Pet Paw Preference

Most of us are right-handed—about 90 percent, in fact. Left-handed individuals account for only 10 percent of the population, and this ratio has remained consistent over time. The reasons are unknown. However, researchers at Northwestern University recently developed a mathematical model that may have the answer. According to their calculations, the low percentage of lefties results from an evolutionary balance between cooperation and competition. But what about pets? Is there paw preference in dogs and cats?

Talk to enough animal owners and you’ll find a few who will attest, at least anecdotally, to paw preference in their dogs and cats—like Riley, a British Shorthair who primarily does his litter box burying with his right front paw, or Ginger, a Golden Retriever who will only ‘shake hands’ with her left. 

A growing number of scientific studies back up the assertions of these pet owners. A 1991 Turkish study found 50 percent of the feline subjects were right-pawed while 40 percent showed a preference for the left. The study’s researchers found 10 percent of the cats to be ambidextrous. Another study, conducted by researchers at Queen’s University Belfast in Northern Ireland, found that female domestic cats tend to be right-pawed while males tend to favor their left paws.

In 2006, a British study found canine subjects split evenly between right-pawed and left-pawed preference. Data from an earlier study, published in the International Journal of Neuroscience in 1987, found that 57 percent of dogs were right-pawed, 18 percent were left-pawed and 25 percent were ambidextrous.

If you’d like to determine the paw preference of your own pet, the key is observation. You can watch your dog or cat do something he or she would naturally do every day or perform one of the tests common in the research studies. The more observations you record (i.e. your ‘data’) the more conclusive your results will be.

Dog Tests

-If you’ve trained your dog to ‘shake hands,’ which paw does it offer you first?
-If you put your dog outside, which paw does it use to scratch at the door?
-If you give your dog a bone, which paw does it use to hold it down?

Cat Tests

-When you dangle a toy over your cat’s head, which paw does it use to bat at it?
-When your cat is in the litter box, which paw does it dig with first?
-If you place your hand under a blanket and wiggle your fingers, which paw does your cat pounce with?

General Tests

-If you put a treat just out of reach under the sofa, which paw does your pet use to drag it out?
-If you put a treat under an upside down bowl, which paw does your pet use to get at it?
-Place something sticky on your pet’s nose. Which paw does it use to wipe it off?

Health issues like injuries or arthritis may skew your results. For example, if your dog suffers from pain in its right front leg, it may use the left paw more often regardless of natural preference. Additionally, the Queen’s University study mentioned earlier found that the less demanding the task, the more likely it is that your cat will use both paws equally.

Is your pet right-handed or left-handed? Test it out and let us know in the comment section!

Julie Perkins

About Julie Perkins

A self-professed "crazy cat lady" and slave to three furry masters, Julie loves all things fuzzy. Throughout her life, she has been owned by cats, dogs, rabbits, gerbils, hamsters, fish and even a hermit crab. A freelance writer who has perfected the fine art of typing with one hand (because there is a cat on top of the other one), she lives in Colorado with her husband and a menagerie of critters.

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