Dogeaters follows the stories of several characters in the Philippines, including members of the Alacran, Avila and Gonzaga families. A dictator rules the country. However, leftists are challenging his authority and his actions, resulting in great turmoil and violence. The book begins with lengthy introductions and character descriptions. Rio Gonzaga plays the role of narrator for her family; other important characters are introduced through a third person narrator, such as the wealthy Severo Alacran, and his wife Isabel. The contrast between the upper-class lives of the Gonzagas and Alacrans and the poorer characters portrays the disparity amongst the different classes in Filipino society. Another narrator is Joey Sands, a local DJ at a gay club and a male prostitute. The book also explores the relationship between aspiring actor Romeo Rosales and Trinidad Gamboa. Despite the beliefs of many Filipinos, the lives of actresses such as Lolita Luna are not glamorous, but are instead a spiraling trap of drugs and sexual exploitation.
The novel intertwines these characters and stories through a series of events, including the "Young Miss Philippines" annual pageant, the Manila International Film Festival, and the assassination of human rights activist Senator Domingo Avila. Daisy Avila, the Senator's daughter, wins the beauty pageant, but instead of rejoicing in her victory, she becomes depressed and withdraws into her family home. She later publicly denounces the pageant, enters into a tumultuous relationship with foreign banker Malcolm Webb and then gets involved with political leftist Santos Tirador.
Meanwhile, the collapse of a cultural center during construction for the film festival kills many Filipino workers. The First Lady orders cement to be poured over the bodies and the continuation of construction. Rainer, a German director visiting for the film festival, convinces Joey to stay with him for the week that he is there. On the last day, Joey steals money and drugs from Rainer and witnesses Senator Domingo Avila's assassination. Joey ends up escaping to a rebel camp in the mountains. There, he meets Daisy Avila, who has been raped and tortured by General Ledesma and his military men as a result of her relationship with Santos, and hopes her sister and mother have escaped the country. It is revealed that Romeo has been framed for Senator Avila's assassination.
Rio then narrates the rest of the story, explaining the life stories of her family members.