Domesticated animals have long been thought to have an innate ability to sense distress in their owners, but there has been a growing list of anecdotal evidence from nursing home staff that suggests that cats may actually have an ability to detect a lot more than stress.
I recently spoke with an ex-nurse who told me the story of a nursing home in Australia that frequently had a feline visitor known as ‘the death cat’ among both staff and residents.
Although this cat did not actually live at the aged care home, it managed to find its way into the home at times throughout the year, and single out particular residents for attention in the aged care home’s lounge room.
While some may be quick to chalk these circumstances up to coincidence, it appears that this was not an isolated incident, as there have been many aged care homes and families with elderly loved ones who claim to have eerily similar stories.
In fact, a nursing home in the US actually has its own ‘death cat’ that has become somewhat of a celebrity.
Oscar The Cat has been living in the Steere House Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Providence, Rhode Island since 2005, and has a facebook fan page with close to 4000 followers.
The staff at the facility believed that Oscar would nap near them in an attempt to comfort them in their last moments. And if he was sent out of the room, he would either sit by the door purring, or scratch at it to be let back in.
Regardless of your own personal views on the supernatural, the sheer amount of stories regarding cats and death clearly warrant some examination – but could this be the work of heightened senses? Or does the grim reaper just happen to have whiskers?
When you consider the amount of weird and wonderful creatures in the animal kingdom, the rich history and mystique that surrounds cats suggest that the average four-legged feline may be capable of much more than we give them credit for.
Although the most obvious superstition associated with cats is the black cat being a symbol of impending bad luck, some cultures actually worshipped cats and saw them as a symbol of fertility, protection, and psychic ability.
Instinct is a word often associated with animal behaviours, but the term itself actually refers to tendencies that are hard-wired.
Cats rely primarily on body language to communicate with one another, which means that they must be attuned to the biological and behavioral changes in other species around them – including humans.
Apart from their heightened senses of sight, hearing and smell, cats can actually detect changes in body temperature.
Dogs have always been renowned for their sense of smell, but research suggests that cats are significantly better at sensing and discriminating between a wider variety of smells.
Although there have been no formal studies on the ability of cats to sniff out illness and disease, the fact the significant research suggests that dogs can detect odor signatures in the skin and sweat of humans as well as things like impending seizures and cancer – make it highly likely that cats can do the same – if not more.
Even though the vast majority of evidence on this topic is anecdotal, the fact that dogs are used by authorities to sniff out dead bodies lends credibility to the idea that a cat may be able to detect a dying person.
While I certainly don’t suggest that every unexpected feline encounter may have sinister connotations, please don’t pussy-foot around the idea of seeing the doctor if the nextdoor neighbor’s cat suddenly comes calling.