Skip to Content

How Long Do Foxes Live? | In the Wild vs Captivity

Please share!

Foxes generally live between 1 and 4 years in the wild. Most wild fox deaths occur due to road accidents, illnesses, fights, and starvation. In captivity, foxes can live for 15 years because they don’t have to scavenge for food, cross busy roads, or fight off competitors. 

The rest of this article will discuss how long foxes live in greater detail. It will also discuss why some fox lifespans are so short, how to tell how old a fox is, and where they go to die. 

Why Is a Fox Lifespan So Short?

Fox Peeking From its Den

A fox’s lifespan is so short because they live in the wild and must fend for themselves. Most foxes don’t understand the dangers of busy roads, so they often run out without thinking. Wild foxes are also prone to starvation if they can’t find enough food to eat when scavenging. 

There are different reasons why foxes’ lifespans are so short. Let’s look at some of the most important ones. 

Traffic Accidents

Traffic accidents are one of the most significant causes of death in wild foxes. These accidents often occur when young foxes go out scavenging. Because they don’t have much experience, they don’t understand the dangers of the road. Since there are so many wild foxes in major cities across the world, it’s no surprise that traffic accidents are common. 

When an inexperienced fox runs onto a busy road, there are two main things that can occur:

  • The driver sees the fox but is driving too fast to stop in time. 
  • The driver doesn’t see the fox at all and runs it over. 

As you can imagine, it’s easier to avoid these accidents on less busy roads with slower speed limits. However, sometimes a fox will run onto a quiet road from behind a parked car, which can be challenging to spot if you happen to be driving down said road at the same time. 

Fights and Attacks

Another common cause of death in foxes is fights and attacks. Although foxes usually like to avoid fighting and confrontation, they sometimes have no other choice. When foxes fight each other, it’s usually a territory issue. In many cases, one of the foxes in the fight will die. This is especially frequent with wild foxes. 

Cubs are also highly susceptible to attacks, especially if left alone. Generally, the mother will stay with the cubs for the first few weeks to protect them. However, she may sometimes need to leave the territory, and that’s when a predator can come in and feast on the cubs. 

Some predators that commonly attack (and sometimes kill) foxes include: 

  • Coyotes 
  • Large birds 
  • Bears 
  • Wolves 
  • Pythons 

Starvation

Since foxes need to scavenge for food, finding enough to keep them healthy and full can be challenging. Foxes that roam around cities rely on food scraps and other animals for food. Some of the animals they like to kill and feast on include

  • Rabbits 
  • Birds 
  • Worms 
  • Rodents 

If there is a shortage of these animals in the wild, a fox will find it difficult to survive. They’ll have to eat whatever they can find, which usually isn’t enough to survive for very long. Eventually, many of them will die because of these difficulties. 

Although much of their diet relies on small animals, foxes also eat fruits, vegetables, and other things from trash cans around cities. If they find it hard to get into trash cans and bags, they may starve quickly. 

There is also often a lack of nutritious food in trash cans around cities, which can be detrimental to a fox’s overall health. 

Getting Lost or Trapped

Another common cause of death is getting lost or trapped. When young foxes begin exploring on their own, it’s not uncommon for them to get trapped in different things. Foxes often get trapped in bodies of water, such as swimming pools and lakes.

Although foxes are generally good swimmers, they can sometimes fall into pools or lakes with no way to get out again. This usually occurs when a fox doesn’t notice the water, takes a step, and accidentally falls in. 

Cubs Being Separated From the Vixen Prematurely

The vixen is the cubs’ mother, and she is the protector for the first few months of the cub’s life. If the cubs are separated from the vixen prematurely—for example, if she dies—, they will often need to fend for themselves. 

Since cubs are weaker than adult foxes and have less scavenging experience, they are more susceptible to accidents and predator attacks. This can result in many fox cub injuries and deaths. 

Since cubs are smaller and weaker than adult foxes, they’re easier targets for predators like birds and wolves. 

What Is the Longest Living Fox?

One of the longest-living foxes on record was a mountain species brought to the Idaho zoo in the 1980s. This fox was a female, and she was approximately 23 years old when she passed away. She had to be killed due to illness, so she could have lived even longer than this.

Although this fox is an example of a long lifespan, it’s highly uncommon for them to live this long. In most cases, a lengthy lifespan for a fox is considered 12 years. Anything beyond that is pretty rare. 

How Long Do Foxes Live as a Pet?

Woman Holding a Fennec Fox

As a pet, a fox can live for up to 15 years. On the other hand, a wild fox will only live 2-4 years. Pet foxes have much higher lifespans than wild foxes because they have easy access to food, water, shelter, and medication if needed. They also aren’t as susceptible to predatory attacks. 

When a fox is a pet, it will have a similar lifespan to a domestic dog. As long as the fox is taken care of well and fed enough food and water, it should live a healthy and long life. However, it’s illegal in many states to own a fox as a pet, which makes it an uncommon pet.

One of the primary reasons it’s illegal to keep foxes as pets is that they might have rabies. Many also believe that foxes are naturally supposed to be wild animals and domesticating them goes against their nature. 

However, some zoos keep foxes, and they generally live longer here than they would in the wild. This is because they receive constant care and don’t have to hunt for food. Plus, they usually have plenty of space to roam around without worrying about predators or looking for a meal. 

How Can You Tell How Old a Fox Is?

You can tell how old a fox is by examining its size. Foxes generally reach the standard adult size by the time they’re six or seven months old. If you see a fox that’s smaller than the average, it means it’s most likely younger than six months. A gray mouth area indicates old age. 

Most methods of aging foxes are done through tooth eruption inspection and eye lens inspections. It can be challenging to guess the age of a wild fox because you likely won’t be able to get too close to it, which means you’ll need to make your best guess in most cases. 

However, if a fox is brought to a professional, they will most likely examine the teeth and eyes

Most adult red foxes are between 14 and 20 inches (35.6 and 50.8 cm) tall, so you can assume that a fox shorter than this is a cub or only a few months old. Since most wild foxes don’t live any longer than four years, you can generally assume any fox you see is younger than four. 

Where Do Foxes Go To Die?

Foxes don’t go anywhere specific to die because, in most cases, they die unexpectedly. They usually pass away on the road or in a fight, so they will die wherever they happen to be at that particular moment. Many bodies are never found and decompose. 

You usually need to report a dead fox so that the body can be disposed of properly. But if it dies somewhere quiet where the body won’t be found, it will decompose naturally. 

Foxes usually die when scavenging, and they always do this alone. Since they’re alone, they have no family or group to support them when they die. However, it’s usually a fast death—especially if it’s a traffic accident. 

Do Foxes Mourn Their Dead?

Foxes generally don’t mourn their dead because they don’t even realize they’ve died most of the time. This is because most foxes die alone when they’re out scavenging, so their group will never know what happened.

However, if a fox witnesses a family or group member dying, it may feel some grief. The fox brain isn’t fully understood, so we can’t be sure if they feel real grief. In some cases, foxes will eat the dead bodies of other foxes. Perhaps this means that they don’t mourn too much. 

In fact, sometimes, some fox cubs will fight—and even kill—each other over things like food. Since they are capable of this from a young age, it’s hard to say if they genuinely mourn their dead in the way humans do. 

How Long Do Foxes Live With Their Parents?

Mother fox with her cub in front of a white background

Foxes live with their parents for up to five or six months. After that, they usually separate and find their own groups to live with. However, some foxes are forced to fend for themselves from a younger age if the vixen disappears or dies. 

For the first few weeks, the vixen rarely leaves the cubs alone. Since most foxes live in groups of a few adults, the other adults in the group will bring back food for the vixen and her cubs. 

After the first few weeks, the vixen will begin leaving the cubs for short periods, and eventually, they go out on their own to scavenge. Once they’re mature enough and have gained enough experience, they will leave their group entirely and find their own mates and groups. 

However, during these periods, many of the young foxes die. Because they’re inexperienced, they may end up in a road accident or get trapped somewhere. 

Conclusion

In the wild, it’s rare for foxes to live longer than four years. But in captivity, they can live until they’re 15 years old. They live longer in captivity because they have easy access to all their necessities, such as food and water. 

The most common causes of death in wild foxes include: 

  • Traffic accidents 
  • Fights and attacks 
  • Starvation 
  • Getting lost or trapped 
  • Cubs having to fend for themselves and being easy targets for predators 

In captivity, foxes aren’t subject to any of these dangers.

For more, check out What Is the Most Dangerous Fox? (To Animals and Humans).

Please share!