Bad blood: A brief look at zoophagia

In previous blogs on vampirism as a sexual paraphilia and tampon fetishes, I briefly mentioned zoophagia. In his 2009 book Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices, Dr Anil Aggrawal defines zoophagia as eating live animals for erotic arousal. The online Wiktionary provides the same definition but also adds that it is another name for Renfield’s Syndrome (which I also covered in my blog on vampirism as a sexual paraphilia). Renfield’s Syndrome (as yet) does not appear in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders but has been described as consisting of three stages (of which only one stage comprises zoophagia). More specifically:

  • Stage 1 – Autovampirism (autohemophagia): In the first stage, RS sufferers drink their own blood and often bite or cut themselves to do so (although some pay just pick at their own scabs).
  • Stage 2 – Zoophagia: In the second stage, RS sufferers eat live animals and/or drink their blood. The sources animal blood may come from butchers and abbatoirs if they have no direct access.
  • Stage 3 – True vampirism: In the final stage, RS sufferers drink blood from other human beings. The sources of blood may be stolen from blood banks or hospitals or may be direct from other people. In the most extreme cases, RS sufferers may commit violent crimes including murder to feed their craving.

What is clear from the description of zoophagia as part of Renfield’s Syndrome is that sexual pleasure and sexual arousal do not appear to be part of the motivation to engage in the behaviour. Of all the sexual paraphlias I have ever written about, zoophagia is one of the few that I find it hard to imagine what the etiology of the behaviour involves. How does anybody end up developing sexual pleasure from eating animals while they are still alive?

There is very little written about zoophagia from an academic perspective. Most references to the behaviour are found in the forensic crime literature in relation to sexual homicides or as a behaviour associated with specific events such as satanic rituals (although this is more to do with haematophagy – the drinking of animal blood – than zoopahgia). As Dr. Eric Hickey notes in his 2010 book Serial Murderers and Their Victims, in most countries, drinking blood is not a crime. Zoophagia is arguably a sub-type of haematophilia (i.e., a sexual paraphilia in which individuals derive sexual pleasure and arousal from the tasting or drinking blood). Dr. Hickey also noted the relationship between zoophagia and haematophilia:

“[Haematophilia] is usually done in the presence of others. Most persons engaging in this form of paraphilia also have participated in or have co-occurring paraphilia often harmful to others. In addition, a true hematolagniacis a fantasy-driven psychopath and to be considered very dangerous. According to Noll (1992), such desires are founded in severe childhood abuse. The child may engage in auto-vampirism in tasting his own blood and during puberty. These acts are eventually sexualized and reinforced through masturbation. A progressive paraphilic stage during adolescence is the sexual arousal of eating animals and drinking their blood (zoophagia) while masturbating. The compulsive, fantasy driven, sexual nature of this paraphilia creates a very dangerous adult”.

One of the most infamous serial killers that engaged in zoophagic activity was the German Peter Kurten (1883-1931), a mass murderer nicknamed the ‘Vampire of Dusseldorf’ (a case study also written about by Dr. Louis Schlesinger in his 2004 book Sexual Murder). Citing the work of criminologist Herschel Prins published in a 1985 issue of the British Journal of Psychiatry, Dr. Hickey recalled that:

Kurten was raised in a very physically and sexually abusive home where he witnessed his alcoholic father raping his mother and sisters. He also engaged in sexually abusing his sisters…At age 11 he was taught by the local dog catcher how to torture dogs and sheep while masturbating. He developed multiple paraphilia including vampirism, hematolagnia, necrophilia, erotophonophilia, and zoophagia and was known to drink directly from the severed jugular of his victims. He raped, tortured, and killed at least nine known victims although he was believed to have murdered several others. He used hammers, knives, and scissors to kill both young girls and women and admitted that he was sexually aroused by the blood and violence. Some victims incurred many more stab wounds than others, and when asked about this variation he explained that with some victims his orgasm was achieved more quickly…Before his beheading he asked if he would be able to hear the blood gushing from his neck stump because “that would be the pleasure to end all pleasures”.

Most of the literature on the drinking of blood for sexual pleasure concerns humans and is found in the studies on clinical vampirism (that I reviewed in a previous blog). From the few case studies I have read where zoophagia was mentioned in passing, all of the people written about engage in other sexually paraphilic behaviours (similar to that of Kurten outlined above). There may also be links between zoophagia and sexual cannibalism (which I also covered in a previous blog). For instance, some zoophagic activity might be viewed as omophagic activity in which the act is a form of symbolic ritual where the person consuming the blood and/or flesh of a live animal believes they are incorporating the ‘life force’ of the animal in question. For instance, an entry in Murderpedia claims:

“Some killers have adopted a form of omophagia, which is called zoophagia, as a means of possessing their victims. Zoophagia is the consumption of life forms, as seen in the character of Renfield in Dracula, who progresses from spiders to flies to birds to cats. The idea is to ingest increasingly sophisticated life forms as a way to improve one’s own”

An online article on vampires and the fetish scene by the Occult and Violent Ritual Crime Research Center notes that some of the behaviours that vampires engage in are similar to behaviours engaged in by fetishists. In a section on ‘blood rituals and blood play’, the article notes that throughout history and across cultures, people have attributed sacred and magical qualities to blood, and that blood rituals include drinking and/or pouring blood on the body. It also noted that:

“In some cultures it was believed that drinking the blood of a victim would endow you with the victim’s strength. Similarly by drinking the blood of an animal you would acquire its qualities…The use of blood is commonly referred to as blood sports, blood play, blood lust and blood fetishism”.

Any information that we currently have on zoophagia comes from clinical and/or forensic case studies. It would appear that zoophagia is incredibly rare, usually occurs among males, often coincides with other sexually paraphilic behaviour, and is most likely to occur among those with psychopathic and/or serial killing tendencies (unless the behaviour is part of a satanic and/or other ritualistic event).

Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Aggrawal A. (2009). Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices. Boca Raton: CRC Press.

Benezech, M., Bourgeois, M., Boukhabza, D. & Yesavage, J. (1981). Cannibalism and vampirism in paranoid schizophrenia. Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 42(7), 290.

Gubb, K., Segal, J., Khota1, A, Dicks, A. (2006). Clinical Vampirism: a review and illustrative case report. South African Psychiatry Review, 9, 163-168.

Halevy, A., Levi, Y., Ahnaker, A. & Orda, R. (1989). Auto-vampirism: An unusual cause of anaemia. Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, 82, 630-631.

Jaffe, P., & DiCataldo, F. (1994). Clinical vampirism: Blending myth and reality. Bulletin of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law, 22, 533-544.

Noll, R. (1992). Vampires, Werewolves and Demons: Twentieth Century Reports in the Psychiatric Literature. New York: Brunner/Mazel.

Occult and Violent Ritual Crime Research Center (2012). Renfield’s Syndrome. Located at:

Perlmutter, D. (2004). Investigating Religious Terrorism and Ritualistic Crimes.  Boca Raton, Florida: CRC Press LLC.

Prins, H. (1985). Vampirism: A clinical condition. British Journal of Psychiatry, 146, 666-668.

Wilson N. (2000) A psychoanalytic contribution to psychic vampirism: a case vignette. American Journal of Psychoanalysis, 60, 177-86.

About drmarkgriffiths

Professor MARK GRIFFITHS, BSc, PhD, CPsychol, PGDipHE, FBPsS, FRSA, AcSS. Dr. Mark Griffiths is a Chartered Psychologist and Distinguished Professor of Behavioural Addiction at the Nottingham Trent University, and Director of the International Gaming Research Unit. He is internationally known for his work into gambling and gaming addictions and has won many awards including the American 1994 John Rosecrance Research Prize for “outstanding scholarly contributions to the field of gambling research”, the 1998 European CELEJ Prize for best paper on gambling, the 2003 Canadian International Excellence Award for “outstanding contributions to the prevention of problem gambling and the practice of responsible gambling” and a North American 2006 Lifetime Achievement Award For Contributions To The Field Of Youth Gambling “in recognition of his dedication, leadership, and pioneering contributions to the field of youth gambling”. In 2013, he was given the Lifetime Research Award from the US National Council on Problem Gambling. He has published over 800 research papers, five books, over 150 book chapters, and over 1500 other articles. He has served on numerous national and international committees (e.g. BPS Council, BPS Social Psychology Section, Society for the Study of Gambling, Gamblers Anonymous General Services Board, National Council on Gambling etc.) and is a former National Chair of Gamcare. He also does a lot of freelance journalism and has appeared on over 3500 radio and television programmes since 1988. In 2004 he was awarded the Joseph Lister Prize for Social Sciences by the British Association for the Advancement of Science for being one of the UK’s “outstanding scientific communicators”. His awards also include the 2006 Excellence in the Teaching of Psychology Award by the British Psychological Society and the British Psychological Society Fellowship Award for “exceptional contributions to psychology”.

Posted on September 8, 2013, in Addiction, Case Studies, Compulsion, Eating disorders, Mania, Obsession, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, Paraphilia, Psychology, Sex and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. On further investigation you will find in fact that zoophagia is not ‘incredibly’ rare. It may be rare, but not ‘incredibly’ rare. Of course people will not want to admit to it, but just look at the number of trophy hunters, and a number of them indulge in various paraphilia.

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