Grey foxes have semi-retractable claws like cats

My research indicates that most foxes do not have retractable claws but that grey foxes do and that they are the only member of the dog family (Canidae) who have this form of anatomy. I know about cats and in cats, strictly speaking, we don’t describe their claws as retractable but as protrusible. This means that the claws are protruded or extended and that their rest position is retracted. I think that it is a more accurate description and one which I have discussed before. The concept comes from Dr Desmond Morris and he is correct.

Gray fox
Gray fox. Image by lamosi from Pixabay
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Other animals that have protrusible claws are civets, genets and viverrids. I have made the presumption, by the way, that the anatomical mechanism is the same for these animals as it is for cats. Some people say that foxes are more like cats than dogs despite being members of the dog family.

Anatomy of a Cat's Claw
Anatomy of a Cat’s Claw. Image: PoC.

So why do foxes have protrusible claws? It must be the same reason as for cats. Cats need to keep their claws sharp to allow them to climb with great proficiency. Cats move vertically a lot of the time. And if the claws are permanently in the down position, they become blunted because of constant contact with the ground. Therefore, foxes must keep their claws sharp to enable them to navigate barriers and climb more efficiently.

Fox climbing a fence
Fox climbing a fence. Photo in public domain.

There is one cat which does not have ‘retractable claws’ and that is the cheetah. Their claws are semi-retractable or partly protruded at all times. The reason for this is that they rely on their speed and ability to change direction rapidly in order to catch prey successfully. Their claws help in these hunting attacks which require great bursts of speed over a short distance, under 400 metres.

There is a photograph on one website which shows a fox climbing a 4’6″ fence to a garden on the other side (see above). This highlights their climbing ability and behaviour which is sometimes similar to that of a cat. They are perfectly at home on rooftops and they do this to avoid others. This is another similarity to domestic cats.

I feed foxes at the end of a right of way behind my home. At the far end is a high gate. I believe that they climb this gate to get to the food. It is a worry for me but the gate is in place to stop burglars.

My research indicates that foxes cannot breed with dogs, indicating their evolutionary separation.


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