The cat of death: Pet sniffs out those about to die

Scent of death?: A Providence, R.I., cat, (not pictured above) that lives at a nursing home has an uncanny ability to find and curl up by residents who are about to die. (Photo by grafwilliam)
Scent of death?: A Providence, R.I., cat, (not pictured above) that lives at a nursing home has an uncanny ability to find and curl up by residents who are about to die. (Photo by grafwilliam)
This has been the main topic of side conversations of floor staff members at the museum today.

Have you heard about this cat in a Providence, R.I., nursing home that has correctly identified the last 25 patients who were to die there?

Oscar, the cat, makes the rounds of the nursing home each morning, just like the medical staff. Some mornings, Oscar will then slip into a room, curl up next to an ailing patient. Within several hours, that patient dies. The cat is so accurate, nursing home staff members will call the family of a resident being visited by Oscar so that they can be present when their loved one passes away.

“He seems to understand when patients are about to die,” says Dr. David Dosa. “Many family members take some solace from it. They appreciate the companionship that the cat provides for their dying loved one.”

Before you get too creeped out by this, doctors at the nursing home say that most of the people Oscar visits are so sick, they’re not aware that he is there. And families, for the most part, seem to be pleased that their loved one got some special attention from Oscar before the death.

Is there science behind this phenomenon? After all, there are dogs that can sniff out oncoming epileptic seizures and there are rats that can sniff out buried land mines.

One theory is that Oscar picks up scents or reads something into the behavior of the nurses who raised him in being able to determine if a patient is going to die. One researcher points out that the only way to know for sure is to do a study of Oscar’s behavior when someone is dying compared to what he does when people aren’t dying.

What do you think is going on here? Share your thoughts with other Science Buzz readers.

Being one never to have a lot of trust in cats, especially after seeing the movie "Cats and Dogs, I’d like that investigation to go a little deeper. Cats can be a lot more devious than appears on the surface.

Your Comments, Thoughts, Questions, Ideas

mdr's picture
mdr says:

I think those patients just went catatonic, and being a cat, Oscar took offense at this and merely sucked the breath out of them when the nurses weren't looking.

posted on Thu, 07/26/2007 - 4:12pm
Gene's picture
Gene says:

I agree with the comment at this blog:

It's a cat -- it doesn't kill the people, it only FEEDS ON THEIR SOULS.

Still, not nearly as scary as vigilante squirrels.

posted on Thu, 07/26/2007 - 4:31pm
Liza's picture
Liza says:

Now, if Oscar was a dog...

There are reported cases of dogs predicting epileptics' seizures, detecting cancer or schitzophrenia, or reacting to diabetics' low blood sugar. It's not hard to imagine that impending death causes metabolic changes that a dog could detect, somehow. Maybe Oscar can, too.

Also, dogs have been bred and trained to be sensitive to people's moods. My dog is ultra sensitive to yelling, anger, or any kind of intrapersonal stress, whether or not it's directed at her. But she follows me around like a magnet if I'm sad or lonely or withdrawn. In conscious patients, anyway, maybe Oscar responds to something in a person's manner that people don't pick up on.

posted on Thu, 07/26/2007 - 4:45pm
JGordon's picture
JGordon says:

Oh crap oh crap oh crap!!!
I just woke up from a nap with my cat sleeping next to me!
I've got, what? Four hours to live?
Okay, quick -
-Make will
-Make dinner
-Eat dinner
-Punch dolphin
-See pyramids
-Wash dishes
-Take revenge on cat

posted on Thu, 07/26/2007 - 4:49pm
bryan kennedy's picture

We posted a while back about some bees that are getting jobs sniffing out some stuff as well.

posted on Thu, 07/26/2007 - 5:12pm
Terror -__-'s picture
Terror -__- says:

Lol. I read this and thought, that Cat has got a "Deathnote".

But seriously, It surprises me that a cat can do this. I've it could be some biological sign in the person in which the cat reacts to to or it may be the the electric heating blankets that were placed on the cold dying gets it attention for comfort. It could be any number of things, but it's seems to be a good warning signs for families to enjoy their last moments with their loved ones so I really don't care what it may be. (Unless the cat really does has a "Deathnote", lol.)

(BTW: Just look up "Deathnote" and you might get the idea.)

posted on Sat, 07/28/2007 - 12:50pm
Vamp's picture
Vamp says:

i know you mean well and you only want to cheer people up bout this mournful yet surprising article. deathnote is pretty kool. that was pretty awsome the way you brought that up! i would have thought of it sooner or later but you beat me to it nice one!

posted on Wed, 01/23/2008 - 12:03pm
Knight Raven's picture
Knight Raven says:

I think it is wonderful that "Oscar the Cat " is willing to stay next to these people. Cats are, in most case, skittish around human death. With the exception of a caretaker of the cat.

posted on Tue, 07/31/2007 - 5:15am
Laurie K.'s picture
Laurie K. says:

I am a hospice nurse, and I learned about this cat in an interdisciplinary team meeting today. Oscar not only comforts the dying... he gives the family a chance for a final "good-bye." Maybe it's a change in smell or demeanor of the patient? I have read of cats and dogs who are able to forewarn owners about impending heart attacks or seizures, so why not imminent death? I currently have a hospice patient on a "dementia floor" in a nursing home, and that floor has a resident cat named Sebastian. I will have to check into his ability to "predict" also.

posted on Wed, 08/01/2007 - 5:27pm
Amanda's picture
Amanda says:

I don't think this cat is evil, in my opinion. Animals can do amazing things, from saving peoples lives to helping with handy-caps. I seriously doubt the cat goes around sucking the breath out of patients and killing them. Besides, this cat must LOVE being around people, and I think its very cool that the family will be there to say goodbye. If I had a family member in the home and they were about to die I'd want to know, personally.

posted on Fri, 11/09/2007 - 4:39pm
Lorinda's picture
Lorinda says:

Ommg thats so weird.. i wish i had a cat who knew when death was near..

posted on Sat, 11/10/2007 - 2:11pm
Vamp's picture
Vamp says:

why would you want to know when death is near? death is a very depressing subject in my family. i wouldnt want to know about it. i have family members dropping like flies sometimes and half of them i dont even know. go figure.

posted on Wed, 01/23/2008 - 12:06pm
Gene's picture
Gene says:

Oscar has now predicted 50 deaths and is the subject of a new book.

posted on Tue, 02/02/2010 - 10:29am
Lora's picture
Lora says:

Oh no... I don't want to see that cat =D I mean can you really imagine if you were sitting in your room over there and that cat came in??? I'd throw something at it I guess. Is it possible that the cat is just spreading some disease? I'm not generally against cats, I own two kittens and they get everything, even cat health plans, but this one is creeping me out!

posted on Mon, 05/03/2010 - 4:15pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

no this is just a regular cat! you peoples are crazy!!!!!!!! a cat cannot cause death. people are just imagining things YOU CRAZY PEOPLE

posted on Tue, 05/04/2010 - 10:20am
The Banana's picture
The Banana says:

That cat seems so cool, dude. Well, except if you were about to die, and he came in your room, that'd be scary. But a psychic cat, possibly? Now, that would be beast. Haha, what our world has come to these days.

posted on Tue, 05/04/2010 - 11:25am
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

this citty is so cccccuuuuutttteeee!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! i love this ccat

posted on Tue, 05/04/2010 - 2:04pm

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