A Guide To Stray Dogs In Philippines – Things To Know

stray dogs in the philippines

So, you’re planning a trip to the gleaming beaches of Cebu and the Chocolate Hills of Bohol but you’re wondering what the situ is with stray dogs in Philippines? You’ve come to the right place! This guide has all the ins and outs, the ups and downs, and the story from the ground when it comes to free-roaming pups in the land of sugar-soft sands and coconut palms.

It will outline just how many stray dogs there are in the Philippines, reveal how likely you are to come across one (clue: very), and talk about just a few of the risks associated with stray dogs. We’ll also go over the reasons why there’s such a big stray problem in this part of the world compared to, say, the USA and the UK.

At a glance, stray dogs in Philippines can seem like a hefty issue. And, while it’s true that at least a few visitors are bitten on any given year, it remains an uncommon occurrence overall and hardly enough to cancel that vacation of a lifetime over. The best thing you can do is to read up on the stats, know what you’re getting into, and ensure you have the skills to handle encounters with strays when they arise.

How many stray dogs are there in the Philippines?

Street dog
Photo by Travel Snippet

Ready for it? Sitting down? Here goes…

The latest and most accepted estimation says that there were around 12 million stray dogs and cats in the Philippines as of 2019. Yep, 12 darn million! In a country with a human population of 112 million that’s nearly one stray per 10 people. Yikes.

We should point out that that estimation is for both stray dogs and cats. Plus, it’s just one guess, made by the Philippine Animal Welfare Society, also – cleverly – known as PAWS. There are other estimations that put the number as high as 13 million or as low as eight.

Either way, it’s clear that there’s a colossal population of strays in the home of the sisig and crispy pata. And, even if we assume that the number of strays estimated by PAWS is divided evenly 50-50 between cats and dogs, it would still be the case that over a quarter of ALL DOGS in the Philippines are strays!

These numbers put the Philippines up there with the worst countries in Asia when it comes to stray dog populations. India does pip them to the post, with a nigh-on ridiculous stray population in the region of 30 million. Meanwhile, Thailand is slightly better off with a population that’s estimated to be in the region of 8.5 million.

Why are there so many stray dogs in the Philippines?

Stray dog lying down on grass
Photo by Envato Elements

As with any major societal issue, it’s hard to pin down a single cause when it comes to the booming stray dog population in the Philippines. But the story is somewhat similar to what it is in other countries in Southeast Asia where free-roaming canines are the norm. It typically comes down to three central factors:

  • Irresponsible dog ownership – There’s not the same mentality of dog ownership in the Philippines – in the whole of Southeast Asia, truth be told – as there is in Europe and North America. Animals are often left to roam free, gardens are rarely well fenced, and many owners allow dogs to forage for food wherever they please. The upshot? Many animals simply get lost and never come home, swelling the stray population even further.
  • Expensive veterinary care – The average income in the Philippines is 267,000 PHP per year. Estimates by The Filipino Doctor show that the cost of owning a dog in the country can be as high as 50,000 PHP. That’s nearly a fifth of all income on your pup. Some people simply can’t afford to keep their dogs properly and leaving them to run stray often seems the easier solution.
  • No government animal control system – While countries like the USA and the UK either have government-run animal housing facilities or outsource their running to third-party providers, it’s simply not seen as a requirement of the state in some parts of the world. The Philippines is one such part. There’s no central government agency dedicated to managing animal welfare, which means it’s often not all that clear where to send a stray if you do come across one.

Are stray dogs a problem in the Philippines?

Small stray puppies
Photo by Envato Elements

You’ve read the numbers – a whopping 12 million strays nationwide! Needless to say, that means ownerless canines certainly are a huge problem in this land of white-sand beaches and mist-haloed volcanos.

Animal rights and welfare charities continually cite the human and environmental impacts of this issue run amok. Most notably, there’s the risk of the spread of disease between humans and stray dogs.

Rabies is the one that’s talked about commonly. That’s because it’s estimated a whopping 99% of human rabies cases in the country are directly attributable to bites or encounters with stray canines. And those aren’t our numbers. Those are straight from the Philippine Animal Welfare Society (PAWS)!

But the dreaded big R isn’t the only worry out there. Stray dogs and cats are known vectors of a whole host of other dangerous viruses and pathogens. Plus, they present more physical risks. Here’s just a taster of the things you’ll need to be wary of:

  • Brucella – Usually caused by eating unsafe dairy products, this is a particularly nasty infection that leads to severe fever and lower back pain. You don’t even have to be bitten by a stary dog in the Philippines to catch it. Contamination with the dog’s saliva or blood might be enough.
  • Campylobacter – A common bacterial infection that’s prevalent on the bodies and hairs of stray dogs. Can lead to vomiting and diarrhoea. A guaranteed vacation ruined!
  • Hydatid disease – We’re hope you’re not eating while reading this, because hydatid disease is a ailment caused by tapeworm that clings to the digestive system within the body.
  • Anthrax – Nope, not the metal band. The disease. And boy is it a nasty one. You could be dead in 3-5 days!

On top of all that, stray dogs are known to be protective of territory and wary of humans. That means there’s a very high incidence of bites, which are a risk in and of themselves. They can lead to skin lacerations, bleeding, and cut infections, which are all the more likely in the balmy tropical heat of Southeast Asia, you know!

What to do if you encounter a stray dog in the Philippines

Stray dog in the road
Photo by Envato Elements

It’s a really good idea to whiz up on exactly how to behave around stray dogs in Philippines. The reason? A chance meeting with one of these street pack pups is extremely likely if you’re heading pretty much anywhere outside of the big business district of Manila, folks. Remember we said there were 12 million of them about? Well…that means there are strays just about everywhere, from the beaches to the rice-paddy towns.

So, what to do? Follow these top pointers to lower the risk of things going south:

  • Don’t turn and flee – Running is a really bad idea around strays. It’s basically conceding dominance in the encounter and telling the dog that they have carte blanche to pursue. Backing away slowly is a much better way to go.
  • No sudden movements – Although you might be feeling startled or on edge, you can bet the dog is too. Try to control your movements, keep things slow and steady, and don’t scare the dog with any flailing limbs or quick shuffles.
  • Avoid packs – One stray dog is a whole different beast to a whole pack. Canines are pack animals by instinct and will protect every member of their clan. Always skirt around groups of dogs if you see them on the street and keep a good distance if there’s more than one barker around.
  • Don’t try to be dominant – A street animal won’t take kindly to being overshadowed and you don’t want them to attempt to reassert their dominance on you. Submissive, respectful motions are better. That means no direct eye contact and making yourself look smaller than you really are.

Stray dogs in Philippines – our conclusion

According to national animal charities, there’s an estimated 12 million stray dogs in Philippines these days. That puts the country up there with some of the worst in Southeast Asia and the whole world when it comes to strays, especially when you calculate stray dogs per capita (India might have more, but it’s got way fewer per person!).

There’s no single reason for the booming population of stray woofers in these parts. However, most experts agree it’s down to a combination of loose ownership principles, high vet costs, and little governmental support.

There’s no doubt that the stray dogs in Philippines present a unique risk. Travelers should be particularly wary of diseases like rabies, which is potentially fatal. Anyone who thinks they might be in regular contact with strays on their trip should be sure to get the rabies vaccine prior to arrival, and follow all the proper precautions around strays – keeping a good distance, not conveying dominance.


For more than 11 years, Joe has worked as a freelance travel writer. His writing and explorations have brought him to various locations, including the colonial towns of Mexico, the bustling chowks of Mumbai, and the majestic Southern Alps of New Zealand. When he's not crafting his next epic blog post on the top Greek islands or French ski resorts, he can often be found engaging in his top two hobbies of surfing and hiking.

View stories