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Sorry, Your Cat Might Consume Your Corpse When You Die Alone

Illustration for article titled Sorry, Your Cat Might Consume Your Corpse When You Die Alone
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A recurring fear that I sometimes think about at night is that upon my untimely passing—alone, in my home, in front of Netflix’s “Are you still watching?” screen—my cat, Daisy, will feed upon my body for sustenance. Seeing as my cat has proven herself to be an ineffective hunter and is prone to staring dolefully at her food bowl when she is not pleased with the kibble I’ve provided, I have filed this fear away in the unwieldy catalogue of silly anxieties that lives in the darkest corner of my brain. But a study from the American Academy of Forensic Sciences has given me new reason to worry.

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As reported by the Washington Post, the study was conducted at Colorado Mesa University’s Forensic Investigation Research Station, which is essentially a “body farm” of the sort written about by Mary Roach in her 2003 book Stiff: The Curious Life of Human Cadavers. The bodies in question were provided to the research station for the express purpose of figuring out whether or not feral cats would feast on the moldering flesh of human corpses if presented with the opportunity. The facility is protected by a fence that keeps out most creatures, but feral cats have been captured by surveillance cameras wandering in and around the facility, as is their wont. Upon examining the footage, one of the student researchers discovered that the cats exploring the facility were actually enjoying a little human flesh, as a treat.

From the Washington Post:

But during a routine scan of images, student Sara Garcia gasped at the sight of one feline that turned up in late 2017 and at another a few months later. These cats — one black, one striped — weren’t wandering. They were eating.

This was interesting in part because domestic cats are known as predators, not scavengers. Both started eating when the bodies were in early stages of decomposition and ended at the onset of “moist decomposition,” when fluids begin leeching. Both ate all the way to the bone.

And although the cats had a buffet of more than 40 bodies from which to choose, each one returned to the corpse it had selected again and again — one almost nightly for 35 nights straight.

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The idea of your pet eating your body upon death is terrifying, partially because pet owners project their own sense of morals onto their pets—a fact that was confirmed to the Washington Post by cat behavioral researcher Mikel Delgado. When the cat reaches out his paw to knock your Juul to the ground or sticks his face into a nice glass of ice water after you watched him lick his asshole for a solid ten minutes, he’s not doing it because he has any real moral code. He’s doing it because he’s an animal, and also because he’s kind of a dick. Thinking this through to its logical conclusion, the idea of my cat feasting upon my still-warm body is awful, but also, it’s kind of nice? Providing for her is a small joy, though I do not feel she always appreciates it. Still, if I go before she does and there’s no one at home to tend to my corpse, I’d be glad that my body is there to provide some sort of comfort, literal or otherwise.

Above all, cats are practical creatures. If the person that routinely feeds them disappears, they will gnash their teeth, run laps around the house, and then do what they have to do to survive. In some cases, that is eating the body of their master repeatedly so that they might live another day.

Senior Writer, Jezebel

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DISCUSSION

westerosironswanson
The Ron Swanson of Westeros

He’s doing it because he’s an animal, and also because he’s kind of a dick.

In fairness, most of your cat’s dickishness is really just that they live on a very different part of the food chain than humans do. The reason why humans and dogs get along so naturally, beyond the selective breeding, is just that humans and dogs have very similar evolutionary survival strategies: they’re both pro-social pack animals that, in the wild, depend mainly on exhaustion and endurance strategies to take out prey. A wildebeast can easily outrun a human or a wild dog, but humans and wild dogs can keep running and collectively can herd for hours, which is far longer than a wildebeast can keep going for. Which in turn means that they have very similar social heirarchies, and dog and human emotionally translate pretty well.

By contrast, cats are solitary, mid-tier predators that rely mainly upon surprise and quick bursts of activity to catch and kill prey. They’re not particularly social not because they’re assholes, but because nothing in their evolutionary niche demanded it of them. It’s way easier to understand a cat once you realize that much of the pro-social behavior that codes for us as “affection”, codes for them as “threat behavior.” To a cat, you’re not smiling at them; you’re baring your teeth, which is cat for “I’m going to kill and eat you.” To a cat, you’re not looking at them with affection; you’re staring, and staring is cat for “I’m going to kill and eat you.”

It turns out, there are a lot of ways to say “I’m going to kill and eat you” in cat, precisely because they are mid-tier predators that are preyed upon by larger predators. And part of successfully speaking cat is meeting a cat where they are, and acknowledging that they’re just living their evolutionary truth, and finding their evolutionary bliss.