Can Cats Predict the Death of Humans?

Cats

Residents at The Steere nursing home in Providence, R.I. may think twice before saying, “Here kitty, kitty,” once they learn Oscar the rescue kitty’s main occupation: predicting patient deaths. Once Oscar, an otherwise aloof, if not misanthropic, cat snuggles up beside someone, it usually means that person has less than four hours to live. The two-year-old grey and white cat, which was adopted as a kitten by staff, began to march up and down the facility’s hallways at the age of around 6 months. He has been on patrol ever since.

According to David Dosa, MD, a geriatrics specialist and an assistant professor of medicine at Brown University, “Oscar has successfully predicted 25 deaths…. He missed only one. And in that instance, two deaths occurred simultaneously.”

No one is able to definitively say how Oscar is making his predictions. Many in the scientific and cat communities suspect that Oscar detects physiological changes in people, which tip him off that they are nearing death. Others in these same groups suggest the possibility that Oscar is not making predictions at all, but is instead taking his cue from the staff’s actions. Still others would like to believe that Oscar has a sixth sense. While the theories may differ, one of the known primary senses might be at work.

Can Oscar Smell Illness and Death?
Certified Cat Behavior Consultant Marilyn Krieger of The Cat Couch, who is based in the San Francisco area, says, “I really firmly believe that cats can detect physiological changes that occur in a person.” She explains that cats, as predators, “need to be able to detect when another animal is sick. This ability is part of their nature, part of their survival. They don’t want to get harmed.” While Krieger speculates that cats may be using smell, she is quick to state that she doesn’t know for certain how cats detect these changes.

Dosa also believes that an acute sense of smell may be a factor in Oscar’s ability. Other animals, he points out, can detect physiological changes in people. For example, he mentions that studies have shown dogs can smell cancer, while certain trained therapy dogs can predict when an epileptic is about to have a seizure. Anecdotally, some dog owners have claimed that their dogs can predict deaths, but these statements have not been verified, and no dog seems to match Oscar’s impressive track record.

Could Oscar Be a Copycat?
In response to the attention surrounding Oscar, scientists and animal behaviorists have suggested the possibility that Oscar is observing the staff members’ behavior and following their lead. But given that Oscar otherwise ignores the staff, this explanation seems unlikely. “This cat is not that friendly. He keeps to himself and sits in the window. This is not a cat that walks between people’s legs purring,” says Doctor Dosa.

Nor does it seem that Oscar could be picking up his cues from the residents, none of whom he visits until they are nearing death’s door. According to Doctor Dosa, when it is not quite yet someone’s time, Oscar “quickly figures it out and leaves.”

Krieger has not directly studied Oscar, but she does suggest that staff members and others may be conditioning the furry male feline to continue his sitting vigils through positive reinforcement. “This cat has probably been rewarded for doing this through attention or petting, which would perpetuate the behavior.”

Does Oscar Have a Sixth Sense?
There is the possibility — refuted by the scientific community but embraced by many cat lovers — that cats simply have a sixth sense when it comes to matters of life and death. A man of science, Doctor Dosa says he has “great respect for Oscar,” but he seems in no way ready to declare Oscar psychic. However, he does say, “It is a very spiritual kind of thing to watch a cat provide comfort to people who might otherwise die alone.”

That Oscar somehow knows when people are going to die is remarkable, but it is what he chooses to do with this information that is truly compelling — taking it upon himself to be present and to provide comfort in people’s final moments. For Oscar’s exemplary service, a local hospice agency went so far as to honor him with a plaque for “his compassionate hospice care.”

Image via Thinkstock

Cricky Long is the author of The Complete Cat Organizer and The Complete Dog Organizer, as well as more than eleven City Dog guidebooks, which cover dog-centric resources in numerous cities across the country.




Add Comment

Loving Cat Rhain Miraculously Survives Chemical Burns
Oakland Cat Cafe is Saving 100s of Cat Lives
Sick Cat With Crusted Eyes Reveals Stunning Different Colored Eyes After Treatment
Felix The Railway Cat Helps Humans and Watches Birds
Houston Driver Stops Traffic on Busy Toll Road to Save Cat
Adorable Kitten with Cleft Lip is the Cutest Thing You’ll See All Day
Long Lost London Cat Shows Up Eight Years Later in Paris
No Preview
Officer Saves Cat’s Life and Then Rescues Cat
20 Maine Coon Cats That Will Make Your Cat Look Tiny
20 Kittens So Cute it Hurts to Look at Them
No Preview
20 Awesome Cats Wearing Sunglasses
No Preview
20 Adorable Cats That are Ready for Christmas
How Many Types of Siamese Cats Are There?
The Mackerel Tabby: 5 Things You Didn’t Know
Five Myths About the Himalayan Cat
Chausie Cat Breed: 5 Things You Didn’t Know
Special Caretaking Tips For the American Shorthair
Can Cats Eat Eggs? Here’s the Full Answer
Abyssinian Cat Personality: 5 Things You Need to Know
How To Tell An Albino Cat From A White Cat
Five Funny Videos of Siamese Cats of 2017
Five Of The Cutest Main Coon Videos Of 2017
No Preview
Firefighters Rescue Cat That Got Stuck Upside Down Inside A Pipe
Newly Adopted Cat Has an Incredible Connection with Baby
Big Burly Bearded Man Rescues Tiny Kitten at 3 a.m.
Four-Year-Old Tucks His Rescue Kitten into Bed Every Single Night
Woman’s Friends Raise Money to Send Her Cat to Her in Ireland
No Preview
Community Takes Big Steps to Control Feral and Stray Cat Problem