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Do House Cats Ever Kill People?

Slate Magazine Follow
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  • 9 years ago
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An Illinois man recently pled guilty to plotting to kill a rival for his wife's affections by electrocuting him and then framing the victim's cat for the murder. Do housecats ever kill people?

Not grown-ups. Cats can, however, inflict a pretty gruesome mauling. In 2010, a postpartum cat in Idaho bit her owner 35 times, going back for a second round of scratches and bites after the owner washed off the blood. Last year, a Cleveland man was airlifted to a hospital after a brawl with his tabby cat.

Cats occasionally kill infants, but the deaths are accidental. In the early 1980s, a Norwegian father discovered his cat sleeping on the face of his 5-week-old baby, and the child died from the after-effects of oxygen deprivation. In 1931, a Connecticut cat took a nap on the chest of a 4-month-old child, smothering him. There are several reports of similar incidents in the 19th century.

Such smothering deaths appear to have given rise to a widespread myth that cats suck the breath from sleeping infants. Ernest Hemingway called proponents of this wives' tale "ignorant and prejudiced," and bragged that his own cat, Feather Puss, guarded his son while he slept.

If your cat really is intent on gnawing you to pieces, it will probably wait until you're already dead. Cats often scavenge dead bodies and occasionally cause problems in the mortuaries of hospitals in the developing world, where they are sometimes kept for pest control.

In the end, you should fear your dog much more than your cat. According to CDC data, dogs killed 167 Americans over the age of 14 between 2001 and 2010.
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