When Domestic Cats Eat Humans

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(Warning: Graphic image below.)

Most cat owners probably think their beloved pets adore them in return, and they may be right. Still, deep down, there's a nagging suspicion...

"Does my cat want to eat me?"

Maybe it's when they look at you and lick their lips, revealing their vampiric canines. Maybe it's when they spread out on one step of a precarious staircase, almost begging you to trip. Maybe it's when they sit on your lap and knead their claws into your supple skin, as if softening the meat... Maybe it's when – suddenly – they lash out with their claws, unprovoked, and draw blood.

Quirky cat behaviors aside, rest assured, your furry, feline companions don't want you dead, and they'd prefer kibble to human flesh. Still, if given a chance to feast on a fresh human corpse, they might just seize the opportunity.

Scientists at Mahidol University in Thailand and the University of Hawaii documented one such instance in 2017. A man was found dead and decaying in his Thailand apartment. Forensic analyses suggested that he had been deceased for three months. In that time, at least one of his three cats had apparently fed on his body.

A more in-depth analysis of domestic cats scavenging human corpses was published in Fall 2019. Researchers at the Forensic Investigation Research Station of Colorado Mesa University observed a couple instances of feral felines feeding on decomposing human bodies.

The Forensic Investigation Research Station (FIRS) is the perfect place for this sort of thing. Located far from any cities in the arid environment of western Colorado, the station's macabre, yet undeniably fascinating function is to research the decomposition of the human body. Thanks to the scientists stationed there as well as dozens of body donors, FIRS' findings inform law enforcement specialists and forensic scientists.

In this instance, researchers used cameras to watch two feral domestic cats repeatedly scavenge two donor bodies placed within a fenced area designed to keep out larger animals. The first cat fed on the same body almost nightly for 35 days, focusing on the skin and fat layers of the left upper arm and chest. The second cat repeatedly fed on the left arm of another body on a dozen different nights. In contrast to the first cat, it ate through the skin and fat into the donor's muscle. Though many other bodies were available to the cats, both preferred to scavenge the same ones. They weren't interested in gnawing bones.

Garcia et al. / Journal of Forensic Sciences

"Both cases showed a distinct pattern, which included: preferential scavenging of the soft tissue of the shoulder girdle and proximal arm, differential consumption of tissue layers, superficial defects peripheral to the scavenged area [mostly from the cats' claws], and no presence of macroscopic skeletal defects," the researchers summarized.

So why do this kind of research?

"Due to the prevalence of feral cats throughout the United States and the world, understanding the patterns and behaviors of these scavengers can assist in distinguishing between perimortem and postmortem tissue damage," the researchers say.

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