I was rather amused by this AP article in SF Gate: Oscar the Cat Predicts Patients' Deaths. It describes a cat that was adopted by the nurses in a nursing home as a kitten. Since then it's proven to have quite a knack for figuring out which patients are hours away from dying.

His accuracy, observed in 25 cases, has led the staff to call family members once he has chosen someone. It usually means they have less than four hours to live.

You might think that this is a bad thing, but apparently it's quite helpful for the families.

"Many family members take some solace from it. They appreciate the companionship that the cat provides for their dying loved one," said Dosa, a geriatrician and assistant professor of medicine at Brown University.

And the patients themselves aren't likely to notice.

Doctors say most of the people who get a visit from the sweet-faced, gray-and-white cat are so ill they probably don't know he's there, so patients aren't aware he's a harbinger of death. Most families are grateful for the advanced warning, although one wanted Oscar out of the room while a family member died. When Oscar is put outside, he paces and meows his displeasure.

Of course, the cat is better than the professionals too!

Oscar is better at predicting death than the people who work there, said Dr. Joan Teno of Brown University, who treats patients at the nursing home and is an expert on care for the terminally ill.


I wonder if we'll ever figure out how animals can figure this out...

Posted by jzawodn at July 26, 2007 07:28 AM

Reader Comments
# Pete W said:

They don't - the cat turns up and infects them with their super-advanced KillAllHumans virus, and then sit and look content and purr until the poor hapless sap dies. It's a cat conspiracy I tell you...

The ninja-cats of doom are coming!

on July 26, 2007 07:56 AM
# Martin Belam said:

Or maybe it has just swallowed some Polonium, and is radiating them to death?

on July 26, 2007 08:28 AM
# Ray said:

They've known for years that some dogs can detect the presence of cancerous cells. One place trained a golden retriever to essentially "prescreen" patients; the dog would show greater attention and sniff and lick patients who had previously undetected tumors. There's some suggestion that it's scent related. Not surprising though... certain diseases and other bodily changes can alter your body chemistry in ways that can be fairly obvious. (E.g., many people on the Atkins Diet have detectable changes in their breath and body odor (ew!).)

on July 26, 2007 08:53 AM
# Brian said:

Sounds like a black and white episode of "The Twilight Zone" with Rod Serling introducing the plot. Do do do do....

I'm afraid Stephen King would write it with a different slant.

on July 26, 2007 10:06 AM
# jr said:

"I'm afraid Stephen King would write it with a different slant."

already did.


on July 26, 2007 03:11 PM
# John Simon said:

I wish Oscar was with us when my mother passed away. She seemed stable (and the doctor said ok) when I left for a quick shower, but her health quickly deteriorated and she died 10 mins before I could get back.

I'll have a cat around when I'm in my death bed. Seriously.

on July 26, 2007 10:48 PM
# Philip said:

Well, Terry Pratchett's known this for years. One point he makes repeatedly throughout the Discworld series is that cats and wizards are the only two creatures in the universe that can see the Grim Reaper.

on July 28, 2007 09:41 AM
# Joseph Hunkins said:

OK, this is morbid but I have a hunch the changing smells that are likely as organs start to fail is related to how the cat knows: http://answers.google.com/answers/threadview?id=607820

Another hypothesis is simply that there are common cues in these cases such as increased visitations or nurse care or food changes or ...

The *unreasonable* assumption implied by some media is that this is black cat magic. Animals are more perceptive than we are in many ways but they are not magical.

on July 28, 2007 04:28 PM
# Luke said:

I believe it. I used to live in a small apartment building. When I would open my apartment door, my cat would be down the stairs and sitting at the front door before I even got near the stairs. Of course, once he was out, he would hit the brakes and just sit there.

But every once in a while he would make a detour to a couple of apartments and would sit outside their door and wouldn't leave. So I knocked on the door. Every single time the person was someone with whom I would regularly chat with in the hallway or outside -- and very sick with the flu, though not sick enough to die, just be extremely miserable.

He knows when I've had a bad day - he sits next to me, which he normally won't do. If I'm angry, though I've not said or smacked anything, he gives me a look and keeps his distance.

So however they do it, it's pretty accurate.

on July 29, 2007 02:39 AM
# Seun Osewa said:

What if the cat is infected by a virus that accelerates the death of a sickly patient when it comes close to them?

on August 15, 2007 04:30 AM
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