The Cat Who Could Predict Death

David Dosa, MD, a geriatrician since 2003 in Barrington, Rhode Island, has made the news recently with revelations of a cat that uncannily predicts death. His book Making Rounds with Oscar: The Extraordinary Gift of an Ordinary Cat is excerpted in Readers Digest:

My faith in science and my own intellectual vanity led me to reject the notion that some four-legged feline possessed special powers. As a researcher, I’d been taught to consider facts dispassionately—to analyze them, form theories, and poke holes in them until new theories arose that were closer to the truth. From a scientific point of view, it seemed ludicrous that a cat could predict human death. It was much easier to say that Oscar was drawn to warm, quiet beds—cats sleep two thirds of the time anyway, right?

Still, there was a plausible biological explanation for the “sweet smell of death,” which was perhaps what Oscar had sensed. As cells die, carbohydrates are degraded into many different oxygenated compounds, including various types of ketones—chemical mixtures known for their fragrant aroma. Ketones are also found in abundance in untreated diabetics, and in medical school, we were taught to sniff a diabetic’s breath to determine whether sugar levels are high. Could it be that Oscar simply smelled an elevated level of a chemical compound released prior to death?

[full story in Readers Digest]

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