FERAL DOGS- Damage Identification

Jeffrey S. GreenFeral dogs (Canis familiaris) Figure 1.
Assistant Regional Director
USDA-APHIS-Wildlife Services
Lakewood, Colorado 80228

Philip S. Gipson
Unit Leader
Kansas Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit
Kansas State University
Manhattan, KS 66506-3501

Fig. 1. Feral dog, Canis familiaris


Damage and Damage Identification of Feral Dogs

Livestock and poultry can be victims of harassment, injury, and death from both domestic and feral dogs. Distinguishing between livestock killed by domestic or feral dogs and that killed by coyotes may be difficult since the mode of attack can be similar. Coyotes usually attack an animal at the throat; domestic dogs are relatively indiscriminate in how and where they attack. Sometimes, however, dogs kill the way coyotes do, and young and inexperienced coyotes may attack any part of the body of their prey as dogs would. The survival of feral dogs, much like that of other wild canids, depends on their ability to secure food. Therefore feral dogs are usually adept predators. Unlike most domestic dogs, feral dogs rely on their prey for food, and thus consume much of what they kill. Feral dogs favor the hindquarters and viscera (liver, spleen, heart, lungs).

When domestic dogs attack domestic animals, they may injure or kill several, but they seldom consume their victims. Rather, they leave the impression that they were involved in vicious play rather than an attempt to obtain food. The most diagnostic characteristic of injuries caused by dogs is usually the slashing and biting of prey animals over much of their bodies. Wade and Bowns (1983) and Acorn and Dorrance (1990) present a detailed pictorial and descriptive aid to identifying predators that damage livestock.

Feral dogs may become skilled at hunting in groups for small game such as rabbits and hares and large game including deer and even moose. Some wildlife managers feel that feral dogs are a serious threat to deer, especially in areas with heavy snows (Lowry 1978). Others have found no evidence that feral dogs pose a significant threat to deer (Causey and Cude 1980). Clearly, the impact of feral dogs, both on livestock and wildlife, varies by location and is influenced by factors such as availability of other food, the number of dogs, and competition by other predators.

Feral dogs may feed on fruit crops including melons, berries, and grapes, and native fruits such as persimmons and blackberries. Damage to melons is similar to that caused by coyotes. The side of a ripe melon is usually bitten open and the insides eaten. Feral dogs commonly kill house cats, and they may injure or kill domestic dogs. In areas where people have not hunted and trapped feral dogs, the dogs may not have developed fear of humans, and in those instances such dogs may attack people, especially children. This can be a serious problem in areas where feral dogs feed at and live around garbage dumps near human dwellings. Such situations occur most frequently around small remote towns.

On the Galapagos Islands, feral dogs have significantly impacted native populations of tortoises, iguanas, and birds.

Economics of Damage and Control of Feral Dogs

Feral dogs may destroy livestock and poultry valued at thousands of dollars. In such instances, the costs of controlling dogs may be warranted. Boggess and his co-workers (1978) examined 5,800 claims of domestic livestock lost to dogs and coyotes in Iowa between 1960 and 1974. Dogs were considered responsible for 49% of the reported sheep losses, 45% of the cattle losses, 66% of the swine losses, and 82% of the poultry losses. Denny (1974) conducted a nationwide survey of state departments of agriculture, wildlife conservation agencies, and related agencies to determine problems caused by unconfined dogs. Damage to wildlife, especially deer, small game, and birds was considered the primary problem caused by dogs. Damage to game animals may be a serious local problem. In view of the value placed on game animals by hunters and other wildlife enthusiasts, local control to benefit wild game may be economically justified. The second most serious problem reported was damage to livestock.


Scott E. Hygnstrom; Robert M. Timm; Gary E. Larson

Prevention and Control of Wildlife Damage Logo 1994


Cooperative Extension Division Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources University of Nebraska -Lincoln

United States Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service Animal Damage Control

Great Plains Agricultural Council Wildlife Committee

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