Oscar The Death Cat: I Haz Sniffed Many Deaths

By Smriti Rao | February 2, 2010 2:33 pm

oscar-catFor the last five years, Oscar the cat has been sniffing out death. Literally.

The cat lives at the Steere House Nursing and Rehabilitation in Providence, Rhode Island, a facility that cares for people with severe dementia.

Back in 2007, geriatrician and Brown University professor David Dosa wrote a perspective in The New England Journal of Medicine claiming that Oscar is the cuddlier, feline equivalent of the Grim Reaper. According to Dosa, his mere presence at the bedside of severely ill patients is viewed by doctors and nurses alike as an almost absolute indicator of impending death.

Now Oscar is back in the news, as Dosa has just published a book expanding on the story.

The Telegraph reports:

The tortoiseshell and white cat spends its days pacing from room to room, rarely spending any time with patients except those with just hours to live.

If kept outside the room of a dying patient, Oscar will scratch on the door trying to get in.

When nurses once placed the cat on the bed of a patient they thought close to death, Oscar “charged out” and went to sit beside someone in another room. The cat’s judgment was better than that of the nurses: the second patient died that evening, while the first lived for two more days.

Over the years, Oscar has racked up an impressive record; Dosa claims the cat has morbidly predicted the deaths of about 50 patients at the nursing home. Dosa suggests Oscar’s unique ability could stem from an ability to detect ketones–distinctly odored biochemicals given off by dying cells. This isn’t as crazy as it sounds; after all, some dogs have been trained to sniff out cancer. However, since Dosa has only speculated on the science that could, maybe, potentially be at work here, we’re not going to consider this anything more than a sweet and odd story for the time being.

Or maybe there’s something more ominous going on. Could Oscar be an “angel of mercy,” taking it upon himself to put patients out of their misery? Judging from Dosa’s article in The New England Journal of Medicine, he may have half-suspected this himself:

“There will be no more deaths today, not in Room 310 or in any other room for that matter. After all, no one dies on the third floor unless Oscar pays a visit and stays awhile.”

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Image: New England Journal of Medicine

  • Dennis

    Well, just look at that face – obviously he’s death personified…

    …actually, he’s freaking adorable, albeit a bit creepy with that uncanny expression of cosmic wisdom that some cats possess.

  • Mareaux

    I hope there’s an Oscar nearby for me when my time comes! What a compassionate little fellow – no one dies alone on his watch!

  • Luis M. Rubio

    I really hope Oscar the cat doesn’t try coming over my way….. My dog is a cat death dealer….hahaha

  • Frank E.

    My black cat Boo died for 2 1/2 minutes when she was spayed as a kitten. It took days for Boo to go from coma, to blind, to clumsy, to -well she’s still clumsy.. I visited her at the animal hospital constantly and spoke to her through out her ordeal. Since then Boo has done some strange things. Just a for instance:

    When I brought her home, she went straight to the north west corner of my living room and raised her hackles, staring at the wall.
    It creeped me out, but I told myself it was just a crazy cat thing. A year went by, and she’d do the same thing every few days for 15 minutes or so. One day the property manager Sandy came by with a new mailbox key, so I invited her in. Sandy saw Boo in the corner, went white, and backed out of the room. I said, ” what’s going on?” Sandy said the previous tenant, an elderly woman, died and was found in her rocking chair where Boo was staring! That was the only place my cat tripped out in the whole apt. Since I moved out of the “death crib” she’s never did that again.

  • Chloe

    A friend of mine worked on a short film that had a death-predicting cat in it. http://www.sayinggoodbyemovie.com/

  • NUCLEARnicole

    this is EXACTLY like an episode of House. seriously.

  • Kunoichi Raikage.P.P.

    Before I think that so scary.Since I read the boo abouth Oscar(cat).My feel is don’t has.
    ***But the Oscar-chan it’s so cute..***

  • Karen

    What a dear cat. I hope I have such a compassionate visitor when my time comes.
    God Bless him…

  • Connie

    Mimi the Healer Cat

  • Tejas

    I was a salesman calling on nursing homes in Houston, TX, back in the 70’s. Before the health department came in and banned any animals in the homes…and rooms, there was a very special grey cat that did exactly what Oscar was doing in a home in the North Side. He too was treated like royalty.


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