________ and M. Bush 1985. Parvovirus. P.p. 419-428 In: VIRUS
   INFECTIONS OF CARNIVORES, M. Appel, ed. Elseivier Science Publisher B.V.

   ________________________________ 1985. Canine distemper virus Pp. 437-443. In:
   VIRUS INFECTIONS OF CARNIVORES, M. Appel, Ed. Elsevier Science Publications
   B.V., Amsterdam.

   Neuvonen, E.; Veijalainen and JH. Kangas 1982. Canine parvovirus infection in housed
   raccoon dogs and foxes in Finland. VET. REC. 100:448-449.

   Nowak, R.M. and J.L. Paradiso 1983. WALKER'S MAMMALS OF THE WORLD, 4th
   Edition. The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, P.p.:930-963.

   Porton, I.J.; Kleiman, D.G. and M.D. Rodden 1987. A seasonality of bush dog
   reproduction and the influence of social factors on the estrus cycle. J. MAMMAL.