Cat predicts deaths in nursing home
By Catherine Elsworth in Los Angeles
Last Updated: 7:54pm BST 26/07/2007
The New England Journal of Medicine: Aday in the life of Oscar the cat
American doctors are baffled by a cat that can apparently predict exactly when nursing home patients are about to die.
Oscar has apparently predicted 25 deaths.
Oscar, who lives at the Steere House Nursing and Rehabilitation Centre in Rhode Island, curls up next to sick patients in their final hours.
So far he has been right in 25 cases, leading staff at the home to alert relatives when he is seen settling on a patient's bed.
It usually means they have less than four hours to live.
"He doesn't make too many mistakes. He seems to understand when patients are about to die," said Dr. David Dosa, who describes Oscar's uncanny knack for predicting death in the New England Journal of Medicine.
"Many family members take some solace from it. They appreciate the companionship that the cat provides for their dying loved one," added the doctor, a geriatrician and assistant professor of medicine at Brown University.
Oscar, now two, was adopted as a kitten and grew up in a dementia unit at the home which cares for people with Alzheimer's, Parkinson's disease and other illnesses.
Staff first noticed the cat making his rounds after about six months, sniffing patients and curling up beside those with only a few hours to live.
Dr. Joan Teno of Brown University, who treats patients at the nursing home, said Oscar was better at predicting death than the people who work there.
The doctor wondered if the cat was noticing telltale scents or somehow reading the behaviour of the nurses.
Staff at the home say most families are grateful for the advanced warning, although one wanted Oscar out of the room, at which point he paced and cried outside the door.
The cat recently received a wall plaque publicly commending his "compassionate hospice care".