Oscar, a therapy cat at the Steere House Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Providence, Rhode Island, was called the cat who could predict death or even a "furry grim reaper" or "four-legged angel of death."
I was a bit irked, when the news about Oscar came about in the New England Journal of Medicine back in 2007, portraying the cat in a way that some people found it creepy. Though Dr. David Dosa who broke the news in the paper said he never intended to make Oscar sound negative, unfortunately, many people who read that piece might not truly understand such behavior.
Many cats have the ability to tell if somebody might be sick, including their own peers. When a person is ill, the body is thought to emit a slightly different scent or pheromone that an animal such as a cat can easily detect. In a multi-cat household, an ear mite infected cat is often found being cared for by his feline buddies. The way they care for each other is by grooming into the ears. In other cases, a sick cat tends to alienate himself from his own colony in order to prevent being attacked by other cats because his different smell may trigger an alarm with other cats within the same colony.
There are many seizure patients that cannot live without supervision. In the past few years, we have realized that animals such as cats and dogs can foresee an imminent seizure episode, thus alert the patient to take precautions or get help.
Cats have extremely sensitive and acute sense of smell. Their nose is engineered in a way that they can capture particles in the air and signal the brain to analyze what the scent is about. Cats have what is called a Jacobson organ positioned inside their mouth. This is something that differs them from many other animals. It can decipher a scent in great detail. For instance, they use their Jacobson organ to tell if a cat is healthy, male or feline, pregnant, a friend or foe and so on.
A cat can survive without vision because he can smell his way to get to where he wants to go. Also, the reason that cats lose appetite when they catch a cold is due to the fact that their nose is congested, blocking their ability to smell and taste. The way cats determine a savory food is by smelling it because taste is associated to smell in felines.
It is no creepy matter that a cat may be able to foretell an illness or even death. We do not have the ability to do so because cats' sense of smell is 14 times stronger than ours. Oscar likes to mimic his staff to hold rituals before someone is dying. Cats are creatures of habits and it is no surprise that Oscar curls up by a dying patient two hours before the patient passes away. It is the environment that causes him this uncanny ability, not because he is different from other cats.
Oscar who was adopted by the nursing home when he was six months old has accurately predicted about 50 deaths. Does it make Oscar unique from other cats? No because many animals such as dogs or other felines can also sniff out diseases or even detect a natural disaster such as earthquakes and tornados. However, Oscar is definitely a special cat at the nursing home for the final care, comfort and companionship he provides to the terminally ill patients.