Are Hyenas Dogs?

No – no, they are not. Dogs are dogs, and hyenas, well, are just that – hyenas. They are neither dogs nor cats. Actually, they belong to Hyaenidae, which is a unique mammal family. However, it is essential to note that hyenas are more related to the cat than dogs. The take-home bit is that they have their distinctions and follow their lineage of evolution.

If you pay attention to the behavior and mannerism of a hyena, you will realize that they are strange creatures. They kind-a look like dogs, and sometimes, they even act like canines. Other times, they work like felines. The unique animals have gotten into the mind of people globally for a long time, and many people don’t know much about them. In this article, you will find out about hyenas – we’ll talk about their identity and bring you all the attention. Keep reading and find out more.

The Different Types Of Hyenas

In terms of existence, hyenas have been around for longer than you may imagine. At one time, hyenas roamed all over the earth, and they were in two types – the bone-crusher and the dog-lookalike. Each of the classes has subtypes, and they all occupied different ecological spaces.

As compared to canines, hyenas are older. However, the first canid species competed with and outdone the dog-lookalike hyena. On top of that, climate changes meant that they were driven to extinction.

Today, animal experts have put down four different hyena species – the spotted, the stripped, the brown, and the aardwolf. Let’s now look at the specifics of each of them.

1. The Spotted Hyena

When you think about hyenas, this is the one that comes to mind. Actually, many people only know about this species and not another other. People give all their ‘hyena’ attention to the spotted species because of their population – they are the most numerous of all the hyena species. Also, they get to be seen a lot because of their encounters and engagements with African lions, which often turn out dramatically.

These spotted hyenas are descendants of the bone-crushers, and the one unique thing about them is their hunting and killing abilities – they take down their prey. The other bone-crushers engage in the feeding method called scavenging, which does not involve active hunting.

However, that does not mean that the spotted ones cannot scavenge for food. The fact is that they are more likely to hunt than scavenge. There is a common belief that hyenas scavenge because we see them stealing food from lions. But many times, things happen the other way – lions are the ones that steal from the hyenas. 

One time, spotted hyenas lived throughout Europe. But because of the effects of climate change, they went extinct. Now, most of the hyenas live in the African plains.

Of all the hyena species, the spotted ones are the most friendly. If you look at all the carnivores, you will realize that hyenas are the most social. They love living in family groups, and in those spaces, they engage in complex behaviors. To put things to perspective, the other group of animals that have complexities in their socialization is primates. This implies that hyenas have a particular level of intelligence.

2. The Striped Hyena

Of all the modern hyenas, the striped hyenas have the biggest range. They live everywhere, from India to Morocco and even some parts of sub-Saharan Africa. Although they cover an extensive range, they are rare in terms of numbers. Reliable data has it that only 10,000 members of the species remain.

As compared to the spotted ones, these hyenas love living in pairs or alone – they have a particular dislike for large groups. Also, they are scavengers, which is something they got from the bone-crushers of the past. Although they can kill their prey, they seldom do so. They are also one of the largest hyenas of the Asian and Middle Eastern parts known for hunting. The striped hyenas that live in Africa are exclusively strangers – they are not known to have engaged in killing prey (nothing is documented).

In Asia, the striped hyena relates strangely with the grey wolf. At one time, you will see it competing with the wolf directly and feeding on its carcasses. Other times, the hyena will share its den with the wolf and live with it. Although a rare occurrence, it has been noted that striped hyena travel with wolf packs.

3. The Brown Hyena

Of all the hyena species, this one is the rarest hyena that stays in Southern Africa in the stark deserts. Their heads are muscularly large, and their coats are brown, long, and hairy. They are aggressive scavengers that are bold enough to chase jackals, leopards, and cheetahs away from their kills. In most of their range, brown hyenas are the most dominant predators because others – like spotted hyenas, African wild dogs, and lions – are absent in the same ecosystem.

Like wolves, these types of hyena love living in packs – the packs have all the offspring together with their mated pair. When male brown hyenas reach maturity, they leave and start new groups. On the flip side, mature females choose to stay with their families.

Farmers often persecute brown hyenas with the belief that they threaten the lives of livestock. Well, that is a mistaken belief since brown hyenas don’t kill their prey (almost). If they make their kills, the prey involved is usually smaller ones.

4. The Aardwolf Hyena

Of all the hyena species, this is the smallest in terms of size. Also, it is the only surviving species that comes from the dog-like type of hyena. Since it is not a bone crusher, it does not have the bite force to make it a potent scavenger. It survives by way of hunting.

The aardwolves are quite the character – they love eating insects and are, for the most part, insectivores. Evolutionists say this nature of dieting is what made them survive. The other canids who were hunting had to do more to survive, but aardwolves only need insects.

If you look at the aardwolf hyena, you will see that it looks like a slender, smaller version of the striped type of hyena. They are shy animals that love operating at night (and are thus nocturnal). During the day, they will stay hidden in burrows. They love eating ants and termites, and to make that possible, they have a stickily long tongue that they use in sweeping up those insects.

These live in Eastern and Southern African in mated pairs. Although they do not appear in the scene much, they are not anywhere near extinction, and their population is robustly growing.

The Different Types Of Hyenas

Primarily speaking, hyenas are scavengers. However, they engage in kills from time to time. Since they are carnivores, they like eating meat, but they also nibble on fruits to supplement their diets. They love cleaning their plates, meaning that they eat everything, including hooves and bones. The one thing that keeps them alive is that they are not picky about the meat they should eat.

The one thing you should know about hyenas is that their digestive systems are steel-made. That detail is validated because they eat objects like tent materials, tires, and other inanimate objects.

What An Aardwolf Hyena Eats

As already captured, these unique hyenas feed on termites from the Trinevitermes genus. The hyenas use scent and sound clues to get the crawling insect. Then, they engage their sticky tongues and lick the termites off the ground.

In one night, an aardwolf can eat at least 25000 insects. Because they need to sustain themselves, they will never eat an entire termite pile. What they do is that they leave it to continue the following time when it is replenished with more insects.

Unlike the other hyena types, this one does not feed on carrion (carcass). They only stick to larva and insects.

What A Brown Hyena Eats

These are not the best hunters, and they rely on the carcasses of the kills made by other animals. On top of that meat, they also take eggs, insects, fungi, and fruits as supplements.

What A Spotted Hyena Eats

As the most aggressive of all members of the Hyaenidae species, they actively engage in hunting rather than depending on carrion. Apart from the West African spotted hyenas, the others prey on plant-eating, hooved, and large animals like giraffes, impalas, wildebeests, goats, sheep, cattle, and gemsboks. Sometimes, they catch fish, and on other occasions, they even take down humans.

The spotted hyenas usually have enormous appetites, and one member can pack up to 32 pounds of prey meat in one feeding.

What A Striped Hyena Eats

These are probably the best scavengers on the list, and they have no restrictions in terms of the meat they eat. The only meat they turn away from is vulture flesh. Also, they find bone marrow and bones delicious.

Threats And Predators: Who Affects Hyenas


In the deserts and plains of sub-Saharan African, lions have presented themselves as the number one enemies of the hyenas. Although they kill hyenas, lions do not eat them. Food chain dynamics make the lion see hyenas as apex predators, and they only kill them to reduce any kind of competition that they may put up.


As mentioned earlier, wolves and hyenas relate differently. A wolf may kill a hyena because of food, but sometimes, they can live together in a pack as hunters.


These animals kill hyenas for the same reasons lions do – competition.


Conservationists have it that the spotted hyenas and aardwolves are not near extinction and have stable populations. On the other hand, the brown and striped ones do not enjoy the same fortunes because of human encroachment. When humans come into an area having the hyenas, they kill them using wire snare, poison and traps at an alarming rate.

As mentioned elsewhere, apprehensive and annoyed farmers eliminate many brown hyenas to retaliate against their livestock’s deaths.

Reproduction Details Of Hyenas

The aardwolf, spotted, and brown hyenas engage in intercourse with several partners their entire lifetime. On the other hand, striped hyenas display monogamy and stick with one partner for most, if not their whole lives.

The mating is a tricky and awkward process when it comes to the spotted hyenas. This is because both the female and male genitalia are outside their bodies. So, the male needs to get its positioning right so that the mating is successful. The experts who have witnessed the engagement say that it looks like a dance because the male has to jump a lot. 

Here is a table that captures more details on the reproduction of all four hyena species:

Hyena SpeciesPeriod Of GestationMating Time Or SeasonSize Of Its Litter (Cubs)Parental Involvement
StripedBetween 90 and 91 daysDepending on the place, it can either be January-February or October-November.Between 2 and 5Both males and females raise the litter 
SpottedAround 110 daysThey have a preference for the wet season, but breeding is all year.Between 1 and 5Males assist in getting food
BrownUp to 90 daysMating happening out of season many times, but the peak times are between May and August.Not more than 2Females do it solo
AardwolfBetween 89 and 92 daysDepending on location, autumn or spring are the mating times. In South Africa, they mate in July.Between 1 and 6Both males and females raise the litter

Hyena Babies

The little ones are called cubs, which is a common reference for many canine babies. When the cubs of brown, striped, and aardwolf hyenas are born, they have their eyes closed and need help from adults. However, the ones born of spotted hyenas are fully developed at birth – they have teeth and open eyes.

Living Time (Lifespan)

Hyenas live for up to 12 years. However, the lucky, more resilient one can live for 25 years. Of the four, the species that live the shortest time is the brown hyena. You should know that the oldest hyena to live was a spotted male named Mars, who lived for a whopping 28.5 years.


The IUCN (the International Union for the Conservation of Nature) has it that the populations of the spotted hyenas and aardwolves are of the least concern. This implies that there are not going extinct any time soon. The ones which are classified as being near threatened are the striped and brown hyenas. To that effect, scientists and lovers of those hyena species are employing conservation measures.

Bonus Section: Hyenas As Pets

When we hear the name hyena, we sometimes tremble. In the world of wildlife, hyenas are taken as predatory animals. Also, they are perceived as the ugliest predators because of hunting giant prey and eating carrion. Among predators in the wild, hyenas have the most robust jaws.

If one decides to take up a hyena to raise it, they should know that it is not the most straightforward job. This section will look at the ease or difficulty of taming hyenas and whether or not they can be pets.

Pet Hyenas – Is That Possible?

Yes – yes, it is. However, the catch is that there are so many conditions that you need to achieve. Many other wild animals like ocelots are already being kept as pets. What you need to focus on is taming the hyena while it is still a cub.

The Legalities Involved

Indeed, you can get a cub hyena for sale. But, some legal implications are likely to catch up with you if you go for it.  Therefore, you should look at what the jurisdiction says about keeping hyenas as pets. When you get that done, you will know the requirements (like licenses, etc.) and whether you can get things done or not.

Pet Hyenas: Temperament And Behavior

Having a pet hyena is not the same as having lynxes, servals, bobcats, or foxes. Because of the difference in species, there is a difference in temperament. You need to know about wild animals because however much you try taming them, they will always harbor in them a high prey drive and a territorial attitude. This implies that one time, the pet hyena will act aggressively, and at another, it will be spraying its urine all over.

If you get a pet hyena, you will need to provide it with spacious cages in outdoor spaces – these will help them thrive. Taking care of a hyena need total responsibility and a lot of commitment.

All the other non-domestic pets cannot be compared to the hyena – it is more problematic. Even if the hyenas don’t show their aggression, they are huge and have a lot of strength that makes them threatening figures.

In recent years, the hyenas petted in several African countries have been involved in mauling and fatalities. When a non-domestic pet reverts to its natural, predatory self, it is either sent to a sanctuary or abused and neglected. Anyone who gets a hyena as a pet needs to have that information at heart and in mind.

Pet Care For Hyenas

Some owners of these wild pets do so much – they go out of their way to give their pets proper diets and adequate housing. However, others deliver terribly and do not provide the best care.

You need to be aware that even hyena cubs have sharp teeth and claws, making them quite destructive. Zookeepers – who are expected to be trained – sometimes get attacked by the animal if it is provoked or startled somehow.

The Diet Of A Hyena Pup

Because hyenas are carnivorous by nature, expect them to eat a lot of raw meat. Depending on the pet hyena’s age, they can eat up to a whopping 15 pounds of meat a day. This is easy to understand because the animal was out in the wild, it would be feeding on zebras, antelopes, birds, wildebeests – both big and small animals.

Other Nitty-Gritty Details

Before anything else, you should know that it is difficult taming a wild animal that is already mature.

Getting a hyena as a pet means spending a lot of time making it tame. Before you even start, you need to acquire the pet, and some people will advise plucking one from its home (probably illegal). You can also pay for hunters to catch it or buy it from an exotic pet store.

Once you get the pet hyena, you may or may not need someone to help you in the taming process. I advise that you err on the side of caution and get an expert handler. Remember that a hyena in captivity will always be looking at escape ways and acting threateningly.

Getting cubs is the best thing to do as the little hyena will grow around people and adapt to them. Because of its environment, its wild nature is underdeveloped.

If you look around, you will realize that hyena cubs are not so many – there are neither in shelters nor in stores. If you want a hyena pup, you may have to take it from its mother – and that there is not a good idea.

Pet Hyena And Some Countries in Africa

In the African continent, some people own pet hyenas on top of having the predatory kind of monkeys. These are used like dogs to care for and guard livestock. When you ask them about it, they will say they prefer the hyenas over dogs because of their speed and strength. It is easy for those people to relate with the hyenas because they have grown side by side.

Crossbreeding A Dog With A Hyena – Is It Possible?

Well, the only way they could breed is if they were of the same species. We cannot have something like a hyena-dog because these two species are incompatible. Their genitalia, for example, is not meant for each other.

As for lab or genetic merging, it has never happened. However, it came close but was put off because the money and the efforts were not worth the entire breeding business.

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