It’s been said that pets can improve their owners’ quality of life, both physically and emotionally. They can help to calm nerves and lower blood pressure, and have been shown to prompt the release of “feel-good” hormones such as serotonin, prolactin, and oxytocin. Pets can help owners connect with other people in social environments, create more trusting and happier relationships, and can help those who suffer from heart problems. If all of their pet qualities weren’t enough, dogs and cats have been known to detect illnesses in people too.
Whether or not household cats and dogs can sense illness, ailments, and diseases within humans is a topic that has been raising some eyebrows, but there is some evidence behind the phenomenon.
Oscar is a domestic shorthair white and tortoiseshell cat to the average person, but to the dementia patients, nurses, and doctors on the third floor of the Steere House Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Providence, RI, Oscar is a therapy cat with the ability to accurately predict death.
To create a pet-friendly facility, Steere House adopted 6 cats in 2005, including Oscar. Six months into Oscar’s permanent residency at the facility, the staff started to observe his behavior as he would “make rounds” to dying patients. Oscar has accurately predicted 50 patient deaths, sleeping next to them during their last hours and not leaving their side until they’re escorted out of the facility. The employees at Steere House started using Oscar to the benefit of the patients’ families, alerting them when Oscar was present and letting them know their loved one only had hours left to live.
The idea behind Oscar’s ability to predict death isn’t that far fetched, although some have varying opinions. A cat’s sense of smell is 14 times that of a human’s, resulting in the ability to detect smells more acutely, especially when using the vomeronasal (Jacobson’s) organ located in the roof of the mouth. The vomeronasal organ in a cat acts as a scent analyzer, where the scent is collected in the mouth and the tongue is used to push it up into the organ. Animal behavior experts have said that the explanation for Oscar’s behavior is that he is most likely smelling ketones being released by the body prior to the organs shutting down. He might also be able to pick up on the changed physical and psychological behavior of the dying patient with his “sixth sense.”
“Animals are particularly sensitive to a whole range of cues of which we are not always aware and can pick up on minute chemical changes. For example, you can train a dog to predict an epilepsy fit in a patient before they even sense it themselves, or even detect cancer, so it seems reasonable to suppose you might be able to train a cat to detect that a person was terminally ill, particularly as they have such a good sense of smell,” said Daniel Mills, a specialist in veterinary behavioral medicine at Lincoln University, who believes in Oscar’s ability to accurately predict death.
Whether or not you believe it, there has never been an error in Oscar’s deadly predictions since 2005, and it seems that he was on to something. Many other pet owners have proclaimed that their dogs and cats have saved lives by detecting cancer, epilepsy, diabetes, seizures, blood sugar drops, heart attacks, and strokes through changes in behavior and the smell of chemical changes in the human body.
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