Sep 24, 2019

The grim reaper with whiskers: Can cats actually predict death?

While every household pet has its own personality, most cat owners will agree that their four-legged friend acts as if it knows a whole lot more than any human could ever understand. 

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 homes lounge room. 

As heartwarming as that image may sound initially, this story took an unexpected and very morbid twist as it was revealed that every resident who became an object of this cat’s affection died within days of the encounter.

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.

Staff found that as he would roam around the pet-friendly facility, he would end up napping next to terminally ill residents that would later die within the next few hours.

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? 

Felines and Fatality

When you consider the amount of weird and wonderful creatures in the animal kingdom, the rich history and mystique that surrounds cats suggests 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.

While cats certainly have these proclivities, it is believed that cats may have a heightened sense of subliminal information processing that can only be described as advanced intuition.

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. 

There is no scientific evidence regarding the scent of people who are terminally ill, but a number of animal experts around the globe contend that a cats ability to sense impending death would most likely be the result of a specific smell being emitted by people on the verge of death. 

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.

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  1. I broke my fibula recently and my cat was extra cuddly during this time, jumping on my lap when she has never really done that before. They say purring may help to mend broken bones and mine certainly mended very well and my recovery overall has been very quick. She did take a shine to the wheelchair I was using whilst non weight bearing however and would glare at me until i transfered to my loungechair, when she would jump straight up and settle on it. Whenever I needed to use it again I would have to fight her to get off! lol

  2. My sister has stage 4 breast cancer and it’s in her bones and liver. My cat has been sleeping with her a lot during the day. I had another sister that passed away from cancer 9 years ago and her cat wouldn’t leave her bedside. I’m wondering if my cat can since she is dying.

  3. I was recently diagnosed with later onset type 1 diabetes. Some days it’s still a bit difficult to manage. After the (well, what-do-ya-know) *neighbour’s cat* stopped coming to my home about 6 months ago when their owner moved, I was longing to get another pusspuss.
    A few weeks ago I decided to adopt what turned into 2 rescue cats from a local shelter and give them a furever home. Initially, although timid, they were very affectionate. And the longer they spend within my home, the less timid they have become.
    I have however, been most surprised to see how they react when I have a hypo! Right from the first two days, they have come straight to me and rubbed my legs, looking right into my eyes as if to say “What’s wrong with you?” whenever my BSL is very low. One plonks himself on my foot and won’t move until I’ve treated the hypo. The other jumps onto the chair next to me and watches me intently until I pat her and tell her I’m ok.
    It’s fascinating!

  4. I agree cats can tell about death and change in health of an individual.
    I worked in aged care where we had a cat and she would wander the hallways and head to an area or a bedroom .Most of the time we would find a change in a persons health status .At night the cat would curl up on a bed and if this occurred over a few night we noted that this person eventually died short after the cats sleeping on the bed .

  5. My Mum was in hospital, terminal cancer. Her cat ‘Janeway’ couldn’t be with her. Janeway has never let anyone but my Mum & Dad touch her. I stayed in my Mum’s room whilst staying with my Dad and brothers out Northam way (Perth, WA) to be able to visit Mum more often.
    Mum passed away at approximately 3am on a Friday. Janeway had spent all that Thursday night cuddled up next to me, welcoming my affection until the phone rang notifying us of Mum’s passing.
    I am convinced Janeway knew.

    1. I’m so sorry that happened, but you’re got a wonderful cat. I would have been worried it was snuggling you because YOU were going to pass

  6. When my 37 yr old sister succumbed to brain cancer at our mother’s home, our mother and her husband were at her bedside and noted it was 3:07 am.
    During the 6 months prior to this, her 9 yr old Siamese, Tigger, started sleeping on her head at night.

    On the night she passed, my husband was at her home 10 mi away watching her 7 and 2 yr old daughters as they slept.

    A couple hours after she passed, I phoned my husband to say she passed. He asked if it happened around 3:07 am. I said yes, how did he know?

    He told me that at 3:07 he was woken up by an extremely loud and prolonged wail from Tigger. Two weeks later, Tigger passed as well.

  7. My cat Baby has always been clingy but lately she’s been extra clingy. I have recently been having a lot of life threatening conditions.
    Is this a sign of my passing?

  8. This is true. My uncle owned a cat and it never liked him. After a few years, I could sense my uncle getting ill and the cat started staying with him. A few days later he died. It’s my cat now so watch out. It’s a black cat

  9. I’m crazy about facts but I have noticed something, I have a very bad heart problem and can’t work due to it. I have 4 cats. Ages 18 – 1/5 – 14 weeks and 13 weeks.

    My heart problem is two different things completely and it’s getting worse and I hate the way I feel and my doctors tell me I can’t push myself and quite frankly I don’t know how not to do that.
    I’m also 22 but chaos is my 1 and 5 month old girl who has always been close to me but now she follows me around and watch’s me. I find it hard to breathe a lot and I’m very exhausted all the time and my 18 year old Tika and chaos cuddle me but all my cats sleep with me but so does another and she’s not mine.

    This was just weird to me from the side No that I can actually in seconds have a heart attack or going to cardiac arrest because that’s what my heart can actually do it goes high enough to go to her a heart attack and low enough to cardiac rest which it has done but I have not done that .

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