When the novel Dogeaters was first published in 1990, the New York Times said that it was written with "wit and originality" Another critic argued that the novel is based on Filipino nationalism. In an interview with Ameena Meer, Hagedorn explains: “a lot of Filipinos were upset about that title. This sense of cultural shame came in. I had intended it as a metaphor. I should have fought the whole idea of trying to explain it, which they did on the book jacket. I didn’t want them to define it and I should have stood by my guns, because it’s been creating more trouble than necessary.”  Rachel Lee states that Dogeaters "illustrate[s] the transnational legacy of the United States imperialist practices." The San Diego Union stated, "Hagedorn transcends social strata, gender, culture, and politics in this exuberant, witty, and telling portrait of Philippine society."
Dogeaters won an American Book Award in 1990 and was nominated for the National Book Award in 1991.