Are Red Pandas Canine? (Similarities & Differences)

Red pandas are so unique that they look quite similar to many of the creatures we know. Some say they are bears, red raccoons, and even dog-like creatures. 

Come to think of being dog-like, are red pandas canine?

No, red pandas are not canine. Despite their resemblance to dogs, they are not like creatures in any way. Red pandas are bamboo-eating creatures of their species. 

They are very rare creatures that descended from non-canine ancestors.

But how do we describe a canine? I’ll start with a detailed description of canines. 

Keep reading to know what animals are considered canines.

Table of Contents

What Exactly is a Canine?

Alaskan Malamute (Domestic Dig Breed) – Example of a Canine Animal

Canines (or canids) are members of the dog family, both domestic and wild, living around the world. 

They are mostly long-legged animals with pointing (erect) ears and long muzzles. Some canine animals include:

  • Domestic dogs
  • Foxes
  • Jackals
  • Wolves
  • Coyotes 
  • African wild dog 
  • Canis
  • Dhole
  • Dingoes
  • Etc.

An interesting thing about canines is that they are very intelligent. Training them is so easy! 

When it comes to domestication, dogs (canines) were among the first creatures to be domesticated.

Now you know what canine animals are, and what they look like. Having said red pandas are not canines, let’s see why both creatures are different from each other.

Difference Between Red Pandas & Canines

DifferencesRed Pandas Canines
Family AiluridaeCanidae
ClawSemi-retractable claws Non-retractable claws 
Native Home AsiaAll Continents except Antarctica 
Habitat Type Arboreal Terrestrial 
Limb Structure Two arms and two legsFour legs (no arms)
Paw PadsNone. Fur covers their paws instead. Yes. Protects all four paws 
Paw DigitsSix digits (including pseudo thumbs) on the front paws, and four on the back paws. Five digits (including dew claws) on the front paws, and four digits on the back paws. 
TeethLarge bamboo-grinding molarsLonger canines with carnivorous molars


Red Pandas (Ailurus fulgens) – The only Living Members  of the Ailuridae Family

Red pandas belong to the family Ailuridae. What’s more, this is a unique family and the red pandas are the only living members.

Wolves - Carnivorous Members of Canidae Family

Canines, on the other hand, are members of the Canidae family. And this family consists of about 34 dog-like species excluding red pandas. 

Since red pandas aren’t members of the Canidae family, they are clearly not canines.


A Red Panda's Semi-Retractable Claws

Red pandas have claws that are semi-retractable! It retracts but doesn’t fully go in like that of cats. However, they can extend and partially retract them, unlike canines.

Non-Retractable (Fixed) Claws on a Dog's Paw

A canine has fixed or non-retractable claws. This means you will always see their claws popping out of their paws. 

Having claws that are not retractable is a common feature in canines, yet this is absent in red pandas.

Native Home

Red pandas are only native to the Asian continent. To be specific, they live naturally in parts of Asia like China, Nepal, Myanmar (Burma), Bhutan, and India. 

This makes them very scarce creatures to see around the world. Canines are native to all continents, except Antarctica. 

This means, unlike red pandas, they can naturally live in almost all parts of the world. 

Habitat Type

A Red Panda Resting on Tree

Red pandas spend more time on trees throughout their lives. They are arboreal kinds of terrestrial creatures.

This means they live on land, but specifically on trees. Moreover, they live in trees close to bamboo. 

Interestingly, these creatures can do almost all their activities while on trees. This isn’t what any canine can do. 

Red pandas can eat and even travel through trees. And this kind of movement on trees is called arboreal locomotion.

A Dog Running Around the Field

In contrast, canines are terrestrial creatures that live entirely on land. Unlike red pandas, they aren’t natural tree climbers, so they can’t shelter in trees.

Limb Structure

Red Pandas Grasping Bamboo Using Its Arms

A red panda’s limbs consist of two arms and two legs. Unlike most animals, red panda arms allow them to hold and handle objects like humans and primates do. 

Similar to the arms, red pandas’ rare limbs act like real legs. Red pandas can stand on two feet. They do it very often! What’s more interesting is that they can walk some distance on two feet.

A Canine (Jackal) Standing on All Four Legs

Canines have four limbs, but they are all legs. The front limbs are technically not arms, unlike that of red pandas. They are forelegs, which have elbows and wrists like an arm.

However, they don’t comfortably use their front legs like arms. In addition, canines’ rare legs aren’t designed to stand alone without the front legs. 

Even if they try to do it, it’s very uncomfortable. Walking on feet is also a very difficult thing for canines to do.

Paw Pads

A Dog's Paw Pad

Red pandas do not have paw pads, which is one unique thing about them. They have thick fur covering the sole of their feet instead. 

It protects their feet from chilly snowy grounds and keeps them from slipping while moving on trees. Canines, on the other hand, normally have paw pads. And similar to shoes, they protect the feet.

Paw Digits

On each of the red panda’s front paws, you’ll find six digits—five true fingers and a pseudo thumb. This pseudo thumb (or false thumb) is a red panda’s evolutionary adaptation. 

It evolved to assist the lesser panda in climbing trees and handling bamboo. In addition, red pandas have just five toes on their back paws. 

A Dog Raising It's Five-toed Paw

Canines have different kinds of paw digits. They have toes on all their paws, and there’s not a single finger. Their front paws consist of five digits each—four toes and a dewclaw. 

Some canines, particularly some dog breeds, have more dewclaws on their front paws. Moreover, unlike red pandas, canines’ front digits aren’t designed to hold or handle things. 

On their back feet, there are four digits only (four toes without a dewclaw).


Unlike most carnivores, red pandas have large and flattened molars and premolars. These are their most important teeth and are adapted to crushing and grinding bamboo.

In addition, they also have canines (teeth) and incisors like that of other carnivores. These sets of teeth mostly come in handy during defense or when red pandas feel like eating meat.

Canines, on the other hand, are known for their deadly-looking teeth. All canines have a pair of long, sharp canine teeth each up and down their jaws. 

These fangs or canines are the sources of the dog family name “canine”. In addition, a canine’s premolars and molars are different from that of red pandas. 

These sets of grinding teeth are just like that of most carnivores. Other than feeding, canines mostly use their teeth to hold and handle things their forelimbs can’t.


Here are the similarities that will make you think red pandas are canines in the first place. 

  • Both red pandas and canines belong to the order Carnivora. In simple terms, they are both natural carnivores or meat eaters.
  • These two creatures are mammals. They’re both warm-blooded, have fur, and do give birth to live cubs.
  • They both have well-developed canines (fangs) and cheek teeth.
  • Red pandas can bark as most canines do.

Final Thoughts

To sum up, red pandas are not canine. They’re way different from anything that looks like a dog. 

All canines belong to the family Canidae. However, red pandas are the only members of their family Ailuridae.

Here are some other differences to remember:

  • Red pandas are native to only Asia, but canines are native to almost every continent.
  • The claws on red pandas’ paws are semi-retractable. Canines have non-retractable claws.
  • Fur covers the red pandas’ feet, but paw pads cover that of canines.
  • Red pandas have arms and legs whereas canines have legs only.

Despite the difference, red pandas and canines share a few similarities. But It’s better to think of a red panda as a cat-like (feline) than a dog-like (canine). 

These red pandas have striking similarities with cats. And you would easily mistake a red panda for a cat if you’ve not seen one before!

And if you’re wondering if there’s a connection between red pandas and cats, then read – Are Red Pandas and Cats Related?