Earlier this month, esteemed travel publication National Geographic did the Lord's work and published an article called Would Your Dog Eat You if You Died? Get the Facts.
In it they ascertained a disobliging truth: that your pet dog would probably eat your face or your testicles if you unexpectedly died or maybe even just fell into a deep, coma-like sleep.
I'm not quite sure why this surprises people, except to say that people like to think that their animals—the cute, furry little prisoners they imprison in their homes, dress in ridiculous, humiliating outfits, feed poorly and otherwise manipulate for their own capricious whims—are in some way loyal to their owners, like they wouldn't rather just kick back with their fellow species rather than be forced to pose for another tiresome social media post. If someone gave you the chance to eat your own petty tyrant, wouldn't you do the same? Wouldn't it be fun to gnaw at Donald Trump or bite wibbly-wobbly lumps out of Theresa May? Wouldn't it be just delicious to have barbecued Saddam Hussein or flambéed Colonel Qaddafi?
"Dogs are descended from wolves," dog psychologist Stanley Coren told National Geographic. "If we have a situation where the owner dies and there's no source of food, what are they going to do? They're going to take whatever flesh is around."
Predictably, cat owners—and cat haters alike—waded into the debate. "All I'm saying is, cats should be on leashes like dogs, cats are rude, cats smell bad, and your cat would eat you to survive," tweeted one social media user. "YOUR CAT WOULD EAT YOU IF NOT FOR THE FACT YOU ARE LARGER THAN IT #onceacatalwaysamurderer," chimed another. "If you suddenly died on your kitchen floor your cat would eventually eat you. If they weren't fluffy we would hunt them for sport," a thirdsolemnly agreed.
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The common perception of dogs as man's best friend and cats as amoral predators beholden only to naked self-interest means that most people assume that a cat definitely would your face if a dog would. But while we have concrete examples of canine-human-flesh-ingestion, examples of cats eating their owners are harder to come by. In 2013, police discovered the decomposing corpse of 56-year-old British woman Janet Veal. She'd been eaten by a number of her pets—including cats—after her death had gone unnoticed for months. In 2008, 58-year-old Romanian Livia Melinte was eaten by her 20-strong pack of cats.
Mercifully, these stories are extremely rare. But would your cat gnaw your face if you shuffled off this mortal coil unexpectedly?
"If you died unexpectedly your cat would go out, hunt, and become feral," explains cat behavioral expert Sheila Hamilton. "Cats are very resourceful, so they'd probably go out and eat rabbits, mice, small rodents—anything they could find basically."
How long it would take for a cat to desert the still-warm body of a much-loved owner? "My cat would be off straight away," Hamilton says, with unmistakable pride. "If he doesn't get fed, he's not very happy."
Were the cat unable to escape the building, things could deteriorate. "It would become very stressed: defecate, urinate, scratch," she explains. Despite that, Hamilton thinks it's incredibly unlikely the cat would end up eating parts of its owner. "That's the person who's provided them with food, water, and tender loving care. Cats are hunters. I would very much doubt they'd do that," Hamilton explains, before referring me to British animal protection charity the RSPCA—who has particular expertise in dealing with distressing situations, like the death of Janet Veal.
Following Hamilton's guidance, I reached out to the RSPCA for confirmation that they've not attended cases of animal neglect involving deceased owners and abandoned human-eating cats. Sadly, the RSPCA declined to reply to my request for comment.
Will cats eat your face if you leave them alone for too long? Probably not, but it's best to get a pet emu instead if you're worried about it—only joking. Emus are wildly inappropriate household pets .