If you’d just skimmed headlines like “Kiss of Death: Elderly Woman Killed By Cat” and “Tragedy as woman is killed by her CAT, as doctors issue a dire warning to pet owners” you’d think a woman was somehow violently killed by an enraged 10-pound cat.
The reality is much less dramatic: A woman’s cat scratched her, then licked the wound.
Through her saliva, the cat named Minty infected the victim with bacterial meningitis, doctors told the New Zealand Herald.
The woman fell into a coma, was found by relatives and brought to Melbourne’s Box Hill Hospital, where medical staff kept her sedated as they tried to treat her. With few options, the family in consultation with the doctors decided to wake her to say goodbye, then placed her back in a coma and withdrew life support.
“Infections related to cat bites and scratches like this person, we’d get at least one a week where somebody comes into the hospital,” Lindsay Grayson, director of infectious diseases at Melbourne’s Austin Health, told the newspaper. “It is very important that if a cat is biting or scratching you, you mention it to your GP.”
The woman was 80 years old, and the story suggests she had a compromised immune system. It didn’t provide any other details about her overall health, existing co-morbidities or whether her cat was allowed outdoors. Outside cats have a greater chance of picking up bacteria that can harm humans, experts say. A separate article mentioned the victim took blood thinners.
Grayson’s warning is simple and spot-on: Take bites and scratches from cats and dogs seriously, get the wounds treated and call your doctor. Something that looks like an inconsequential scratch could prove deadly or cause major health problems.
Cats and dogs live in more than 100 million homes in the US alone and infections are exceedingly rare. Grayson is aware of that, and he’s giving solid preventative health advice to people in the pet-owning demographic.
Unfortunately calm and reasoned doesn’t draw clicks, so the story is propagating via headlines that conjure images of a cat literally murdering its owner.
It should go without saying that the cat didn’t intend to cause any harm and is incapable of understanding what happened. All she knows is that her human is dead, which she’s certainly distraught about, and it sounds like she’s not getting sympathy or affection from her new humans.
“I was in shock for a good couple of weeks,” the woman’s daughter said. “I’ve tried not to hate the cat … but then I was sitting with it trying to be nice and it lashed out at me as well for no reason.”
With all respect to the grieving, there most certainly is a reason. The cat is grieving too, she’s living with new people in a new situation, and she’s almost certainly scared. It’s an unfortunate situation for all involved.
A Redditor believes she caught the ghost of her late cat on camera a year to do the day after he died.
Aw, shit. If this is true, you know what it means, don’t you?
I’ll never escape Buddy and his incessant meowing for more Temptations. I’m condemned to live out my existence hearing “Mrrrrrrrppp! YUMS NOW!” from spectral Buddies who will continue to demand turkey and turkey-flavored treats even in the afterlife.
I shall be a servant forever, scooping phantom poop out of a litter box and serving wet food to a nonexistent cat like a madman.
All jokes aside, people who read this blog know I’m a skeptic, and I don’t think it’s coincidence that every example of allegedly supernatural and extraterrestrial phenomena — from “ghosts” popping up on camera to “UFOs” tracking on military IR — can only be seen in grainy, low-resolution footage.
We are humans, after all, given to superstition and genetically hardwired to see patterns everywhere, even where there aren’t any. That’s precisely what’s happening when, for example, we see faces and familiar shapes in clouds. (We also have a long, repeatedly proven tendency to invent explanations for phenomena when none are forthcoming.)
So it’s with a grain of salt that I present to you this clip, which one Reddit user believes may show her late cat lazing on her living room sofa precisely one year to the day after passing away:
As you can see in the video, one of the woman’s living cats drops down from near the window and pads in the direction of the front door as she walks in. But on the couch a shadow starts to take shape, gaining definition in the dark until the woman flips on the lights and the shape becomes well-defined.
The Redditor says she believes the shape could be Blackjack, her late all-black kitty. As you can see in the footage, she appears to look right at the phantom feline, but she says she didn’t see anything until she was reviewing cam footage from May 24, the day it was recorded.
The shape is certainly convincing, but keeping in mind Occam’s Razor — favoring the explanation with the fewest assumptions, or “entities should not be multiplied without necessity” — what I see is the shadow of an object that, when viewed from a particular angle, happens to look like a cat. The mind looks for a pattern, so we see a cat.
That explanation also makes the most sense with the surrounding context: The shadow didn’t become solid until the lights flipped on, and the woman didn’t notice anything amiss when she was looking straight at the couch in the video. If we’re seeing a shadow that only looks like a cat from the right angle, it makes perfect sense that she wouldn’t see anything strange from her vantage point.
Her kitties don’t react either, which they’d almost certainly do if another cat simply materialized in front of them.
“That most certainly looks like a cat,” one user wrote, “but hey, I’m no expert, I’m just some idiot on Reddit [who] enjoys strange memes.”
Note:Buddy doesn’t have an opinion on this, but he would like you to know he’s absolutely NOT hiding behind my legs while producing faint, terrified mews.
Is that brain freeze, as alleged by quite a few people online, or a dramatic reaction to something unlike Mr. Kitty has never tasted before?
It’s a tiny amount for a tiny creature for sure, but the reaction could be kitty’s way of saying “Dayummm! That is the tastiest yums I’ve ever tasted in the history of tasting yums!!”
Apparently this is a thing, a cat video genre unto itself. After watching the below video, I concede it does look like brain freeze. As you can see, however, most of the cats immediately go back for more:
One thing we do know is most cats are lactose intolerant, so dairy products in general are not good for them. (Kittens should nurse from their mothers, and orphaned kittens should be given kitten-specific formula, which can be found in pet stores and most grocery stores. Milk from cows or other animals doesn’t sit well with their digestive systems.)
Giving your cat ice cream probably isn’t a good idea unless it’s dairy-free and a rare treat. I’ve never given ice cream to my cat, and giving it to him for a cheap laugh would be a betrayal of trust.
The newspaper recently profiled Manson, a 28-pound behemoth who lives with his humans in Silver Spring, Maryland, but the god of internet traffic is never sated, so the story ends with a request — or challenge — for more morbidly obese pets to drive clicks.
“Do you have a pet who’s even chunkier than Manson? Get in touch to share their story,” Metro’s editors write.
You know things have gotten out of hand when readers and editors alike respond to a story about a kitty almost three times the weight of a normal feline with a collective “Eh, that’s all? Show us a fatter one!”
In the world of Online Famous felines, popularity is directly proportional to fat, inspiring a caloric arms race among those seeking fleeting fame from fickle followers.
Indeed, the Metro story notes that while two-year-old Manson can’t hop up onto his humans’ bed without assistance, he’s amassed more than 10,000 followers on Instagram, as if an abstract measure of online “fame” — which he can never comprehend and makes absolutely no difference to him — counterbalances the maladies he’ll suffer due to his weight.
People apparently think it’s funny to see a two-year-old cat who can do little more than nap, eat and roll himself around the house. Anyone who expresses alarm for the welfare of the cat is a “troll” or a hater, according to the Metro article.
Are people stuffing their cats for followers and upvotes?
There’s really no way to determine that short of cat owners admitting it. Manson’s owners say they see no problem with their cat’s diet.
Most of these “chonky cat” stories come from shelters, where staff and volunteers are left with the hard problem of getting huge furballs to slim down after they’ve been abandoned by their humans or orphaned due to owner death. That was the case with Bazooka, a 35-pound ginger tabby whose owner had dementia and fed the cat constantly.
“[Bazooka’s owner] thought he was doing the best thing for his cat by feeding him,” an SPCA spokeswoman said at the time. “We need to look on this with a compassionate view. He was loved.”
Those viral chonky cat stories have been a boon to shelters, highlighting the good work they do and driving donations from cat lovers and well-wishers.
But those shelters are trying to get the cats in their care to lose weight, not pack on the pounds. That’s because they see first-hand what morbid obesity can do to a cat’s quality of life and life expectancy.
As for the rest of us, we should probably rethink our tendency to reward the owners of massive cats with our attention.
Cats have been a Godsend in this era of social distancing.
People are looking for something — anything — to get their minds off grim reality and the repetitive, depressing 24/7 virus coverage that dominates television.
Cats have delivered. Our furry friends have been covering themselves in glory, providing an endless supply of viral videos and making people smile just by being their endearing, quirky selves.
Most of all they’ve been there for us at home, soothing anxieties and lowering blood pressure with each lap they claim and each affectionate nuzzle. We may be isolated from other people, but when there’s a cat in the house you never feel truly alone. (If for nothing else, their meows at meal time will make sure of that.)
For me it’s not even a question: Without my Buddy, I’d be slipping into depression of a kind that can’t be cured with Netflix bingeing, books or games.
Now we’ve got to return the favor and protect our cats.
The first “confirmed” case of a cat contracting COVID-19 has come from Belgium, where a veterinary lab ran tests on a sick cat with respiratory problems and concluded the cat picked up the virus from her human.
“The cat lived with her owner, who started showing symptoms of the virus a week before the cat did,” said Steven Van Gucht, a public health official in Belgium, according to the Brussels Times. “The cat had diarrhea, kept vomiting and had breathing difficulties. The researchers found the virus in the cat’s feces.”
This is not good news.
Medical diagnostic labs in the US have tested thousands of pets for COVID-19 and haven’t found a single infected animal.
Unfortunately that didn’t stop innumerable people from abandoning their cats and dogs in China, leaving them in apartments and houses to starve. One Chinese animal welfare group, which is partnered with Humane Society International, says “tens of thousands” of pets were abandoned.
Some Chinese territories instructed people to kill their pets, and there are sickening reports of people clubbing defenseless animals to death in the streets.
That may not be surprising in China, which has an abominable record on human and animal rights, but now there are disturbing reports from all over the world. Shelter operators in the UK, for instance, say they’re fielding calls from people who want to abandon their pets because of the Coronavirus.
“Mostly, it’s people who haven’t got access to the right information online,” Claire Jones, who works at a shelter in Stoke-on-Trent, told the BBC. “It’s a nightmare.”
Misinformation and confusion are compounding the problem, the result of a new media ecosystem in which news is whatever a person’s social circle posts on their feeds and news consumers don’t distinguish between reliable press outlets (Wall Street Journal, Associated Press, Reuters, etc) and the thousands of less scrupulous sites masquerading as legitimate sources of news.
Thus, when a dog in China tested positive for trace elements of Coronavirus — but blood tests were negative — sites like Quartz wasted no time pumping out headlines declaring that dogs and cats can be infected.
Exercising caution with information
It looks like the Belgium case is another in which fact and nuance are sacrificed for clicks. Belgian virologist Hans Nauwynck is among the skeptics who believe veterinary authorities in his country acted too rashly.
“Before sending this news out into the world, I would have had some other tests carried out,” Nauwynck told the Brussels Times.
To confirm the positive test, the lab used a polymerase chain reaction, or PCR. A PCR test “allows scientists to multiply a very small sample of genetic material to produce a quantity large enough to study,” the Times noted. But the test only confirmed that the cat suffered from a flu-like virus. It did not specifically match the viral infection with COVID-19.
“A clear link between virus excretion and clinical signs cannot be established, in part because other possible causes for the cat’s illness were not excluded,” wrote Ginger Macaulay, a veterinarian in Lexington, South Carolina.
In addition, authorities didn’t rule out the possibility that the sample was contaminated or maintain a forensic chain of possession that would ensure it was properly handled.
“I would advise people to slow down,” Nauwynck said. “There may somehow have been genetic material from the owner in the sample, and so the sample is contaminated.”
To be absolutely certain, he said, more tests should have been done to confirm the initial result, and certainly before making an announcement to the world. Veterinary authorities should have tested for the presence of antibodies in the cat’s system as well, he said, which is a sign that an immune system is fighting off an infection.
“I’m worried that people will be scared by this news and animals will be the ones to suffer, and that’s not right. As scientists we ought to put out clear and full information, and I don’t think that has happened.”
With reports about the infected cat spreading across the globe — and adding to existing fears — the Belgian virologist said panic could override reason, with catastrophic consequences for our little feline friends.
“I wouldn’t wish to be a cat tomorrow.”
Chronicling the adventures of Buddy the Cat and his various criminal enterprises.