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Oscar, the death-predicting cat
Status: Unexplained phenomenon
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: Animals, Death
Posted by Alex on Wed Jul 25, 2007
Comments (81)
More from the Hoax Museum Archives:
My father died three years ago from lung cancer. Two months before he was diagnosed my cat suddenly would not go near him. Before this they were best buddies. I believe my cat knew my dad was very ill. You can't tell me animals don't pick up on this stuff. I think Oscar is terrific.
Posted by Karen Patterson  in  Orchard Park, NY  on  Fri Jul 27, 2007  at  07:21 PM
AS A CAT OWNER FOR YEARS, I TRULY BELIEVE A CAT CAN HAVE SENSES OVER HUMANS. NOT ALL CATS! I HAVE FOUR CATS. I THINK MALE CATS ARE MORE SENSITIVE TO HUMANS.

THIS CAT OF MINE "KNOWS" WHEN YOU ARE VERY SICK OR IF YOU ARE DOWN IN THE DUMPS. THAT'S THE ONLY TIME HE WILL CURL-UP TO YOU, VERY CLOSELY. OTHERWISE HE JUST GOES ABOUT HIS BUSINESS OF TAKING NAPS.

AS SOMEONE MENTIONED BEFORE, THE EGYPTIANS BELIEVED CATS TO LEAD THE DEAD TO A SPIRITUAL PLACE OR SOMETHING SIMILAR TO THAT.

THEY SAY CATS HAVE A SENSE OF SPIRITUAL PRESENCES...SUCH AS GHOSTS OR SPIRITS. HOW A CAT WILL JUST BE SITTING THERE IN THE MIDDLE OF THE FLOOR AS YOU WATCH TV...AND SUDDENLY ACT AS THOUGH THEY SEE SOMETHING OR ARE STARTLED BY SOMETHING...AND THERE'S NOTHING THERE! CREEPY!!!
Posted by Mike  in  Illinois  on  Fri Jul 27, 2007  at  07:23 PM
AND ANOTHER THING...THAT CATS IS PROBABLY ABOUT TO RUN OUT OF LIVES!

IF HE STARTED WALKING TOWARD ME...HE'D GET ONE SWIFT KICK!

IMAGINE ALL THOSE NERVOUS SENIORS AS THE CAT HEADS TOWARD THEM JUST TO BE PET! CHANGE HIS NAME TO "DEATH" OR "THE GRIM REAPER"!
Posted by Mike  in  Illinois  on  Fri Jul 27, 2007  at  07:26 PM
I bet that cat supports Ron Paul for president in 2008
Posted by Julius  on  Fri Jul 27, 2007  at  07:49 PM
This fur ball is unlucky for sure. Cat descides to sleep in a bed and the occupant dies....creepy
Posted by EDDIE  on  Fri Jul 27, 2007  at  07:50 PM
the truth is, Oscar is posessed by a spirit or it's a spirit re-encarnated in a cat's body...
Posted by TO  in  San Diego,CA  on  Fri Jul 27, 2007  at  07:59 PM
Well, some dogs can sense when a person is going to have an epileptic seizure, so I'm guessing Oscar can sense a change in brain activity signaling eminent death. I think he curls up with the dying person to provide comfort in their last hours.
Posted by Rebecca  in  San Francisco, CA  on  Fri Jul 27, 2007  at  08:00 PM
the cat is evil. just look at it.
Posted by richard  in  philippines  on  Fri Jul 27, 2007  at  08:17 PM
hmmm INTRESTING STORY, VERY INTRESTING COMMENTS.

I THINK I AGREE WITH WHAT THEY ARE CLAIMING OSCAR TO BE DOING. MY SISTER'S CAT ALWAYS HATED MY MOTHER, BUT 2 WEEKS BEFORE SHE PASSED AWAY, HE WAS WITH HER ALL THE TIME. TOO BAD WE DIDNT GET THIS STORY IN MARCH!!!

ROCK ON OSCAR!!!
Posted by Sarah  in  Michigan  on  Fri Jul 27, 2007  at  08:22 PM
Now, the way I see it, there are two possibilities:
The first is the more exciting one; Oscar is actually able to perceive something about those that are near death, and responds to it. While I personally find this somewhat unlikely, we can't totally rule it out; having never been cats ourselves, we aren't privy to exactly what cats can and can't perceive.
The second is the option I find more likely; Oscar merely likes to curl up with people for the warmth and company. Some-times though, they die, and when they start to cool, he loses interest and leaves. People notice it when he leaves the newly departed, because they're there and paying attention to what's going on. However, when he curls up with a living person in no danger of dying, he eventually gets bored or hungry and wanders off; since the person is still alive, no one takes notice of the cat; he's just dong what cats do.
Ascribing dome mystical significance to these events is foolish in the extreme. Unless of course he actually is some sort of aura-hungy feline grim reaper, but I honestly think that that is just stupid.
Posted by Semicolon?  in  Oregon  on  Fri Jul 27, 2007  at  08:57 PM
Everyone knows that little angel of death is trying to freak the humans out. He just does it for attention, I had a pet smurf who did the same thing, had to put the dam thing down. Cute little bugger.
Posted by Aston  on  Fri Jul 27, 2007  at  09:08 PM
Amen to Adrian Parker from Toronto, Canada. She has it all together and is actually correct in her post, and being the best one here. I work in a nursing and rehab center and we have all kinds of dogs and cats that come and visit. We also have animal visitation day, the residents love it. They actually look forward to the day. When you get old and go to a center and noone comes to visit you look for the day when the pets come in, they will be your best friend next to the caring staff. This cat is not so strange it has been known for a long time cats can predict death. They also are comforting to a patient with long term illnesses. Thank Adrian for that post it was great. Dot
Posted by Dot  in  Maine  on  Fri Jul 27, 2007  at  10:09 PM
folks think of it this way. most animals can sense things we cant. change of weather--sickness etc.i look at it this way. most people are alone with NO family at the facility. the cat in its own way is trying to let them know they are NOT alone.it is trying to comfort them in its own way. we should all be so lucky as to have someone or something to comfort us as we die. KUDO'S to the cat
Posted by gary  in  texas  on  Fri Jul 27, 2007  at  10:10 PM
I work in a nursing home and we have what are considered by some to be ghost. When the residents see these so called ghost there is but a few short hours that some one to that residents room passes on or the resident that has seen the ghost passes. In most cases it seems to calm them rather than agrivate them. May Oscar is a good thing...maybe he makes them more comfortable.
Posted by Winddancer  in  Kentucky  on  Fri Jul 27, 2007  at  10:24 PM
a reference to Oscar the Deathcat was made in today's White House Press Secretary news conference with reporters in regards to a deathwatch on AG Gonzales' career... so, no politics derived from deathcats, eh? Say you're sorry, c'mon
Posted by Hairy Houdini  on  Fri Jul 27, 2007  at  10:26 PM
http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2007/07/20070727-8.html
Posted by Hairy Houdini  on  Fri Jul 27, 2007  at  10:28 PM
anybody stop to think that maybe every body he curled up next to was allergic to cats.
Posted by JASON  in  ORLANDO  on  Fri Jul 27, 2007  at  10:40 PM
We should all be so lucky to have such care and concern on our way out. Oscars behavior does not surprise me at all. Warm up and open your minds and stop analyzing every thing that crosses your path, whether it be a loving kitty or.....
Posted by deboo  in  California  on  Fri Jul 27, 2007  at  11:57 PM
Interesting story, but you have a point. G.W. has broken so many laws, an has violated the Constitution to the point that one has to ask the question, what is happening to our nations democracy? As a nation we have lost all credability under this current administration. Even worse, as we surf the web, innocent men and women are being killed in Iraq. We litteraly invaded a free and soverign nation. We as a nation should be ashamed of our leaders. Stand Up America, before it is to late. We are being sold out and fast!!!
Posted by Aaron Douglass  in  Southern Illinois  on  Sat Jul 28, 2007  at  12:24 AM
Personally I think that if pets aren't allowed to be in nursing homes or hospitals, then the same ban should extend to children, as they are also nasty dirty things. Give me a shedding dog over a nose picking brat any day of the week!
Posted by Blahma  in  New York  on  Sat Jul 28, 2007  at  12:39 AM
ok my cat curled up next to me and to my wife in next bed room neither of us are dead cat died last month
Posted by jim  in  michigan  on  Sat Jul 28, 2007  at  01:11 AM
I'll by into it. They have dogs that can recognize siezures before they happen.
Posted by chirs  in  here  on  Sat Jul 28, 2007  at  01:30 AM
i'm sure glad society and everything else is slowly on its way to hell and all we give a damn about is a cat that sleeps with dead people. What's next,mulitple hollywood celebs in jail?...yeah right

Way to go Society keep it up!!!
Posted by Ollie Tadick  in  Seattle, WA  on  Sat Jul 28, 2007  at  03:27 AM
Oh one more thing, if the people are about to die WHY IN THE HELL WOULD IT MATTER IF THEY'RE ALLGERIC?!

sincerly,
Kill the Ignorant
Posted by Ollie Tadick  in  Seattle, WA  on  Sat Jul 28, 2007  at  03:35 AM
Gosh just coz this poor cat cant defend itself dosent mean we should allow peoples stupid opinions to brainwash us, for christs sake this cat cant talk so how do we know what is really going on.. Poor Oscar..
Posted by ANONYMOUS  in  INDIA  on  Sat Jul 28, 2007  at  03:50 AM
Adrian Parker said:

"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."

I live on farm land owned by my wife's family where we currently have over 40 feral cats running around. I can tell you that they most definitely exhibit greed and envy. You seem to be trying to weasel out of your statement with the use of "generally" and "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."

What "things and vibes" are you referring to and how you propose to prove this notion?

"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."

Wow, that's a LOT of unsubstantiated statements for one sentence.

"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."

Read my previous comment and apply it to this sentence, too. Phew.

"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."

And yet, somehow, YOU seem to think YOU understand it. I mean, you're here, "explaining" it to us, right?
Posted by Cranky Media Guy  on  Sat Jul 28, 2007  at  04:51 AM
I hate to say anything nice about Jay Leno, but he's right. I have had two week long ICU stays due to exposure to places where cats had once been, not even actual cats. If I were awake and communicative, I could tell someone to keep that cat out of my room, because I (a healthy 30 year old) will die silently if it touches my nose or mouth, or lurks long enough that it's disgusting particles drift into those places.

"10 - 15% of us suffer from pet allergies, with cat allergy twice as common as dog allergy. The allergic symptoms are caused by the body's reaction to a specific protein (allergen) found in the pet's saliva, urine, or dander (dead skin flakes). People aren't allergic to pet fur, but rather to the allergen that clings to the fur, carpeting, or furniture. Microscopic flakes of dander also float through the air. In fact, researchers found enough cat allergen to cause allergic symptoms in homes that had not harbored a cat in over 3 years!" http://www.cuhumane.org/topics/allergy.html

But even more relevant for general death, the recent article "Cats Can Hamper Breathing Even in Non-Allergic" at http://www.medicinenet.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=82260

Conclusion: cats make it difficult for people to breathe. For some, like me, an hours exposure could easily be enough to kill, but I'm part of the 7-10% outlier. Everyone else lies on some other place on the distribution of bronchial difficulty due to cats, but the addition of being uncommunicative or unconscious and already very ill kinda makes a greatly expedited death a given.

**Special Request**
All you sensitive cat types should keep your animals out of out libraries and hospitals. However you may feel about them, they exclude 10% of the population completely, and create difficulties for a certain proportion of the rest. Whatever dubious benefits you think they bring, if the exclusion of 10% of the population doesn't outweigh them, there's really also no reason for you to be against slavery.
Posted by Jamaal  on  Sat Jul 28, 2007  at  12:09 PM
"Whatever dubious benefits you think they bring, if the exclusion of 10% of the population doesn't outweigh them, there's really also no reason for you to be against slavery."

There's also no reason for you to be against nazis!

Sorry, I just had to invoke Godwin's Law, since we were heading in that general direction anyway.
Posted by Sakano  in  Ohio  on  Sat Jul 28, 2007  at  03:18 PM
Sakano: I thought about comparing it to the holocaust, but then I remembered that I was trying to be srs. I kept in the slavery thing because that kind of irrelevant comparison might cause a Star Trek computer type meltdown in people who have a distorted enough sense of perception to believe that cats are appropriate at hospitals and libraries just because they personally like to stroke cats while they relax smile
Posted by Jamaal  on  Sat Jul 28, 2007  at  03:31 PM
Oh I see. Well, meltdowns are always fun to watch. LOL
Posted by Sakano  in  Ohio  on  Sat Jul 28, 2007  at  03:34 PM
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