Cat's 'Sixth Sense': Predicting Death?
Nursing Home Cat Named Oscar Seems to Know When Death Is Near
WebMD News Archive
From Shelter Resident to Star continued...
The cat, Dosa says, seems to snap to attention when he senses a patient is about to die. In the essay, for instance, Dosa tells of Oscar arriving at the room of a woman and curling up beside her for more than an hour, purring and paying attention to the patient as the family arrives and the priest gives last rites, then quietly taking his leave minutes after the woman passes away.
"As people would pass, the question [among staff] was always, 'Was Oscar at the bedside?'" Dosa tells WebMD. "And the answer was invariably 'yes.' This is an end-stage dementia unit. Deaths are common."
Oscar typically arrives at a dying patient's bedside a few hours before death, Dosa says, but sometimes a half day before. His presence has been a comfort to many family members, Dosa says. And his presence, coupled with a resident's worsening state of health, can help alert the nursing home staff to let family members know the patient may be nearing death. As Oscar's reputation grew, so did appreciation for his mission. "The largest hospice organization in the state presented him with a certificate ... acknowledging his work," Dosa says.
How Does He Know?
Explaining Oscar's track record and seeming ability to "read" a resident's end-of-life stages and predict death is a mystery, Dosa and others at the nursing home acknowledge. "Your guess is as good as mine," Dosa says when asked how Oscar picks up the sense of impending death.
"We know from some objective findings when death is imminent," Dosa says. For instance, if respirations grow difficult in a very sick patient, he says, doctors may tell loved ones death will probably occur soon.
The cat, however, might be picking up on specific odors surrounding death, Dosa and others say.
"I think there are certain chemicals released when someone is dying, and he is smelling and sensing those," says Joan Teno, MD, professor of community health and medicine at the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University, Providence, R.I., who also cares for Steere House residents.