Rx: Do felines have a sixth sense for death?

I was doing my custodial work the other day, and I met a woman who told me that nursing homes are starting to use cats to sense death.

I thought this interesting and did some of my own research. It turns out, she was generalizing, but as usual, there is some truth in fallacy.

Introducing cats isn’t becoming a practice among nursing homes to sense death. However, in one particular nursing home in Rhode Island, there is a cat named Oscar, who the doctors and nurses have begun relying on to predict death. They’ve reported that Oscar brings their residents great comfort if they don’t have anyone else, and he also is a signal to staff to increase their care and inform family members for last visits. Apparently Oscar has predicted correctly over 50 deaths. Now, whether the death would have happened regardless of this superstition is up to debate – i.e. does this believe have an anti-placebo effect on the residents and actually make them believe their going to die, thus leading to death?

The other part of her statement, that cats were becoming increasingly more common in nursing homes comes from two different programs. The first is a relatively new initiative in which nursing homes will foster kittens from an animal shelter, bringing purpose back into the residents’ lives as they care for these homeless creatures. And the second is a study on robotic animal therapy – these cats aren’t real, they are robots -, but the same logic applies: it gives the residents something to care for.

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