A common concern for cat owners seems to be the risk of fox attacks, particularly at night.
Many owners are happy to let their cat out to explore during the day but always bring them in in the evening because of the belief that cats are at risk of being attacked by foxes during the night.
We decided to find out if foxes truly are a danger to cats or if the newspaper articles and stories are an exaggeration that has snowballed into this now widespread belief.
The short answer to the questions ‘Do Foxes Eat Cats?’ is that while in very rare cases cats do get injured or even killed by foxes your cat is at far greater risk of being injured by another cat or a car than being attacked (or eaten!) by a fox.
A Bit About Foxes
- Foxes are widespread throughout the U.K.
- They are most active at dusk and during the night.
- Foxes often scavenge for food and eat almost anything.
- Foxes are quite vocal and the common ‘scream’ that unsettles many people is simply a loud contact call (not something being attacked as many people believe when they first hear the noise).
Foxes first colonised suburban areas back in the 1930’s and since then they have thrived with a very stable population.
According to the People’s Trust for Endangered Species there are around 258,000 foxes living in Great Britain, this figure can be split into rural and urban populations with the vast majority of foxes (225,000) living in rural areas.
Although, it should be pointed out that rural and urban populations are of the same species and there is no biological or physical difference between the two.
Fox Vs Cats Statistics
Fox expert Professor Steve Harris stated on a BBC Wildlife Podcast that the average urban fox will kill a cat every 6 years and that around 500 cats live in each fox territory, this means the risk of your cat being attacked by a fox is very, very small.
A survey in northwest Bristol produced similar results, it showed that foxes killed 0.7% of cats annually, with the victims more often than not being young kittens.
Keep in mind that the average male fox weighs around 5.5kg, this means foxes are only a fraction larger than an adult cat. Therefore, if an adult fox takes on an adult cat there is a high risk of the fox getting injured which makes it far more likely that the fox will carry on without confronting, or sometimes even acknowledging, the cat.
All of this information leads us to the same conclusion… You can rest assured that a healthy, adult cat is not at risk when it comes to foxes.
Why Are There Stories of Foxes Killing Cats?
You may be reading this wondering why you’ve heard about so many cats that have been attacked by foxes if the statistics tell such a different story. A key reason for this may be misinterpreted cat deaths.
Foxes are sometimes seen scavenging on the bodies of cats that have died in road traffic accidents or other means but the sighting of a fox and a dead cat is immediately interpreted as the fox killing the cat, which is seldom the case.
These sightings fuel the fire when it comes to the owner’s fear of foxes and the potential dangers they pose to their cats.
When the death of the cat is further investigated, the results usually reveal the death has been caused by a car accident or a fight with another cat etc. not foxes.
Much of the ‘evidence’ of fox attacks on cats are nothing more than anecdotal and are usually fuelled by misunderstandings and misinterpretations.
Another factor that may contribute to the stories, particularly the stories that reveal details of ‘a group of foxes hunting a cat’, is that the only time foxes will be in a group like this is if they are a young group of cubs who are learning about their territory and area.
The group of youngsters may tease the cat but will soon realise a cat is not something to be messed with and will leave them alone. This also happens in the countryside, except it is badgers who are teased and not cats, but nobody jumps to the assumption that the foxes are going to kill the badger. It’s simply youngsters being youngsters and foxes do not hunt in packs so this does not need to be a concern.
Remember, Foxes are Predators
Although, with all of this said it is important to remember that foxes are predators and they often eat animals (such as mice or rabbits) as part of their diet. Therefore, it is conceivable that a fox could attack a cat if they wish, however it is very rare and something that is more likely to occur with small cats or kittens rather than adults.
A fox has an incredibly varied diet that includes insects, earthworms, vegetables and fruit as well as small mammals and even birds. In urban populations foxes tend to scavenge for food from people’s gardens and bins.
VetCompass research showed that 5 in 10,000 cats are involved in fox fights and 9 in 10,000 are suspected to be involved in fox fights. This can be compared to the number of cats with cat bite injuries (541 in 10,000) and the number of cats involved in road traffic accidents (196 in 10,000).
This means that your cat is significantly more at risk of being injured by another cat or a car than being attacked by a fox.
Although foxes are predators, they prey on smaller animals and in general, cats and foxes are very tolerant of each other. It is most common for them to pass by each other without interacting.
Cats Have Good Defences
If a cat feels threatened they will be able to defend themselves with their sharp teeth and claws.
Your cat will also be vocal by hissing and their fur will stand on end to make them appear larger and more threatening to the fox. This can be enough to deter the fox from attacking.
If you have a problem with foxes coming into your garden try a cat repellent – they work just as well on foxes as they do on cats.
If a fox does attack a cat it may be because the cat has ventured too close to their burrow or cubs. Some cats may attack foxes if they feel threatened or intimidated, particularly if the fox has entered the cat’s territory or approaches the cat’s food.
Are Old Cats More at Risk?
If your cat is old, injured or has health problems then they may be more at risk as a fox may see them as an easy meal.
Think of a fox as an opportunist, if they see an easy opportunity for a meal they will take it. This is also true if your cat is young and considerably smaller than an adult fox. If your cat falls into one or more of these categories, use the tips below to help keep them safe:
How to Keep Your Cat Safe from Foxes
- If your cat is weak or unwell, keep them inside while they recover
- If your cat has kittens or your cat is a kitten, keep them inside until they are older and strong enough to defend themselves
- If you see a fox in your garden, make loud noises to deter the fox from the area
- If you’re worried, keep your cat in at night and this will reduce their chances of interacting with foxes
Do Foxes Eat Cats?
We now know that it is very unlikely for a fox to go out of its way to kill a cat but do foxes ever eat cats?
As we mentioned, if a fox sees an opportunity to kill a kitten or a weak, old or sick cat they will do so and yes, they will eat it. Remember that foxes are scavengers so if they come across a dead cat, they will eat that too.
However, cats are not a substantial part of a fox’s diet by any means. If you see a fox eating a cat it should be considered an extreme rarity rather than the norm.
Are Other Pets in Danger?
Smaller pets such as guinea pigs or rabbits are more at risk of being attacked by foxes, this is because they often live outside and are an easy target for passing foxes. They are typically kept in cages or hutches outside and these are usually not secure enough when it comes to protecting the animals against fox attacks.
The north-west Bristol survey we mentioned earlier states that 8% of pets living in outdoor cages were killed by foxes each year. These pets include ducks, hens, guinea pigs, rabbits, etc.
The occurrence of foxes killing smaller pets happens more frequently during spring or early summer when the foxes are raising cubs. Simple precautions are usually enough to protect your smaller pets from these attacks;
- Ensure they are housed in a solid, secure and locked enclosure.
- If the enclosure includes wire make sure it is secure mesh.
- Do not use chicken wire as this is too weak against foxes (foxes can actually bite through chicken wire).
Summary of Key Statistics
- There are 258,000 foxes in the UK
- The average urban fox will kill a cat every 6 years
- Around 500 cats live in each urban fox territory
- The average male adult fox weighs 5.5kg
- 5 in 10,000 cats are involved in fox fights
- 8% of pets living in outdoor cages are killed annually by foxes
Can Foxes Pass Disease onto Pets?
Disease and parasite risks do exist, as they do with all wildlife species, so the best thing to do is keep your cat vaccinated and up to date with preventative medication in order to avoid the spread of disease or parasites.
As foxes are prone to a range of diseases that also occur in domestic dogs, it is more likely for dogs to pick up health issues from foxes than it is for cats to pick up problems.
However, keep in mind the following:
- Fleas – there is a risk of foxes passing fleas onto your cat so make sure they are on flea prevention and treat them immediately if you suspect they have fleas.
- Worms – it is best to keep your pets dewormed to avoid this from being an issue.
- Mange – mange is caused by Sarcoptes scabiei, which is an itch mite that burrows into the skin. This mite can be passed on to people and dogs but can be easily treated.
It is incredibly rare for a fox to kill a cat, however there is a small chance of this happening particularly if your cat is very young, weak, sick or elderly.
A fox may also attack a cat if the cat has come too close to their cubs or burrow.
Overall, a healthy adult cat should be able to defend themselves against a fox if necessary but most of the time foxes and cats pass by each other without interacting.
If you are worried about your cat being attacked by foxes, despite how unlikely it is, you can take precautions such as keeping your cat inside at night when foxes are most active.
Many of the stories of foxes attacking cats are situations that have been misinterpreted and these stories have given foxes a bad name with no real supporting evidence.
Overall, it is extremely unlikely for your cat to be attacked by a fox.
We hope this has helped to clear up the situation and that you now feel confident that your feline friend is safe when it comes to foxes.