Are hyenas related to dogs?

Hyenas might giggle a lot, and they sometimes get a bad rap, but they're some of the most unique creatures on the planet. Their laughing vocalizations and carnivorous tendencies have made them a fixture in numerous cultural beliefs and traditions, and their sheer adaptability — you can find a hyena anywhere from snowy mountains to savannas to forests, if you know where to look — means that their terrain encompasses everything from southern Africa all the way to Siberia.

One question that often confuses animal lovers, though, is how closely related hyenas might be to dogs. These snickering animals certainly don't seem as doglike as a wolf or a coyote, but a hyena's canine attributes seem to straddle the same gray area that comprises foxes and jackals. However, appearances can be deceiving.

Hyenas are actually closer to cats than dogs

So, c'mon, if you had a pet hyena, it would do that adorably doglike habit of tilting its head at you, right? 

Nah. For one, it'd probably do something a lot more violent. And two, believe it or not, while those canine jaws and long snouts might convince you otherwise, hyenas aren't particularly related to dogs in any way. Even weirder, as Live Science explains, these spotted or striped tricksters are far more closely related to cats than dogs, as they're classified within the suborder Feliformia. Now, to be clear, don't go spouting off false information like, "Oh my god, hyenas are cats!" because while this would more accurate than the dog label, it's also a drastic oversimplification. While the members of Feliformia are referred to as "cat-like carnivores," actual cats (aka Felidae) are just one particular group within the Feliformia umbrella, which also includes such animals as mongooses, meerkats, civets ... and, yes, hyenas. 

Also, don't underestimate how weird hyenas really are, nor how misunderstood. As the BBC points out, a spotted hyena's reproductive system is entirely unique among mammals (the females have organs that more closely resemble the male organs in most animals, as they possess no vaginal opening). And these creatures are not only way more intelligent than often believed, but they're also far more likely to hunt down their kills instead of scavenging. Hyenas, in fact, are such bizarre animals that they belong to their own group of Feliformia, altogether. 

Hyenas belong to their own class, like the cool kids they are

As the San Diego Zoo points out, hyenas more accurately belong to a group called Hyaenidae. Within this nice, happy Hyaenidae family, you'll find the spotted (and guffawing) "laughing" hyena you know, then the striped hyena, the brown hyena, and the unfortunately named aardwolf, which only eats insects. 

So, to wrap it all up, hyenas aren't dogs or cats, even if they are closer to the latter than the former. Hyenas are just hyenas, occupying their own unique little place in the greater ecosystem and being totally confident in who they are. No wonder they're laughing.