Cat predicts patients' deaths: scientists - ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)
Cat predicts patients' deaths: scientists
By Paula Kruger
Audio: Cat can predict death, medical journal says (PM)
A cat at a US nursing home appears to be able to predict when patients are going to die. According to an essay in the respected New England Journal of Medicine, Oscar's predictions are proving more accurate than trained medical staff.
Patients in the advanced dementia unit of Steere House in Providence, Rhode Island, rarely have much awareness of their surroundings during their final hours of life.
If they did, they would probably hear the warm purring of a two-year-old cat named Oscar.
A detailed essay of Oscar's behaviour in the New England Journal Of Medical Science says the cat has presided over the deaths of 25 patients at Steere House.
According to the article's author, Oscar was rescued as a kitten from an animal refuge two years ago.
He does not usually care much for human company but every now and then, he snaps to attention, seeks out a patient and curls up in bed next to them.
He stays there paying attention to the patient as family members say their goodbyes and the priest give last rights, and then dissappears once the patient has died.
As word of Oscar's abilities hit the news websites in the US today, claims came in from across the country of people with psychic pets.
One man said he once had a gerbil who could consistently beat the spread on college football.
'Genetic' But Dr Kirstie Seksel, a vet and a specialist in animal behaviour, says she is not surprised by the descriptions of Oscar's behaviour.
"Animals are very good at reading body language, so this cat's probably picking up that even though the people are older and they don't move around much, there are differences in their respiration rate," she said.
"I suspect there are also some pheromones or different smells that these people are emitting that we're not able to detect and this is what the cat has picked up on."
Dr Seksel says genetic differences could explain why other cats in the nursing home do not display similar behaviour.
"Maybe this is a cat that can actually smell pheromones and other cats can't, just like with some people - they're able to detect key tones on human breath and other people can't," she said.
"It's a genetic thing that you're born with - you either can or you can't, a bit like you can curl your tongue or you can't curl your tongue."
Oscar's predictions have been so accurate that staff now call a patient's family if the cat appears purring at the door. Loved ones often have just enough time to say goodbye.
But nurse Mary-Lee Humphrey, who works the night shift at Steere House, says families have very fond feelings for the cat, despite his grim reaper-like role.
"The families surprisingly feel comforted about it," she said.
"As a matter of fact, I had a patient pass away and the family was not here at the time. They called later on and asked me, 'Was Oscar in the room when he passed away?' And Oscar was.
"If I didn't see it with my own eyes, I actually wouldn't have believed it. I think it's wonderful because he can sense it."
Maybe it does have to be seen to be believed but Oscar has not only drawn the attention of the New England Journal of Medicine, he has also been honoured by the Hospice Service of Rhode Island.
Other than that, he is a fairly average looking cat but a much loved member of the Steere nursing home.