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Oscar, the death-predicting cat
image The latest issue of the New England Journal of Medicine (Volume 357, Number 4) contains a short article about Oscar, a cat that seems to possess the ability to predict when people are about to die. Oscar's home is the Steere House Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Providence, Rhode Island, so he has many chances to be around dying people. When patients are about to die, he curls up next to them and happily sleeps there, until they're dead. Then he quietly exits the room. Most of the time the dying patients are so sick they don't even know he's there. The article in the NEJM states:
Since he was adopted by staff members as a kitten, Oscar the Cat has had an uncanny ability to predict when residents are about to die. Thus far, he has presided over the deaths of more than 25 residents on the third floor of Steere House Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Providence, Rhode Island. His mere presence at the bedside is viewed by physicians and nursing home staff as an almost absolute indicator of impending death, allowing staff members to adequately notify families. Oscar has also provided companionship to those who would otherwise have died alone. For his work, he is highly regarded by the physicians and staff at Steere House and by the families of the residents whom he serves.
Oscar is a cute cat, but my first thought was whether Oscar could somehow be causing or hastening the deaths of the patients, though I can't imagine how this could be. An Associated Press article raises some other possibilities:
No one's certain if Oscar's behavior is scientifically significant or points to a cause. Teno wonders if the cat notices telltale scents or reads something into the behavior of the nurses who raised him.
Nicholas Dodman, who directs an animal behavioral clinic at the Tufts University Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine and has read Dosa's article, said the only way to know is to carefully document how Oscar divides his time between the living and dying.
If Oscar really is a furry grim reaper, it's also possible his behavior could be driven by self-centered pleasures like a heated blanket placed on a dying person, Dodman said.
Normally I'm happy if a cat curls up with me, but in Oscar's case, I would be a little concerned. (Thanks, Big Gary)
Categories: AnimalsDeath
Posted by The Curator on Wed Jul 25, 2007
"Teno wonders if the cat notices telltale scents or reads something into the behavior of the nurses who raised him."

That's putting the cart before the horse (looking for a way to explain a "phenomenon" which might not even exist).

Sounds like confirmation bias to me.

The cat NEVER sleeps next to a person who didn't die while he was sleeping next to them?

Of these "more than 25", were they all as described where the cat didn't leave the person's side until the person had died, or were some of them a case where he slept next to someone who died in the next few days? If so, given the population, if he were randomly selecting a person to sleep next to, what are the odds for his hit rate?
Posted by JoeDaJuggler  in  St. Louis, MO  on  Wed Jul 25, 2007  at  10:44 PM
And I sure hope they're not notifying the next of kin based SOLELY on the cat!
Posted by JoeDaJuggler  in  St. Louis, MO  on  Wed Jul 25, 2007  at  10:47 PM
Many cultures believed that cats were the ones who managed the passing of the dead from this world to the next. So it's an interesting story
Posted by MangaBottle  on  Wed Jul 25, 2007  at  11:09 PM
nothing too strange to me abt this. there's lots of things out there that are beyond our ability to understand e.g. alien abduction, ghosts, black holes. though most of it I think people made up, I believe it started off as being true, then it got exaggerated. We've known cases where animals can tell when an earthquake was about to happen, or before the big tsunami, animals ran off to higher ground. so this cat probably picks up some wavelength outside of our known band, and he was just trying to be nice and be a companion to the dying person. I've got 6 cats and sometimes the way they try to tell me something (hungry, play me with - i'm bored) makes me feel dumb coz I ca't understand them. and most times, i can't understand just because i'm not listening - too busy, too ignorant, not pay attention. just like between us humans really.
Posted by JeZZe  in  malaysia  on  Thu Jul 26, 2007  at  12:11 AM
I'll tell you one thing- I wouldn't let the cat come near me, true or not. I think patients would be best advised to keep some form of small pistol under their pillows.

"That's it Oscar...you just keeeep walking there. Just keep on moving right past me..."
Posted by Renquist  in  Glasgow, Scotland  on  Thu Jul 26, 2007  at  12:29 AM
Oscar is still alive?
I saw him in a documentary recently
Thing is my wife had that documentary on video
from long before we got married.

If he's still alive he can't have long left.
Posted by Sharruma  in  capable of finishing a coherent  on  Thu Jul 26, 2007  at  12:39 AM
Seeing as my cat, Nina, used to come lay with me whenever I was sick in bed I believe this. She would usually sleep in my mother's room but if I was sick or not feeling well she would come in and lie by my head and purr.

She seemed to know when things were amiss with one of the family members, she even attacked my mother once when she was going to beat me for something bad I'd done...

I miss her :(
Posted by Emidawg  on  Thu Jul 26, 2007  at  01:10 AM
"Oscar is still alive?
I saw him in a documentary recently
Thing is my wife had that documentary on video
from long before we got married.

If he's still alive he can't have long left."

Here's a theory- he's actually absorbing their life-forces in a vampiric quest to become immortal.
Posted by Renquist  in  Glasgow, Scotland  on  Thu Jul 26, 2007  at  01:37 AM
Sharruma, it must be a different Oscar, because this one is described as being 2 years old in the article.
Posted by JoeDaJuggler  in  St. Louis, MO  on  Thu Jul 26, 2007  at  02:41 AM
JeZZe said:
"We've known cases where animals can tell when an earthquake was about to happen, or before the big tsunami, animals ran off to higher ground."

Do you know of one scientifically documented case where animals have detected a natural disaster before it happens? I think you'll find that is an urban myth.

"so this cat probably picks up some wavelength outside of our known band"

Humans have the ability to detect frequencies from 0 to Gamma-rays using their senses and modern technology. That would include sound waves, radio waves, visible, infrared and ultraviolet light as well as X-rays. So if Oscar can detect anything, so can humans. If there is something else outside this range, that would be a major scientific discovery that has eluded thousands of scientists and engineers for 100 years. This of course assumes dead people emit some different kind of electromagnetic waves when they are close to death, which seems unlikely.

Maybe Oscar's owner should apply for the James Randi $1,000,000 Paranormal Challenge.
Posted by Captain Al  in  Vancouver Island, Canada  on  Thu Jul 26, 2007  at  08:02 AM
I like his stoic arrogant look.
Posted by Unfairly Balanced  in  Earth  on  Thu Jul 26, 2007  at  08:37 AM
What the hell is a cat doing in a medical facility??
Posted by Maegan  in  Tampa, FL - USA  on  Thu Jul 26, 2007  at  09:02 AM
"What the hell is a cat doing in a medical facility??"

Seemingly killing people.

Cuts costs I suppose.
Posted by zoo  on  Thu Jul 26, 2007  at  09:28 AM
Couple of things regarding Oscar.........
1. Re: "what the hell is a cat doing in a medical facility? from Megan in Tampa Florida" .......

Megan as you are well aware Dogs and other animals have long been established as "good" etc. for healing and calming purposes to both the sick and elderly...in a dementia/alzheimers unit don't you think that is a good thing for people that can sometimes be horribly scared and "out-of-touch" and "trapped" in their own minds? ie: a calming loving cat...? The answer Megan is yes.

2. Cats and all animals do not engage in the "vibes" humans put out ie: greed, envy, and a host of others generally........there are some exceptions to that. The point is that they are therefore emotionally "unencumbered and are therefore more in touch with things and vibes that we as humans do not pick up on. The fact that Oscar picks up on them passing away is not surprising at all rather it is to be expected of these creatures of God who,... apparently has been commissioned by "the big guy" to do his little part on earth here. There's probably a really cool Disney story here somewhere like in a past life Oscar was maybe a really screwed up human or something so....to pay pennance for that, God has relegated him to serve humans for 1 lifetime - as an animal-before being given another "human" existence on earth ie: his next reincarnation. Buy it.......open up your mind and know that these things and the way God works are far to complicated for you to ever, ever, ever understand. Cheers. Peace and love.
Posted by Adrian Parker  in  Toronto, Canada  on  Thu Jul 26, 2007  at  09:34 AM
The odd thing is that, in my experience, cats themselves prefer to die alone. When they feel their time has come, they seek out some remote place in their home and expire there.
Posted by Phred22  on  Thu Jul 26, 2007  at  12:36 PM
Correct me if I'm wrong but doesn't the human body give off it's heat when one is dying?
If so this cat is just trying to stay warm and cozy. Nothing mystical here.
Posted by Logic  on  Thu Jul 26, 2007  at  12:50 PM
The answer is obvious. If we kill the cat, no one will ever die again. Or if we want to destroy an institution or business. we should hide a doll of the cat in the building, the whiskers of the doll made from the hair of a person who died of old age.

Or if we want to die of old age, we should always carry a stuffed cat's foot on our keychains.

Or if we want to figure out which of multiple ideas or options we should choose, we can write each of them down on a piece of paper and place them in comfy kitty beds covered in catnip. Like a game of musical chairs, as the cat relaxes in each spot, the bed, and the idea, are eliminated from further consideration. This is scientifically proven to work, and will stand up to even the most basic common sense.

1. Everything has a reason.
2. The only thing different about the kitty beds are the ideas on the scraps of paper.
3. There is no other reason for a cat to choose a particular bed other than what makes then different.
4. Also, Etheric Vibrations.

QED
Posted by Ignorant and superstitious  on  Thu Jul 26, 2007  at  01:01 PM
that cat should curl up next to the US Constitution... it's dying as we speak, and GeeDub is standing on its neck. The Constitution's neck, not the cat's, but, if Geedub did stand on a cat's neck, I'd bet dollars to doughnuts that the uproar would be much greater than his Constitutional disregard. Hey, Geedub, can you stand on your head? Can I Stand On Your Head? Just axin
Posted by Hairy Houdini  on  Thu Jul 26, 2007  at  01:06 PM
I hate GW too, but, honestly, what does that have to do with this story?

I love cats and all, have 3, but if that little bastard came near me I'd crap myself.
Posted by Craig  on  Thu Jul 26, 2007  at  01:55 PM
Don't worry Craig. I've already skinned and tanned the cat; now I wear him as a mask, and curl up and sleep in the yards of the homes of my enemies.
Posted by Ignorant and superstitious  on  Thu Jul 26, 2007  at  02:38 PM
"Megan as you are well aware Dogs and other animals have long been established as "good" etc. for healing and calming purposes to both the sick and elderly...in a dementia/alzheimers unit don't you think that is a good thing for people that can sometimes be horribly scared and "out-of-touch" and "trapped" in their own minds? ie: a calming loving cat...? The answer Megan is yes."

But cats & dogs are still ANIMALS. People can easily clean themselves & take precautions to not shed too much of their skin & hair cells all over the place. Dogs & cats can't do that. In fact, they probably do all they can to shed as much as possible by scratching/licking/cleaning themselves.

To hell with "theraputic" uses for cats & dogs. They're still nasty dirty things & don't belong in a hospital - even if it is just a nursing home for old peopl.
Posted by Maegan  in  Tampa, FL - USA  on  Thu Jul 26, 2007  at  02:40 PM
It could be a different cat,
I thought the previous one's name was oscar too
but it was the medical facility that I remembered most.
They have a lot of cats there and not all the patients are happy about it.

(I'm pretty sure the name was Oscar though, maybe this one is the son or something)
Posted by Sharruma  in  capable of finishing a coherent  on  Thu Jul 26, 2007  at  03:11 PM
what does GWB have in common with a creepy deathcat that steals the breath of the gravely ill, you ask? They both lick balls; the cat- his own... GWB- Cheney's and possibly Condy's, too... as for differences, well, I assume the cat is housebroken
Posted by Hairy Houdini  on  Thu Jul 26, 2007  at  05:22 PM
Oscar is obviously the Angel of Death....
Posted by Josh  in  Texas  on  Thu Jul 26, 2007  at  08:48 PM
Maegan, if it's like many nursing homes I've been to, then much of it is probably more like a dormatory than a hospital. It's (hopefully) not as though the cat is wandering into operating rooms.
Posted by Accipiter  on  Thu Jul 26, 2007  at  10:47 PM
"Didn't anybody think that maybe these people were allergic to cats?" - Jay Leno
Posted by Captain Al  in  Vancouver Island, Canada  on  Fri Jul 27, 2007  at  12:47 AM
Nothing strange and nothing paranormal. As we approach death our bodies close down. Internal organs no longer filter waste products out of our blood and into urine or faeces. These waste products end up excreted by the lungs or skin. The smell is probably discernible to Oscar, but not to most humans. Quite why it attracts him I don't know, but cats react to scents.

Possibly the body's thermoregulation also fails and the change in skin temperature attracts Oscar to curl up.

I can visually notice signs of the shutting down process in my cats, up to 24 hours before it happens (or I use the signs as guidance for euthanasia) so it's not surprising that a cat can detect signs of death in other species.

The explanation is very mundane in spite of the media proclaiming it to be psychic. The question isn't that Oscar is able to detect this, but why he is attracted to it.

The ability to discern somethign as freshly dead is probably necessary in a predator like the cat. Mice do not take kindly to being eaten while still alive. This would be even more important in big cats whose prey has horns/tusks and hooves.
Posted by Sarah (Messybeast)  on  Fri Jul 27, 2007  at  08:15 AM
Well, either the cat is a psychic vampire, or it's the physical representation on this plane of an awful soul-sucking demon. Or it's just one of those things cats do to freak humans out. They're very good at that.
Posted by Nona  in  London  on  Fri Jul 27, 2007  at  08:17 AM
Is this what our health care system has come down to when this is the only 'cat scan' the hospice can afford?
Posted by TJ  in  New Mexico  on  Fri Jul 27, 2007  at  11:58 AM
"To hell with "theraputic" uses for cats & dogs. They're still nasty dirty things & don't belong in a hospital - even if it is just a nursing home for old peopl."

It's obvious you're not an animal fan. I'm sure if you asked the majority of people in the nursing home, most of them don't mind shed fur or skin cells. (Which can easily be cleaned up anyway, unless there's no janitor or housekeepr around.)

If I were in a nursing home, I'd be much happier with a pet to keep me company.
Posted by Sakano  in  Ohio  on  Fri Jul 27, 2007  at  04:37 PM
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