Stories tagged cats

Jul
26
2007

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.

Jun
28
2007

Wild origins: A recent study of DNA shows that our tamed domestic cats of today likely came from wild cats that roamed the deserts of the Middle East some 100,000 years ago. (Photo by grafwilliam)
Wild origins: A recent study of DNA shows that our tamed domestic cats of today likely came from wild cats that roamed the deserts of the Middle East some 100,000 years ago. (Photo by grafwilliam)
I have a neighbor with a cat that’s quasi tame/wild. It hunts down a collection of little critters in the neighborhood for fun and food. But it also has the most domesticated practices of politely asking to enter the home or wanting to be petted.

New research now shows that our house cats of today have a lot in common with their wild ancestors with links that go to wild cats from the Middle East some 100,000 years ago.

This is all interesting and historical news, right? But what does it have to do with science today? A lot actually. Medical research for human ailments like polycystic kidney disease and retinal atrophy can be modeled through these same cats.

Through genetic analysis, the researchers have found that today’s cats have a lot in common with five types of wild cats from the Middle East. Through interbreeding over the years, those five cats produced the line of cats that today are found as pets in our homes.

Wild cats found in Israel, United Arab Emerites, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia have similar DNA to our western tamed cats. And the thinking is that cats started to be tamed by humans around 10,000 to 12,000 years ago when humans began a farming economy. The cats were used to hunt down rodents that otherwise would try to eat away at the grains being stored from the harvest. Archeological evidence of cats living with people dates back about 9,500 years to the island of Cyprus.

Researchers think that these early Mid-Eastern cats might provide a pretty “pure” gene pool to analyze as well, since those cats lived in isolated desert areas and wouldn’t have had the chance to interbreed with too many other cat species.

Jan
25
2007

Cute, fluffy...and deadly?: Photo from Snap!
Cute, fluffy...and deadly?: Photo from Snap!
Can you tell I'm not a cat person? ;-)

Researchers report that bird flu mutates in cats faster than previously thought. Many human diseases originate in other animals, eventually mutating into a form that can infect us. AIDS is believed to have evolved from a similar disease in apes, and various strains of human flu reside in birds and farm animals before mutating and passing on to humans.

So far, very few people have been infected with "Bird flu" -- it seems to be hard for us to catch in its current form. But if it takes up residence in another mammal, it could mutate into a form that's much more deadly to us.

In the immortal words of Jan Hobson, it's time to throw your cat away.

(Kidding!)