Modern, intensive fox breeding implies a human-animal relationship but human contact causes stress in farm-bred blue foxes. Handling is a common part of routine farming practices, particularly during the breeding season. The purpose of this study was to determine how handling influences certain morphometric and hormonal parameters of adrenocortical and ovarian function and fertility in pregnant blue foxes and whether these effects are mediated through an increase in plasma concentrations of cortisol. Blue fox females were subjected to a 1-min daily-handling treatment in the last trimester of pregnancy (term = 52 days). Plasma concentrations of ACTH, cortisol, progesterone, oestradiol and testosterone, as well as the in vitro adrenal and gonadal production of steroids were measured by radio-immuno assay in control (C, no. = 6) and handled (H, no. = 7) vixens on days 47 to 48 of pregnancy. In addition, the number of viable and dead foetuses, body, adrenal and ovarian weights in pregnant foxes and body weights of their viable foetuses were recorded. Handling increased plasma concentration of cortisol (C: 6·8 (s.e. 1·6) ng/ml v. H: 22·8 (s.e. 5·9) ng/ml, P < 0·05) as well as in vitro adrenal production of cortisol. In addition, handling decreased the body (C: 7·40 (s.e. 0·48) kg v. H: 6·24 (s.e. 0·13) kg, P < 0·05) and ovarian (C: 3·45 (s.e. 0·26) g v. H: 2·73 (s.e. 0·17) g, P < 0·05) weights of pregnant vixens and also the body weight of viable foetuses (C: 59·1 (s.e. 0·9) g, no. = 73 v. H: 50·6 (s.e. 1·2) g, no. = 58, P < 0·01). Handling did not cause any changes in adrenal weight, plasma concentrations of progesterone and oestradiol or in vitro ovarian steroid production. It is concluded that persistent handling of pregnant blue foxes is a mild stressor, which results in an increase in plasma concentration and adrenal production of cortisol and reduces maternal and foetal body weights.