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  • Post last modified:August 21, 2023
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Are Hyenas Closer To Dogs Or Cats?

Are hyenas closer to dogs or cats? Cat vs Hyena vs Dog

The only thing people know about the hyena is that it laughs, which is not precisely accurate, thanks to how anyone who laughs a lot in this world is compared to this creature. 

A lesser-known animal, it still has some lovers, of which one is probably you, which is why you have come here with the exciting question:

Are hyenas closer to dogs or cats? Well, here is an article that answers this question for you. 

Are Hyenas Closer To Dogs Or Cats?

Hyenas are closer to cats than dogs, yet they do not belong to the same family as cats. They share a recent common ancestor, though, and this makes them closely related. The two diverged 30 million years ago to form separate families. 

Hyenas belong to a separate family of mammals known as the Hyaenidae. While they have some similarities to both dogs and cats, they are still quite distinct, with their own evolutionary lineage.

Anyway, you can look at the table below to understand more about the relationship between the hyena and the cat. 

HabitatAfrica and AsiaWorldwideWorldwide
Height28-35 inches6-33 inches9-12 inches
Weight40-190 lbs3-200 lbs5-20 lbs
Teeth34 teeth, strong jaws for crushing bones42 teeth, adapted for tearing meat and grinding30 teeth, sharp and adapted for slicing meat
Average Lifespan12-25 years10-13 years12-15 years
Coat ColorTan, gray, or brownWide varietyWide variety
Social StructureHighly social, live in clansSocial, live in packs or with humansMostly solitary, some socialization with humans
Hunting StrategyScavenging & huntingHunting, herdingStalking, pouncing
CommunicationVocalizations, scent marking, body postureVocalizations, body language, scentVocalizations, body language, scent

Where Do Hyenas Come From?

They came from the cat group and are now mainly found in Africa, though you even find them in some parts of Asia. Some of them are found in Arabia, and some of them are in India. 

They first originated in Eurasia’s jungles and looked like modern weasels. That was about 22 million years ago. 

Today, they are a distinct family within the Carnivora category. Their teeth developed in time to help them rip and tear flesh. 

Hyena’s closest ancestor is the mongoose and the civet.

Must Read: Are Foxes Closer to Dogs or Cats?

Hyenas Vs. Cats: Similarities & Differences

Hyenas Vs. Cats: Close-up image of a hyena and a cat

Since hyenas are closer to cats, they are sure to share some interesting similarities, which you would want to look at. And so, here you go. 


  • The Skeletal Structure: This may not be true concerning their entire bodies but just the ear, but this can say a lot. 
  • The Tongue: Felines have a rough tongue, and the hyena has it too. These are tongues with sharp spines to help rip flesh and also groom. And yes, the hyena, like the cat, loves to groom herself.
  • Carnivorous Diet: Both cats and hyenas are primarily carnivorous, which means their diet primarily consists of meat. 


And while they share the above similarities, the hyena also has a few characteristics that make him different from the cat. They are as follows. 

  • Inability to Climb: Unlike cats, hyenas cannot climb trees. This one is only good for laughing.
  • The Anatomy: Hyenas are generally larger than cats, more like dogs. In addition, their tails are much bushier, like the fox. 
  • Reproductive System: Female hyenas have a unique reproductive system with a pseudo-penis, which is more masculinized than that of females in most mammal species. Cats have typical mammalian reproductive systems.

Hyenas Vs. Dogs: Similarities & Differences

Hyenas Vs. Dogs: Close up shot of a hyena and a dog.

Okay, you saw how the hyenas are similar to and yet different from the cat. Let us now come to the dog that most find the animal to be so closely related to. 


  • The Teeth: The teeth of a hyena are more than just a little like a dog’s. Hyenas have canines, which they use more than their claws. Like dogs, hyenas have bone-crushing teeth. 
  • The Behavior: The hyena may not be feline like the cat. On the contrary, he is much more aggressive than the dog, more so when it comes to safeguarding his pack. They are more robust too.
  • Speed: Both the hyena and the dog run at a similar rate. A cat, on the other hand, is much slower. 


Yet, all said and done, the hyena is very different from the dog, and here are a few reasons why.

  • The Legs and Neck: Compared to the canine, these body parts are more prominent in the hyena. Also, the hyena has longer fangs. 
  • Size: Hyenas are not just more prominent than the cat but much bigger than the dog and more powerful.
  • Strength: Dogs are faithful and kind. Hyenas can be too, but their full size and deadly bite make them much more aggressive. 
  • Aggression: While dogs play with each other, hyenas fight each other. This is more so about their food. Hyenas tend to compete with each other, unlike canines, who generally hunt together. 

Why Do Hyenas Look Like Dogs?

Though belonging to the Felidae, the hyena is not feline like the cat, the leopard, or the tiger. Poise and elegance are not their characteristics. 

And this is one of the many reasons they are often mistaken for belonging to the dog family. 

The truth here is that these cat-like tree dwellers began to develop the dog’s physical features and behavioral characteristics over time, mainly as a way of adapting to the environment they were found in. 

And this is how and why hyenas began to look and act like dogs. 

The Dog That Looks Like Hyenas

African wild dog. (African painted dog)

African wild dog, also known as the African painted dog, closely resembles the hyena by way of his looks, more so the jaws and the muzzles. However, he is weaker than the hyena. 

He can run fast, though, covering 37 miles per hour. Like the hyena, he lives with the other dogs in a pack and has powerful hunting skills. 

However, as the name suggests, this large dog can be hazardous and is more of a wild dog than a domestic one. 

Can Hyenas Breed With Dogs & Cats?

The truth is that hyenas cannot breed with dogs or cats, considering that all three come from three separate families. This means they have genetic traits that do not match animals from both families, making it impossible for them to cross-breed. 

Ultimately, we can say that even though the hyena is closer to the cat, this kinship is not enough to consider the two of them mating. 

What Animals Are Hyenas Related To Actually?

Close-Up image of a mongoose and civet.

Mongooses and civets are two animals that are closely related to the hyena. The hyena and the mongoose belong to the California family and have similar characteristics. 

These hyenas are often referred to as giant mongooses. 

Civets, on the other hand, belong to the Viveridae family and are closely related to cats. At the same time, it is also closely associated with the hyena, though it is smaller and much leaner. 

Recommended Reading: Are Bears Closer To Dogs Or Cats?

7 Animals That Look Like Hyenas

The hyena has a lot of lookalikes in the animal kingdom, yet, at the end of the day, it is a unique species by itself. Here are some animals that resemble the hyena. Please have a look at them. 

1. African Civet

Native to sub-Saharan Africa, the African Civet (Civettictis civetta) is a nocturnal mammal with short fur, notably marked with white and black patterns.

Civets and hyenas have similar body shapes, which is why they resemble each other so much. It is a solitary animal known for producing a musky secretion called civetone, which is often used in perfume manufacturing.

Look at them, and you will agree that they both look almost the same. 

2. Wolves 

These are large animals, but the difference ends there. Look more profound, and you are sure to find some resemblance between the wolf and the hyena (besides the fact that wolves can never make a good pet). 

Both carnivorous scavengers hunt in packs, looking for meat that other animals have killed. Wolves are social animals that display complex and cooperative behaviors which aid in hunting and survival.

3. Genet

One glance at this lean, slender carnivore’s long tail and elongated neck will convince you of its place on this list.

Physically they look like cats and are spotted like hyenas. However, genets belong to the Viverridae family. Genets are arboreal and have retractable claws that aid in climbing.

4. Fox

This animal may be much smaller than the hyena but is quite similar to it in communicating with other foxes. Like the fox, the hyena, too, uses a variety of vocalizations to share with others. 

What makes this animal so similar to the hyena is the time of day in which he likes to hunt, not the day, because both foxes and hyenas like to hunt at night. 

The most common species, the red fox (Vulpes vulpes), holds the largest geographical range among all carnivores.

5. Jackal

Belonging to the candid family, jackals are small and slender, though not as small and slim as the fox. This animal is so similar to the hyena because he loves to hunt in a group. 

There are three main species: the golden jackal, side-striped jackal, and black-backed jackal. These opportunistic omnivores are highly adaptable and can thrive in various habitats, from open savannas to dense forests

6. Coyote

Coyotes are known for their distinctive vocalizations and are highly adaptable, adjusting their hunting techniques and behaviors based on the environment they inhabit.

While the coyote belongs to the candid family, he is like the hyena, adaptable and surviving in almost any environment. They are social too and like to hunt, another similarity between the two animals. 

7. Mongoose

Small, cute, and highly adaptable, this one is very much like the hyena. 

They like warm and humid climates, though, and just like the hyena, they are found in only some parts of the world. 

They can climb trees, swim in the water, and are good hunters. Like the hyena, they belong to the suborder called the California. 

And then finally, of course, we don’t have to add the cat to the list, after all, that you have read, since you are convinced and know all about it. 

Can Hyenas Be Domesticated?

Aha, so you want to bring one home now, don’t you? Then, be prepared for someone laughing in your home all day. 

But then, on a serious note, consider these are already endangered species. 

And so, this is why you cannot blame the countries where adopting them is considered illegal, can you? 

In addition, know that these are less affordable than dogs and cats because they are rare. 

Apart from that, the hyena can make a pretty good pet, laughing in your home and always a playful and excellent companion. 

Types Of Hyenas: How Many Species Of Hyenas Are There? 

Hyenas can be classified into four broad categories, mainly based on their appearance and a few other characteristics. While we won’t look at each of them, here is a brief look at the four hyenas that make this small list. 

1. Spotted hyena (Crocuta crocuta)

Spotted hyena and its two cubs.

This one looks like a dog and is found in much of Africa. They are opportunistic feeders known for their excellent hunting tools. 

As the name says, she has spots and rounded ears that differentiate her from the other hyenas on this list. Finally, this is the culprit that has associated all hyenas with their laughter. 

2. Brown hyena (Parahyaena brunnea)

Brown hyena drinking water.
Image source: Wikimedia Commons

This one is the rarest of all the four you have on this list and is found only in some countries of Southern Africa. 

As the name suggests, it is brown with long fur, giving it a fuzzy appearance. 

3. Striped hyena (Hyaena hyaena)

Striped Hyena Standing on Brown Grass

This is the smallest of all the four hyenas on this list. And they are nocturnal, hiding themselves when there is light and mainly coming out at night. In other words, he is more of a coward, which makes him rather cute. 

4. Aardwolf (Proteles cristata)

An aardwolf standing in grass
Image source: Wikimedia Commons

Also known as the Maanhaar jackal, this one is mainly found in Eastern and Southern Africa. While they look like the brown hyena with their yellowish fur, they are much smaller. 

And these are the four types of hyenas you have worldwide, making a relatively small list. Nevertheless, they are easier to remember, making boasting of what you know easier if the hyena is your favorite animal. 

The Verdict: Are Hyenas Closer To Dogs Or Cats?

Hyenas are closer to cats, period. True, they look a lot like dogs, but reading so far will give you the big picture, showing you how much they resemble cats, save that the cat purrs surreptitiously and doesn’t laugh like the loud and bubbly hyena. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Q1. Are hyenas related to mongoose?

Ans: Yes, hyenas are more closely related to mongooses and meerkats than to dogs or cats.

Q2. Are hyenas omnivores?

Ans: Yes, hyenas are omnivores, feeding both on flesh and plant matter.

Q3. Wild dogs vs hyenas: Can any dog beat a hyena?

Ans: Unlikely, hyenas are known to be more powerful and better fighters than most wild dogs.

Q4. Wild cat vs hyena

Ans: Different scenarios can occur but mostly, hyenas are larger and stronger than most wild cats.

Q5. Are hyenas dangerous?

Ans: Yes, hyenas are potentially dangerous, given their power and the diseases they could carry.

Q6. What are hyenas scared of?

Ans: Hyenas can be afraid of larger predators like lions and human beings.

Q7. Are hyenas canine or feline?

Ans: Hyenas are neither canine nor feline. They belong to their own family, Hyaenidae.


Hey there, pet lovers! I'm Pratik, a lifelong animal lover, and pet care expert. My passion for animals began at a young age and has only grown stronger over the years. Through my blog, I hope to share my knowledge and expertise with other pet owners and provide them with valuable information on pets.