Saturday, August 4, 2007

Six Sense - Can animals predict death?

In July 2007, a fascinating story emerged in the New England Journal of Medicine about a cat that could "predict" the deaths of patients in a nursing home several hours before they died.

Oscar, a cat adopted by the staff of the Steere House Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Providence, R.I., has at least 25 successful predictions, in which patients died hours after the cat sat down by their beds. After the nursing home's staff caught on to Oscar's ability, they began alerting families whenever the cat took up his post next to a patient. Most families tolerate or even welcome his presence, though Oscar becomes upset if forced out of the room of a dying patient, meowing outside the door.

Cats are normally associated with being aloof and independent.
Image courtesy Anna Humphreys/stock.xchng
Cats are normally associated with being aloof and independent.
Do they have a sixth sense regarding imminent death?

How does Oscar do it? Is it a "sixth sense," a unique scent he smells or something else? Animal experts have put forth a variety of explanations, though most agree that it likely has to do with a specific smell produced by dying patients. That is, people who are dying emit certain chemicals that aren't detectable by other humans but that may pique Oscar's heightened sense of smell. An expert on felines said that cats can sense sickness in their human and animal friends [Source: BBC News]. Jacqueline Pritchard, a British animal expert, told BBC News that she was certain that Oscar was sensing vital organs shutting down [Source: BBC News].

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