Intended for healthcare professionals

Rapid response to:


The end is nigh

BMJ 2007; 335 doi: (Published 26 July 2007) Cite this as: BMJ 2007;335:175

Rapid Response:

Cats are very intuitive and sensitive.

When I was working as a Geriatrician, when we still had long stay
beds in our hospitals, we had hospital cats at our main hospital and at
three peripheral ones. We noticed how often the cats would choose to sleep
on the beds of patients who were terminally ill. We thought this could be
because these patients did not move around so much, but after reading the
fascinating News item about Oscar the cat, I now think it may have been an
intuitive desire to give some sort of comfort to the patients who were
dying. I have experienced a friend's normally aloof cat which never sat on
laps, which came up to me and sat on my lap all afternoon when I was
distressed, and my own cats have always known when I was ill.

The nurses in one of our hospitals were concerned that patients and
relatives would be distressed by the cat's choosing to sleep on the beds
of patients who later died, so we had to rehome that cat. It is good to
read in your article that the "cat on the bed sign" was taken as a
positive and helpful marker rather than a negative one, and helped staff
members to prepare the familes for the impending death of the patient. Why
are we always so negative in this country? And why shy away from an
inevitable death? So much better to face it simply, pragmatically and
realistically, like animals do.
Eventually all our hospital cats were rehomed on health and safety
grounds, despite the fact that most patients loved having them there, and
of course soon after, all the long stay beds went too, but I am glad to
know that Nursing Homes still sometimes allow animals. We have so much in
common with animals, not least our mortality, and they have a way of
communicating which is beyond our usual ways and which we humans have
lost. They are far more intuitive than we realise,and more sensible too.

Competing interests:
None declared

Competing interests: No competing interests

27 July 2007
Lesley A M Evans
Retired Consultant Geriatrician
Taunton & Somerset Hospital TA1 5DA