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Are Bears Canines or Felines? (Actually, they’re Ursidae!)

Bears are not canines. On the evolutionary taxonomy, bears are the family Ursidae while dogs and wolves are the family Canine.

are bears canines or felines

Canines include dogs, wolves, foxes and jackals. All species of bears, on the other hand, are considered Ursidae, a category of mammal.

Bears are not felines either. Felines are their own distinct family of animal that includes tigers, cats, and jaguars, but not bears.

Taxonomic Classifications of Ursidae (Bears), Canines (Dogs), and Felines (Cats)

flowchart showing that bears, dogs and cats separate at the level of carnivora on the scientific taxonomy of animals

What’s the Common Ancestor Between Canines, Felines, and Ursidae?

Bears (Usidae), Canines, and Felines have one common ancestor called the miacid. Miacids went extinct about 33 million years ago.

Miacids were early carnivores with thin bodies and long tails that lived on the ground. They preyed on smaller mammals and invertebrates.

The miacids evolved into many other distinct species of animals that we today know as the order carnivora.

The carnivora, who are all descendants of the miacid, can be separated into fourteen families:

Carnivora Families (Ancestors of the Miacid)

Caniformia (Dog-Like Carnivores)Feliformia (Cat-Like Carnivores)
Canidae (e.g. dogs, wolves)Felidae (e.g. cats, tigers)
Ursidae (e.g. bears)Herpestidae (e.g. meerkats)
Procyonidae (e.g. raccoons)Viverridae (e.g. civets)
Mustelidae (e.g. weasels)Hyaenidae (e.g. hyenas)
Mephitidae (e.g. skunks)Eupleridae (e.g. mongooses)
Otariidae (e.g. sea lions) 
Phocidae (e.g. earless seals) 
Odobenidae (e.g. walrus) 
Ailuridae (e.g. red panda) 
Amphicyonidae (the extinct ‘bear dog’) 

You’ll see that carnivora can also be sub-divided into dog-like and cat-like carnivores.

This doesn’t mean that all dog-like carnivores are related to dogs. In fact, the common feature is simply where they evolved from.

Dog-like carnivora first evolved in Northern Europe and North America. Cat-like carnivora first evolved in Northern Africa and Southern Asia.

Related: Are All Bears Carnivores? (Actually, No…)

Evolutionary Separation between Canines, Felines, and Ursidae

cheetah
Image: A cheetah is a feline

The overarching Carnivora order is subdivided into two main ‘superfamilies.’ These are the Caniformia (or dog-like carnivores) and the Feliformia (cat-like carnivores).

Both dogs and bears belong to the caniformia suborder. This makes them distantly related, but only very loosely.

But that’s where the similarities between dogs and bears stop.

On the next step under caniformia the animal classification order, dogs and bears fall into different families. Bears belong to the Ursidae family, and canines belong to the Canidae family – meaning bears are not canines.

Related: Are Bears Related to Cats?

Why are Bears Referred to as Dog-Like Carnivores?

black bear

The phrase ‘dog-like’ carnivores stems from the fact carnivores fit into two sub-orders:

  • Caniformia
  • Feliformia

Caniformia are all carnivora on the dog-like side of the evolutionary spectrum, while feliformia are all carnivora on the cat-like side of the evolutionary spectrum.

“Dog-like carnivores” is quite a misleading statement, though. Just because bears are more like dogs than cats, it doesn’t mean they’re very similar at all.

Similarities and Differences Between Caniformia and Feliformia

CaniformiaFeliformia
Center of DiversificationNorth America and Northern EurasiaNorthern Africa and Southern Asia
Jaw and TeethLarger jaws, more teethSmaller jaws, less teeth
DietTend to be more omnivorous (with some exceptions)Tend to be more carnivorous (with some exceptions)
ExamplesWolves, foxes, seals, skunks, raccoons, walrusesHyena, cheetah, meercat, mongoose, tiger

Is there a Bear Dog?

chow chow dog
Image: While some dogs like the Chow Chow look like bears, they’re not related.

There is an extinct family of Caniformia called Amphicyonidae that are colloquially known as the bear dogs. While we call them bear dogs, they’re neither bear nor dog.

You can see that I’ve listed the Amphicyonidae in the top table on this page in their own row. That’s because they are their own distinct family of animal. They don’t belong to the Canines or the Ursidae.

Sadly, the Amphicyonidae also went extinct. We had to piece together their existence from fossils which were found around Pakistan during the Miocene and appeared to go extinct about 8 million years ago due to conflict with canines.

brown bear

FAQs

Is the Karelian Bear Dog a Canine or Ursidae?

The Karelian bear dog is a dog, not a bear. It evolved from another dog, the Komi dog, in Finland in the 1930s and 1940s.

Today, it is one of the most popular breeds of dog in Finland but is also found throughout the world.

The Karelian bear dog gets its name because it’s an excellent bear hunter. It was originally used to hunt the Eurasian brown bear in Finland. But, it’s also been used to hunt bears in the United States and Japan.

In the wealthy resort town of Karuizawa (Japan), the Karelian bear dog was used to reduce bear populations and minimize bear-human interactions. They successfully reduced negative bear interactions from 255 to four in the decade leading up to 2017.

Similarly, they have been used in Yosemite national park to keep bears away from campsites. They sniff out nearby bears and chase them away.

Related: Do Bears Attack Camping Tents?

Was the Tahltan Bear Dog a Canine or Ursidae?

The Tahltan bear dog was also a canine, not a bear. Like the Karelian Bear Dog, it got its name for its excellent bear hunting abilities.

This was a dog that we bred by the Tahltan people in modern-day British Columbia, Canada. It was light enough to run over snow that bears would have trouble running though.

Unfortunately, after Europeans arrived, the Tahltan Bear Dog slowly went extinct and there is no genetic evidence of any descendants alive today.

Related: Are Bears Afraid of Dogs?

Related: Are Bears and Pigs Related?

Conclusion

Bears belong to their own family of animal called Ursidae. They are not canines or felines.

But bears do share a common ancestor with canines and felines. This ancestor is also shared with a wide range of other animals such as the seal and raccoon. The common ancestor went extinct 33 million years ago.

We can, however, say that bears are more related to dogs than cats, because bears and dogs both belong to the group of canivores called the caniformia, often colloquial referred to as the ‘dog-like carnivores’.

While there is an extinct animal called the Bear Dog, this animal was neither bear nor dog, but in fact was placed in its own distinct family of animal.

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