Old Wives’ Tales Debunked: A dog is a man’s best friend

 
 

Are you a dog or a cat person? Alison Lee explains which creature is more likely to eat you

In 2009, in Papillion, Omaha, two pugs (Harry and Sally) ate parts of their dead owners’ body to stay alive. The grisly case received considerable media attention but the story ended happily, or as happily as it could under the circumstances when the two pooches found a loving home.

So it is recognised that sometimes animals have no option but to eat their dead owners to survive. However there still exists a debate on this topic between cat people and dog people, with dog people asserting that dogs stand guard over their master’s bodies whereas cats are just itching for a chance to chow down, showing complete disregard for all the love and attention they received from their owners while they were alive. These arguments are still made despite real-life cases that prove otherwise.

Is there any factual basis for this grisly old wives’ tale? North Carolina Chief Medical Examiner, John D. Butts, states “we see instances of pets feeding on their deceased owners (anthropophagy) from time to time, its rarity probably reflecting that the opportunity does not occur that often. In our experience, the animal is usually a dog.” Another expert in this slightly disturbing field is Steve Gilbert, professor of criminal investigations and forensic science in New York-Canton State University. He says “there is no difference between dogs and cats when it comes to survival: both will eat what they must”.

That being said, cats might be more likely to eat their dead owners because they are obligate carnivores, requiring almost twice as much protein as dogs per kilo of body weight. They can’t synthesize certain amino acids or vitamins, like taurine and Vitamin A, and can only obtain these from eating fresh meat. In contrast, dogs are technically omnivores, and can eat large amounts of carbohydrates, subsequently converting them to essential amino acids and vitamins.

Thus a dog left alone in a house with a dead body would perhaps be more likely to eat leftover food lying around, whereas a cat would sooner naturally resort to the food that is nutritionally most beneficial – their dead owner. However, dogs are natural scavengers and have a higher tolerance than cats for bacteria found in decomposing flesh. Thus perhaps dogs might be happier than cats to eat their owners.

Either way, it’s doubtful that this reflects the love a pet feels for their owner. After all, you’d probably eat your darling pet if you had no other option. So if under tragic circumstances your cat or dog did happen to feed on your body, you shouldn’t take it personally.

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