We’ve gotten many calls from across the country about foxes with white, black, or otherwise unusual coats, with the question, “Is this someone’s pet?”
Despite their name, red foxes are some of the most variable animals on Earth, naturally coming in color phases including melanistic (black or “silver”), cross (red and black), leucistic (yellow or white with blue or brown eyes), and albino (white with pink of red eyes). Selective breeding through the fur trade created even more exotic colors, such as sapphire, gold, marble, champagne, and lilac.
In some areas, including within Tennessee, holders of special permits can breed and release captive-bred foxes into the wild. These foxes can go on to breed with wild populations, so it’s possible— though rare- for color variations previously found only in captivity to be seen in wild foxes.
The best way to determine if a fox is someone’s escaped or released pet is to look at its behavior rather than its coat. A red fox raised as a pet will usually lack the natural wariness of humans seen in wild foxes. They may approach humans fearlessly looking for food or seem unfazed by large dogs. A pet fox released to the wild may also be underweight since it may be unable to hunt well on its own.
If you’re concerned that a fox in your area may be an escaped or released pet, please touch base with rehabilitators and animal control in your immediate area for guidance identifying the individual and capturing it if needed. If your fox neighbor is simply a wild critter with an usual coat, it’s best to leave it alone to live in freedom.