Pet owners tend to idealize dogs as loyal, sensitive animals who will remain by their side even in death, as many social media posts of pups idling near gravesites have indicated. And while it’s certainly true that dogs are generally kind spirits, that probably won’t dissuade them from using you as a charcuterie board upon your death.
Put another way: It’s not really a question of whether your dog will eat you when you die. It’s a question of which part of you they’ll eat first.
In a 2007 paper [PDF] published in Forensic Science International, researchers at Binghamton University’s Department of Anthropology examined a case involving a pet owner who passed away in their home. The 54-year-old woman had not been seen for several weeks. Inside the house was a skeleton free of soft tissue and two well-fed dogs—a Chow and a Labrador mix. The domesticated canines had feasted upon their caregiver until virtually none of her was left.
While such an act might imply a desperate act of starvation, both pet and human food was also found inside the house, meaning the dogs certainly had the option of nibbling on kibble instead of a human being. In one 1997 case, a German Shepherd didn’t even wait for hunger pangs to set in: The animal devoured its expired owner’s face within hours.
While rare, other such reports do exist, pointing to a well-defined fact that many dogs will, indeed, make a meal of you if the opportunity presents itself. Scavenger dogs who lived in pre-domesticated times about 10,000 to 12,000 years ago likely made use of stray corpses, baking that food resource into their DNA. While some have speculated it might be malicious in nature—a dog exacting vengeance on an abusive human, for example—there’s little evidence of that. Instead, a dog may first try to rouse a dead owner by licking its face. When the person fails to respond, the dog may panic and start biting. It may then decide that, hey, Mike tastes pretty good.
Nor will dogs necessarily even wait for you to expire, though that might be for more altruistic reasons. In 2011, a Jack Russell terrier named Kiko gnawed off his owner’s big toe while he was passed out from drinking. It turned out the man had an infection as a result of undiagnosed Type 2 diabetes and the toe would have required amputation regardless. Kiko was hailed as a hero.
[h/t IFL Science]