Tiny red fox gets Big Red care

A red fox kit found in Cortland County with its paw caught in a plastic rat trap is on the mend at Cornell’s Janet L. Swanson Wildlife Hospital, where veterinarians, licensed veterinary technicians and students are helping get the fox back to full health.

The kit, between 4 and 6 weeks old, arrived at the hospital in April after first being taken to a local rehabilitator.


A red fox kit rests comfortably as it recovers at the Janet L. Swanson Wildlife Hospital.

Credit: College of Veterinary Medicine

A red fox kit rests comfortably as it recovers at the Janet L. Swanson Wildlife Hospital.

Each day, the team weighs and assesses the kit to ensure she’s growing and healing. They administer antiparasitic medication and give her a diet of kitten food mixed with formula, checking the paw frequently to track the swelling and look out for any signs of infection.

“She’s fortunate that the trap was plastic,” said Dr. Cynthia Hopf-Dennis, instructor with the Section of Zoological Medicine in the Cornell College of Veterinary Medicine. “Otherwise, her foot would likely have been broken.”

The trap was likely set outdoors, very close to the fox’s den, as kits that age do not travel far.

Every spring, the wildlife hospital sees an uptick in baby wild animals, as females are giving birth and new, inexperienced young ones begin to explore their surroundings.

According to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, red foxes mate for life, and can produce litters of one to 12 kits. While babies are born blind and helpless, they can hunt on their own by 12 weeks.

As the most widely distributed carnivore in the world, red foxes live in nearly every county of New York state. They are also increasingly found in suburban areas, as coyotes, a natural predator, have forced them from wilder habitats.

This means that humans will have more frequent impacts on and encounters with foxes, something of which the Cornell clinical team hopes people are aware.

“While we understand that people want to protect their homes against animal pests, rat traps should stay inside the house, if at all possible,” Hopf-Dennis said.

Once the paw is better, the kit will be raised by a wildlife rehabilitator with other rescued fox kits to ensure she is socialized with her own species. If all goes well, she will be released back to the wild when she is old enough to survive on her own.

Lauren Cahoon Roberts is director of communications for the College of Veterinary Medicine.

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