Do Hyenas Make Good Pets? Only Until Adulthood

Hyena Teeth- Hyena

Written by Jennifer Haase

Updated: October 27, 2023

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If you’ve heard anything about hyena behavior, you wouldn’t think raising one as a pet is safe. That’s because hyenas have the reputation of being fiercely savage animals. After all, this animal is unafraid to attack lions to prove its dominance. So, do hyenas make good pets in any sense of the imagination?

This article will discuss hyenas, their behavior, whether or not they make good pets, and if it is legal to own a hyena.

About Hyenas

Hyena Birth - hyena pack

Hyenas travel in packs ruled by alpha females.

A hyena is a mammal that looks somewhat like a dog but is more closely related to a cat. More specifically, hyenas are mammals classified as feliform carnivorans. That classification means hyenas are cat-like flesh-eating carnivores. There are four hyena species: aardwolf, brown, spotted, and striped hyenas. All are native to Africa.

Hyenas have big ears, large heads, thick necks and carry their hindquarters closer to the ground than the upper part of their bodies. The most recognized hyena species is probably the spotted hyena, with its dark spots on tan or golden fur. The spotted hyena is famous for making sounds similar to laughter when frightened or excited. No other hyena species make this same sound. 

The hyena’s jaw is incredibly strong. Their bite force is so powerful it can crush an animal’s carcass. Spotted hyenas have the strongest bite force of all hyenas – a whopping 1,110 pounds per square inch!

Do Hyenas Make Good Pets?

Are Hyenas Dogs

Hyenas are not a choice of pet because of their aggressive nature.

Adult hyenas do not make good pets because they are aggressive and prone to attack animals – including humans – that attempt to dominate them. On the other hand, young hyenas are fun pets for experienced caregivers who understand hyena behavior. But let’s be clear – raising even young hyenas as pets is not recommended. 

Only the most skilled and experienced hyena caregivers should raise them for any amount of time in captivity. As young animals, pet hyenas enjoy belly rubs and contact with humans. However, as they mature, their aggressive instincts grow stronger. That is the hyena’s true nature as a wild and predatory animal. 

Is it Legal to Own a Pet Hyena?

Hyenas fall under zoning laws for exotic animals in the United States. It’s illegal to own a hyena in many states and countries worldwide. Some areas allow hyena ownership with a permit. 

In addition to being illegal as pets in most places, buying a hyena is expensive. Adopting a hyena from a reliable breeder could cost anywhere from $1,000 to $8,000.

So, hyenas are legal where you live, and you can afford one. Now what? Keep resisting the urge to raise one. That cute hyena cub is a fun pet for only so long before it challenges your authority. 

How Do Pet Hyena Cubs Behave? 

Hyena Birth - mother with babies

Wild hyena cubs often compete with each other for food and survival.

Hyena cubs raised in captivity are playful like canine puppies in the first months of their lives. Young hyena brothers and sisters in the wild are fierce competitors for food and survival, but pet cubs can relax more with their needs met. 

As they grow, pet hyena cubs form packs or clans when possible. That could include domesticated animals like the family dog if raised together as friends. Though, no matter their age, hyenas form packs to dominate weaker animals. 

Newborn hyenas already have usable teeth poking through their gums. Yet, wild hyenas nurse exclusively on mother’s milk for the first six months of their lives. 

Spotted hyena cubs often don’t survive the birthing process, whether born wild or in captivity. Sometimes their mothers don’t survive either. The female spotted hyena’s unique phallus-like umbilical cord is the source of trouble. As many as 60% of all spotted hyena babies get stuck and suffocate in their mother’s birth canal. 

On a happier note, hyena cubs socialize with humans from birth and are friendly companions for people while they are very young. However, as the months pass by, their aggressive behavior poses a threat.

How Do Pet Hyena Adults Behave? 

Striped Hyena resting on sand in India

Adult hyenas exhibit violent behavior in their quest for dominance.

When hyenas reach adulthood, they exhibit violent behavior in their quest for dominance to protect their pack. Because of this instinct, people keeping hyena adults as pets is a rare and dangerous risk. If you show dominance over an adult hyena, you could suffer the consequences. 

Female spotted hyenas are bigger and more aggressive than males. Hyena packs are ruled by females, whereas rejected members of a pack are almost always male. Here’s an interesting fact – alpha females with high testosterone pass higher levels of this steroid hormone to their young. Cubs of these powerful females tend to be more aggressive and dominant in their clans. 

When hyenas kill in a pack, it’s a frenzied scene of quick slaughter. Surviving an attack from one adult hyena is possible, but only if the animal decides not to finish you off. Don’t take the risk. Leave the care of adult hyenas in captivity to experienced professionals.

Should Hyenas Live in Captivity?

Hyenas are intelligent animals that thrive in packs of sometimes more than 100 members. In addition, wild hyenas are the happiest hunting and scavenging through the vast grasslands of the African savanna. For those reasons, it’s hard to imagine hyenas living fully satisfying lives in captivity. 

However, many wildlife rescue and conservation organizations help rehabilitate injured or orphaned hyenas with great success. Thus, wildlife sanctuaries provide essential support for hyenas who cannot survive in the wild or aren’t healed enough yet to be released. 

What’s Life Like for the Male Spotted Hyena?

Spotted Hyena (Crocuta crocuta) lie on the ground, taken in South Africa

It’s a “hard knock life” for the male spotted hyena.

While we took a closer look at the female spotted hyena as the dominating sex in any given hyena pack, male hyenas get the raw end of the stick all around in the hyena hierarchy. When they reach the age of sexual maturity–around 2 years of age–they are driven away from their pack and left alone to try and find another group.

Why does this happen? The young males are perceived as threats by older, stronger males when competing for food. There’s also the issue of inbreeding. Male hyenas tend to avoid breeding with their female family members, and the females seem to have the same preference for avoidance.

A young male on his own must face the tough task of trying to assimilate into another clan, which can result in violence. Given that they enter as lowest-ranking members, they must tolerate harassment from other members. The only bright side to all this is that the females prefer to mate with lower-ranking newbies, thus avoiding the in-breeding.

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About the Author

Jennifer Haase is a writer at A-Z Animals where her primary focus is on plants, pets, and places of interest. Jennifer has been writing professionally about plants and animals for over 14 years. A resident of Nebraska, Jennifer enjoys gardening, floral design, nutrition studies, and being a cat mama.

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