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Can Cats Predict Human Deaths?

By Cricky Long

Can Cats Predict Human Deaths?

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."

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.

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Posted on September 8, 2009 says: i heard about kittys protecting peoples life i have eplilepsy and it has not taking me home yet thank god for that so but yes i do know that lab will say live because i had a six month old puppy help me to the ground without getting hurt so i do no animal help

Posted on September 6, 2009

Tabatha says: I have been taking care of this lady for 7 mo. at home care. She fell and ended up in a home. she has 2 cats. they were always around her at home. But with Hospice there, the cats are getting skinny like the owner, who is slowly loosing her appitite. The cats have taken on her role also. Now they are more attentive in her lap. and the strangest thing, when the lady has trouble breathing, the cats jump on her lap and start kneeding their front paws as if to comfort her. They did not do that a month ago. she doesn't have long to live, problably 1 mo. but they are acting stranger and more affectionate as the time nears. I definately believe that cats can sense or feel things humans can't, and if you think about it. Nursing and Convelicent Homes always have a pet Cat around.

Posted on June 22, 2009

Mary says: Perhaps Hailey knows a lot more of what is going on with you -whether by smell or ? I have no idea. Somehow she has picked up on some changes in your body. Illness changes our body chemistry and chemicals have their own smells, and cats and dogs have that organ under their noses/in their mouths called Jacobson's organ, and this organ gives them the ability to detect hundreds of individual "smells." I know they use this sense to determine the health, etc. of other animals, so surely they use it on us as well. My own kitty, JackOlantern, is behaving similarly to Hailey - She dosn't like to be picked up but for a minute, and is definitely not a lap cat. I have COPD and recently got a diagnosis of congestive heart failure, and was put on home oxygen. Even before the O2 was delivered, Jack's behavior had changed. She has started to climb in my lap, and follow me all over the house and the yard, even to the bathroom. She acts like I am going somewhere, which as far as I know, I am not. I did not go to the hospital and have not left home any time recently (not overnight) so I wonder what she is thinking. Jack sleeps by my chair, and gets up to check on me from time to time. It's like she is babysitting me. I'm only 52, and feel okay in spite of my lung disease. But I've heard several stories about cats and their people, and then see my own baby Jack "monitor" my activity. How I wish she and I could talk! Cats are certainly not stupid, as any cat person will attest.. I'm just a sucker for a kitty face, I guess...My other 3 cats have also become more "careful" (don't know if that's the right word) with me, but Jack is my "supervisor!"

Posted on September 1, 2008

Noeline Berning says: My father was dying and we all gathered around the bed in his last moments.... The cat lay on the bed between his legs. We were at his bedside for easily 8 hours. Once dad died i reached out to stroke the cat and found her clinically dead. We all lifted her ,felt her and 8 of us agreed she was clinically dead. We picked her up several times and checked... Miraculously, a few minutes later, she slowly came back to life. She looked bewildered and as if she had come out of a coma.... It was strange... We like to think she saw him on his way and accompanied his spirit intil he was safe1

Posted on October 9, 2008

Tabby says: To make this short, this past monday I had a biopsy done and I have an ultrasound this weekend for two different things that I've had to put off. We have an outside cat named Hailey. She has always let us pet her when outside but never have been able to pick her up nor would she sit on your lap. Well starting Monday I was sitting outside and she jumped up on the chair behind me then came to my side. She started patting at me from my waist to my chest. Since the other night everytime I walk outside she stops what she is doing and come over to me and jumps on me and does the same thing. I showed my boyfriend and told him to watch as I went outside. Mind you, I'm almost 28yrs old. So I'm not elderly by far. But why all of the sudden would she start acting like this with me. My boyfriend said hes tried to get her to do the same to him but she wouldn't.

Posted on May 4, 2008

RebeccaQ says: I was sad to read the harsh post to Katherine. Life is hard enough when we lose our pets-even Vets can't do everything to save them--Katherine, you loved your cat dearly and you blessed it with love and care-even went to a Vet 6 weeks prior and was told you could do nothing more. Be at peace and know your cat loved you for 16 years-How wonderful to have a dear precious pet cat that long! My sympathies to you-I'm glad you were there at the end. That too is a blessing... Thanks for sharing...

Posted on January 27, 2008

Madison says: My cat Charlie is very old and is about 50 is human years. He is very scaryed of new people and he hates being scaryed. Do you know why?

Posted on January 25, 2008

Deb says: We have had one male cat we rescued for about 2 yrs. about 2mos. ago another male cat decided to take up residence here, He acts like he has been an indoor cat. The 1st cat trys to welcome ne cats but when they hiss at him or spat at him he goes he goes at them. Not hurting them really. He will immediately stop the second I say stop that which is soon as I hear the first cross meow. The strange thing is he ill spray the other cat. He has done this twice. Does anyone kno hy he would do this to anohter male cat?

Posted on January 19, 2008

Brian says: Cat's do have an elevated sense and seem to just "know" things. Of our two cats, both are friendly and part of the family. One always hides whenever a stranger is in the house. Sometimes, he comes out and greets them. We noticed after a while he comes out of hiding right away for people we know that love cats. A couple that we know had cats for almost 40 years, but haven't had one in a couple years, but our cat still sensed from another room that these people were "cat" people (as opposed to some of our friends that are "dog" people.) Our other cat, well, he just loves everyone.

Posted on January 17, 2008

Lauren says: I believe Oscar must be sensing something from the people who are dying. If he were going by what the staff is doing, he'd probably head the other way, away from the action, since he's typically so aloof. I'd be more interested in knowing *why* he responds by snuggling up by them - comforting them, protecting them or for some other reason we humans can't understand. As for some of the harsh comments, we all know that pets are more than just objects that we can use & then discard if we're tired of them, but as pet lovers, I think we can go too far the other way with how we anthropomorphize them. As humans, we would hate to die alone but that doesn't mean all animals feel the same way. Of the last four cats that I've lost (all of whom lived into their teens and all of whom I'd had ever since they were born or were kittens), one was put to sleep at the vet, one died at the vet while being kept overnight for observation to decide what her options might be, one went out the back door never to be seen again, and one went into the closet in the back bedroom to die. They were all old and ill (or at least just worn out from a long life) and had had good medical care during their lives. Is going off somewhere to die alone worse than being hauled off to the vet? I don't know. Not a one of them seemed to be in pain as some people assume that a dying cat must be experiencing. I was just doing the best I knew how in each case. I was with the one who was put to sleep as the drugs took effect and stayed until the end. I was sad that I didn't get a chance to say good-bye to the one that died at the vets. I knew I might not get to bring her home again but thought I'd at least see her again. Of the other two, I last saw one as she was sitting looking out the back door. She seldom went outside at all and even then stayed on the patio. I knew she was nearing the end and when I couldn't locate her right away later that day, I didn't expect I'd find her ever. I looked all around the area for a couple of days but she was gone. The last one had been extra clingy since her sister had been put to sleep the year before. She got on my lap one day and lay against my shoulder for a few hours. I felt like she was telling me something - I held her as long as I could until I was too sore and stiff & finally had to put her down. She was around that evening, but not the next morning. I found her on the low shelf of a cart in a closet. She looked like she had just curled up asleep and then passed away. (She sure didn't look she died an "agonizing" death as one person said.) I don't feel that she died alone or that I neglected her by not taking her to the vet those last days. She was given lots of love and attention rather than put in a carrier and taken off where she'd be poked and prodded. I don't think the outcome would have been any different. She would have been put to sleep there or brought back home to live out her last days. I absolutely feel that the cats who died at home had a less stressful time at the end than the other two. If a cat has something that can't be treated and is in pain or other kinds of distress, or maybe they've gotten so they can't eat or move or respond, I would take them to the vet to end the suffering. Otherwise, I think that keeping them at home in familiar surroundings with the people who love them can be a very caring thing to do. I'm not saying it's the right thing to do in every case, but when I compare the last days of the two that died at the vet with the two that died at home, I know I would prefer keeping them at home.

Posted on January 14, 2008

Marie says: I just read Katherine's post about her cat dying, and I also read Christine's very cruel post to Katherine. Katherine had the cat for 16 years, and took it to the vet when she noticed it becoming ill. The wise thing to do was probably have it put to sleep, but I'm sure Katherine loved her cat so much, that she hated to give it up. People have jobs that they are required to go to, so obviously Katherine had to leave the cat at home while she worked. Since there were other cats there, obviously the sick cat wasn't actually alone. I think the Christine was being overly judgemental. Maybe Christine is the one who shouldn't have animals rather than Katherine. Anyone who can be that cruel to Katherine,a fellow human being, probably shouldn't have children either.

Posted on January 14, 2008

Mary Stiller says: My cat has bitten me in bed. Sometimes I reach over and pet her and she attacks me. She is always a distance away. She has torn the back of my hand with her teeth. Sometimes when i brush her back she tries to attack me. I have never had a cat bite me before. She was given to me when she was 7 years old. I have never had a cat bite me ever before. She crawls on my lap when i am reading or watching tv and never attacks me. Should I take her to the animal shelter.She is good company otherwise. Mary Stiller

Posted on January 8, 2008

bridget says: I think it depends on the cat. Some are just probably too proud to let their loved ones see them ill, injured, or dying. When my cat Socks was dying of cancer, she always hid under mom's bed. She always was a well-mannered, eccentric cat, and hiding might have been a part of it. Socks May 21,1995 - Nov 29, 2004

Posted on December 5, 2007

Ellizabeth A. Munnick says: I do believe that he does have a sixth sense. I have a cat named Benajmin and he is very close to my daughter. My daughter had been on dialysis for twenty two years before she received her second transplant in July of 2006. In June of 2006 he was sticking very close to her closer than ever before and for some reason he must have had that 6th sense she was about to receive her new kidney because after she received it and came home from Brigham and Women's hospital, he was at ease and still is devoted to her but not like he was in the month of June 2006. Also, whenever she needed to have her shunts declotted he knew in advance. So cats do have a special sense that cannot be explaned.

Posted on December 18, 2007

Sue Ellen says: My precious cat, Elvis, a stray I found and had for 14 years, left my home the morning of Dec. 11th at 5:00 A.M. in a rainy storm and never returned. I am devastated and continue to call him every day. Signs abound in the neighborhood requesting info as to his whereabouts. He never used a litter box, although he had one and preferred to spend his time outdoors in Texas. Everyone loved him. He liked to visit neighbors and would walk into their homes to visit. When I talked to him he replied! He was quite chatty. He was a fighter and several times had to be taken to the vet, put under, and have a neck bite tended to. He would recover beautifully and in the last three years did not fight anymore. I believe he went off to die. His last vet visit, a year ago was a healthy diagnosis, but after reading, I believe his thyroid had gone out of wack. He was eating more than usual and I notice more water drinking. This is now realized in hindsight. I will miss him forever. I wish that Christine would not be so mean to Katherine. Katherine did the best she could for her beloved friend and with the holidays upon us - compassion and kindness is how we should deal with grieving pet mourners and all people in general.

Posted on December 3, 2007

Christine says: i read your post about how your cat died, how you saw her lying on the floor like she was going to die, and you went to work and left here there. You really shouldnt have animals as you dont know how to treat them. you should have had her taken to the vet when you saw her in that condition, instead of letting her lie there all day in pain. You cat died a long painful death because of you and your lack of education, intelligence and compassion. Please dont get anymore animals until you learn how to care about how they feel. Ignorant people like you really make me ill.

Posted on December 2, 2007

Meagan says: I saved 2 kittens from being tossed out the door a little over a year ago. Nagi was the protector and Omi was my cuddler. about six months after i got them Omi started urinating on my clothes. I was told this was normal by my vet and not to worry. When I went to bed so did they. Omi would curl up right against me right away. Nagi would prowl the house one more time and come up with us. A few nights after Omi started urinating over my clothes, i went to bed and he hid under my bed. At the time i thought he was just mad at me for yelling at him so i picked him up and curled up with him to sleep. Nagi didn't prowl the house like normal which i thought was weird but curled right up with us instead meowing and licking at Omi. I was woken up a little after five to Nagi licking my face, meowing and nudging at his brother. He was telling me that Omi had died. It took my mother hours to calm me down enough to explain to me that it was not my fault. That he had been young and healthy. That I had done all i could for him by taking him in instead of leaving them on the street and giving them a warm loving home. So yes, readers, cats can predict death and yes they do hide. It is our job only to make sure they are loved healthy and happy.

Posted on November 25, 2007

Katherine says: My cat of 16 years just passed away last week. I took her to the vet about 6 weeks ago because she became very skinny and weak. After running some test, they found out that she had hyperthyrodism which speeds up her metabolism. They also mentioned that she had liver disease secondary to her hyperthyroidism. The vet said there was nothing they could do for her because the disease was too advanced. He let me know that it would be best to put my cat to sleep. At the time it didn't seem right because she was still doing her normal "cat" activities. She lived for another six weeks. Two days before she died she was running around outside with my other cats. I have heard about how cats hide before they die. I had a cat a couple of years ago who had did so. My cat did not though. She died on my living room floor. I wathced her take her last breaths. The morning of her death I was getting ready for work and she was just laying there. She wouldn't really move. She looked like she was going to die. I went to work and then rushed home. She was still laying there on my living room floor. I got to pet her and talk to her and shorly there after she took her last breaths. It was nice to be there by her side when she was dying.

Posted on November 21, 2007

Kristen says: The person who stated that cats leaving to die alone is a myth is definitely inaccurate. My wonderful cat, Myschieva (Missie) was only 10 years old when she left me to pass away. She was purely an indoor cat, and if she did wander out, she quickly rushed the door to come back in. The outside frightened her. She was also my "baby". She nursed on my hair every night, slept very close to me constantly, and never would have just wandered off. Additionally, the last time I saw her, she was perched in my kitchen window - at a height that my other cat, who loved the outdoors - won't (to this day) jump from. All other windows were closed or screened. A few weeks prior, Missie had some sort of sore or bite on her rear end (under her tail). I took her to the vet, fearing a brown recluse bite. He gave me some medication for her, but she left before it was healed. I wonder to this day if that was the cause of her death. She didn't get "sick", she didn't sleep alot, she was an otherwise healthy cat. That was 2 years ago and I still miss her. She had personality beyond personality. My other cat, Meine, is an old fogey. Going on 10, she is my "pretty but pointless". Low breed chocolate point siamese, about as cross-eyed as you can get, and the lump in the house. Very sweet.. very sedate. About a month ago, my son came across a new kitten in the neighborhood; an american silver tabby. We did try to find another home for him, but we still have him and he is now part of our family. We named him Columbus. He is very active, VERY playful (but rarely uses his claws, which is odd - he mostly bites, but usually, it's not very hard). The thing that we're all a little frustrated with is that he tries to play with Meine, and being the old lump she is, she has no interest. She warns him, fights him off her rump, and growls whenever he is near, but he just won't leave her alone. I will actually chase him down and toss him outside, leaving her inside, just so she can have some peace. But what can I say.. I'm a sucker for a feline with personality. Oh.. to backtrack a little back to Missie... she was also my comforter, my confidant, my friend, and my caretaker. She would let me cry on her fur, she would cuddle up to me when I was ill or sad, she would curl next to me so I could hold her if I was lonely. She always seemed to know when I needed her most, and she would be there. Whatever it is, 6th sense, smell, whatever.. they do most certainly know.

Posted on November 13, 2007

Janet says: My seven month old rescue kitten wants to sleep on my bed. I would rather she didn't. Is there a way to train a cat to a cat bed? Should I just shut her out of the bedrroms at night?

Posted on November 16, 2007

Shaye Ann says: When I was dying of pnuemonia and so racked with sickness because I refused to go to the doctors, my black rescue cat never left my side for 2 weeks in bed except to eat and use the litterbox. Found out after the ambulance took me to the hospital just what a miracle it was. My cat you couldnt even keep indoors, he liked being outdoors alot. I was dying and he knew it. No doubt about it.

Posted on November 14, 2007

Victoria says: some cats are show offs like mine Sprinkles. are all cats like that??????

Posted on November 1, 2007

denise says: I too believe cats know when they are dying. My cat Simone (Mone-Mone) was with me for 19 yrs. She started sleeping in the basement suddenly after always sleeping at the foot of my bed. I remember picking her up or her last day with me and my husband Greg. She meowed as if to say good-bye and passes away later that evening.

Posted on October 16, 2007

Brenda says: I had a cat that got into a fight with a raccoon and was badly injured. She crawled into the crawlspace in our unfinished basement where we could not reach her. We shoved food and water into the space and after two weeks she came out, partially healed enough so that we could take her to the vets and get her taken care of. She recovered with just some scarring. I am convinced she crawled into that space to die alone because she otherwise never left our sides.

Posted on October 17, 2007

Keith Mars says: I agree I think that animals know. My gr8 grandma whose 90 says animals just know!! I agree..One time when I Was boy I had a pet hamster and she passed and I didn't know well the king of the house,which was the first cat I had ,he seen me walk up the steps a few times..And everytime he seen me he'd run into the room where she was,and back to me so I was like okay I'll go in there and the hamster had passed,and I was cryin and Milo my cat was at ease..He knows these things..Here lately the animals all of them indoor and out door have been all over me..One cat just got on my shoulders,who never lets me even hold her..So animals I believe know when somethings up..When my grandma is in pain and walks the floor,the dog and cats walk with her,when she finally goes to bed..They are there with her until she's asleep the cats get up,but the dog stays!!

Posted on October 9, 2007

woodyv says: I read your story "going away to die". I had a grey tabby that was twelve years old. When he got very sick and was dying he would go to the basement and sleep under a chair, whereas, he use to sleep in the bed with me. So yes, I believe your cat may have gone away to die. I believe they know when its their time. Also, sorry to hear about your cat. I know you miss him.

Posted on October 11, 2007

sue says: Your kitty did not "go away to die". That is a myth. They are merely hiding from whatever is causing them discomfort. They do not understand illness or death,only pain and discomfort. Your kitty should have been taken to the vet for a diagnosis and treatment or humanely euthanized to spare him an agonizing death.....alone.

Posted on October 6, 2007

John Russell says: Our beloved yellow cat, Leo, had gone away. He was in weakened condition, prefered to sleep by his food bowl outside, on our attached garage's back porch, where he spent a lot of warm nights. He was about 18 years old ( we rescued Leo from a bad home)...we fear he has gone away to die. Has anyone else heard the rumors that cats do this? Leo had a great life and will be missed...we just want to try to figure out where or why he would go away. We live in a small city, there are no carnevours that could carry him off or cause him harm.. thanks

Posted on October 5, 2007

caitlyn says: i loved the article. it really is amazing what animals can do

Posted on September 22, 2007

Mary says: In observing kitty cat, my mother in law's male feline, when kitty cat cuddle up to her during the night, he was checking up on her. when he sensed that mom was going to be okay, he went about his daily business of being a cat.

Posted on October 5, 2007

Sue Turner says: I've had several in-door cats over the years. Everyone of them spent the day by my side whenever I was in bed with the flu or colds. Once, even when I was in bed after surgery. My grey tabby even cuddled up to me and put her paw into my hand and patted it when I was crying my heart out after my divorce. I definitely believe in cats abilities to sense things. I accidently closed one up in a closet just before leaving the house for several hours. On my return, the other cat sat in front of the door howling and reaching for the door knob. When I opened the door, the cat sauntered out. These two cats NEVER liked each other and never got along either before or after this incident.

Posted on July 19, 2011

gina says: I dont belive that when a cat snuggles on your side you have 4 hrs not true all cats snuggles on the side of you or behind you, on top of you I DONT BELIVE THAT

Posted on November 22, 2011

tmarie says: i have worked in skilled care as a cna since 79" cats is very comforting

Posted on June 22, 2012

sharon49 says: TO GINA. You might belive; I BELIEVE and know; your cat might snuggles; my cats SNUGGLE. Perhaps with a little more research into the subject, you may find a way out of your ignorance (meaning of ignorance is that you have not gained that knowledge yet, but are capable of learning).

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