NOTTINGHAM, England — A heroic cat in the U.K. saved his owner’s life by pounding his paws on her chest to wake her up after she suffered a heart attack in her sleep. The incredible behavior reinforces prior research that shows pets not only show interest in helping their owners, but will make attempts to help them on their own.
Sam Felstead, 42, was asleep when she was woken by her 7-year-old cat Billy at 4:30 a.m. in her Nottingham, England home. She realized she was unable to move her body and had a shooting pain down her right side, so called out to her mother for help. Felstead, a receptionist at Queen’s Medical Centre in Nottingham, was rushed to the hospital by her mother in the early hours of August 8.
Doctors told her she had suffered a heart attack in her sleep. Now she believes Billy’s swift actions saved her life. “I was a bit shocked, I went to bed and I felt fine. I’d even been out with the dogs and I didn’t feel ill or have any pains whatsoever,” she recalls in an interview with SWNS. “Suddenly I woke up in the early hours covered in sweat and couldn’t move. Billy was on my chest and was meowing loudly in my ear hole. He was really meowing. He doesn’t do that normally, he sleeps all day and all night, that’s his life.
“He wouldn’t leave me. He’s not a lap cat. He’s not a light cat either and he’s certainly not a cat that wants to be on your knee all the time. He likes to be alone,” she continues. “He’s never woken me up in the night before, he never bothers you. He doesn’t wake you up for food. He’s normally all my mum, he loves her and doesn’t bother with me. Mum was quite shocked. I told her he woke me up and she was even more shocked. You don’t hear about it with cats. I’m just glad he woke me up. Who knows if I would have got up without him, it could’ve been worse for me.”
Doctors discovered that one of Felstead’s arteries was blocked, which caused the heart attack. A balloon was placed in her artery and will now have to take medication for the rest of her life. It’s a small price to pay for a situation that could have led to the end of her life.
“I’m grateful towards him. My alarm was for another two hours so who knows if I would have woken up. The doctors said it was a good job I got to hospital in time,” she says. “I do think he saved my life and so does everybody else around me.”
Pets really do want to rescue their owners
Stories about pets going the distance to help an owner in distress reinforce previous research that shows dogs will rescue their owners in a dire situation. The 2020 study by Arizona State University researchers investigated the reactions 60 pet dogs when their owners were seemingly trapped inside a “locked” box. None of the studied dogs had any prior experience or training saving people.
While the owners were inside, they called out to their dogs for help. A third of the dogs wound up rescuing their owners, which researchers found to be highly impressive. They say the dogs’ heroic actions were striking for two main reasons. First, the dogs clearly showed a desire to help their owners, and second, the dogs were also intelligent enough to figure out what actions had to be taken (opening the box’s door).
Two additional control tests in the study confirmed that most dogs showed a physiological response to their distressed owners’ cries. “What’s fascinating about this study,” co-author Clive Wynne concluded, “is that it shows that dogs really care about their people. Even without training, many dogs will try and rescue people who appear to be in distress — and when they fail, we can still see how upset they are. The results from the control tests indicate that dogs who fail to rescue their people are unable to understand what to do — it’s not that they don’t care about their people.
Cats are as caring as dogs — and even babies
But does that mean dogs are more connected to their owners than cats? According to a 2019 study out of Oregon State University, cats care about their human caregivers just as much as any dog, or child! For the first time ever, researchers concluded that cats display the same attachment styles as dogs and human babies.
“In both dogs and cats, attachment to humans may represent an adaptation of the offspring-caretaker bond,” explained lead author Kristyn Vitale in a release. “Attachment is a biologically relevant behavior. Our study indicates that when cats live in a state of dependency with a human, that attachment behavior is flexible and the majority of cats use humans as a source of comfort.”
Researchers had a group of cats participate in a “secure base test,” in which each cat spent two minutes in a room with their owner, two minutes by themselves, and then another two minutes reunited with their owner. The test’s end goal was to classify each feline’s attachment tendencies as either secure or insecure. Both dogs and human infants have taken similar attachment tests in the past. For reference, infants or animals that display “secure-attachment” generally trust their caregivers. They look to them for protection, and even believe that their caregiver will return to them when separated.
When the cats’ owners returned for the two minute reunion phase, researchers looked to see how each pet reacted. If the cat didn’t show any signs of stress, and wasn’t surprised that their owner return, the cat was classified as having “secure-attachment.” Conversely, if upon seeing their owner the cat reacted by showing signs of stress (tail twitches, licking their lip) and either avoiding or initiating (jumping on their lap) contact, the cat was classified as having “insecure-attachment.”
These tests were conducted with both kittens and adult felines. Afterwards, a team of behavioral experts watched recorded footage of the experiment, and compared each cat’s actions to criteria usually used to assess attachment levels in dogs and human infants.
Of the 70 kittens that were suitable to be placed into one category, 64.3% were classified as securely attached and 35.7% were classified as insecurely attached. The research team was also curious if socialization training would have any impact on these statistics, so they enrolled the kittens in a six-week training course and re-administered the experiment. Surprisingly, there were no major differences in the second experiment’s results.
Furthermore, the study’s authors say they were surprised to see just how closely the percentages of secure and insecure attachments in feline groups mirrored findings among a human infant population. Among a group of infants, 65% were found to be securely attached, just .8% off from the feline group.
There are so many proven benefits from owning a pet, and having them there to help you in extreme situations is one more to add to the list.