Squirrel lifespan explained: how long do squirrels live?

how long do squirrels live
In the wild, squirrels generally have a life expectancy of six to twelve years. In captivity, squirrels typically live for ten to twelve years.

How long do squirrels live?

The lifespan of a squirrel depends on the type of squirrel and if it lives in the wild or captivity.

The average lifespan of squirrels is longer in captivity because they aren’t exposed to diseases as often as in the wild. They also receive consistent meals and are protected from predators.

What factors affect how long squirrels live?

In the wild, squirrels sometimes fight each other. Squirrels are territorial and solitary creatures. They will fight another squirrel that is invading their space. Mother squirrels will attack to defend their baby squirrels.

During mating season, male squirrels will fight each other to establish dominance and to win the female. These fights can sometimes lead to death, a danger squirrels in captivity don’t face. 

Squirrels are small mammals that larger mammals often eat. Since adult squirrels are already so small, to begin with, baby squirrels and young squirrels are even smaller.

Newborn squirrels are about one inch long. Their small size makes it challenging to defend themselves against predators, so squirrels often don’t live past their first year.

baby squirrel close up

Once squirrels reach two years old, they are more likely to survive their expected lifespan since they have learned how to live independently and deal with predators. 

Once squirrels reach maturity, they can better defend themselves using quick reflexes, excellent eyesight, and speed. Squirrels are also very skilled climbers and jumpers. Squirrels rarely attack a predator but are likely to win by running away. 

Squirrels in urban areas die from humans on purpose or by accident. Squirrels get hit by cars while they are crossing the road. Squirrels also feed on carrion on streets, so they may get hit while eating.

Sometimes humans hunt squirrels as game and shoot them. Humans kill squirrels to get them off their property by shooting them, poisoning them, and drowning them.

Squirrels sometimes accidentally kill themselves. They can electrocute themselves by chewing through wires and cables. Squirrels love climbing, but falling from high heights can be deadly.

What health problems do Squirrels have?

Just like any wild animal, squirrels face a series of deadly health complications:


Animal distemper virus is one of the most common diseases that squirrels suffer from. This disease is fatal and has killed whole colonies of gray squirrels.

Squirrel pox is another deadly disease that gray squirrels are lucky to be immune to.

Ground squirrels suffer from flesh-fly Neobellieria citellivora laying live larvae on them. This infestation on their skin is deadly and kills ground squirrels after a few days.

Squirrels often carry ticks and fleas. But, these parasites aren’t deadly unless they transmit the disease Bartonella.


A squirrel’s incisors, which are their front teeth, grow continuously throughout life. Broken teeth and teeth loss can eventually result in death since the squirrel will struggle to eat.

Malocclusion is a dental condition that can lead to starvation since it affects tooth alignment. 


Squirrels use their peripheral vision to be aware of predators. Their excellent vision helps them survive many situations. As squirrels age, they start to lose sight.

Squirrels can also catch eye infections that decrease their ability to see. These eye problems make squirrels more vulnerable to predator attacks and, therefore, more likely to die.

Squirrel on a wood rail

Which squirrel lives the longest?

Out of the most common squirrels in North America, fox squirrels live the longest in the wild, and eastern gray squirrels live the longest in captivity. 

Below is an itemized list of the most common species of squirrels and how long they typically live in the wild and captivity: 

  • California ground squirrels can live six years in the wild and ten in captivity. 
  • Eastern fox squirrels are tree squirrels that live for eight to eighteen years in the wild and eighteen years in captivity. 
  • Eastern gray squirrels are a type of tree squirrel that live up to twelve years in the wild and twenty years in captivity. 
  • Red squirrels are tree squirrels that can live up to five years in the wild and eight years in captivity.
  • Southern flying squirrels are a type of tree squirrel that can live up to five years in the wild and ten years in captivity. 

Ground squirrels live for about two to four years in the wild.

Female ground squirrels live longer than male ground squirrels. This is because mother squirrels often stay safe in their burrow with their babies while the male squirrels hunt for food.

This is the case for many types of squirrels, not just ground squirrels. In the majority of squirrel species, female squirrels live longer.

Can squirrels live 20 years?

Squirrels in captivity are more likely to live twenty years than squirrels in the wild.

Fox squirrels and gray squirrels are the types of squirrels that have been proven to be the most capable of living that long. Because of all the potential dangers of living in the wild, it is improbable that a wild squirrel will live to be twenty years old.

The oldest squirrel on record was a grey squirrel in captivity at Wisconsin’s Racine Zoo. The gender of the squirrel is unknown, but it lived to be twenty-three years old.


Whitney is a graduate of Georgetown College and a current graduate student at the University of the Cumberlands. She resides in the beautiful state of Kentucky, which she has always appreciated and endeavors to maintain the land's well-being. A lover of animals and the earth, Whitney strives to communicate accurate information that will help readers learn new information, ideas, and become informed stewards of the natural world.

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