A Cat's Nose: Cancer, Seizure and Death Sniffing, Fire and Gas Detecting Felines
Aren’t we Forgetting Someone?
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 sufferer’s 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.
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 for successfully leading 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.
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.
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.
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.
Would you rather trust a cat or a dog with your protection?
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.
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 for 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.
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.
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 be 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 stove top.
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, most often those who they are close to, on a daily basis.
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 article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.