Can Cats Sense Death?
Cats Behavior

Can Cats Sense Death?

Cats, renowned for their heightened sensitivity and perceptiveness, have been the subject of many tales throughout history, with a mysterious ability to sense death, often attributed to them. So, what do cats do when they sense death in humans? Let’s delve deep into the scientific research and anecdotal evidence surrounding this intriguing phenomenon. Our detailed article examines the truth behind cat intuition and how these sensitive creatures may perceive life's final moments.

a woman sitting in a chair next to a cat
a woman sitting in a chair next to a cat

Can Cats Sense Death?

Yes, cats can sense death due to their intensive sensitivity and perceptiveness, though the exact mechanisms through which they do this are yet to be fully understood. This is thought to be due to their heightened sense of smell and intuition, which allows them to pick up on changes in their environment and the people around them.  

When a cat senses death, they may display a change in behavior, such as becoming more affectionate, refusing to leave the person's side, or showing signs of anxiety or distress.

Scientific Explanations for Cats Sensing Death

Drawing upon veterinary science, biology, and animal behavior studies, how might cats actually detect impending death in their human companions? Let's try finding some scientific explanation for cat intuition.

Pheromones and chemical signals

One of the most prominent theories for cats sensing death is their excellent sense of smell. Cats have an incredible sense of smell, with around 200 million odor-sensitive cells in their noses compared to humans' mere 5 million. This refined olfactory system allows them to pick up on chemical changes in the body that occur as a result of illness. What do cats do when they sense illness? They may purr more frequently, knead, or provide comforting body contact. It's important to note that these behaviors can vary widely among individual cats, and not all cats may respond in the same way.

Sensitivity to emotional changes

In addition to their keen sense of smell, cats are also highly sensitive to changes in their environment and the people around them. This includes emotional changes, such as increased levels of stress or fear. When a human is nearing death, they often emit strong emotions that can be picked up by our cat friends.

Intuitive sense

Cats also have a strong intuitive sense, which may allow them to pick up on subtle cues that humans might not notice. This includes changes in breathing patterns, body movements, and even electrical signals emitted by the brain as it shuts down. Cats' heightened intuition may enable them to anticipate death before it occurs. 

How Can Cats Warn You of Death?

Cats, with their refined senses and heightened intuition, may display unusual behaviors when they sense an impending death in their human companions. Some signs to watch out for include increased affection, where the cat might become unusually clingy and refuse to leave the person's side. Conversely, they may also become anxious or stressed, often demonstrated by pacing, meowing more than usual, or showing signs of restlessness.

The Mysterious Sixth Sense of Cats

The exact nature of a cat’s sixth sense remains a mystery, largely due to the subjective and often anecdotal nature of the evidence that supports its existence. This sixth sense could be a heightened form of their existing sensory abilities, allowing them to perceive changes in their environment that are imperceptible to humans.

The History of Cats and Their Intuition

In ancient Egypt, cats were revered and worshiped, considered to be sacred animals with clairvoyant abilities. They were often portrayed in murals and sculptures, symbolizing mystery, protection, and insightful wisdom. Fast forward to the Middle Ages in Europe, cats became associated with witchcraft and the supernatural.

Famous cases of cats sensing death in care facilities

Oscar, the Hospice Cat

Oscar's uncanny ability to predict the impending death of patients was so accurate that the staff would call the families of any resident he chose to curl up next to, informing them that their loved one likely had only hours to live. Oscar's story, documented in over 50 cases, was even shared in the New England Journal of Medicine, furthering the intrigue and conversation around cats' sixth sense.

Paddy, the Care Home Cat

Paddy would sit on the laps of certain residents in their final hours, providing comfort and companionship. His consistency in accurately identifying those nearing the end of their life was startling, leading many to believe in his mysterious sensing ability.


While the scientific evidence remains limited, a wealth of anecdotes and historical perspectives lend credence to the idea that cats possess an uncanny ability to sense death. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Can cats sense when something is wrong?

Yes, cats can often sense when something is wrong due to their keen observational abilities and heightened senses.

How do I know if my cat is trying to tell me something?

Cats may communicate through their body language, vocalizations, and behavior. If your cat is displaying unusual or persistent behaviors, it could be a sign that they are trying to tell you something.

Do cats fear death?

It is unclear if cats are capable of understanding the concept of death or experiencing fear of it. 

Can cats smell cancer?

While there is no conclusive evidence, some studies suggest that cats may have the ability to detect certain types of cancer through their sense of smell.

Can cats sense illness in their owners?

There is no scientific evidence to support this claim, but many cat owners have reported their cats displaying unusual behavior around them when they are sick or injured.

Do cats know when other cats are sick?

Cats may be able to sense illness in other cats through their heightened senses and ability to pick up on changes in body language and behavior.

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