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Are Lions Dogs Or Cats?

Lions have been fascinating people for hundreds of years and with so many people being interested in lions, there is a demand for documentaries about them.

In the recent Natural World documentary from the BBC, they mentioned how lions are related to dogs and this has raised a large amount of confusion amongst people who are interested in lions with there being a spike in the number of people reaching out to ask are lions dogs or cats recently.

We can definitely see why this confused so many people as the phrasing of the sentence in the documentary was not very clear as to what they meant by saying that lions are related to dos and it really should have had a better explanation.

This is why we have decided to publish this article going over the lineage of lions as well as explaining how lions are actually related to dogs but the narrator in Natural World really should have spent a little more time explaining what he meant.

With the spike in the number of people reaching out and asking if lions are dogs or cats, we have seen a range of other related questions too so we have decided to add them to this article to try and answer them all in one place.

We have added our table of contents below to try and make it as easy as possible for our readers to skim the article and get to the information on the links between lions and dogs as quickly as possible.

Are Lions Dogs Or Cats?

Although lions are cats and a part of the Feliformia suborder, they do actually share a common ancestor with dogs but their last common ancestor lived about 42 million years ago so there has been plenty of time for lions and dogs to evolve and go their desperate ways.

Lions and dogs tend to share around 90% of the same DNA too but lions and domesticated cats share 95.6% of their DNA.

This is what the narrator on the Natural World documentary was trying to say and that led to the spike in the number of people reaching out and asking about lions being related to dogs.

We are not sure if it was simply an editing mistake in the documentary and the narrator did originally offer a more detailed explanation or if they just left it short and phrased it badly resulting in a large amount of confusion for their viewers.

There are a surprising number of people who seem to still struggle with the fact that lions and dogs are related though due to it being drummed into people from a young age that lions are cats.

If you go back far enough in time, both lions and cats do share a common ancestor where both genus’ started and then evolved down their own unique evolutionary paths.

Do Lions Have Any Dog DNA?

Lions and dogs share around 90% of the same DNA due to sharing a common ancestor that lived around 42 million years ago.

Lions, dogs, and domestic cats are all members of the Carnivora order with lions and cats then being within the feliformia suborder and dogs being in the caniformia suborder due to their separate evolutionary paths.

Although the fact that lions share around 90% of their DNA with dogs, you have to realise that in the grand scheme of things when it comes to DNA, this really isn’t much.

For example, humans share around 98% of their DNA with pigs and there are a huge number of differences between humans and pigs even though we share more DNA with each other than lions and dogs share.

We have seen some people claim that specific dog breeds such as the Chow Chow share more of their DNA with lions and cats but this is not accurate.

It is just a coincidence that some dog breeds share some visual features with lions and they still tend to share around 90% of the same DNA with lions even if the dog breed does tend to look more like a lion.

Why Are Lions Classified As Cats?

Lion are classified as cats due to having taken a different evolutionary patch over the last 42 million years since their last common ancestor with dogs lived.

Lions have evolved to be a part of the felidae family or big cats that is then part of the feliformia suborder making them a part of the cat family even though dogs and lions are both part of the Carnivora order.

We understand that it can be difficult to understand why a lion is able to share around 90% of its DNA with a dog but this is due to both animals being a part of the Carnivora order.

As we touched on earlier in the article, the domesticated cat took a similar evolutionary path to lions and share around 95% of their DNA with each other.

Even then though, you have to factor in that domesticated cats and lions are not classed as being part of the same family due to lions being a part of the felidae family of big cats like lions and jaguars.

This is due to the domesticated cat evolving a mutation in its DNA to restrict its growth millions of years ago forcing it to take a different evolutionary path to the big cat family.

Why Are There Big Cats But No Big Dogs?

Although big cats are easy to recognize due to looking very similar to domesticated cats, both big cats and domesticated cats are actually a part of different families of the same order.

The sub-order that dogs are a part of took a different evolutionary path and the different families with in their sub-order who retained their size are actually bears and seals that look totally different to the domesticated dog.

It is obvious that dog, bears, and seals look totally different to each other, they are within the same sub-order breakdown and famiy distributions of domesticated cats and lions.

They also tend to share very similar amounts of DNA to each other that is comparable to the domesticated cat and a lion too.

We also have wolves that can be classed as big dogs due to having a similar breakdown to domestic cats and lions with the Northwestern wolf being the largest and usually coming in at around 137lb.

Due so dog breeds having their own unique sizes and features, it is harder to compare them to wolves but if you use a Yorkshire Terrier then the size comparisons of domesticated cats and wolves start to match up with that of lions and domesticated cats.


That brings our article going over if lions are dogs and the various biological similarities that dogs and lions have with each other to a close. We hope that our article has been able to help you understand why lions are part of the cat family but are still related to dogs as we have seen a large number of people confused by their common liniage and how the two are related to each other.