Are Hyenas Dogs?



Hyenas are very peculiar creatures. That’s why people often misunderstand them. In some ways, they resemble dogs but have many traits similar to cats. So, are hyenas’ dogs, are they cats, or what are they exactly?

Hyenas are neither cats nor dogs. Regardless of having dog-like and cat-like features, hyenas belong to neither of the two families. They do, however, link closer to cats than dogs. Hyenas belong to a unique mammal family called Hyaenidae. They also have a separate evolutionary lineage. 

Let’s look at how hyenas differ from dogs and how these oddly shaped animals are classified. 

Hyena laying in a Safari park in South Africa

Are Hyenas Dogs Or Cats?

Hyenas are relatively large animals with low hindquarters, sloping backs, and short-sized torsos.

They have a mane, a fur coat, and a little, bushy tail. With a height ranging between 37 inches to 60 inches, hyenas weigh around 77 to 176 pounds

Hyenas mostly live in sub-desserts, mountains, forest edges, savannas, woodlands, and grasslands.

In simplest terms, hyenas are neither cats nor dogs. Instead, they belong to a separate category called “Hyaenidae.” 

These animals are one of the most common large carnivores in Africa. 

They have four species:

  1. Aardwolf
  2. Brown hyena
  3. Spotted hyena
  4. Striped hyena

It’s interesting to note that hyenas relate closer to cats than dogs.

Hyenas and cats belong to the same Suborder, Feliformia. This category includes cat-like carnivores like mongooses, cats, hyenas, and viverrids. Dogs on the other hand are apart of the Family Canidae.

As years passed, people began to mistakenly classify hyenas as belonging to the dog family because of their keen hunting skills and similar appearance.

Hyena surrounded by vultures eating a carcass

How Are Hyenas Different From Dogs? 

Though people often mistake hyenas for being like dogs, there are some apparent differences between the two animals.

Hyenas have longer forelegs and shorter hind legs as compared to dogs. That gives them a humped or sloped posture. Their jaws are much more robust than dogs’ and easily crush bones. 

Hyenas have longer teeth than other canines. Their necks are also much shorter, with skulls larger than dogs.

In most cases, the alpha male dominates a group of dogs. Yet, for hyenas, the clans are dominated by a matriarch; a female leads the clan. That’s because females are usually heavier and larger than males.

Finally, hyenas and dogs have entirely different origins. Hyenas descend from civets and weasel-like creatures that lived 22 million years ago. 

This group of animals relates more closely to cats than to dogs. 

A spotted hyena

Hyena And Dog Similarities

Despite the differences mentioned above, many people think hyenas are the same as dogs. 

The main similarity between both animals is their posture and body shape. The dog-like appearance of hyenas is clearly explained through convergent evolution. 

Since dogs and hyenas have the exact ecological needs, their bodies tend to be similar. 

Both hyenas and dogs have extraordinary bone-crushing abilities, extra-large sets of teeth, hard skulls, and strong jawbones. 

Hyenas do not precisely act like dogs but show some similar traits. Both are skilled hunters and hunt with their teeth as their primary weapon.

Like dogs, hyenas also hunt for prey in the form of packs. Since both species cannot climb trees, they prey on the ground. 

Hyena Classification

Hyenas are a part of the Mammalia class in Kingdom Animalia. 

So, hyenas are mammals, the animal kingdom’s most evolved species. These warm-blooded animals are vertebrates that have hair and backbones. 

What separates this class from the others is that the females give birth to offspring and produce milk to feed the young. 

Under the mammal category, hyenas come under Carnivora, the meat-eating family. This family includes dogs, bears, cats, etc. 

The Carnivora category is the fifth largest in the mammal order. Members of this family have unique features like the carnassial pair of teeth, first lower molar, and sizable upper molar. These animals use these teeth to cut through tendons and meat. 

The Carnivora category has two further divisions; Feliformia, cat-like carnivores, and Caniformia, dog-like carnivores. 

The Feliformia category has seven families, one of which is the Hyaenidae. That’s the one hyenas belong to. 

This family has four hyena types: striped, spotted, brown hyenas, and aardwolves. 

2 hyena standing on a hill

Interesting Facts About Hyenas

Hyenas are, no doubt, intelligent creatures. Here are some interesting facts you probably didn’t know.

1. The female hyena rules the female clan. 

Alpha females lead the pack and do most of the hunting. They also design the social structure and raise their little ones. 

2. Hyenas are very intelligent mammals.

So much so that they can even count. They determine the number of hyenas in their clan. Hyenas will also have a consensus before adding someone to their pack.

3. Hyenas have mighty jaws.

They can bite a force of more than 1,100 psi which is enough to crush bones.

4. Hyenas are very vocal animals.

They laugh loud enough to be heard from almost 5 kilometers away. With this sound, they can alert others when they find a food source. They also make howling and wailing calls. 

Final Thoughts On Hyena Classification

Hyenas aren’t dogs, and neither are they cats. Even though they look like dogs and act somewhat similarly, they surprisingly link more with cats. 

The last feline ancestor, however, was as old as 30 million years ago. So, hyenas have had enough time to develop their own traits and characteristics that set them apart from the other groups.


What Is The Closest Relative Of The Hyena?

Hyenas relate more closely to cats. Mongooses, cats, Malagasy mongooses, and viverrids (e.g., binturong, genets, and civets) are some of the closest living relatives of hyenas. 

Can You Keep A Hyena As A Pet? 

Hyenas are not suitable pets because they are very aggressive animals. Adult hyenas are very likely to become aggressive and attack humans. Yet, young hyenas can be good pets for experienced people who understand their behaviors. It’s best to rather get a domesticated animal as a pet, though.

Are Hyenas Dangerous?

Hyenas are very dangerous, especially for humans. With a 1,100 psi bite force, they can easily crush human bone. Hyenas are also very territorial.

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