Do Foxes Smell | Scent Marking


Foxes are beautiful creatures, but they can smell pretty bad sometimes. If you’re wondering what a fox smells like, you’ve come to the right place.

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Do Foxes Smell?

Foxes smell because of multiple glands and sacs in their body, around their anus, and at the base of their tail. They use urine, and other chemicals their bodies produce, for scent marking. The smell of fox urine is hard to clean and lasts for weeks.

The glands in their body produce a musky smell. One gland, located just at the base of the tail, is known as the violet gland. During mating season, male foxes will mark females with the violet gland, and urine.  

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A book written in 1603, by Kaspar Schwenckfeld, describes the violet gland as having a smell similar to spring violets, which would help deceive hunters.


Fox Scent Glands

Foxes have many glands and sacs that excrete odor. However, these scents are not used as a defense mechanism, like with a skunk. Foxes use scents as communication, and to mask themselves, as a form of individuality.

They have scent glands in their mouths, in their skin, and around their anus. There are two scent sacs located near the anus, that give off a musky foul odor.

One of the scent glands near the base of the tail is called the violet gland, as described before, it has a musky floral scent. Don’t let the floral reference deceive you though, this is an unpleasant smell.

Foxes use these smells in some complex ways, mostly dealing with communicating. Their bodies produce many chemicals, that they use for scent marking and more.


Fox Scent Marking

Scent marking is a behavior in wild animals, that use chemicals from urine, and scents from glands to mark territories, mark items, and mark areas where food is buried.  

Foxes use glands in their mouths to mark tree branches, and rocks, by gnawing on them and releasing scent. This can be a way to remember where they have been or to mark territory. Foxes are known for marking territory with both urine, and feces.

They will also mark their partners with their glands, as well as with urine. This is how they show that they are mates. It is also a form of dominance. They will mark items with urine, even rocks. Just to show what is theirs.

The smell of fox urine is pungent, and the smells last for a very long time. This is useful when they are scent marking. A fox will always know if another fox is nearby by scent alone.


Communication and Behavior

Foxes are unique animals. Many foxes mate for life and live out their years with their mate. Scent plays an important role in the lives of foxes. They are social within their own small families.

When two foxes meet, they will smell each other’s glands. This is a way for them to show each other their individuality. As bad as fox urine smells, they prefer to use that scent as a mask, to show other foxes who they are.

Foxes will urinate on each other, to combine their scents, and to mark each other as friends, or as partners. When two foxes pair up, their glands and sacs, start to produce heavily, and during those seasons, they smell the most.

Fox Vs Skunk Smell

Skunks are known as the world champions of smelling horrible. However, some people think foxes could give them a run for their money. Both have scent glands, but one uses them differently than the other.

Skunks have scent glands that are used as a defense mechanism, to keep away predators and threats.Foxes use scent marking as a form of communication, to mark territory, and to show status.
Skunks give off the skunky smell that we all know. They spray more scent than foxes and are more pungent.Fox glands also give off a skunky smell, however, it isn’t quite as intense as a skunk.
Skunk urine smells terrible and is used for scent marking by skunks, to show territory and strength.Fox urine also smells bad and is used for marking territory as well as communication.

Other animals have scent glands, such as ferrets and dogs. Nature uses chemicals in several ways. Whether for defense or status, communicating, and utilizing urine/scent, helps animals navigate the world.


Do Pet Foxes Smell?

Some people have foxes as pets or rescue them, so they can live out their days in captivity. Any fox owner knows how smelly a fox can be. They pee on just about everything, food bowls, countertops, outdoor enclosures, inside playpens.

Anytime a fox gets excited, it pees a little, and they get excited a lot! I’ve interviewed a few pet fox owners, and most agree that the smell is one of the hardest things to live with.  

Some fox owners have had luck potty training their foxes, using litter boxes. However, from the information I’ve gathered, it is pretty much impossible to completely housebreak a fox.

They will always want to mark things with urine, it is in their nature to do so. Some foxes smell less than others. Smaller foxes like desert foxes, seem to have a little bit less of a smell, than red foxes.


Tips For Cleaning up After Foxes

Dealing with foxes in captivity can be a chore. You will need to be vigilant in keeping up with cleaning duties, and even then, your efforts will not completely erase the smell. Here are some tips to help clean up.

  • Forget about carpet. Steam cleaning your carpet every time your fox makes a mess will get old really fast, get rid of the carpet.
  • Try to use natural cleaning supplies. Sometimes the simplest things work best, use vinegar, baking soda, and other natural solutions.
  • Get creative with it. Sometimes you have to think outside of the box, use things like essential oils, and citronella, to combat the odors.
  • Try different products. Many products work great for extreme odors, like Angry Orange, and Odoban.

For outdoor enclosures, try Simple Green, with a high volume spray nozzle. You may not ever be able to get rid of the smells totally, but you will be able to manage it.

Whatever costs that come with cleaning up after a fox, is small in comparison with getting to know and love one of these animals up close.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Do fennec foxes smell?

Fennec foxes and some other desert fox species, do not have as bad of an odor as larger foxes. This is due to smaller glands, and body weight. They do still have a musty smell, and their urine smells bad.

Is fox urine dangerous?

Although fox urine has many chemicals in it, it is not dangerous. Fox urine can be used as a deterrent, to keep away small game animals that the fox preys on. Most prey will want to avoid their predator’s territories.

How to get rid of fox scent?

Fox scent is extremely hard to get rid of. You may not be able to get rid of the smell completely. You must manage the smell, using cleaning products, and clean often.

Why do foxes smell?

Foxes smell because of scent glands that are found all over their body, and urine. They use these scents to communicate, to mark territory, and to show status among other foxes.

Chad Fox

Chad Fox is an author and researcher dedicated to bringing reliable information about foxes to the public. He supports animal sanctuary awareness.

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