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A Cat's Nose Can Find Disease, Disaster, and Death

Schatzie has bachelor's degrees in animal science and English and a master's in education.

This article will take a deeper look at the wonders of the incredible cat nose and its amazing powers to detect disaster, disease, and even death.

This article will take a deeper look at the wonders of the incredible cat nose and its amazing powers to detect disaster, disease, and even death.

Why Is My Cat Sniffing a Lot

With the dog dubbed “man’s best friend,” just where does that leave the cat?

Dogs are renowned for their loyalty, affection and not infrequent acts of heroism, from pulling individuals from collapsing buildings to rescuing them from lethal ocean riptides.

Dogs are the blinds’ eyes, the deafs’ ears, and the seizure sufferers' medical alert; but again, what about the cat?

We must admit some felines that come to mind, such as Sassy, the smug, whiney Himalayan from Homeward Bound or “Grumpy Cat,” a famous multi-breed feline who became an internet sensation for her permanently angry expression, do not exactly seem the altruistic type.

And it doesn’t help that a hairless Mr. Bigglesworth was at the side of Austin Power’s Dr. Evil as he plotted world domination, as was the fluffy Turkish Angora sidekick of the equally nefarious James Bond Blofeld.

However, although some may be a little less openly affectionate than their canine counterparts, in real life cats do benefit mankind. Often, they are just a little more selective about doing so and some may appear a tad less happy during the process.

Cats have many senses to assist them in zeroing in on danger.

Cats have many senses to assist them in zeroing in on danger.

Putting Feline Senses to Use

Cats have many senses to assist them in zeroing in on danger—keen eyesight, great hearing, and superb smell detection combined with unrivaled stealth. But, not all of their skills can be utilized as optimally as they are with the dog.

For example, there are many reasons why a cat wouldn’t work well as a guide animal—small size, limited strength, vulnerability to attack by larger animals—not to mention, an independent spirit that would make any ideas of harnessing them disastrous.

And, it is simply a fact that cats are generally less interested in pleasing humans than dogs, which have had the trait inbred in them over countless generations and are therefore much more easily trained. In contrast, cats retain a lot of their feral characteristics. Not necessarily a bad thing unless you're depending on one to successfully lead you home instead of into a field of catnip.

Or, unless you were involved in the CIA's secret Cold War era cat-weaponizing experiment: Upon unleashing a radio implanted feline code-labeled "acoustic kitty" as an eavesdropping spy, government employees watched in dismay as it deliberately ignored instructions and wandered away from targets to both relieve itself and catch a bite to eat. And then it got run over by a car.

Clearly, though cats have great skill, their use is, by necessity, limited.

Upon detection, cats will do their best to save those they care about from danger.

Upon detection, cats will do their best to save those they care about from danger.

Where Cats Work Best

The obvious best use of a cat and its talents would be indoors, where distraction is at a minimum, and by owners with which the cat has a strong bond and a fundamental interest in assisting.

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Under these circumstances, cats have proved quite heroic.

For example, several cat owners have benefited from, and in fact are only alive today, because of their feline pet's ability to identify dangerous aromas.

Canines have been documented to be able to sniff out cancer, low blood sugar, seizures and more, and while cats have not undergone the same studies and are much less likely to be considered “medical alert” animals, they can detect these very same things within their human families as confirmed by multiple real-life stories.

Upon detection, these cats, like the dog, will do their best to save those they care about from danger.

It is time to recognize the potential of the feline nose.

It is time to recognize the potential of the feline nose.

A Cat's Nose: Not the Keenest But Still Keen

With its 300 million olfactory receptors it is a fact that a dog’s nose is more sensitive than a cat’s, which has around 80 million. To keep this in perspective, this is still far more than the human 6 million.

Dogs are tens of thousands of times more sensitive to smells than we are, but cat nostrils still boast a 10 to 20 fold superiority and are quite capable of identifying smells that elude our senses.

It is time to recognize the potential of the feline nose. Read on for true stories of heroic smell detecting cats.


Meet Fidge, Wendy Humphrey’s amber-eyed and black spotted cat—the driving force behind the discovery of her small yet potentially lethal breast tumor.

Pea-sized, the growth was initially overlooked by doctors, but Wendy’s 10-month-old cat easily identified it by smell. Fidge then did what any good pet would do and notified her owner promptly—by pouncing upon it, repeatedly.

Any embarrassment this behavior first caused was eventually replaced by concern; Wendy made an appointment and visited her physician.

Doctors confirmed the presence of a small malignant growth in her left breast. Further, they told Wendy how lucky she was: Hormonal shifts during menopause and the likelihood of the cancer spreading would have soon rendered her condition untreatable.

Fidge had saved her life.

A cat's nose is 10 to 20 times more powerful than a human's.

A cat's nose is 10 to 20 times more powerful than a human's.

Tee Cee

Tee Cee almost died as a kitten when he was dumped into a river, but survived and became the beloved companion of Michael Edmonds, an epileptic seizure sufferer.

Unfortunately for Michael and his family, there were never any clear indications of when he would experience an episode and he could never leave his home unaccompanied.

That is until the Edmonds adopted Tee Cee. The cat began to sit by Michael and stare into his face, a behavior that his family came to realize directly preceded each attack.

Now, Michael’s step-daughter Samantha runs to her mother and warns her ahead of time when the feline repeats his tell-tale glare.

Medical assistance arrives while the cat remains by his side, a friendly and familiar presence to Michael when he regains consciousness.


Usually, there is a trial period upon adopting a new pet where one decides whether or not it really is the right fit. For Amy Jung, her new cat, Pudding, became an irreplaceable member of the family within hours.

The night of Pudding’s adoption Amy fell into a diabetic seizure while asleep. The orange-and-white cat immediately jumped upon her chest and nipped at her face, helping her return to consciousness.

She then called out to her son, Ethan, but unfortunately, he did not hear her.

So again, Pudding came to the rescue. She pounced upon Ethan, who was startled awake and able to call for assistance.

Both Amy and her physicians credit Pudding with saving her life. And, since the ordeal, Pudding has become a registered therapy animal. Fortunately, training has provided Pudding with an alternative alert method to the pounce and she now meows at Amy’s feet when she smells dips in her blood sugar.

Some cats are truly on par with dogs in their selfless desire to help people: Pudding saved her owner's life only hours after adoption, not nearly long enough to have formed an especially strong bond. This implies that her willingness to help others extends beyond her immediate family to people in general.


The dementia unit of a nursing and rehabilitation center in Providence, Rhode Island has an unofficial resident with a rather unusual talent: Oscar, a cat capable of predicting death.

The splotchy white-and-tortoiseshell furred feline is quite friendly in spite of the fact that he is named after a cranky, green, garbage-hoarding character on Sesame Street, but just the same, some Steere House residents may be less than happy when he pays them a visit.

This is because of his unique ability to detect when patients are about to die, at which point he wanders, uninvited, into their room, jumps into their bed and purrs. His visits are usually timed a few hours before death.

The staff has credited him with accurately predicting the demise of a minimum of 50 individuals.

It is believed, among other theories, that Oscar has this ability because he can smell a chemical change in the bodies of the terminally ill as they shut down.

Whatever his method, it is highly accurate and cannot be manipulated: Nurses have placed him at the bedside of very sick patients they believed would die and he has fled; he has been kicked out of the rooms of others who did die and remained at the door, stubbornly scratching for entry.

But be not alarmed; Oscar’s talent is likely a product of his unique living circumstances. Most cats that jump in bed and purr are simply putting on a display of affection or are desirous of some attention.

Because of his talent, Oscar has enabled nurses to notify family members that the end is near so that they can be with their loved ones as they pass.


Andrew Williams was asleep in his home when Hugo began clawing at his head, painfully ending his slumber and just in time for him to flee his blazing home.

Due to Hugo’s remarkably sharp senses—he is actually Andrew's neighbor's pet and smelled the smoke from an adjacent home, accessing Andrew's house through the built-in cat door--- Andrew suffered only minor complications from smoke inhalation.

Andrew was not a complete stranger to the feline—the cat was often over for friendly visits—but just the same this heroic act went far beyond the routine neighborly gestures of borrowing a cup of sugar.


Smelling the acrid aroma of a smoldering fire, Opal sounded an alarm: with repetitive, distressed meows.

Smoke detectors failed to identify the blaze eating away at Lisa Kosior’s home as it originated in the attic; it is likely she would not have had time to escape, let alone grab any belongings, had her cat not intervened.

Minutes after escaping the ceiling of her house caved in, crushing the bed in which Lisa had been sleeping- and most likely would have been still- if not for her faithful gem-of-a-cat, Opal.


Basil, an adoptee from the charity Cats Protection, could smell trouble one night as his owner Sue relaxed in bed: accumulating gas fumes, leaking from the kitchen stovetop.

He began swatting at Sue’s face in earnest, persevering in his attempts for over an hour before she grudgingly awoke and recognized the problem.

Basil had prevented a potentially lethal explosion and preserved the integrity of his favorite part of the home: the kitchen.

Some Recognition, Please!

Mostly due to their independent nature and questionable training ability cats cannot be utilized in nearly as many ways as dogs for the benefit of the general population. However, they still help people on a daily basis, most often those to whom they are close.

They let those with cancer know they are ill, those with diabetes and epilepsy know they need assistance, and those with terminal diseases know when they might want family nearby to comfort them in their final hours.

They are professionals at awakening their owners via the swat, the pounce, the scratch, and the screech and competently sound the alarm for health emergencies, fires and gas leaks.

This is only possible due to the acuity of their noses and their ability to think quickly and react instinctively in a way that saves the lives of those they care about and even, at times, complete strangers.

Cats deserve some recognition, too!

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.


Schatzie Speaks (author) on August 06, 2019:

Ziyena, you are too funny. Made me laugh! It's so true. If he popped in where I was hanging out, it would be terrifying!

Schatzie Speaks (author) on August 06, 2019:

Hi Brian,

I agree! Animals have intelligence that is underappreciated by many who aren't pet owners. They are so amazing and can help us in many ways if we let them and listen to what they're trying to tell us.

Schatzie Speaks (author) on August 06, 2019:

Deneen, your husband is quite lucky! There's nothing like pet snuggles, and he gets that times four!

brittany on April 21, 2017:

Jj my oldest cat only hangs around me mostly since I'm his mother figure. He hardly hangs around my parents. I notice something odd. He has been laying right beside my mom chair where she sits and keeps looking at her and won't move for anything. I think he knows she has somethings wrong with my mom . Cause I think he knows she has cancer in which we are trying to find out. I guess jj knew something was up before we did

Kristen Howe from Northeast Ohio on March 08, 2015:

Beautiful hub on these wonderful cats. Very heart-warming and moving on how they can detect illness and other dangers to save lives. Lovely pics, too! Voted up!

Patricia Scott from North Central Florida on March 04, 2015:

It is amazing how in tune kitties can be. Thankfully for those in the stories their kitties got their message across.

Well done ...very interesting reading

Angels are on the way to you this afternoon ps

DreamerMeg from Northern Ireland on October 25, 2014:

What great cat stories. We have a cat but I can't credit her with anything like these stories, but then on the other hand, I'm glad we have not had the need for this kind of help. Good to know it might be there if necessary.

RoadMonkey on October 25, 2014:

Great hub. Very interesting stories about cats

Chris on October 13, 2014:

Hi Schatzie!! I LOVE this article!!! Trying to find a way to contact you to ask you something about it.. Anyway I can do that? Please let me know!! Thank you!!!

Kathleen Odenthal from Bridgewater on March 19, 2014:

What a well written and informative article!

ziyena from the Somewhere Out There on December 22, 2013:

Oscar would scare me to death! no pun intended Great hub, and voting UP

Brian Prickril from Savannah, GA on October 30, 2013:

Well any hub on meow meow's is one that I gotta read. Well written and a great voice for our furry independent friends! I, myself am a proud cat dad (easily qualified for cat dad of the year). And I will say this, they know things beyond the physical world. They know when we are hurting and when we are scared and when we are in trouble. I just can't say enough for our incredible furry friends.

Deneen on October 29, 2013:

My husband is an epileptic and has been seizure free for 5 years BUT all four of our cats flock to him like he's a feline god or something. He has some other health issues, under control but our cats just adore him. Go figure.

Schatzie Speaks (author) on October 14, 2013:


Thank you! By all means, link away!


FlourishAnyway from USA on October 14, 2013:

I loved this so much I was wondering if I might link it to my hub, Lessons Learned From Cats: How To Live Your Best Life. Cats are such wonderful creatures.

Schatzie Speaks (author) on September 25, 2013:

Hi Rebecca,

Oh no no, of course not! They are doing more than enough by being your own personal alarm clock. Saves you money since you don't have to purchase the real deal and they never run out of batteries! (hopefully you're a morning person, or the never run out of batteries trait could actually be a little less of a good thing) ;)


Rebecca Furtado from Anderson, Indiana on September 25, 2013:

My cats object to this article. It implies they are supposed to do something besides wake me up at 5am for food.

Schatzie Speaks (author) on September 24, 2013:

Hi Charley-0,

As much as its impossible to get inside the head of the cat to know for certain, I'd like to believe entertainment wasn't the motivating factor.


Charley-o on September 24, 2013:

Great stories! But Tee Cee was more likely just entertained by his master's seizures, than warning anyone!

Schatzie Speaks (author) on September 22, 2013:


Thank you for your comment, vote, and share! I'm glad you enjoyed it.

All the best,


FlourishAnyway from USA on September 22, 2013:

Charming hub. Cats are very talented creatures indeed. Their experiences as unwilling acoustic spies during wartime doesn't surprise me. It's got to be their idea, always. Voted up, sharing, and more!

Schatzie Speaks (author) on September 22, 2013:


How neat! I'm going to look that up, that would be great info to add to another cat-themed hub. :) It seems that mimicking nature is the way to go...they're trying to model machines after dogs noses for smell detection too. and wasn't velcro invented off of the structure of a burr? I remember reading that somewhere...

I think one of the most amazing cat skills is their self-righting reflex. Can you imagine the freedom of falling stories upon stories and knowing you'll simply land on your feet and be able to scamper off? I'm afraid of heights so I'm quite jealous!

Haha, but of course! the sound of a can opener or the opening of the catnip baggie and zoom! there's your cat as well as several of your neighbors'! ;)

Thank you for the comment and the vote!


Nadia Archuleta from Denver, Colorado on September 21, 2013:

Cats are actually better than dogs at facial recognition, meaning their brain computes that they do or don't know you more quickly. In fact, researchers at the University of Michigan are creating a machine that mimics the facial-recognition circuitry of the cat's brain. The machine is supposed to outsmart supercomputers in recognizing faces.

Of course, no one doubts cats are superior to all species, humans included, when it comes to recognizing the sound of a can opener...

Anyway, very interesting hub. Thanks for championing the feline cause. Voted up!

Schatzie Speaks (author) on September 20, 2013:

AK Chenoweth,

I’m glad you enjoyed it. I will try to keep publishing. I’m toying with the idea of further exploring project acoustic kitty but we will see if there’s enough good info out there to pull something together! Thank you for your support.


Schatzie Speaks (author) on September 20, 2013:


Thank you! Exactly….cats are quite brilliant! They get what they want with minimal effort! ;)

I did read a story about how a cat foiled a burglary by growling as a perpetrator tried to enter a home!!! Who needs a guard dog? (and, interestingly, my present dog is so friendly she would lick and invite burglars in so a cat would be much, much better for my protection in that situation!).

I don’t know how I’d truly answer the question myself; I’d think it depended too much on the actual animal! (If I owned a mastiff, things would be quite different...)


Thank you! Thank you for your vote!


I also thought Pudding’s story was very important to include and without a doubt shows how wonderful cats can be! Thank you for your comment!

Schatzie Speaks (author) on September 20, 2013:


I am glad you had a cat there to comfort you. I can only imagine how terrifying that could be, and I’m very sorry that you have to experience them. Please take care of yourself!


I love that! What a great cat, looking after your baby. And it’s great that the bond is still there. I think a family pet is so important for kids, no matter what there’s always something to hug when things get rough!


Thank you so much, what a great compliment! Haha, I know. It was really hard to pick what picture to put first (knowing it would be the icon for the article) since there were soooo many adorable kitten pictures. But I just fell in love with that one…reminds me of my old cat, same coloration!

Schatzie Speaks (author) on September 20, 2013:


Thank you so much for the congratulations and the kind words!


Haha, I love how owners are staff! Someone once told me that if aliens existed and could look down on us from Mars (or whatever planet they inhabit) they’d think our pets are the boss as we feed and bathe them, clean up after them after they relieve themselves, etc, etc.

I did not know they were allowed into places as service animals! That’s great! I do wonder how widespread that is…I know CA is usually a little different than other states on rules/regs (it’s where I grew up!).

The cat and infant story is wonderful! What a great, great cat and how lucky for that infant and his parents! To know the baby needed warmth and to stay on its back—how amazing is that??

I am definitely going to look up your purr story…

Thanks so much for not only reading but taking the time to leave such a thoughtful comment!!


carolynkaye from USA on September 19, 2013:

Great Hub and congrats on the award! Cats are really amazing and so in tune with their owners and surroundings. Voted up and interesting.

RTalloni on September 19, 2013:

Congrats on your Hub of the Day award for this neat read. The ability of cats to learn and respond to their surroundings is very often underestimated--and that is often the intention of the animal! :) After all, why catch and fetch if you can sleep and eat?

The question was too hard to decide on. For protection, per se, I would probably choose a large dog that I knew well. That would be a problem since I can count those on two fingers. For helpful companionship that could result in a needed alert/protection, cats would be my choice! Ours once tried to warn me, but it was some odd morning hour and I did not listen. Daylight showed the work of theives…

Grace Marguerite Williams from the Greatest City In The World-New York City, New York on September 19, 2013:

This is one of the most informative hubs about cats I have read. Cats do have amazing capabilities and instincts. Excellent read. I was entranced by the cute cover kitty. I simply love cats.

Christin Sander from Midwest on September 19, 2013:

What a fantastic hub! My female cat was very sweet when we brought home our youngest. She protected that baby from everyone, even the other cats. She would chase the other cats away and would stand guard when he was sleeping - it was really quite something, because she was not much of a people person prior to that. To this day, my now 5 year old son is her "baby", she is with him all the time :)

pamela-anne on September 19, 2013:

Enjoyed your hub I myself take seizures- I knew a cat called "Freedom" who used to curl up beside my head after I had a seizure; I guess it was her way of comforting me. Thanks for sharing!

Liz Elias from Oakley, CA on September 19, 2013:

Congratulations on HOTD!!

Thank you for a beautiful article with such great recognition of a cat's unique abilities. Due to their ability to comfort their owners (errrr--'staff' lol), and detect things like oncoming seizures, cats can also now be certified as service animals, and allowed into places where pets are normally off-limits, just like seeing-eye dogs.

I've told in other comments I've made on other 'cat hubs,' the story of an acquaintance whose cat saved the life of their 4-month-old infant by laying on his back and keeping him from rolling over and tossing the covers--thereby keeping the child's chest warm as he recovered from pneumonia. The doctors credited that cat with saving the infant's life.

We have 7 cats, 2 of whom are rather "nurse cats," and will come and either stay with us all night on the bed, or, if my husband is having a problem from his heart condition, awaken him.

My own article on cats tells how the purr is actually a healing mechanism.

I loved your article, and the happy-ending stories. Voted up-across and shared.

Lyndsay Gamber from California on September 19, 2013:

This is a really great Hub! I had no idea cats could do that. Congrats on Hub of the day!

Schatzie Speaks (author) on September 19, 2013:

Hi KenWu!

I call my dog my furry daughter too! Sometimes it gets me some weird looks, but that's ok.

Research has shown that simply owning a cat lowers blood pressure and reduces stress! So they're helping you out even when you don't know it. ;)


Schatzie Speaks (author) on September 19, 2013:


Thank you! I too love animals (except vampire bats!) and never get tired of hearing their amazing stories. It was definitely an uplifting experience to write about these great cats and how much they helped people in need.


KenWu from Malaysia on September 19, 2013:

This is a very interesting hub. I love both cats and dogs. Although my furry children don't have the abilities that those great cat mentioned here possess, I still love them!

Yeap, cat deserve some recognition too!

Mackenzie Sage Wright on September 19, 2013:

Great hub. I'm just an animal lover so I really enjoyed reading about these cats, and seeing their beautiful pics brightened my day. Congrats!

Schatzie Speaks (author) on September 19, 2013:


I'm glad it improved your day! You improved mine by saying so! :)


Schatzie Speaks (author) on September 19, 2013:


I read so many amazing stories in my search for smell-related ones. They even think that cats may be able to predict earthquakes! That would have been very helpful back when I lived in CA!

Animals are much more attuned to their surroundings than we are. Since their survival depends upon it much more than ours does, it makes sense!

Thanks for the comment!


WhiteMuse on September 19, 2013:

This was a very cute article. It is info that is good to know. It made me feel better today. I love cats and I think that they know a lot of what is going on.

Schatzie Speaks (author) on September 19, 2013:

Thank you CraftytotheCore,

I'm happy you enjoyed it!


Tranquilheart from Canada on September 19, 2013:

Wonderful hub. I do find that cats are evolving in very interesting ways, more & more fascinating stories of cats in the media. Glad to see a hub promoting cats made Hub of the Day. I trust my cats senses much more than mine, couldn't live without a feline companion.

CraftytotheCore on September 19, 2013:

I'm a cat person so I definitely enjoyed your Hub! Congratulations on Hub of the Day!

Schatzie Speaks (author) on September 19, 2013:

Thank you, Thumbi7!

I had a very friendly lap cat growing up too; unfortunately she was also very fluffy so I was constantly covered in her fur! I now have a lap dog...which, considering that she's 70 lbs, can also be a tad problematic! But they are both great, affectionate pets.

Thanks for the comment,


JR Krishna from India on September 19, 2013:

Excellent hub.

Very fascinating cat stories. We had a cat which always used to compete with my children for getting into my lap.

Schatzie Speaks (author) on September 19, 2013:

Hi Esmeowl12,

You have your bases well covered, you can sleep soundly knowing 4 cats have your back if anything goes amiss! ;)

Thanks for stopping by,


Cindy A Johnson from Sevierville, TN on September 19, 2013:

What a fantastic hub! I'm a huge cat fan - 3 grown and one 8 week old holy terror solid black kitten. We should never underestimate the power of a cat! Thanks!

Schatzie Speaks (author) on September 18, 2013:

Hi bac2basics,

I had heard of Oscar too and when I first came up with the idea for this hub that was the one story that kept popping up in searches. I had to dig pretty deep to find some of the other ones. There were stories I wanted to include that didn't really fit but show how smart and heroic cats can be: there was one that dialed 911 when his owner collapsed from his wheelchair (he was trained, but still!). Another that rescued the family dog from attack. Makes me want to write another hub, this one only scratches the surface!

Thanks for the vote!


Schatzie Speaks (author) on September 18, 2013:

Hi Sue,

Thank you! I'm sorry to hear about your tumor. That's one problem with animal alerts, you have to be able to successfully interpret them for them to be of use. I hope you're fully recovered!

Thanks for the vote and share.

Take care,


Schatzie Speaks (author) on September 18, 2013:

Hi Jeffreymaskel,

I'm glad you enjoyed it! Haha, well that's kind of an alert...fleeing the scene...not the most helpful type, but it works! But now you know, when she takes off, you should follow! :)

Anne from United Kingdom on September 18, 2013:

Awesome hub . I have read about Oscar before but not any of the other cats you featured. I agree that with most cat´s independent attitude it would be very hard to bring them into the realm that dogs take up as help and therapy animals, but after reading this excellent hub it shows that some cats just take it upon themselves. I really enjoyed this read and am voting up as awesome and interesting :)

Susan Bailey from South Yorkshire, UK on September 17, 2013:

Excellent hub. Looking back I think my daughters cat was trying to warn me of the tumour in my breast. She kept laying her head on my chest and patting my right breast repeatedly. I of course dismissed it as her being annoying and the cancer had put out satellite nodes by the time it was big enough to be palpable. I wouldn't ignore her again. Voted up and shared.

Jeffrey Maskel from Boulder, CO on September 17, 2013:

Well written article. I really enjoyed it. I would have never guessed my cat could alert me to anything; but after I thought about it I have noticed her get up and leave right before something is going to happen.