As a pet owner, you probably already know that your cat can sense things. For example, they intuitively know when you’re sad, snuggling up next to you to provide much-needed comfort. Studies even suggest1 that cats have developed social skills that let them understand our emotional signals. In addition, people believe that animals may also be able to sense micro changes in the environment before a storm or earthquake, such as changes in atmospheric pressure or acoustic signals in the ground.
Some people also believe that cats can sense impending death–both their own and the people in their lives. While we can’t know for sure, there is some evidence that cats can tell when death is near.
Keep reading to learn more.
How Can Cats Sense Death?
It’s thought that cats can detect small chemical changes that occur in animals and humans before they pass. For example, we may give off pheromones as our bodies begin dying, which our cats can pick up on with their heightened senses.
Cats rely on body language to communicate with one another, so it stands to reason that they may be attuned to the biological and behavioral changes that dying animals and humans exhibit. For example, they may detect increasing weakness or subtle changes in body temperature.
Can Cats Sense Their Own Death?
It appears that cats have some awareness of death, but it’s impossible to know the extent of their knowledge and if they understand the finality of it. Cats don’t appear to fear death, though they may sometimes wish to escape their pain. It is common for ill cats to hide symptoms of being unwell so not to alert predators that they’re sick, as they could then become an easy target. As a result, cats might start hiding as their time to pass draws near, though this could be a symptom of their worsening sickness and not a sign that the end is close.
The Cat That Could Sense Death
A therapy cat named Oscar from Rhode Island lived in a nursing and rehabilitation center. He made headlines in 2007 when he was featured in an article in the New England Journal of Medicine. According to the author, David Dosa, Oscar seemed to be able to predict when a patient was about to die. The cat would snuggle up next to them for a nap in the hours before their passing.
It got to the point where staff members at the facility would start calling family members when they found Oscar sleeping next to a patient. It is believed that Oscar predicted up to 100 deaths.
Of course, some skeptics believe it was a coincidence that Oscar would curl up next to a dying patient. They think he was snuggling up to the patients as they weren’t moving around much, and their bedrooms were very quiet, not because he knew intuitively that they would pass.
We can’t know exactly why Oscar acted the way he did, but if it brought comfort and closure to the dying patient’s family, that’s all that matters.
We may never know what is happening inside our cat’s heads or why they do what they do. Since they can’t tell us what they’re thinking or why they’re acting in any particular way, we have to use our senses to pick up on the cues our pets are putting down.
While it seems that our feline counterparts have such fine-tuned senses that they can sense impending death in themselves and others, we can’t know if it’s a sixth sense or just a coincidence.