Do Cats have a Sixth Sense?

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Some scientists believe that cats exhibit supernatural abilities, while others aren’t so sure…

According to a report in the New England Journal of Medicine, Oscar, the resident cat in a nursing home in Rhode Island, USA, could predict the deaths of patients. The report (which inspired an episode of the popular medical drama House) reveals that Oscar would sit down by the beds of certain patients, who would die within a few hours. The nursing home staff were so impressed by Oscar’s ability that they would immediately alert the family of whichever patient Oscar settled alongside.

Oscar’s particular story may be new, but it is far from unique. Cats have long been thought to possess a sixth sense – it’s one of the reasons why so many superstitions exist about them. They are said, for example, to be able to predict earthquakes and other natural disasters. In fact, rescuers commented on how few cats (and other animals) were killed during the 2004 Asian tsunami, with witnesses reporting seeing many animals fleeing the scene in the minutes before the killer waves struck.

But is this really evidence of supernatural ability, or is there a more rational explanation?

Scientists divided

Some scientists, including Dr Rupert Sheldrake of England’s world-renowned and respected Cambridge University, believe that cats are clairvoyant and telepathic, citing even everyday examples such as cats apparently sensing when a loved one is on the phone before it rings (not to mention their unerring homing instinct) as proof.

For other boffins, though, the reasons for cats’ remarkable behaviour can be explained by their regular five senses rather than a sixth one.

In the case of Oscar, for example, it has been suggested that he is simply copying the behaviour of the nursing staff who obviously spend more time with terminally ill patients. Other scientists believe Oscar’s heightened sense of smell is responsible – he is literally able to detect vital organs shutting down. Which is remarkable, but far from supernatural.

As for ‘predicting’ natural disasters, scientists believe animals’ acute sense of hearing give them early warning, and also add the possibility that they may be able to detect subtle vibrations or even changes in the air or in electromagnetic fields.

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