A month or so ago I put a poll on the home page of the website asking if your cat was a south paw or not. Sadly not many people responded to the poll but I thought I’d give you some information so that you work out for yourselves whether or not your cat is a leftie or uses their right paw.

OllieIt might seem a bit odd that people have actually carried out studies on this very subject, but two psychologists, Dr Sarah Millsopp and Dr Deborah Wells of Queen’s University, Belfast, tested 42 cats in 2009. 21 cats were male, 21 were female and they were aged between 1 and 8 years old.

The study found that females are much more likely to use their right paw, while males favour their left when faced with ‘difficult’ tasks. Although the cats could use either paw for simple tasks, such as playing, the research showed that they reverted to their favoured paw for complex tasks (in this case, fishing tuna from a small jar). All of the female cats used their right paw and 20 of the 21 toms used their left paw, while one male seemed to be ambilateral (able to use both paws).

In simpler games involving a fishing-rod style toy being suspended above their heads and dragged along the floor, all of the cats showed equal preference for either paw.

This pattern has been likened to the way in which most humans can use either hand for a simple task such as opening a door, but favour one hand for writing. Research has shown that 90 per cent of humans favour their right hand, but, like cats, those who are left-handed are more likely to be male.

“No-one is entirely sure why males favour their left paw and females their right, but it is most likely a hormonal influence,” Deborah explained. “In humans, testosterone has been linked to left-handedness and this might explain why male animals are also more likely to be left-limb preferent.

“We discovered the same result in domestic dogs and sea-lions, and other researchers have recorded similar results in various primate species and horses.”

Not content to leave their research there, Millsopp and Wells conducted another test to find out by what age cats have a paw preference. They tested 12 cats at 12 weeks of age, again at 6 months and finally at one year old. Again, the test required each cat to use just one of their paws to retrieve food.

They found that age has a significant affect on a cat’s paw preference. At 12 weeks and 6 months old, the kittens were much more likely to be ambilateral, but when the kittens reached a year old, they tended to have a preferred paw. In males, this preferred paw was the left, while females favoured their right.

“As far as I’m aware there is no disadvantage to cats being left or right-pawed, so there’s nothing owners need to do to make their cat’s life easier,” said Deborah. “Most cats can use both paws, so if they are right-pawed but are forced into using their left paw, this shouldn’t present too much of a challenge.”

Extracted from Your Cat magazine: July 2012

Using the Millsopp and Wells tests you can find out if your cat is left or right-pawed:

Is your cat a leftie or a rightie?
  • Show your cat a food treat (5g of tuna was used in the study) and allow him to sniff it. While your cat looks on, place the treat in a glass jar small enough to prevent him retrieving the food with his mouth. Record the first paw that your cat uses to retrieve the treat.   
  • Suspend a fishing-rod style toy 10cm above your cat's head. Record the first paw that is used to reach for the toy.
  • Place the toy on the floor and drag it in front of your cat. Record the first paw used. The complex task one will show your cat's preference, while he should be happy to use either paw in tasks two and three.

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