San Francisco Zoological Gardens
1 Zoo Road
San Francisco, CA 94132
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
Family group (pair + up to 5 offspring).............13 ft. x 13 ft. x 5 ft. tall (4 m. x 4 m. x
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.
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
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).
- 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).
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
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
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.
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.
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.
_____________________ 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
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.