Death comes in many forms. Such as this cute little KITTY OF DOOM!

Oscar the cat predicts patients’ deaths – Yahoo! News

PROVIDENCE, R.I. – Oscar the cat seems to have an uncanny knack for predicting when nursing home patients are going to die, by curling up next to them during their final hours. His accuracy, observed in 25 cases, has led the staff to call family members once he has chosen someone. It usually means they have less than four hours to live.

“He doesn’t make too many mistakes. He seems to understand when patients are about to die,” said Dr. David Dosa in an interview. He describes the phenomenon in a poignant essay in Thursday’s issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

“Many family members take some solace from it. They appreciate the companionship that the cat provides for their dying loved one,” said Dosa, a geriatrician and assistant professor of medicine at Brown University.

I actually don’t have that much to say about this. I just thought it was kind of neat. I made an attempt at a Demon Kitty from Hell joke, but it wasn’t working so I’ll just let it be.

21 thoughts on “Death comes in many forms. Such as this cute little KITTY OF DOOM!

  1. Awwww!  I hope when I’m dying I have a furry little kitty to keep me company.  Much better than whiny, hand-wringing humans.

    My cat’s name is Oscar, BTW.

  2. Awww – how? Death pheromones?

    The cat’s hearing and sense of smell is about equal to that of a bloodhound (except you’ll never get a cat to go fetch anything for you)  There must be a lot of changes that happen in the body right before death.  Animals often show concern for their owners and this cat probably knows everybody there really well, what their heartbeats and breathing normally sound like, etc. 

    Got to be the sweetest gig a housecat ever had… just an unlimited supply of laps to curl up on, and people who have nothing better to do than pet him and talk to him and tell him what a great widdle kitty him is, oh yes him is!!!

  3. smile – so we should in theory be able to detect that ourselves, if it’s sound we can use listening devices that work on a cat’s frequency range, or for smell, a spectrophotometer (there would need to be at least 1 per person to know who). Perhaps a combination of these as well as patient behaviour is indicative of doom, certainly deserves study because (if a cat can) we should be able to do this.
    Animals I think would be good in hospital/schools to aid recovery/caring learning if it wasn’t for the hairs + what they bring in, certainly for hospices

  4. – so we should in theory be able to detect that ourselves, if it’s sound we can use listening devices that work on a cat’s frequency range, or for smell, a spectrophotometer…

    I would think so.  Probably the inevitable “Tricorder™” devices of the not-so-distant future will use some combination of machine senses and computing power.  It would be very valuable in any diagnostic context, and animal senses would be a logical starting point.

    If you Google “dog detected cancer” you’ll find lots of anecdote and also a few studies where researchers are looking into it with promising results.  And the BBC did a documentary on it which I have not seen.

  5. A cat tried to kill my husband. We visited a cat at the humane society because we were thinking about adopting her. Husband picked up the cat, who was billed as super affectionate. Cat didn’t like getting picked up and bit husband hard enough to draw blood. We decided not to adopt that particular kitty.

    Fast forward about six months. I’m rushing my husband to the hospital—we thought it was appendicitis but it was really a renal infarction and a blood clot in the artery behind his left knee. Coulda been worse, we were told. Coulda been a stroke or a pulmonary embolism.

    Turned out that the cat infected my husband with Bartonella, which infected his prosthetic aortic valve, which led to endocarditis, which led to a vegetative growth throwing clots, which led to open heart surgery to replace the valve and more surgery a month later to bypass the blood clots in his leg so he could walk more than a few yards again.

    Two+ months of no work and thousands of dollars in medical expenses later we learned: don’t ever get bitten by a cat that has Bartonella (and more than 40% of all cats do) if you have an artificial heart valve. Who knew? We sure didn’t.

    Just another strange-but-true story.

    (PS – it cost us $240 to make sure our two kitties are Bartonella-free. Worth every penny.)

  6. Bahamat- correct me if I’m wrong, but as far as I know, current spectophotometric analysis will show abundance of elements and certain simple compounds, but is not so good with complex molecules.  So I’m betting the cat still has the edge over technology in sensing impending death.

    Just speculation, but nature has been working a bit longer than science has on some kinds of analysis, and has often been shown to have anticipated technological ingenuity by millions or billions of years.

  7. zilch: but as far as I know, current spectophotometric analysis will show abundance of elements and certain simple compounds, but is not so good with complex molecules

    Correct, but with determination it is still possible to work with complex molecules (as they also have specific absorptions and leave a unique IR fingerprint). It is also still possible to work with mixtures. The reason why it’s better with pure compounds is that otherwise you get more than one spectra overlaid on top of each other, however if you know what frequencies to look for (by scanning a sample of the pure compound), you can (when not too much overlap) make a diagnostic identification of it in a mixture. When there is overlap between spectra you’ll have to calibrate it against normal conditions, however there will be the odd fart or other small that’ll throw things off, but that didn’t seem to alarm the cat so it sounds like there is a way. Be very careful if you look for the IR fingerprint when dealing with mixtures, because there will be a lot of overlap, hopefully it can be calibrated against, or the overlap will not occur so much at whatever unique frequency you’re looking for. The UV-vis spectrum can be useful [I]IF[/I] you’re specific about frequency and calibrate against the air you’d expect to have in a nursing home. If worst comes to worst, we might be need to selectively seperate a mixture of air, but you are indeed correct that specific shaped receptors make detection of specific chemicals a lot easier for animals, we are quite primitive in making specificly shaped complex molecules, but we can measure specific light absorptions

    Certainly upcoming-death diagnosis might require looking out for patterns in the amount of more than compound, but hook up a computer, tell it what frequencies to look at and what to expect. Lab spectrophotometers are quite pricy but I’m sure mass-manufactured, less dressed-up compromises would work – and it might not need the same degree of accuracy (depends on the amount you’re looking for)

    Thanx to all for the feedback while I was asleep

  8. It’s a sweet idea, but I don’t buy it.  The quote by the doctor that “he doesn’t make too many mistakes” is a giveaway.  They’re discounting the misses and overemphasizing the hits, just as with any other “psychic animal.”  My guess is that the cat is reacting to human behavior (especially the nurses’) and they’re reinforcing that reaction.

  9. Too late to edit so I’ll just add about complex molecules:
    Also some spectra, like UV-vis are always quite simple because they can identify groups that are more rare in biomolecules (so are used for proteins and the like).
    Also from the spectra of complex molecules it is hard to determine structure, but determining amount is much easier, it requires only looking at how one of the specific peaks changes with concentration. You can look at more than one specific peaks if you want to confirm, it should all scale.
    Also I’ll add that complex molecules are less likely to vapourize (they have a lot of weight so their speed would be slower, so they’d find it difficult to escape, also a lot of them are solvated, which means it has to break free from interactions with water (whereas a lot of pheromones are small oil-like organics because they don’t dissolve well and evaporate more easily). Some complex molecules on the other hand are metal-complexes, because the charged metal pins back a big elaborate structure around a center point (think tert/quat proteins)

  10. I saw that news article about the cancer detecting dogs- GeekMom, we are not talking about psychic- it could be changes in the body give off aromas detectable to the cat which are pleasent to it.

    Course it could be it curls up with everybody, and given its an OLD peoples home…

  11. GM – almost certainly there’s a selection bias going on, but given the cat’s extraordinary senses, it doesn’t seem at all unlikely that it picks up on smells, sounds, and even body tremors that humans miss.  Nothing psychic about it.

    And the cat has to curl up with non-dying people sometimes… what’s it supposed to do on a slow-death week?  It isn’t performing a public service, (that is just not in a cat’s mentality) it’s getting attention from all its pet humans.

  12. Has anyone ever noticed that sometimes you can smell sick people. I think it’s in the same boat as what this cat does.

  13. The guide dog story stinks of urban legend/hoax. Sure they would not put such a dog down. But then they would not give him to another blind person. Maybe after the first case. Certainly not after the second. And the fact that he is called ‘Lucky’. As they say here in the TUI adverts – ‘Yeah, right’.

  14. Bahamat- thanks for the info.  I don’t see any theoretical reason why a spectrometer plus a computer could not eventually outsniff a bloodhound.  But we’re not there yet- dogs are still better sniffers than machines, at least for many molecules, and I bet cats are too.

    As far as death kitty goes: I’m agnostic.  As they say, the reliable information content of one anecdote is equal to that of ten or a hundred anecdotes- null.  But perhaps there’s something about departing the mortal coil that makes people want to pet cats, and DK sensed easy strokes from the dying folks.

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