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Can pets sense illness? WHO, WHAT, WHY?

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A cat has apparently "predicted" the deaths of 25 residents in a nursing home in the US. It seems fanciful but can pets detect illness or even death?
Oscar in the nursing home
Oscar displayed sudden affection for dying residents
The residents of Steere House Nursing and Rehabilitation Centre in Rhode Island would be forgiven for getting a little anxious if Oscar was to curl up next to them. Not generally friendly to patients, this show of affection has been used to warn families that their loved one has not long to go.
Sounds far-fetched? Animal behaviour experts in the US say Oscar is probably smelling a chemical given off by the body.

Yes, dogs can sense cancer and epilepsy
And Jacqueline Pritchard, an expert in animal behaviour in the UK, agrees the explanation is biochemical, rather than psychic. "I don't doubt that the cat in this case is sensing death approaching. There's little we really know about it but as the body is shutting down, I would hypothesise that the cat is sensing and smelling the organs shutting down."
But there could also be a more simple explanation for Oscar's "ability", she says.

A regular feature in the BBC News Magazine - aiming to answer some of the questions behind the headlines
"We change our behaviour when we know someone is dying, so animals will pick that up." Dogs with an acute sense of smell and awareness are known to detect cancer and predict epileptic seizures.
A ground-breaking study by Dr John Church, published in 2004, claimed to prove in principle that dogs could detect bladder cancer in urine. Since then a pilot study at a charity in Buckinghamshire has continued the research.
There is also anecdotal evidence of dogs scenting a wide range of cancers such as lung, breast and skin, ahead of conventional diagnosis.

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