Do animals have a sixth sense?


Female Speaker: Welcome to Stuff You Should Know from howstuffworks.com. Join Josh and Chuck, the guys who bring you stuff you should know as they take a trip around the world to help you get smarter in a topsy-turvy economy. Check out the all new Super Stuff Guide to the Economy from howstuffworks.com available now exclusively on iTunes.

Josh: Hey and welcome to the Pod Cast. "Woop-woop!" that's the sound of the police. I'm Josh Clark, Chuck Bryant's with me.

Chuck: Boogie Down Productions, old school rap.

Josh: That's right Chuck, nice one. Good call.

Chuck: I love it.

Josh: Yeah, so how you doing?

Chuck: I'm well served.

Josh: Yeah?

Chuck: You?

Josh: I'm doing really well Chuck. Yeah, thank you for asking.

Chuck: Thanks.

Josh: Do I look healthy?

Chuck: Yeah, from the nose up.

Josh: I've noticed that my face is becoming increasingly resemblent to a catcher's mitt, an old catcher's mitt.

Chuck: And not a compass.

Josh: No, like a very round catcher's mitt, a perfectly round catcher's mitt. How about that?

Chuck: Like one of those catcher's mitts from like the early days.

Josh: Maybe my full name could be Compass Head Catcher's Mitt.

Chuck: It's a little cumbersome.

Josh: So Chuck have you ever met a cat?

Chuck: I've got two cats.

Josh: So you have? Oh yeah, you've got the Whiz and LeBron?

Chuck: That's pretty close actually. I'm impressed, the Wizard and LeRon.

Josh: LeRon, okay yeah. I just added a B.

Chuck: Right, I would not name my cat after LeBron James.

Josh: Why?

Chuck: Because he's currently killing the Atlanta Hawks.

Josh: Yeah, he's good though and a good guy I hear.

Chuck: Yeah, sure.

Josh: So Chuck have you ever met a cat that could predict death?

Chuck: No, but I love this story. It's a good one.

Josh: You mean the story of Oscar?

Chuck: Yeah, I remember when it happened.

Josh: Oh really?

Chuck: Oh yeah. I remember reading about it.

Josh: Dude, I've gotta pay more attention.

Chuck: Yeah, my wife and I share these animal stories with each other.

Josh: Gotcha, okay. Like Christian the Lion who was taken to Kenya in the 70s?

Chuck: I don't think there was not a tear or two shed in the -

Josh: Agreed -

Chuck: Bryant household.

Josh: Especially the version of it that was put to Aerosmith's -

Chuck: Yeah, "Don't Wanna Miss a Thing".

Josh: "Don't Wanna Miss a Thing", yes exactly, nice Chuck.

Chuck: Thanks.

Josh: Okay well back in 2007, the New England Journal of Medicine, which is not exactly known for its sensational journalism, published a story about a cat named Oscar. And Oscar was a resident at a Rhode Island nursing home.

Chuck: Yeah, the Steere House Nursing and Rehab Center.

Josh: And basically he was just a normal cat, aloof kind of was like, hey you're old, I'm staying away from you for the most part. It is a home for people with advanced dementia and I get the impression that it has a bit of a hospice vibe to it here or there. So Oscar as I said is generally aloof except when you're about to die.

Chuck: Right.

Josh: All of a sudden if you're lying in bed and Oscar comes over to you and sits down next to your bed and starts hanging out with you, you got a couple of hours left. And Oscar's actually pretty good at predicting death. There's at least 25 cases where he accurately predicted the death of a person in the Steere Nursing Home.

Chuck: Right. And Joshers, there is a rumor on the internet going around that Oscar met an untimely death and there was a mysterious dented bed pan found near his lifeless cat body. Not so because we just called -

Josh: We called the Steere Nursing Home to find out. It was kind of vague. There were a couple of reputable news sources, e.g. The Savannah Morning News, that carried that story but they all appeared to be the same. So Chuck and I, being the internet sleuths that we are just pic ked up the phone and did it the old fashion way and we called the nursing home and Oscar is still alive and well and in the nursing home apparently predicting death as well.

Chuck: Right although she said that she was looking at Oscar. I wonder if she meant Oscar's stuffed body on the counter of the check-in on that floor.

Josh: How hilarious is that that Oscar would be murdered because patients didn't like him predicting their deaths anymore.

Chuck: So not true. Oscar's alive and I must say when I said my wife and I really love this story. We didn't see it as a McCabe predictor of death kind of thing like Josh painted it. We saw it as a comforting thing that an animal provides; was trying to comfort these people. So that's the way I took it.

Josh: Is it?

Chuck: Yeah.

Josh: There are other theories.

Chuck: Okay.

Josh: All right, so Chuck how could a cat possibly predict death, right?

Chuck: They can smell it perhaps.

Josh: Smelling is probably the likeliest answer.

Chuck: Yes.

Josh: You know when you're sick. Like when you have the flu. You don't smell quite right. You know what I mean? You smell sick.

Chuck: That's gross.

Josh: Like your breath is messed up, there's gunk coming out of your pours. When I was sick over the course of the last like 80 pod casts, I was waking up with literally my eye lids pasted shut from gunk that was coming out and don't think that didn't smell pal. You wanna know more?

Chuck: No.

Josh: Swine Flu.

Chuck: I wanna get back to the cat smelling death.

Josh: Okay so smelling is a pretty obvious way apparently as peoples organs begin to shut down or fail, there's the hypothesis that this would omit certain smells.

Chuck: Right certain chemicals that human's cannot smell.

Josh: What's that called when a cell commits suicide?

Chuck: Cellicide?

Josh: Autolysis.

Chuck: Right.

Josh: Rigormortis baby, so okay, I guess the senses as the cells begin to cannibalize themselves and break down. All their contents are released it starts to omit a smell. That might attract Oscar, right?

Chuck: Right.

Josh: But the cool thing is as you said, it's not like he just goes in and points like, this one's next, and then leaves. He hangs out until the person's dead -

Chuck: Yeah, he curls up and - Josh:

And then he leavesChuck: Yeah, it's what I took as, that's the comforting part to me.

Josh: Yeah. Comforting or you know you wonder, if you can get the cat to leave maybe you got a second chance or something?

Chuck: Not true at all.

Josh: I wonder if people have ever tried to bargain with the cat like, dude, I'll totally get you more Friskies if you just get out of here.

Chuck: Right, or if one of the people in the home that didn't like one of the other people left a little trail of Kibble in their bed.

Josh: Yeah, just to screw with their fellow patient.

Chuck: Nursing home high jinks.

Josh: It makes you wonder Chuck, is it possible that Oscar the cat is in fact the Grim Reaper.

Chuck: He is not, Josh.

Josh: Okay.

Chuck: But that's just one example of what we're talking about which is animals having a sixth sense.

Josh: A what?

Chuck: A sixth sense.

Josh: Well said Chuck.

Chuck: Thank you.

Josh: We already decided that Chuck was going to say -

Chuck: sixth sense -

Josh: And not me because I can't say -

Chuck: Sixth sense -

Josh: Thanks for the impression of me, Chuck.

Chuck: Sure.

Josh: I have a speech impediment, it turns out.

Chuck: So, should we talk about dogs next?

Josh: Well yeah. One of the things that's fascinating about Oscar is cat's they don't do that. They're not empathetic. They're not supposed to do that.

Chuck: Yeah they're not known for being empathetic.

Josh: Right, dogs are, right? Dogs tend to be very happy, loving creatures.

Chuck: Right.

Josh: And so it would make more sense if Oscar was a dog.

Chuck: Sure because dogs, there's all kinds of anecdotal stories about dogs detecting cancer by smelling and -

Josh: It's not just anecdotal, my friend. Well Mr. Stat Guy, I happen to have a study right here.

Chuck: Oh, you're killing me.

Josh: I have a 2006 study, right. And I have no idea where it's from, but -

Chuck: Seems a little shaky to me.

Josh: Quiet you. It's from Science Daily pal. They don't print just anything.

Chuck: That's true.

Josh: It was a 2006 study where they took 86 patients with cancer, 55 with lung cancer and 31 with breast cancer and these were confirmed cancer cases. And they used a control sample of 83 healthy people, all right. And they actually took breath samples from these people and sealed them in special tubes and then they exposed them to these dogs. They had dogs sniff the different samples and with a 88-97 percent -

Chuck: Accuracy.

Josh: Thank you, these dogs could pick out people with cancer.

Chuck: Really?

Josh: Yeah.

Chuck: Wow.

Josh: So clearly there's some smells that we humans aren't aware of, aren't cognizant of. You know because we like to smoke and eat cheeseburgers and things like that that animals can sense which would explain why you could detect cancer. And there's another study that showed that dogs could detect bladder cancer in urine.

Chuck: Yes.

Josh: So there you have it -

Chuck: I saw that one too.

Josh: Thank you.

Chuck: And you know, that makes sense to me because animals certainly have different hearing capacities than we do. High pitched sounds like dog whistles we can't hear. Human's typically hear between 20 and 20,000 hertz and elephants though can hear between 60 and 12,000, and cattle can go all the way up to 40,000. So that's why when animals are said to predict weather and earthquakes and things like that. That and barometric pressure changes, they pick up on these things when humans don't. So it's not exactly they have a sixth sense, but they use the five senses are more heightened than humans are.

Josh: That's interesting that you say cattle can hear better than anybody else.

Chuck: Why's that?

Josh: Well because I was reading in this article, it mentions the 2004 tsunami and how there were so few animal carcasses found because so many animals acted strangely and basically headed to hire ground before the tsunami hit. The animal that they found the most of were cattle. So maybe they know and are just like, I don't have a whole lot to live for. I'm just gonna let death take me now.

Chuck: Or maybe they had a harder time getting out of there and heading to higher ground. I don't know. That's just one theory.

Josh: So Oscar may be in a league of his own by predicting death but yeah, there is tons of anecdotal evidence that animals, especially dogs can sense illness, right?

Chuck: Right.

Josh: There was a Chihuahua that a woman in England owned who said that her dog detected breast cancer.

Chuck: Oh I thought you were gonna say Taco Bell.

Josh: No. Awful.

Chuck: It was.

Josh: Detected breast cancer three different times in her.

Chuck: Really?

Josh: Which sucked she had breast cancer three different times but her Chihuahua's like, you have breast cancer hon. And there was a person with a Dalmatian, I don't know where he or she was from but the Dalmatian kept smelling this freckle on the owner's arm and it turned out -

Chuck: Skin cancer?

Josh: Skin cancer.

Chuck: Wow.

Josh: Isn't that weird.

Chuck: I believe it man. Why not? Like I always say, "Why not, what do we know?" As humans I mean, who knows maybe animals can totally smell these things. Should we go to epilepsy?

Josh: I think we should. I think we totally should. This is something that's kind of controversial. One of the great failings of my opinion of science is that if it can't readily explain something immediately, then it pooh-poohs it. But it's looking more and more like -

Chuck: Which is the scientific term for discredit, I think.

Josh: Yeah.

Chuck: Pooh-pooh.

Josh: Pooh-pooh.

Chuck: Sorry.

Josh: It is looking more and more like dogs can sense epilepsy. Now I think one of the misleading things in these two articles, Can Animals Predict Death and Can a Dog Really Predict a Seizure, is the use of the word predict.

Chuck: Right.

Josh: There is no prediction. I was reading this awesome article on CNN and it was about a woman named Colis Johnson and she has epil epsy and cerebral palsy. So if she has a seizure, she is in trouble. She's in a wheelchair and she has to wear a helmet all the time because of this. And she actually recently got a dog that is a seizure sensing dog.

Chuck: Epilepsy trained.

Josh: Seizure alert dog, that's what it's called. Yeah. Now there's all sort of seizure response dogs. This is established fact. Dogs can be trained to basically go get help, bring food or a blanket, some lay on top of their owners while they're having seizures -

Chuck: God, I love that part.

Josh: Yeah, to keep from any kind of further injury or something like that.

Chuck: This is different though.

Josh: Totally different.

Chuck: Yes, because sensing it -

Josh: Because that's a response, this is an alert. She has a dog that she got actually Chuck, from up the street in Alpharetta, Georgia. There's a group called K-9 Assistants.

Chuck: Really?

Josh: Yeah, and in the last few years they've trained a hundred seizure dogs and they actually, this is the cool part, seizure dogs tend to be one of the more expensive dogs.

Chuck: Oh yea, like 10 grand?

Josh: Twenty.

Chuck: Really?

Josh: Twenty grand for a dog to train and keep it healthy and fed over its lifetime.

Chuck: Wow.

Josh: Right.

Chuck: That's a lot of money.

Josh: Yes.

Chuck: That's for the lifetime.

Josh: Yeah, veterinary care, that kind of thing.

Chuck: Gotcha.

Josh: That's way more than the average dog.

Chuck: Yeah, yeah.

Josh: The cool thing about K-9 Assistants is that the people who get their dogs, get them for free. And they actually fly the people, their dog's recipients out to Atlanta to hang out with the dog for two weeks. They pay for everything. They pay for airfare, lodging, food, the whole shebang.

Chuck: Awesome.

Josh: And they actually also pay for the dogs veterinary and food bills for the rest of its life.

Chuck: Really?

Josh: Yeah.

Chuck: That is a great organization.

Josh: Isn't that great.

Chuck: Say their name again.

Josh: It's K-9 Assistants out of Alpharetta, Georgia.

Chuck: That's awesome.

Josh: And they are doing some good in the world. But anyway, in this article there are two funny, well one was terribly ironic, the other was kind of funny. The researcher, a neurologist who is pooh-poohing the concept that dogs can predict seizures; his name is Dr. Gregory Barkley. Barkley.

Chuck: Oh gotcha. You give me this look and I was like, I'm missing something here.

Josh: And he said, and I actually agree with him. He points out that dogs can't predict seizures but that it's actually responding to an earlier stage of the seizure before the patient is aware that the seizure's going on.

Chuck: Okay, like an eye movement or dilation?

Josh: Eye dilation, possibly a smell, something that the patient is not aware of.

Chuck: Right.

Josh: And the big problem with seizures is that if you're driving a car and you have a seizure, so long. You know.

Chuck: Right. I know the ones who are good at this, the dogs are good at this can predict, I mean sometimes it's like 30 seconds which is enough time to pull a car over, but this one lady said that she gets about a 30-45 minute heads up from her dog.

Josh: Yeah, so did Ms. Johnson.

Chuck: Oh really.

Josh: I think she gets anywhere from 20-40 minutes and this dog that she just got last year named Ben, he's actually her second. Here's the horribly ironic thing.

Chuck: Oh no.

Josh: She had another great seizure dog for 12 years named McKever who actually helped her through her roughest times. She was having many more seizures, I think about 10 a week maybe and it's actually gone down since then but he was really working over time. She had him for 12 years until 2007when he died after having his own seizure.

Chuck: Oh boy.

Josh: Isn't that awful?

Chuck: Yes, this pod cast officially became one that my wife will not listen to. I will steer her away from this.

Josh: Yeah dogs having seizures is kind of sad.

Chuck: That is sad.

Josh: Yeah but -

Chuck: What an irony there.

Josh: So it is possible for dogs to again, we shouldn't use the word predict a seizure, and they don't necessarily have to be trained, right Chuck? Some of them just household pets that are picking up on this just from living around people with epilepsy! Right?

Chuck: And I think they've also decided that it's not breed specific either. So I don't think they found any specific breed that's been any better than the next.

Josh: Right.

Chuck: Is that true?

Josh: Yeah. The impression that I have is it's more exposure to epilepsy than anything else and looking for signs and cues. And the second stage is learning to not be afraid of what happens when the owner's eyes roll back into his or her head and start trembling.

Chuck: And they alert. They all have different ways of alerting. Some paw at them, some lick their hand, some I think walk around in circles or make close eye contact, so it's pretty cool. They have their different messages they'll send the owner.

Josh: Yeah. You got anything else?

Chuck: No, I don't think so Josh.

Josh: I would like to say, one of the things that I have read in researching this was that since it's not proven and if it does work, if a dog can sense a seizure early on just from being around someone with epilepsy, I've read over and over again that people are kind of warned from staying away from dog breeders or trainers that charge you like 20 grand for a dog. Especially with groups like K9 Assistants out there doing lots of good.

Chuck: Yeah and they can never guarantee too. That's the other take away I had is that doctors say that this can be a good thing but is certainly not a failsafe and you should never rely on this as your only means of helping yourself out if you have a seizure.

Josh: But at the end even the dogs hitting 50 percent, that's still pretty good.

Chuck: And also doctors say they do provide the companionship and all the other good things [inaudible].

Josh: Ultimately you have the dog and how can you go wrong when you've got a dog?

Chuck: Exactly, my dogs the only thing they can predict is five o'clock dinner time.

Josh: Yeah.

Chuck: And so where am I? Where does that leave me?

Josh: Feeding the dogs, buddy.

Chuck: Yeah feeding the dogs. It's their world and I'm just living in it.

Josh: If you wanna learn more about animals and their sixth senses, how is that -

Chuck: Sixth sense.

Josh: Type in animals and predict in the search bar at howstuffworks.com and that leaves us with only one possibility. The possibility that it is time for listener mail![Chime]

Chuck: It is Josh. This is part Two of High Fructose Corn Syrup replies.

Josh: Seriously?

Chuck: Dude, I'm telling you. For some reason corn brings out the smarts.

Josh: Okay.

Chuck: Because these people were awesome and it was not just fluff.

Josh: Okay.

Chuck: Like so many fan mail! No I'm just kidding.

Josh: Wow Chuck, wow.

Chuck: This is from Nguyen in Los Angeles and Nguyen says he wants to add a little bit about what we said about HFCS. He said, you said it was very cheap and that's why it's used to such extent. True enough. But what you did not mention and we had a couple of people write in about this, is that the price of HFCS is kept artificially low by the policies of the U.S. Government. U.S. Government has placed a quota on sugar imports to the U.S. in order to protect the domestic sugar producers. In sugars case they're called Tariff Rate Quotas. So that provides for a low tariff on certain quantity which is the quota amount and a higher tariff on any quantity above that level. So this creates an artificial shortage of sugar that drives up U.S. prices and supports American sugar growers but it also makes sugar a very expensive product. Just to give you an idea last year the price per pound of sugar in the United States was about 55 cents and the world price was about 18 cents.

Josh: Wow.

Chuck: Isn't that amazing.

Josh: God I wish I lived in Portugal.

Chuck: Right. In contrast Josh, HFCS runs about 25 cents per pound.

Josh: What?

Chuck: So it is no surprise that when President Regan drastically lowered the quota for sugar in the 80s, driving up the domestic price way, way up, the major soft drink makers switched from sugar to high fructose corn syrup. So there you have it.

Josh: Thank you Gipper.

Chuck: Yeah if the sugar market in the U.S. was unrestricted, there will be no economic incentive for anyone to use HFCS and those quotas would be removed from the sugar market, that they would be removed is pretty much impossible now because there's too much money at stake. So we had other people write in about this and that seems to be what's going on.

Josh: That's fascinating.

Chuck: Yeah, so thank you Nguyen in Los Angeles. You are a super fan. An awesome field reporter, we'll call you.

Josh: Yeah you know what, we should start saying what we're going to do in the future and let people tell us ahead of time then we can work it into the pod cast and give them zero credit for it.

Chuck: That's true. Field reporters, we have field reporters now.

Josh: Yeah, Eye reporters.

Chuck: Eye Reporters!

Josh: So if you want to eye report for us or just say hi or be like, what up yo, send us an email to stuffpodcast@howstuffworks.

comFemale Speaker: For more on this and thousands of other topics, visit howstuffworks.com and be sure to check out the stuff you should know blog on the How Stuff Works.com homepage.