Will my cat eat me if I die: Long-haired tabby cat

Cats are natural hunters, but they may resort to scavenging if left without food for an extended period of time.

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Will my cat eat me if I die?

By Greta Inglis Dog Behaviourist | Animal Behaviourist

Published on the

Have you ever asked yourself whether your cat would eat you if you died? The bad news is that they might. The good news is that it's nothing personal. 

Wondering whether or not your cat might eat you when you die seems to be a surprisingly common concern among pet owners, with millions of people searching for answers each year. 

Shockingly, reports of pets eating their owners postmortem do exist, though they are thankfully a very rare occurrence.  

Have cats ever eaten people? 

Various forms of postmortem depredation have been identified among forensic pathologists, with various reports of pets biting their owners after death. 

In a case dating back to 1997, published in the American Journal of Forensic Medicine, a 43-year-old woman was injured postmortem by her domestic golden hamster.  In 2010, a woman living with her two dogs and a cat, was reported to have been injured by one of her pets. On further investigation, this was found to have been her dog. 

While reports of cats eating people are rare, a paper published in the Journal of Forensic Sciences did shed some light on this unusual phenomenon. The findings took place at the Forensic Investigation Research Centre in Colorado, where human remains are left outside and the decomposition process is documented. 

On this particular occasion, researchers found a tabby cat consuming a body five days after it was placed outdoors. A cage was placed around the body, to stop the cat, but they soon returned once the cage was removed. 

Some time after, a second feral cat appeared on the scene, and proceeded to eat parts of a second body in the early stages of decomposition. Interestingly, the cats would always choose the same bodies, even when other cadavers were available.

Why would my cat try to eat me?

Domestic cats may not be natural scavengers, but this doesn't necessarily mean you'd be safe in the event of sudden death, explains cat behaviourist Dr. Mikel Maria Delgado. 

As the Colorado study shows, cats may be hunters by preference, but they will engage in scavenging behaviour if they find no other food source.

Research on postmortem injuries caused by indoor pets identifies free-moving pets and social isolation as common factors of significance. Socially isolated individuals may not be visited for a significant period of time, leaving a body more susceptible to predation. This is particularly likely if the animal is hungry, and has no other food source available. 

Will my cat eat me if I die? 

Incidents of pets injuring their dead owner's body are often sensationalised, but in reality, these scenarios are very rare. 

Scientists theorise that the injuries may actually occur because the animal is trying to get their human's attention or revive them, while in other cases, these actions are a desperate attempt to prevent starvation.

What type of cat is the most likely to eat its owner?

There is no particular breed of cat that would be more likely to eat a human corpse than another. The risk, it seems, is more situational than it is related to individual temperament or background. 

If you live alone, it might be a good idea to set up regular check in times with family or friends. This can be arranged to suit you and your lifestyle, but it does mean that someone would be following up if they didn't hear from you, and that your cat will always be looked after.

Would my cat care if I died? 

Cats form very strong bonds with their owners, often sensing when somebody in the family group is upset. They have also been known to seek reassurance from their people, and show signs of distress if a human seems ill or unresponsive. 

All of this leads us to believe that your cat would most definitely care if you died. But this doesn't mean they wouldn't try to eat you if they deemed it absolutely necessary! 

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