Mon, February 16, 2009
Cat nips owner's lung cancer
UPDATED: 2009-02-16 09:09:23 MST

Man credits feline friend's paws of life for discovery of large tumour


This was no ordinary CAT scan.

But Lionel Adams believes it saved his life.

Now recovering from surgery to remove cancer from his lung, Adams, 59, is crediting his eight-year-old feline friend Tiger for alerting him and his family doctor to a mass in his lung.

"He would climb into bed and take his paw and drag it down my left side -- he was adamant there was something there," he said.

"And it was right where the cancer was."

Adams, who has suffered from bronchitis, asthma and emphysema, had showed no symptoms of lung cancer before his kitty's bizarre examination.

But about seven months ago, after mentioning the cat's strange behaviour to his family doctor, he was referred to a specialist who caught the disease at stage one in his left lung.

"They did an X-ray, they spotted something on the left side," he said.

To get rid of the cancer, doctors removed a piece of his lung about the size of a pop can that had been shredded in half.

And now Adams is heralding Tiger as a hero for potentially saving his life.

"I think if he hadn't done the pawing part it could have gone on for another five, six months undetected," he said.

"I feel like it could have been a lot worse if the cat hadn't had tuned in to something there, to something he felt was wrong.

"I would say he's my hero."

Barbara Walmer, department head of behaviour at the Calgary Humane Society, said though studies reveal dogs are capable of sniffing out cancer and predicting types of seizures in their owners, other pets such as cats have been reported to act in similar ways.

"I have heard of it for sure in dogs," she said.

"I think we see more predicting in dogs, but for sure many pet owners have reported pets can have a sixth sense when knowing when something is wrong."

She said cats have a good sense of smell and can be tuned in to illnesses in humans because they are sensitive to subtle changes in their body language.

"If they spend a lot of time with you they learn a whole lot about you, your body language," she said.

"When things change because of illness they pick up on it, so whether it's they know if it is cancer or something is changed, we don't know."

Either way, Tiger should be credited for potentially saving his owner's life, Walmer said.

"Especially with the way it started and how it ended up unfolding ... they really would have not found out if the cat didn't act," she said.

"The cat definitely had a role to play in that."

Doctors at Calgary's Tom Baker and Edmonton's Cross Cancer centres could not be reached for comment.

And that's saying a lot for a cat that has never been one for showing affection.

"He's never had that much to do with me except to come over for a pet," Adams said, with a laugh.